The Brass Verdict (book review)

Reviewing The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly (Little & Brown, 2008). Be warned: this review contains spoilers.

Over the last month, I’ve been on a mystery-crime-thriller kick, mostly reading some of the Jack Reacher series (by Lee Child), and also the Harry Bosch and Lincoln Lawyer books by Michael Connelly. In my opinion, Connelly exceeds Child in writing quality, believability, originality of plot, insight into the legal/law-enforcement world, and the depth and development of characters. I don’t read a lot of fiction, so these novels have been a fun diversion for me during the holidays. 

Of Connelly’s writings, I’ve especially enjoyed The Lincoln Lawyer (introducing Mickey Haller’s character) and The Black Echo (which introduced Harry Bosch). Prior to reading The Brass Verdict, I read The Crossing, a later cross-over book between Bosch & Haller. The Brass Verdict allowed me to go back to their first crossover and meeting, and the discovery that the two characters share the same father.

The Brass Verdict, the second Lincoln Lawyer book, follows on the heels of Connelly’s successful introduction of defense attorney Mickey Haller (played by Matthew McConaughey in the film—a fact which Connelly, humorously, plays on in the book). In between novels, not only had a movie been made about his exploits, but Haller had also wrestled his way through an addiction to prescription pain medication. One of the best aspects of the book is Haller’s first-person insights into the nature of addiction and the struggle of ongoing recovery.

Being a Mickey Haller book, Connelly gives a peek into the world of law, the courts, and the life and work of a defense attorney.

Fittingly, the novel begins with the words, “Everybody lies.” The questions that dictate the flow of the novel revolve around this statement: If everyone lies, what can be believed? Can I be believed? And how do you get by in a system — and really, a world — with so much deception? Haller had fallen into the depths of deceit through his addiction, shattering the most important relationships in his life, and inhibiting his capacity for relational closeness with anyone (including his young daughter). 

So here we have a character who has swum in an ocean of deceit his entire life but who is wrestling with its implications in his profession and his personal life. Haller doesn’t just swallow the reality of deceit and run with it. Sure, he indulges in his own fair share of deception (like any good defense attorney). Privy to the mind of the narrator, readers are allowed to enter sympathetically into the reasoning behind tactical deceptions, while at the same time finding themselves in the frustrating position of being deceived by other characters in the narrative. At the end of the story, the pressure of living in this truth-deceit tension becomes too much for Haller and drives him to forsake his practice of law for good.

As always, Connelly tells a good story, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat throughout. The action moves quickly with enough twists, turns, and surprises to keep it interesting. Connelly’s insight into the legal system is education. As a reader, I value the insight into an important part of our countries functioning that often seems inscrutable. I also think that Haller’s character has a good amount of depth and personal struggle that he’s a believable three-dimensional character.

I would quibble that there were some glaring similarities between this storyline and that of The Lincoln Lawyer. Namely (spoilers): a guilty defendant that you think might be innocent, but who manipulates Haller and the attorney-client privilege to rub his guilt in the face of his attorney, followed by Haller’s own manipulation and the eventual downfall of the “bad guy.” 

Overall, 4 stars out of 5.

On Reading in 2019

by Mike Phay

Thus far in my life, I’ve had the good fortune to avoided chronic back pain. For this, I’m very thankful.

Over the holidays, however, I picked up some real tightness along the right side of my spine. Nothing major. For now, just a minor inconvenience. But for me, it’s been quite unusual because of my mostly pain-free back. As I discussed my malady with my wife, she quickly arrived at a curious diagnosis: she thinks I’ve had a reading injury. No joke.

Not an injury from playing sports or building houses or mountain biking. Her serious conclusion is that I’ve been reading too much, and my inexorable habit is causing strain on the “book-holding” side of my body.

Go figure.

I guess if I’m gonna have an addiction, I could do worse.

CHANGING MY READING HABITS

In reflecting on my problem, I’ve come to realize that perhaps 2019 is the time for some changes—even some discipline—to help shape my “reading life.” I’ve identified three particular areas where I think poor reading habits have negatively affected me, in which I would like to intentionally grow this year.

Habit 1: Engagement vs. Consumption

As I’ve been thinking about my “reading life,” I’ve noticed that over the past several years I’ve largely been reading for volume. In 2018, for example, I read a total of 61 books — a pace of at least a book a week. I enjoy reading, but as a “collector,” I do so with the un-articulated goal of reading in bulk: to devour, to consume, to chew up, and to spit out. My pattern is to read a book, check it off the list, and move on to the next one.

Francis Bacon is famous for writing, “Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly.” We could take Bacon to mean that books are for consumption, but I think he sought to help in the development of a discerning palate when it comes to reading. Quality over quantity, and when you find quality, engage it deeply. In 2019, I want to spend time chewing and digesting—engaging more deeply with what I read. Which will take more time, and even an occasional re-read.

GOAL: To write a thoughtful review of every book I read. I will post these regularly on Goodreads and this blog. I don’t expect these reviews to have a high readership but will focus on writing them for personal growth in at least the following three areas. First, they will help me to actively engage the books I’m reading rather than simply consume them. Next, they will help me to remember the arguments and important aspects of the books I’ve read. And finally, writing thee will be practice in improving my writing.

Habit 2: Focused vs. Scattered

I am usually reading between 6-8 books concurrently. Some days I read from 4 or 5 different books at different times throughout the day. I’ll read one book on Kindle, listen to another on audio, and take in chunks of three or four books in print. I’m usually able to keep everything straight, and I generally enjoy the variety this kind of reading provides. However, variety dilutes my ability to focus on any one book.

GOAL: Aside from devotional material (one book I am slowly reading through along with the Bible in the morning), I will have no more than two other books I am actively engaged in reading at any one time. I will use my listening time (driving, etc.) for podcasts and language learning.

Habit 3: Intentional vs. Haphazard

I have never regularly planned an intentional reading list unless I have a topic or subject I would like to delve into more deeply. Often I will hear of a book and read it on the spur of the moment, or pick something up at the library that looks interesting and read it right away. I do read a lot of library books, and most often I have to order them from out-of-town branches. So my reading seems intentional in that way, but not so much. Too often, I sniff something I like (an author, genre, or topic) and keep after the scent until I decide to move on to something different.

GOAL: In 2019, I want to read broadly (as I often do), but not allow myself to get bogged down in a certain genre, author, or subject matter. I will intentionally seek out subject areas that I wouldn’t normally engage with and make sure that I am reading regularly in areas that are important to me personally and professionally (like Biblical Studies and Theology).

So with that, here is my reading plan (so far) for 2019. It’s in subject order rather than reading order, so I’m not planning to go through it from top to bottom. I would love any suggestions you might have in any of these categories (or extra categories), plus your thoughts on the books listed. If anyone plans to read along, let me know!

READING PLAN 2019

Biblical Studies

Can We Trust the Gospelsby Peter J. Williams. This is one I saw on several review lists at the end of 2018. I don’t spend a lot of time reading apologetics, but in pastoral ministry, the questions often come up and a fresh look at these questions will be helpful.

Revelation 1-11 by Peter Leithart. A new commentary that has come highly recommended. Revelation is the most misunderstood book in the Bible, and I have plenty of conversations with parishioners who are all over the map on this one. I’ve enjoyed other works of Leithart’s, and look forward to engaging in a long-term study of Revelation.

Biography

Confessions by St. Augustine. I started this in college, almost 25 years ago. Time to pick it up again and engage it more deeply.

Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was and Who God Has Always Been by Jackie Hill Perry. I appreciate Jackie’s ministry and her voice in our cultural moment for the church.

To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson. I’ve been challenged by Judson’s life as a missionary to Burma ever since hearing John Piper’s biographical sermon at a conference years ago. Judson led a radical life given over for the gospel, even through suffering and persecution. I will be looking to see how God might use this in my efforts to lead a church on mission.

What It Is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes. The title of this book reflects the question most young men have asked themselves at some point in their life. Marlantes is one who lived through it. I was impressed with his Vietnam War novel Matterhorn and look forward to engaging with his insights on the deep questions of humanity and warfare.

Culture

Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age by O. Alan Noble. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this recent book.

Devotional

A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life by J. I. Packer. I’m currently reading through these essays on the practical writings of the Puritans in my devotional times. A bit more scholastic than practical (so far), but am hoping to add to my reading list with some of the Puritan works that come up throughout.

The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. One of the most oft-quoted and oft-referenced Puritan works I’ve never read.

Fiction

The Man in the High Tower by Philip K. Dick. I’ve been sucked in by the Amazon series based on this 1962 novel, and am curious to see PKD’s original vision.

Nathan Coulter by Wendell Berry. In my opinion, there is no better living American novelist for depth, insight, and beauty of writing. This will be my third visit to Port William.

History

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone. A continuation of my own quest to understand the lives and viewpoint of those who have experienced an America — and a Christianity — very different from the one I have.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies by Jared Diamond. I’ve seen this book highly recommended on a few reading lists this year.

The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis by Alan Jacobs. Another book that has come highly recommended on a few reading lists this year. I’m impressed by Jacobs’ forceful intellect, having read his How To Think this past year as well as several essays and blog posts. He is an example of the kind of thinker and writer I aspire to be and I’m hoping to glean ways to better engage the culture as a Christian intellectual.

Leadership

Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, et al. This one has been on my shelf for years. One of the most difficult responsibilities I have in my role as a pastor is leading people, and one of the areas I find myself most deficient in is emotional intelligence. Hoping for some lasting insights as I seek to love people by leading them well.

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle. As an introvert, I often loathe conversation of any kind. Any help I can get here will be well worth it. I don’t remember where I saw the recommendation for this book, but I picked it up in the last year and have been hoping to get to it.

Ministry/Pastoring

Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work by Eugene Peterson. One of my favorite authors, Eugene Peterson passed away in October 2018. I’ve read much of his writing, but not all of it. This is one of his pastoral works that I’ve been meaning to get to for years. I first read Working the Angles over 20 years ago, and it shaped my own life and work tremendously. This last year, I read Under the Unpredictable Plant during a 4-week mini-sabbatical, and it was like a breath of fresh air during a tough time.

The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in our Post-Christian World by Rosaria Butterfield. A primer on biblical hospitality.

Preaching and Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. A classic that I haven’t been able to get through yet.

The Shepherd Leader: Achieving Effective Shepherding in Your Church by Timothy Z. Witmer. I am intentionally seeking to lead a group of elders in effectively shepherding the 200+ people who are a part of our congregation and am looking for some biblically practical help for the task.

Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community by Brett McCracken. I appreciate McCracken’s cultural take on a lot of things. This will be an interesting read for me as I seek to lead a local church in living into its identity as God’s people.

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…or Yourself by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert. I read this one several years ago with our church staff and am now reading it again with our Missions Team.

Prayer

Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church by John Onwuchekwa. Part of the 9Marks Building Healthy Churches series. I started reading this in December. John begins with the premise that churches can fundamentally be divided into two types: those that pray, and those that don’t. This book has been insightful as I wrestle with the question, “How do I lead a church to be a prayerful church?”

Enjoy Your Prayer Life by Michael Reeves. I’ve read one other book by Reeves—Rejoicing in Christ—and am hungry for more. If there’s one thing that I think is often missing in the prayer lives of believers, it is joy.

Theology

Spirit and Sacrament: An Invitation to Eucharismatic Worship by Andrew Wilson. I read Wilson’s blog posts about his debate with Tom Schreiner in regards to the continuation of spiritual gifts. Looking forward to delving more into this as I seek to understand spiritual gifts more fully for myself and our church.

Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray. A theological classic that I’ve never dug into. Looking forward to immersing myself deeply in the theology of the cross.

Spiritual Gifts: What They Are and Why They Matter by Thomas Schreiner. I’ve been reading, thinking about, and studying spiritual gifts, asking God what they are and how they are manifested in the local church. Schreiner is a good scholar whom I know will deal with the Scripture thoroughly and fairly, although I’m not sure I’ll fully agree with him.

Work

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. I began reading this one in December, and it has struck a chord for me as I seek to figure out my own work habits and the responsibilities I have: preaching, writing, leading, and shepherding. Newport’s focus is exactly that: focus in the midst of distraction. I think he can help me think through and implement how to be more productive by “going deep” in exchange for the “shallow,” part of what I’m trying to do with this reading plan.

The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods by Antonin Sertillanges. Cited by Cal Newport, and written by a French Catholic philosopher.

Writing

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser. I started this one last year with a cohort of fellow writers and would like to work through it slowly and seriously as I seek to improve in my own writing.

True Stories: And Other Essays by Francis Spuford. I have no idea who Francis Spuford is, but this one came highly recommended on at least one reading list at the end of 2018.

 

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My Top Reads of 2018

by Mike Phay

  1. The Letters of John Newton by John Newton. Newton’s letters accompanied me throughout the year, even during some very dark days. At their core was the truth, purportedly spoken by Newton on his deathbed: “I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great savior.” This truth continues to shape me: Jesus shows me my sin because he loves me. Every Christian should be required to read Newton’s letters.
  2. Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. One of the greatest American authors of our time, Berry’s fiction is incredible. This was a beautifully written picture of a courageous and full life, well-lived. I will read it again.
  3. Revival and Revivalism by Iain Murray. This one, again, took me a while to get through. It reads as history, and can sometimes be dry, especially as many of the characters are unfamiliar to the modern reader. Murray’s point is clear, though: the way we see and understand revival, evangelism, and conversion has changed dramatically in the last 300 years largely due to the influence of “revivalism.” I came to faith in a culture highly influenced by revivalism, even though I’ve moved away from it–both practically and theologically–over the past two decades. Murray’s look at it was helpful in explaining why. Well worth the read.
  4. Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton. This is the best leadership book I’ve read in a while. Barton looks at the life of Moses and applies it to the spiritual life of the reader as a leader. A helpful book that skips over the pragmatic and goes straight to the heart.
  5. Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene H. Peterson. One of my favorite authors, Peterson uses the story of Jonah to nail our church and pastoral culture between the eyes by calling pastors and leaders to return to the calling of spiritual leadership. Peterson stretches the bounds of interpretation with the story and the points he draws from it. However, in looking beyond that, his is one of the clearest prophetic voices of the last 50 years that consistently urges pastors to return to their biblical calling.
  6. A Praying Life by Paul Miller. Miller’s book is a fresh take on living a life of prayer. Not a list of “how-tos” but an invitation to enter into a God-bathed reality. When you’re able to see the invitation into a praying life, the “how-tos” become life-giving rather than moralistic.
  7. Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree. I’m a natural critic, and Sam’s book was convicting to me on multiple levels. Simple yet truthful, it was a call to envelop relationships with 80% affirmation and 20% critique or correction. I usually get this ratio backward, and I find it’s like kryptonite to my relationships. This was the most helpfully practical book I read this year.
  8. The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus by Alan J. Thompson. A scholarly book that focused on the overarching theological vision of the Book of Acts. I read this during a retreat as I was preparing to begin preaching through Acts. It was the most helpful book I could have read, clarifying the overarching theme of Acts as Jesus’ Kingship over the spread of the church.
  9. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. I read a lot of history and biography this year, but this one was the most fun. It helped, I think, that I listened to it as an audiobook, as the narration was well-done. An interesting story that I had never heard before.
  10. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin. I had never heard of Le Guin until she passed away in 2018, even though she was a resident of Oregon (like me). I threw a dart, and this is the book that I hit, and man was it incredible. The main character is cursed with the power to alter reality through his “effective” dreams. Though probably unintended by the author, I saw this as a metaphor for the “prayer of a righteous man” which “has great power as it is working” (James 5:16b).

Welcome Him. Worship Him.

by Mike Phay

To fresh ears, it may sound fantastic or novel; but the Christmas story is not a work of fiction. It is, in fact, an eye-witness account of actual events. It’s as real as the memory of the day you just lived through: the breakfast you ate, the book you read, the trip you took to the store, the argument you’re still seething over. True, it’s an unusual story: it features at its very center a pregnant teenage virgin. It’s speckled with seemingly incredible coincidences, the strange appearance of angelic beings, and a clear astrological sign. Elements like these in any story tend to stretch our modern sense of believability. 

Sometimes familiarity breeds contempt, and because we’ve heard this story time and time again, it’s lost its ‘wow’ factor. It no longer carries with it a sense that something so wild just might, in fact, be true. The beauty and the drama and the wonder of this story have been left behind like so much discarded wrapping paper, existing in our memory alongside the abandoned myths of our childhood naïveté, like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

My four-year-old daughter often asks: “Is this for real life?” By which she means, is this story true? Is this TV show or movie real life or is it made up? Even at such a young age, she’s hunting for veracity, for verifiability. She’s looking for reality. Seeking to discern what’s real and what’s not. 

Those of us who are attentive will—and should—ask the same thing about the story of Christ’s coming into the world: “Is this for real life?” Sometimes we too easily gloss over this question, perhaps mouthing an affirmative answer while going about our lives as if nothing was further from the truth. 

Let me invite you to reconsider the reality of this story. However difficult it might be to recapture an element of freshness in this well-worn, oft-told story, it truly is an ancient story that never gets old.

Two elements draw me back to the reality of the story: 

First, its earthiness. This is a story inhabited by real people with real names, in real places that we can find on real maps. Jesus came to us by coming to real, nameable places—Bethlehem, Egypt, Nazareth. He came to real, nameable people—Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, and the wise men. No names have been changed here to protect the innocent: when we read and listen to the story, we get what we get. No gloss. No glamour. 

And this is the beauty of Christ’s coming: he actually cares about real people in real places. Through the narrative of Christ’s birth, God declares his deep desire to know me, to identify with me. Because I, too, am a real human being, with a real name, living in a real place. The story gives me an incredible amount of hope because perhaps God could even come to me in the place where I am.

The second reason the story rings true is that it’s not the story any of us would have written. However much we love to root for the underdog, I’m not sure we would have featured, as the main characters, a teenage mom, three Asian astrologers, and a scraggly group of unbathed and uneducated herdsmen. Most of our scripts would include a strong and handsome, somewhat mysterious, though inwardly troubled hero; or perhaps a winsomely clever, somewhat provocative, though inwardly strong heroine. There would definitely be a romance and some kind of chase scene. And everyone would live happily ever after.

Though not lacking for drama, the Christmas story is definitively marked by weakness and obscurity. Jesus doesn’t appear as a baby “out in the open”—in a king’s palace or on the national news. On a grand scale, Jesus’ birth is largely unnoticed. When it is noticed, it’s not by the important people. Not by the glamorous or the powerful, the rich or the famous. 

And this gives me hope, because not only am I a real person in a real place, but I’m neither rich nor famous, glamorous nor powerful. I’m not really that important. God notices even those of us who are, by all accounts, unnoticeable.

These dual elements should draw us to a dual response: welcome and worship.

Welcome him. Jesus—the divine Stranger—has come into this, our world. He has come to you: where you live, with the name that you carry. Because he came as a baby—obscure into our obscurity—we know we are welcome. Our response to God welcoming us in Christ should be to welcome him, in Christ.

Worship him. Certainly, we should worship Jesus for his power. But on Christmas, we worship him for identifying with the powerless. For noticing the unnoticeable. We worship him for appearing to those whose appearance isn’t up to the world’s standards. We worship him for standing with those who can’t stand up for themselves. We worship him for—in becoming human—giving dignity to us when we lack our own.

Will you welcome him? Will you worship him?

 

Photo by Greyson Joralemon on Unsplash

Are You Ready for Christmas?

by Mike Phay

A common refrain drifting through conversations during the holiday season is the casual, “Are you ready for Christmas?” By which we generally mean, “Do you have all of the presents bought and wrapped, all of the decorations hung, all of the food bought, and all of the other to-dos crossed off your list?” 

The question betrays our understanding of needing to be prepared for something. But what? 

Most often we assume that we are to be ready for that magical moment of Christmas morning when we gather around our evergreen altar and distribute gifts to our loved ones.

But perhaps you are one who regularly asks the question, “Is this what it’s really all about? Is this what we’ve been preparing for?” Your gut is telling you this misses the mark.

CHRISTMAS BEGINS AT AN ALTAR

Thankfully, the Scriptures give us a clue as to how God wants us to prepare for Christmas. We need to look no further than the beginning of the Christmas story, which doesn’t begin where we would think. We presume the opening act to be a Jewish man carefully accompanying his donkey-riding, full-term fiancee through a snowstorm to the Little Town of Bethlehem. 

But the Christmas story actually begins about fifteen months earlier with an elderly, childless couple—not a couple waiting for the arrival of a baby, but a couple defined by waiting for a child and welcoming none (see Luke 1:5-25).

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth are descendants of Aaron, the first Jewish High Priest, and are described as “righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). As a priest, Zechariah served regularly at the temple, a responsibility he’s fulfilling when an angel suddenly appears to him. 

The location of this angelic appearance does not happen by chance. Gabriel could have appeared to him at home, while he was working in the field, or during a long journey. However, God intentionally chose to reveal his plan to Zechariah while he was in the temple, at the altar. God intentionally brought his first Christmas announcement in the place of worship, alerting us that this is ultimately a story about worship.

WE HAVE WORSHIP PROBLEMS

Israel had a long history of cluttered altars. The people had often abandoned the God who had redeemed them and made them his own special people. Such a great beginning makes it all the more tragic when their story consistently turns toward rebellion, rejection, and idolatry. They regularly turned their back on God and literally cluttered their altars with idols and false gods (e.g. 2 Chron. 33:4-5). They habitually adulterated their worship and kept God at bay by filling their lives and altars with other things.

When Zechariah the priest entered the temple to burn incense, he was, essentially, leading the nation in worship (Luke 1:10) and representing them before God. And even though he is described as righteous and blameless, he is part of a people who have constantly been mired in their own idolatry, confusion, and waywardness. They are turned away from God, in conflict with each other, ignorant of God’s ways, and walking in disobedience. 

Israel’s worship problem is the context of the angel Gabriel’s announcement.

Like the Israelites of old, we too have a worship problem. And Jesus has come to solve it. Thus the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Zechariah, declaring the work that his future son, John (the Baptist) will accomplish:

“And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:16-17).

John’s job description was to go before Jesus and bring about a threefold turning. The first turning was repentance, turning “many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,” away from the idols that clutter their altars. The second turning was reconciliation, turning “the hearts of fathers to their children.” When God makes people right with himself, he also does the work of making them right with one another. The third turning was transformation, turning “the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.” The Bible regularly juxtaposes the wise and the foolish. The wise are just, righteous, and obedient, while the foolish are unjust, wicked, and disobedient. God is in the business of making foolish men wise, and disobedient men just (See Jer. 31:33-4; 32:36-41; Ezek. 36:26-27).

WHAT ARE WE PREPARING FOR?

Ultimately, John’s job would be “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:17). But prepared for what? 

Two connected passages help to give clarity to the purpose of this preparation as well as insight into the purposes of our own Advent preparations.

Prepared to see God’s glory. Isaiah 40:3-5 lined out a job description for John the Baptist hundreds of years before his birth: 

“A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’” 

The metaphor is that of a cluttered path: valleys, mountains, and all of the uneven, rough ground that marks the difficult paths of the world and of our lives. These are the ways we create on our own, attempting to walk them without God. John’s job was to be an earth-mover, to run a spiritual bulldozer over these self-made roads and to level out a path upon which God himself would come to his people. It is a path for God, yet we are the ones who’ve cluttered it!

The path that John was to prepare—and that Advent mimics—was a path of welcome. It was the path of the King, upon which we are to roll out the red carpet in welcome. Advent is a time of preparation for welcoming the King!

The ultimate purpose of this leveling work is “for the glory of the LORD [to] be revealed and all flesh [to] see it together” (Is. 40:5). God is making it possible for us once again to clearly see His glory. In order for that to happen, the pathway has to be cleared up. It has to be decluttered.

Prepared to respond in worship. When John is born, Zechariah’s mouth is opened for the first time in nine months and he sings a song of praise to God. In it, he prophesies to his son, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:76-77). All this, Zechariah says, so that the people might “serve him [i.e., worship God] without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:74-75). 

As a descendant of Aaron, John too was a priest: one leading a people in worship, back to God. His would be a preparatory work: cleaning house, decluttering, and removing obstacles so that nothing else would distract from what Israel was made for: to worship God. 

So what are we preparing for during the Advent season? We are preparing to worship.

USING ADVENT TO DECLUTTER

Advent is a season meant to prepare a people for the coming of the King. It’s a time of decluttering from all the things we’ve thrown into the path and onto the altar which have bogged down our worship, replaced Jesus in our affections, and distracted us from him.

Advent is a yearly rhythm of intentionally entering into practices that help us to declutter our spaces, calendars, wallets, minds, and hearts. It is a time to intentionally get our house ready for the one who came as a baby. Decluttering is an act of hospitality, of rolling out the red carpet, of making preparations, and of going all out in order to make room for and welcome the King.

The practices of our culture—like Black Friday or Cyber Monday—do not prepare us to worship Jesus. They do not help us to declutter our hearts. They tend to put wrong things on the altar. Resistance is difficult and sometimes feels futile. 

But Advent is a time for us to resist the culture’s message, and return to what this season—and our lives—are to be about: worship. Not just for Advent, but for always. But Advent is a good place to start.

 

Photo by Gareth Harper on Unsplash

You Have One Job

by Mike Phay

I know it’s coming. I’ve read it before. But maybe the story will be different this time.

But alas, it’s not. It never is.

Genesis 3 always follows Genesis 1 and 2. It’s like watching a train wreck over and over again, and I’m a passive observer with the unfortunate privilege of being an eye-witness to chaos and destruction. Powerless to stop it but forced to watch.

If I had written Genesis 3, things would have gone differently. Adam would’ve done his job, protected his bride, resisted temptation, vanquished the serpent, and left a heroic legacy for the rest of mankind.

But I don’t get to rewrite the story because the story itself tells us its Author is perfect. He doesn’t make mistakes.

Sometimes, I need the story to correct me. That’s what Psalm 127 does. It doesn’t let me long for what could’ve been, but rather live wholly—and trustingly—in what is.

A GARDEN PSALM

One of fifteen Psalms of Ascent—a set of songs regularly sung by Hebrew pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem—Psalm 127 reminds pilgrims that in every aspect of our created reality, God can and should be trusted.

And that really is the point of the garden story in Genesis—that God can and should be trusted.

But we have a hard time trusting him, don’t we?

When viewed alongside Genesis, we discover that the 127th psalm is a garden psalm. It reminds us of the origin story that set the assigned rhythms and responsibilities of human life. It’s a psalm about how life was intended to be lived, how we’ve fallen away, and how we can once again be brought back into God’s intended design.

Psalm 127 is a hope-filled corrective in a fallen world, a glimpse into how a garden life is once again possible because of the reality of redemption. Ours is a fallen world, yes, but living as we were intended is also possible, even in the midst of brokenness.

To help him (and us) live as intended, God gave Adam a three-fold job description in the garden, which is echoed in Psalm 127: work, protection, and multiplication.

THE DIGNITY OF LABOR

God made it clear that humanity’s role on the earth included the responsibility of work:

“Fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion” (Gen. 1:28, emphasis added).

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it . . .” (Gen. 2:15, emphasis added).

Work, labor, was not originally a toilsome thing, but as a result of the Fall, God cursed mankind’s labor with toil, making it a vanity, a chasing after the wind. It’s no wonder, then, that the psalmist says,

“Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain . . .
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.” —Psalm 127:1a, 2

Rather than working from our identity, we fallen humans tend to try to work for our identity.

This misplaced identity comes when the creator God—the original and primary Worker—is disconnected from our work. We work in our own strength and for our own purposes, so our work ends up defining who we are. Those who “rise up early and go late to rest” are enslaved to their own need for validation through accomplishment or success.

Humans were made to work for God. Divorced from this reality, we allow our work to define us rather than allowing God to define both us and our work. Work becomes toil when it’s disconnected from the God who “works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

Since God should be our defining reality, work—a good thing in itself—has a natural limit. Labor should not be all-encompassing. It shouldn’t consume us. Work’s natural end is God-protected rest: “for he gives to his beloved sleep.” This is the natural rhythm that God himself observed on the seventh day when he rested from all his labors (Gen. 2:1-3). Without this rhythm, we cannot live as God intended.

THE ROLE OF VIGILANCE

Adam’s second responsibility in the garden was protection: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15, emphasis added). The Hebrew word translated as “keep” carries the idea of protection: Adam was to guard the garden. But from what? Hadn’t all of God’s creation been good?

From this language, it’s clear there’s an imminent threat, an Enemy at the gate. Adam’s job was to protect the garden from this insidious intruder.

Sadly, Adam wasn’t up for the task. He let his guard down and the intruder entered the garden, successfully tempted Eve, and Adam found himself falling into disobedience alongside her.

Psalm 127 echoes this protective responsibility with the image of the watchman:

“Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.” —Psalm 127:1b

We Americans are a people obsessed with security and safety. Unlike the ancient Israelites who lived with constant threats from nature, disease, and foreign armies, our days are passed in relative ease.

We’re shocked when our sense of peace is invaded by natural disasters, terrorism, or senseless acts of violence. We observe tragedy on the news, then quickly coddle ourselves back into a sense of safety. We pad our bank accounts, increase our insurance coverage, and buy safer cars. But without God’s protection, it’s all for naught.

Implied in the verse above is that the watchman is trusting in his own vigilance to bring safety. He is not trusting in God’s protection. This was Adam’s weakness as well: forgetting to trust in his guardian, the God who had created him. Adam failed to turn to God for help in his protective role, trusting instead in his own vigilance and power.

What would have happened if Adam (or Eve) had turned to God and cried out for help in that moment? We’ll never know.

There is only One who can truly protect us. We have one Shepherd who knows the number of hairs on our head. In our moments of greatest fear and anxiety, we must look to him. When we do, we live into the lives we were made for.

THE TASK OF MULTIPLICATION

The final task assigned to our first parents was multiplication: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth . . .’” (Gen. 1:28).

Psalm 127 echoes these blessings:

“Behold, children are a heritage
from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies
in the gate.” —Psalm 127:3-5

Children naturally reflect the ones who bore them. This was God’s intention in calling humanity to multiply, that those made in his image were to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” with his reflected glory (see Num. 14:21; Hab. 2:14). It’s an undeserved reward for men and women to join God in this glorious task.

When we partner with God in the work of multiplication, we’re pictured as warriors, armed with the arrows of proliferation. The enemy confronts each of us at the gates with the lie uttered since the garden: “You can’t trust God. He doesn’t love you. You aren’t blessed. He can’t use you.”

And yet in our work of multiplication—whether it be bearing and raising children or making spiritual children through disciples (see Matt. 28:18-20)—God uses us despite ourselves.

And like all human tasks, unless the Lord does his work, we remain fruitless, unequipped for the battle at hand and defeated by the lie. But equipped with our God-given arrows—the fruit of grace in our lives—we meet the enemy at the gates, ready and triumphant, just as we were intended.

YOU HAD ONE JOB

Adam had one job: to trust God. His sin was thinking he could work, protect, and multiply without God. Psalm 127 reminds us of our own similar tendency and calls us instead to a life of trust.

This kind of life is possible because there is one who did the job Adam couldn’t: Jesus. He boarded the train wreck of this world, bore its destructive consequences, and is putting it all back together.

We can’t rewrite the story, but Jesus has written it for us and redeemed the ending.

So instead of looking back at the garden and lamenting the Fall, we must look forward to Christ. We can trust what he has accomplished, rest in his finished work, and join him in the work he has for us.

Let’s meet our enemy at the gate with a ready answer: Our trust is in Christ, the Lord.

 

(This post originally appeared at Gospel-Centered Discipleship)

Photo by Tiago Gerken on Unsplash

Loving Others in Kairos Time

by Mike Phay

One of the most significant and world-altering inventions in human history is something you’ve probably never heard of. It’s never gotten a lot of press, even though it helped to fundamentally define the way we now live. 

It’s called the escapement. Google it. 

The escapement was first used in the 13th century and is the piece in the machinery of a clock that allows it to measure time in equally divided increments. It works by regulating the descent of weights or the unwinding of a compressed spring in a measured fashion, creating the distinctive “tick-tock” of the clock that so infamously vexed Captain Hook.

Take a moment and seriously consider what life would be like without clocks. How would you measure time? How would you know when to show up for an appointment? Or what time the football game will be on TV? How would you know what time to take a lunch break—or when you would have to be back from your break? 

Precisely measured time is such an ingrained part of our experience that it’s nearly impossible to imagine life without it. Even as I write this, I’m aware of the current time, my next appointment, and the looming deadline to turn in this article. Precisely measured time—down to minutes and seconds—is the world that we live in, the air that we breathe. 

Prior to the invention of the escapement and the subsequent proliferation of clocks, time was understood more fluidly and less mathematically. Metaphorically, time was seen as a flowing river rather than a ticking clock or a timeline. Practically, it was measured astronomically. The sun, moon, and stars—mysterious heavenly bodies that lay beyond our control—were the base tools for measuring time in large units such as years, months, and days. Even so, time was elastic, as changing seasons ushered in longer or shorter days. 

The invention of the escapement marked in human history a radical paradigm shift from an elastic, rhythmic, flowing concept of time to a precisely measured, evenly divided, universal understanding of time. As historian Daniel Boorstin writes, “There are few greater revolutions in human experience than this movement from the seasonal or ‘temporary’ hour to the equal hour” (from his book The Discoverers, published 1983). 

The Greek term for this kind of measured time is the word chronos, from which we get the word chronological. Chronos is passing, measured time, and in ancient Greek mythology is identified with the Titan Cronus, the father of the Olympians (Zeus, etc.), who was famous for eating his own children—much like chronos time devours us all. Zeus and his siblings overthrew their father, cut him up into pieces (like we do with chronos time), and proved their power over him by banishing him to Tartarus.

All that to say, we have a complex relationship with time. We are people who function largely in chronos time—making and keeping appointments, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, and trying to fit as much as possible into the limited time we have. Type-A personalities are known for taking control of their time, not allowing one second to be wasted. “Time is money,” we are told, because “time and tide wait for no man.” We must take advantage of the time we have because the time we have is limited.

And as helpful an invention as the escapement was—giving us (like the mythological Olympians) a sense of dominance and control over an uncontrollable, devouring part of life—it came with its own requirements. As Boorstin writes, “(mankind) had accomplished this mastery by putting himself under the dominion of a machine with imperious demand all its own.”

In the area of relationships, when we function primarily in chronos time, then people either fit into our schedules or they don’t. Since time is a limited commodity, we only have so much to give. Our relationships are controlled by a scarcity of minutes and hours. To give our attention, time, or energy to another person is to sacrifice a limited commodity. So we must decide, with every interaction, if the person before us—the one vying for “a unit” of our day—is going to be a drain to an already limited asset or a worthy investment of our time. We play a game of give-and-take based on what we can get from them in the time allotted. People become objects, defined by space and time, and their fundamental nature as persons who bear the image of God is devalued.

However, there is another way—a more ancient and biblical way—to view time. The Greek term that defines this understanding of time is kairos. Though a complex word, kairos can be understood to mean “a specific and decisive point” in time. The idea of kairos time, in the Bible, carries with it an idea of divine appointment: that God is in control of time itself, and he has appointed times, seasons, and dates to fulfill his own purposes. Each moment is, therefore, pregnant with purpose above and beyond our own understanding. In this sense, kairos time is purposeful, yet outside of our control. Our lives, therefore, are filled with a multitude of divine appointments, rather than a long line of annoying interruptions.

When we live in the freedom of kairos time, people are no longer seen as time-sucking drains. We are no longer forced to view others as assets or liabilities, worthy or unworthy investments. Because people are not things, they cannot be reduced to such a myopic view. Loving people in kairos time means no longer seeing time as a scarce asset under our control, but as a gift to be generously distributed. It means viewing every person as worthy of our time because they are not only created in God’s image but are placed before us by a God who loves them and wants to love them through us. Because of this, there are no interruptions. Only divine appointments.

Lessons from a Prayer Warrior

by Mike Phay

This article originally appeared at Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

This is not an article for spiritual giants who spend three hours a day on their knees, attend every prayer meeting, and pack each spare moment with petitions and praises.

If this is you, feel free to stop reading now (and pray for the rest of us).

This is an article for those of us who think the word “PRAY” is the most jarring four-letter word uttered in the church. It’s for those of us who struggle to pray, who are afraid to pray, or who feel guilty about our crummy prayer lives.

I get it. I struggle to pray, too. I don’t consider myself a prayer warrior or a prayer giant. I’m more of a prayer toddler.

But I want to learn to pray. Not set any prayer records—just learn to pray. I want to be a man known for prayer. And when you don’t know how to do something, you ask an expert. So that’s what I did.

EAVESDROPPING ON A SAINT

A few years ago, I approached one of the matriarchs in our church, a woman twice my age who is considered a prayer warrior both inside and outside our church. “Will you meet with me—regularly—and teach me how to pray?” I asked.

She looked pleased and surprised. “Well, I don’t know about teaching you anything. But how ‘bout we get together, and we’ll talk to Father? I’d like that.”

For a few years she and I met for two hours every week. Talking and praying. Praying and talking. There was no formal agenda, no didactic teaching, no lectures. Just a man enjoying the privilege of being invited into this saint’s conversation with God.

ALWAYS A STUDENT

God taught me some crucial things about prayer in those days, things I’m still learning:

Prayer is about relationship. As Jesus often pointed out, God primarily identifies himself to us as “Father,” which is how my prayer mentor addressed him and talked about him—constantly. His presence as her Father was real. Even in her late 70s, she prayed like a child sitting on his lap. She was always overjoyed to be with him. There was nothing better for her.

She has a childlike faith—the kind Jesus told us is a prerequisite for citizens in his kingdom. This has been an important and growing reality for me to grasp. As Paul E. Miller wrote in his excellent book, A Praying Life, “Oddly enough, many people struggle to learn how to pray because they are focusing on praying, not on God.” When I struggle with prayer, I wonder if I’m even thinking of God at all.

God cares about everything, no matter how small. Because she knew him intimately as “Father,” my prayer mentor would speak with him about everything. Most topics were fairly mundane. I was expecting her to lead me in high and lofty prayers of vision and outreach and mission and world-moving.

Her prayers extended half a world away—to her kids and grandkids in another state, to a missionary in Uganda—but even then, her prayers had dirt on them. They were earthy; smeared with fingerprints and splattered with mud.

But if God is our Father, doesn’t he care about these intimate details? Won’t he meet us in them? And when he does, won’t we truly know he cares?

When I get home from work, my three- and six-year-old girls, can’t wait to tell me about the cat that was in the backyard, the Calico Critter toys they were playing with, and the birds nest they created in their nature study. I can simply write them off and call them to more “important” things, or I can take their hands, get down on my knees, and revel in their childish simplicity.

Thinking God too important for seemingly “simple” things is actually a subtle form of pride. We consider ourselves too important to give him our attention and time—too self-sufficient to ask him for help. But Jesus said to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).

Heaven comes to earth in our prayers, therefore our prayers ought to be earthy. Because we are involved in conversation with the God who sovereignly oversees everything, you better believe he cares about what’s important to you and me.

Real, deep prayer is biblical prayer. My prayer mentor is a woman immersed in God’s Word. Her prayers drip with the Bible. She devours it. She spends time in it for hours each day. She speaks and prays the Word.

I’ve known younger, less mature believers with active prayer lives. They talk with God throughout the day. They ask him for simple things and see him answer their prayers. They claim to hear from him, but oftentimes their claims seem unfounded and “out there.”

I have noticed that these dear friends—though attuned to God’s presence in everyday life—haven’t become deeply attuned to God’s Word. They have yet to mature through time spent listening to God in the Scriptures. As they do so, I can’t wait to see the kind of prayer warriors they will become.

My prayer-warrior mentor often claimed to hear from God. But when she told me what she heard, it was so intertwined with the Scriptures it was hard to doubt she was hearing from God Himself.

God often uses unanswered prayers to redirect my prayers toward his heart. My mentor has said numerous times: “Father loves to give good gifts” (see James 1:17). All gifts from God are good—even ones that are painful, unwanted, or unexpected—because they are from a good Father. When we learn to thank God even for the difficult stuff, we come closer to his will.

A friend was recently experiencing a high level of anxiety due to some unusual circumstances. I had been praying the issue would be resolved and her anxiety lessened. When I heard the issue was not resolved as hoped, I was reminded her anxiety would probably increase. Here’s where God took me in prayer: “Father, please use this delay and disappointment as an opportunity for continued growth in trusting you with her anxiety.” I don’t know if I would have seen the situation in the same way years earlier.

Some people pull more weight with God than others. This isn’t a very popular sentiment in our egalitarian society. It doesn’t mean some have better standing before God; we all stand in Christ’s righteousness. It simply means prayer warriors are those who have spent a lot of time with their Father.

As a result, they are increasingly able to love the things he loves. When they pray “your will be done,” they really mean it—they want his will to be done more than anything. And they have a clearer understanding of what that will is, which makes their prayers to the point and more powerful.

Their prayers are answered more often because they’re praying along with God’s heart: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16b). When my prayers go unanswered, I find it’s largely because they were the wrong prayers to begin with. Not that I shouldn’t have prayed them (we have to start where we are), but we become giants in prayer when we are able to untangle our wills from our prayers and instead wrap them up in our Father’s.

FIND A PRAYER MENTOR

I learned all of these things from time spent with a person, not an article or a book. In the end, I have only one piece of advice about prayer: find a prayer mentor.

Look for someone who loves Jesus intensely. They probably have gray hair. Their Bible will be well-used and worn-out. Most likely, they won’t think they can teach you anything.

Don’t let that stop you because they’ll teach you about the most necessary thing (see Luke 10:38-42).

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

10 Reasons Your Anger Isn’t Righteous

This post originally appeared at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. You can access the full article here.

A frenzied young rabbi runs helter-skelter through holiday crowds. He upends tables, scatters gold and silver, and sends animals and humans fleeing in every direction.

Those with sense run for the exits, not eager to find themselves on the business end of this mad Galilean’s handmade whip (see John 2:15). Others, with more greed than sense, dive after loose coins and lost profits.

This episode must have made an impression on Jesus’ disciples, as it’s one of the few stories that made its way into all four Gospels. It is hands down, the wildest depiction of Jesus we have. Rather than “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” we’re presented with “angry Jesus, zealous and wild.” Here is a shockingly aggressive, courageous, passionate, intense Messiah. Paint his face blue and give him a Scottish accent, and any one of us might be inspired to follow him into battle.

This is angry Jesus.

And if Jesus can get angry, can I?

If we’re honest, this whip-brandishing Jesus is the same Jesus we too easily invoke to justify our own anger. If there is such a thing as righteous indignation, most of our anger probably is justified, right? And if the Bible tells us to “be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26, emphasis added) then maybe we’ve got a green light for our rage.

But the Scriptures don’t give us leeway for such faulty logic. Consider, for example, the words of James: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jas. 1:19-20).

James is speaking not of righteous anger, but the more common “anger of man,” which is directed by human passions and desires (see Jas. 4:1-3).

Most of the anger we justify as “righteous”—the flare-ups and frustrations caused by petty annoyances or personal affronts—isn’t righteous at all. Here are ten reasons why…

Continue reading at Gospel-Centered Discipleship

Two Roads Diverged in a Garden

by Mike Phay

My heels backed up to the edge of a twenty-five feet high wooden platform just large enough to accommodate two people. My shirt was drenched with sweat. My muscles shook from adrenaline and fatigue, the effects of several ropes-course obstacles. We were attached to a tall, pencil-like tree swaying in the breeze.

Jeff, the course facilitator, tethered me into the final element of the course—the zip line. He challenged me to not simply ride the zip line to safety, but to face my fear of losing control by crossing my arms over my chest and fall backward. The tether would catch me and the zip line would take care of the rest. This “trust fall” would only work if I resisted the instinct to grab the tether.

I wasn’t interested in Jeff’s challenge.

Without hesitation, I looked Jeff in the eyes, said, “No thanks,” grabbed the tether, and eased my weight onto the zip line for a controlled ride to the ground.

“What’s the matter? Don’t you trust God?”

Jeff’s question came as a shock—a blatant undressing of my vulnerability and weakness. My fear of heights was obvious, laying bare my desire for control. I had a choice: to close my fist and grab the tether, or open my hand and trust.

My preference for control won, and I zipped away, grasping the tether—and my sense of control.

TWO WILLS DIVERGED IN A GARDEN

Humanity’s first battle for control took place in a garden, provoked by the ancient serpent’s deceitful words: “God knows that when you eat of [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5).

Until this point in time, human will had been aligned to the divine will in a relationship of trust and obedience. Now Eve held stood on the precipice of a new possibility—an alternative path where she was in control. Would she choose trust or control, an open hand or a closed fist?

Eve saw the fruit of the forbidden tree as desirable “to make one wise” (Gen. 3:6), and she took some of its fruit and ate, sharing it with Adam, her husband. Eve and Adam chose the closed fist of control.

This act of disobedience resulted in the divergence of human and divine will, changing the course of history. Our battle for control had begun.

THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL

The “opening of their eyes” to a world of wisdom awakened Adam and Eve to their nakedness and vulnerability. They quickly fashioned coverings for themselves. A relationship with God, once marked by trust and obedience, was instantly undermined. All for the sake of control.

Like our first parents, we are experts at constructing coverings to hide our vulnerability. Setting out to deceive others, we unintentionally deceive ourselves with our homemade fig leaves. We take comfort in this deception since it helps us feel in control, but in the end, it’s only an illusion.

As descendants of the Fall, we fabricate worlds of control, attempting to keep life’s struggles—suffering, sickness, loss, tragedy, grief—at arm’s length. But sickness and death don’t make appointments. Loss and tragedy don’t submit to our parameters. Whenever the unexpected comes crashing into our lives, we can hardly handle it. We become confused and shell-shocked, angry and bitter like our lives are out of control.

NOT WHAT I WILL, BUT WHAT YOU WILL

This great battle of control we find ourselves in came to a head in another garden:

“And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And [Jesus] said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray,’ And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.’ And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’” – Mark 14:32-36

Jesus, like Eve, had a choice before him. Not a fruit, but a cup—the cup of God’s wrath. Before Jesus drank from it, he held it in his hands, considering an alternative path. He wrestles with his Father, struggling to the point of blood and tears (see Luke 22:44), saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:42).

Human and divine will tragically diverged in the first garden. But the result would not be the same. The open-handed will of the Son—not grasping for control (Phil. 2:6), ever obedient to his Father (John 5:19)—changed the course of history when he said, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Jesus’ words of submission are not a request, but a statement of fact. They are the clear-eyed recognition of the indomitable supremacy of the Father’s will over man-made illusions. Jesus considered every alternate reality and possible future in which human wills could supersede the divine will—and rejected them outright, even though it meant drinking the cup of wrath.

Read the rest of this post at Gospel-Centered Discipleship

Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash

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