How Civilized is Civilization?

 

One of the great laments I have is that I never read great works of literature. Yeats, Hemingway, Twain, Dostoyevsky, Woolf, Plath and Thoreau are a mere sampling of the great cloud of literary witnesses whose company I’ve failed to keep. Granted, I had some exposure to such works, but I didn’t care at the time; it was college, after all. There was more to do.

While in Brevard, North Carolina one day, Lindsey and I happened upon a used book sale at the Transylvania County Library. There were no copies of Twilight, Fifty Shade of Grey, or The Notebook to be seen, presumably because people checked out those books . What I found, though, was a treasure trove of great works by Faulkner, Twain, Hemingway, Thoreau, and Dostoyevsky. So I bought them.

I read The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway first because it fit in my back pocket. That fish put up one heck of a fight. The old man’s patience was both inspiring and depressing. When patience bleeds into passivity, it is not longer inspiring.

I picked up another book, a double volume, from my nightstand and started reading. Walden and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau were both on my ‘list’. So I started Walden.

I take it Thoreau didn’t watch television and wouldn’t have had it been available. His reach into Latin, Greek mythology, and religion is envious–attainable with time, sure, but who has such time with Netflix?

In the first paragraph of the book Thoreau tells of coming back from his stay in the woods, counting himself “a sojourner in civilized life again.” That line struck me for its Christian undertones. Though acquainted with the Bible, I doubt Thoreau was making that allusion.

Inside of cabin

In light of the chaos of the cosmos and the increasing expressions of darkness around the world, one should ask what and/or who is civilized. It seems to me that Walden’s woods might be the kind of “civilized” we long for.

Here we [read, Christians] are, sojourners in a civilization that sees us as foreign and irrelevant, at best. But it is our irrelevance to the modern culture at large that makes us distinctly Christian. I am not saying pipe organs equate you with holiness. Fundamentally, the message of the cross and Christ is largely impractical and ineffective by count of the civilized.

Thus the task we take on in Christ is to sojourn faithfully, not as escapists or as those who embrace all for the sake of relevance, whatever that is. We engage as those in the world but not of the world.

As the quote below says, would that none of us upon coming to die discover that we had not lived

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Yet, I Will Praise You (by Lindsey Mitchell)

I wish I could find the words to write something poetic and deep about our miscarriage last week, but honestly, I struggle to form complete sentences right now. In short, some light spotting took me to the doctor’s office. An ultrasound confirmed my pregnancy and a beating heart. The baby was measuring about 1 ½ weeks smaller than my calculations, but I left hopeful and with a follow-up appointment. The next day, however, the bleeding got heavier and by the time I got the doctor’s office there was no question as to what was happening.

The height of my miscarriage happened at the doctor’s office. My blood soaked pants and uncontrollable sobs told everyone in the waiting room what was happening. Tears filled their watching eyes. I just wanted to get home where I could be uninhibited and cry my ugly cry. Another ultrasound confirmed I was having a miscarriage and that our sweet baby, whose heart was still beating, was now positioned to exit my body forever. So I went home to wait on my baby to die.

Less than 30 minutes later, our sweet baby opened its eyes and the first thing it saw was the face of Jesus. I joined a special sorority of women my husband calls the sorority of sorrow. We’re a tight-knit group. We’re the kind that hug strangers in waiting rooms as we welcome them with tears. February will come and I won’t be holding my sweet baby. June 19th will forever be etched in my mind. It will, as one of my fellow sorority sisters has told me, be the day I remember that Jesus called the 4th Mitchell baby to Heaven. He chose to spare our sweet child from pain, disappointment, and heartache. He chose to give that baby 6 weeks of life abundant. He gave. He took away. There is grace, even here. I know this, even now. And our story is His to write.

As God works to heal our hearts, we are resting in His promises and faithfulness. He has been faithful to draw near, to sanctify, and to equip. He has reminded us to hold our sweet children loosely, and that this world is not the end. He has reminded us that our story is His to write and that it is our privilege to bring Him glory in it. He has once again proven to be enough. He brings joy in pain and strength in weakness. He is good, always.

Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the One who’s all I need

 

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Broken and Blessed–God’s Presence in Pain

“Mommy has a baby in her belly!” shouted Ben, as he ran into the living room, nearly falling face first into the couch.

I was stunned and silent, but only because of how excited I was.

Fast forward a few weeks and I’m searching for the words to explain to Ben (4) and Nora Jane (nearly 3) that they won’t meet the baby that was in mommy’s belly, not this side of heaven.

As it turns out, the slight spotting was but a shadow of the shattering reality to come.

Half of all pregnancies end this way. Half.

It makes me long for Jesus’ return to think of the moms and dads who mourn the death of their little ones, no matter the length of the pregnancy life.

As Providence would have it, I read this morning in Psalm 34, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (v.18).

His heart breaks for the broken hearts of his children. He draws near.

Just as I, a sinful, wicked father would draw near to my shattered child, so our heavenly Father draws near. But he does it perfectly and with the power to bring healing.

With Job, the believer in Christ Jesus declares with deepest conviction, “Though you slay me, yet I will praise YOUR name.” That, “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” That, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

The gospel is not just deliverance from the darkness of despair and damnation; it is deliverance into the life found in the light of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thus, in an otherwise dark night in our lives, Lindsey and I find comfort and hope in the grace and nearness of God. We covet your prayers and partnership in showing the surpassing beauty and value of Christ Jesus above all else.

For those thinking, why don’t they just wait until the first trimester is over to tell people they’re pregnant? Here’s why.

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The Beauty of Christ’s Scale

https://i2.wp.com/cf.ltkcdn.net/antiques/images/std/136475-370x400-jsw_antique_balance_scales.jpg“We would willingly have others perfect, and yet we amend not our own faults…how seldom we weigh our neighbour in the same balance with ourselves.” (Thomas a Kempis, Imitation of Christ. Book 1, Ch XVI)

What if we held everyone around us to the same standard as ourselves, how differently would our judgments of others look?

Better yet, what if we held everyone to the same standard as Christ holds us? The beauty of Christ’s scale is that when we’re found lacking, He balances it with a perfect mixture of grace and truth.

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2 Guiding Questions That Could Change Your Today, Tomorrow, and Forever

I did an impromptu mini-chapel sermonette yesterday, but it was the result of work I had done on a passage several years ago. I still remember these questions and want to share them as I refocus on them once again:

The text is Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Two questions to consider when making decisions:

1. Can I do/say this in the name of the Lord Jesus?

For instance:

– Can I take my girlfriend to a secluded spot and fool around with her…in the name of Jesus?

– Can I say this hurtful zinger I have about such and such…in the name of Jesus Christ?

2. Can I do/say this while giving thanks to God the Father?

For instance:

– Thank you, God, for granting me this spectacular opportunity to cheat on my spouse. Praise be Your name.

– I give You thanks, Jesus, for allowing me the chance to sit next to someone smarter than me during this test. All glory to You!

Regret. Shame. Guilt.

These categories exist because there is a right, true, and pure way to live. Asking these two questions of the decisions we make could save us so much regret, shame, and guilt.

Had I asked these questions throughout my dating years, I wouldn’t have had such difficult conversations with Lindsey before we got married about my past. As Andy Stanley says, paraphrased, “In the future, your past will be in your present.” It’s so true.

What I wouldn’t give to go back and weigh the value of those words and the questions that come out of Colossians 3.  How about you?

 

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Allegiances Matter–The First Amendment, Playboy, Flag Stomping

The headlines have been abuzz of late over the arrest (temporary restraint) of Air Force vet Michelle Manhart. Manhart was on Valdosta State’s campus where an American flag was being walked on by an unidentified group of protestors. Manhart picked the flag up and was then wrestled to the ground by the campus police. She’s been banned from any university activities. (You can watch the incident here if you please–there is language)

True to media culture, Manhart’s past quickly came to light. She posed for Playboy several years ago, both in and out of her military uniform (which I suppose she didn’t count disgraceful?). She was removed from duty as a result. Politics aside, there is an even more fascinating connection between these events separated by nearly a decade.

The First Amendment of the Constitution reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

I’m not a Constitutional Law expert, nor do I play one on television, but the deep irony I noticed in this whole mess is that the First Amendment gives pornographers the right to publish their materials and protestors the right to, in civil manner, exercise dissent via demonstration. Manhart happily embraced the First when she disrobed for dollars, yet she found the more recent expression of the Amendment offensive.

I don’t know Michelle Manhart. I don’t know her story or the inner workings of her soul. I write to ask this question, why the dissonance in her mind between what happened on Valdosta’s campus and what she did on the pages of Playboy? Both are allowed for under the same law of the land.

Allegiances matter, for better or worse.

For the follower of Jesus I ask, where is your allegiance? What are you willing to be arrested for, imprisoned for, beaten for, killed for?

 

 

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Give Me That Glass of Milk That’s Been Sitting Out for Four Hours!

Give me that glass of milk that’s been sitting out for four hours…says no one.

I tried that on Sunday for a sermon illustration. My hope was that the milk would still be “cool” because I had it in a Tervis Tumbler. Nope.

As soon as the milk hit my tongue my immediate reflex was to spit it back into the cup.

The words of Jesus to the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-22 are terrifying. At least they are to me.

Verses 15-16 are most well known: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (ESV).

Francis Chan rocked the church world with his sermon on this text back in 2006. I think this text should cause pause for many of us today.

In the end, will my life be taken up by the Lord and sipped, only to be spewed out right away, just as my reflexes caused me to do with that lukewarm milk?

It’s a hard word. There is no way to work in the Greek and soften it up or allegorize it.

Jesus provided a tangible illustration for the church, just as he does in the Gospels with other illustrations. There were hot springs about five miles north of Laodicea that would dump into the Lycra River and travel towards Laodicea. But by the time the waters reached the city, they weren’t hot any longer. They were tepid. Lukewarm.

So in the text it’s not that cold is bad and hot is good, as if Jesus is saying he would rather you be cold–pure evil–than lukewarm. Sometimes you want a really cold drink. Sometimes you want a hot drink. So be one of those extremes. But don’t be the glass of milk that sits out at room temperature.

If you’re in that nebulous temperature range, then “be zealous and repent” (v.19). Turn from darkness to light. Let your repentance be like a bucket of ice dumped on you to cool you down or like a kettle being set on the burning hot eye of the stove. Jesus is the one knocking on the door. You didn’t go seeking after him. He’s coming after you.

 

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