Sorrow and Joy as Sharp as Swords: How Seeing Life as Narrative Helps us Overcome Evil

I have about a month and half in between semesters (starting December 10th), so I will begin posting regular blog posts in the near future. Until then, my sermons are going to be posted online semi-regularly going forward. My sermon from this past Lord’s Day is up.

I am preaching through the book of Ecclesiastes at the moment. This particular sermon is on Ecc. 3:1-11, the passage that inspired the song ‘Turn, Turn, Turn.’ The title of my sermon is a nod to Tolkien: Sorrow and Joy as Sharp as Swords: How Seeing Life as Narrative Helps us Overcome Evil. You can stream or download the sermon by clicking HERE.

You can download the audio by hovering over the ‘media menu’ on the left side of the screen and clicking ‘download audio.’

Learning Things (10/3/15)

I have some book quotes sitting in my ‘drafts,’ but haven’t had time to actually write posts about them. This morning I have some time, so I thought I’d make a broader post on what I’ve learned so far this semester.

A Canonical Approach to the Psalms
I am taking a class on ‘the Writings’ of the Old Testament (Psalms-Chronicles in the Hebrew order of the Bible). My professor did his Ph.D work Book 4 of the Psalms – particularly on how Book 4 advances a ‘canonical’ understanding of the Psalter.

The Canonical Approach to the Psalms is intriguing, and I’ve found it helpful. The basic idea is that Psalms is arranged in an intentional order for the purpose of advancing a narrative. Psalm 1 introduces us to the Psalter as ‘torah,’ written in five books, like the Torah of Moses. Martin Luther called the Psalms a ‘little Bible’ within the Bible. The Canonical Approach sees it this way as well. Psalm 2 introduces the Messianic King whom the Psalter is written about. Books 1 through 3 show the decline of the messianic kingship, culminating in the final psalm of Book 3, which finds the kinship cut off and the people of Israel in Exile.

Book 4 (Ps. 90-106) finds the people in exile, ‘wandering in the wilderness’ like Moses in days of old (see Ps. 90-91). By Book 5 (Ps. 107-150) the people are ascending back up the mountain to Jerusalem and worshiping God. They still reflect on their captivity (Psalm 137), but they are mostly in a posture of worship, anticipating the restoration of the throne of David.

This theory of the Psalms as a ‘canon’ may have some holes, but it’s fairly compelling and gives us a macro way to demonstrate that aside from the experiential and worship aspects of the psalms, they are meant to have a narrative force that points us to Christ.

The Shepherd Hypothesis in Song of Solomon
We haven’t covered Song of Solomon in the course yet, but my reading has touched on this. The Shepherd Hypothesis, also called the ‘three person hypothesis,’ contends that the Shulammite (Songs 6:13) had two suitors in Song of Solomon. The story, in this theory, is that the Shulammite is in love with a simple shepherd man from her own territory, but is also being courted by King Solomon. Hence the back and forth action between the garden and the city.

I don’t have time at present to flesh this out completely, but if you take this approach, here’s a good example of what it entails. The palace scenes of someone knocking on her door actually describe her true love, the shepherd, traveling to the palace to find her and reclaim her love. He is in danger and flees, she chases him and is thus beaten by the guards. It makes a good deal of sense:

Song of Solomon 5:7 The watchmen found me as they went about in the city; they beat me, they bruised me, they took away my veil, those watchmen of the walls. 8 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, that you tell him I am sick with love.

In the end, love prevails. The Shulammite turns down the advances of Solomon, in all his pomp and splendor, and returns to the country to be with her true love, the simple shepherd.

The most amazing thing about this approach is that it turns the ‘allegory’ of the story in a fascinating new direction while also allowing for literal interpretation that doesn’t involve Solomon as the prototypical lover (if you know anything about Solomon, that has difficulties). If you’re interested in seeing more about this you can read more about it HERE.

Christian Education
I’m taking a course on the educational ministry of the church. The main idea so far is that education is vital to the task of the church (as it’s included in the Great Commission). Nothing major to report on as of yet. I had to wrestle with the differences between preaching and teaching this past week. It’s one of those situations where there are clear distinctions but a lot of overlap.

A.D.D. Environments
I’ve spent the last six months in my new job staring at computer screens for hours upon hours each day. I’m working on curriculum, doing technical work, answering emails, answering texts, and trying to work on sermons and school work from time to time. I feel it changing me. I feel my brain gravitating toward attention deficits. It’s interesting.

Douglas Coupland, one of my favorite authors, has made the claim somewhere that we are all going to be forced into living in a state of attention deficits. He tends to think this is something we’ll simply adapt to, and that it won’t necessarily be a bad thing. I have my concerns, as longtime readers of this blog will know.  I have been thinking about writing a post called ‘A.D.D. Environments,’ that would details how our environments deeply affect our ability to concentrate. I haven’t managed to do it yet, and others have certainly written about this. (By the way, in the time I’ve written this post I’ve had a dozen text messages, the phone ring, and some American Heritage girls come to my door selling cookies).

I read Moonwalking with Einstein recently and found it helpful. I’ve actually used some of the memory techniques Joshua Foer describes there.  (You can watch his TED Talk HERE). Aside from the ‘memory palaces,’ my wife has a nice picture of me studying with my large soundproof earmuffs and my blacked out glasses on. They actually help to fight distraction quite well if you find yourself in a situation where you absolutely have to concentrate.  Adapting doesn’t simply mean capitulating to A.D.D. environments; it means finding ways to fight back.

Recent Reading: The Visitor, by J.L. Pattison

The Visitor: A Short Story, by J.L. Pattison

Before I write a food words about the book, let me make a couple of notes: First, the book is available for free on Amazon for Kindle until tomorrow, September 6th. I’d encourage you to download it. Second, Mr. Pattison is a regular commentor on this blog, and has one of his own HERE.

The book itself is a short story set in the late 1800s through the mid 1900s. It blends science fiction with real history. I’m not always a fan of such, but he actually pulls it off quite well. It tells the story of how an American from some point in ‘the future’ attempts to travel back to warn the founding fathers of the United States of the future actions of the nation and the tragedies it will be involved in. The time traveler doesn’t quite make his destination of late 18th Century America, but he does manage to give his account to a former slave, now farmer, in late 19th Century Georgia. Leroy Jenkins, our Georgia farmer, has a hard time getting anyone, including a fairly well known journalist, to believe his story about the future of America. But by the end of the story, the assassination of a president makes at least one believer out of the long-dead Leroy’s story.

Pattison manages to weave some interesting themes and allusions into the story. I personally enjoyed this aspect of the narrative, though he is kind of scratching where I itch on these.  I’m not sure if the Leroy Jenkins of the story is somehow a nod to the Leroy Jenkins of viral video-game clip fame (not linking it because of questionable language), but it made me giggle upon reading the first line of the story. The Leroy of the story is actually sort of opposite to the Leroy of the video game, since he doesn’t go storming into anything, but actually remains overly passive in some sense. [Edit: Mr. Pattison tells me this was no meant to be an allusion]. There is also an allusion to the tension between the sovereignty of God and the outworking of history in relation to time travel. I find that to be an interesting thought experiment. Finally, there’s a big nod given to Neil Postman and his vision of the American future given in Amusing Ourselves to Death; Pattison even manages to give a bit of a nod to Aldous Huxley, though I know he’s not a huge fan of Brave New World. The needle-in-the-arm-sedation ending is quite Huxlean, and I thought it was a brilliant ending.

I recommend the story. It’s a very short read, but quite intriguing. The weaving of an interesting fictional narrative with theology, history, political commentary, media ecology, science fiction, and pharmaceuticals in such a short space is impressive.

What is the Fear of the Lord?

At the risk of confusing the issue by modern use (or abuse) of theological terminology, the ‘fear of the Lord’ denotes piety in the most positive sense of the word, a spiritual disposition that may be described as a proper relationship to God and one’s neighbor. It is wisdom’s comprehensive term for religion.

-C. Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books, p. 24

My Fall class on the Ketubim has begun; now comes the reading. I didn’t blog through my initial years of seminary, why not start with some now? It’s probably all I’m going to be reading anyway.

The idea of the ‘fear of the Lord’ is nebulous at best in our day. Over the years I’ve usually heard it put that wisdom begins with reverent awe for God. Not a bad place to start, but it doesn’t seem to make actual sense of Proverbs. The fear of the Lord in Proverbs is actually more of a set of presuppositions, perhaps a worldview. Bullock continues:

It would not be inaccurate to say that comprehensively the fear of the lord is a world view that attempts to synthesize the elements of human life and work. It is an ‘educational standard’ (compare our objective standard of research) that gives balance to the individual as he relates both to his world and God (p. 25).

As an educator, I demand that students writing research papers follow a certain standard of objectivity. As a Christian teacher and preacher, I demand that they follow a certain standard called the Word of God – that every thought be taken captive to Christ.

Wisdom begins with worldview. Wisdom begins with a set of religious presuppositions. That’s the idea.

Sanctification in the Technopolis

Since I’m not writing much these days, here’s a link to a talk I gave recently on the subjection of technology in relation to Christian sanctification. If you’ve been around the blog for a while you’ve seen me write on this a good bit. This is the first time I’ve condensed much of this information down into a talk.

You can listen HERE or watch below:

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

Blog Update (Summer 2015)

Marshall McLuhan once said, “I have been slowly accumulating a private arsenal with every intention of using it.” Such is this blog for me. It is the accumulation of reading notes and ideas gleaned from such. McLuhan also said, “I don’t agree with everything I say.” That might apply as well.

With that said, I have been slowly decreasing the amount of content pumped into the blog as I have transitioned to a new phase in my life. This is actually good news (at least for me personally). Since February, I have transitioned in my professional work to the field of instructional technology and instructional design. This has been a big change that has required me to drastically adjust my schedule. Also, still preach at a variety of (PCA) churches nearly every Sunday. I haven’t had a Sunday off from the pulpit since March; that’s a good thing as well. This Lord’s Day, for instance, I preached at two different churches at 9 and 11am. That’s something that occurs regularly.

But, even beyond all this, and this is the point, I am resuming my graduate studies this Fall. We’ve been praying for this for the past five years and have finally found ourselves in a position for it to happen. My employer is supportive, and that helps. I’m really excited. This is the answer to numerous prayers – fasting days and sleepless nights.

For those of you unfamiliar with the process of seeking a Master of Divinity, it can be an arduous task to say the least. The degree I began seeking nearly 10 years ago, the M.Div at my particular seminary, is a 106 hour Master’s Degree along with requirements of learning the entire Westminster Shorter Catechism, gaining field experience, and passing a comprehensive Bible exam. The grading scale requires you to gain a 97% in a class to have a 4.0. I managed to finish 92 hours, pass my catechism exams, and complete my field education requirements before circumstances lead to a break in my studies.

Finally, I find myself in the position of resuming my studies and I’m extremely excited for the Fall. With that said, new content on this blog is going to continue to slow down. I will still make posts, but they will be far less frequent for the time being – at least until I get comfortable with my busier schedule. I’ve been able to balance my family and church life along with school and work pretty well for the past decade; pray for me that I’ll be able to continue to do so for the next year as I finish up the remainder of my M.Div program. I hope to begin seeking ordination after that; that’s been the goal all along, but it hasn’t been easy. I’ve sensed God’s call to the ministry of the Word since I was twenty years old, as a brand new convert, and while I’ve had God’s people regularly affirming that call on my life, it’s been a long period of testing and patience. I remain patient, but am ready to put this big step behind me.

In the past month I’ve read Tim Keller’s new book on preaching and a couple of random biographies, along with some Neil Postman. I’ve also been enjoying the late Dr. Knox Chamblin’s series of lectures on C.S. Lewis (I had the pleasure of being a student of Knox Chamblin before he passed; in fact, he is the man who turned me on to C.S. Lewis to begin with). I recommend them very highly. In the midst of all that, I’ve found very little time to write about what I’ve read and listened to. I think that’s going to continue to be the case for a while. You can probably look for me to post about once a week for the indefinite future (perhaps there will be a few spurts here and there). I’ll still respond to comments and all of my old content will remain available.

I basically just wanted to give those of you who actually read my blog regularly a heads up. Let me know going forward if there’s anything in particular that I can help you with as far as discussion; and, as always, let me know if you read something you really like and think I should read it as well. As one of my other professors used to say – pray for your brother.

Christ Builds His Church

Ministers may preach, and writers may write, but the Lord Jesus Christ alone can build. And except he builds, the work stands still…

Great is the wisdom with which the Lord Jesus Christ builds his church. All is done at the right time, and in the right way. Each stone in its turn is put in the right place. Sometimes he chooses great stones, and sometimes he chooses small stones. Sometimes the work moves fast, and sometimes it moves slowly. Man is frequently impatient, and thinks that nothing is happening. But man’s time is not God’s time. A thousand years in his sight are but as a single day. The great Builder makes no mistakes. He knows what he is doing. He sees the end from the beginning. He world by a perfect unalterable and certain plan. The mightiest conceptions of architects, like Michaelangelo, are mere insignificant child’s plan, in comparison with Christ’s wise counsels respecting his church.

-J.C. Ryle, Warnings to the Churches

I saw a video tonight with a church-planting-minister explaining how he had ‘built’ his church. I’m thankful that ministers don’t actually build churches – Christ builds his church.

Sleeping in Church (Jonathan Edwards)

This is one of those random posts I do specifically for preachers, though it may be helpful for others. I found this via one of my former (and favorite) professors, straight from the Yale archives of Jonathan Edwards, in a sermon on Acts 19:19, entitled When the Spirit of God has been remarkably poured out on a people, a thorough reformation of those things that before were amiss amongst them ought to be the effect of it. Somehow I find this encourage, though perhaps it shouldn’t be.

Could it be that Jonathan Edwards had folks sleeping during his sermons?:

6. The & the Last thing I shall maintain is sleeping

of [mu ting]. There is a thing that as been

found amongst us in times past, but

it may well be Expected that we should [ma stip]

G. with Great Reverance & Diligence since

G. has P. Remarkbaly Poured out his Sp.

upon amongst us.


if that he may [as is effectual] here [ ned]

there is an assembly that appears to be asleep

in their seats in the time of divine savlation marginal

this will be a thing that strangers will observe

those have had what a time there has been

an in the Town. when they [come] have with

naturally take notice how People appear as

their Publick was [sting] whether they seem

there seems to be an Evident & Remarkbabl

diff. between them & other People whether

they seem to Give better oftentimes & to at-

tend with Greater Reverance & dilig. &

whether they dont sleep as much as they

do at other Places if they observe that men

sleep at meeting as much as at other places

It will doubtless bring much discord it will

them an what they have heard of us Let me

theref. Indicate that this [moving] be laughly Re-

formed amongst us & Let I would desire the

that Persons would avoid Laying down than standing

in their seats in time of Publick

as it [stands]

worship tis a very [Inderant] Perfect marginal

& it opposes Persons to Go to [they] a [Gailva]

the Congregation [P asion] to think they are

asleep. & Let neighbors & [but] makes

[useo] [Redieane] to another as to when [Great]

other when asleep. & Let us rember


what it is Like to since G. has been so ab-

undantly mercifull to us Let us Labour

[for] him in a way the most decent &

Reverant manner & in the Becoming of


It would appear that Edwards had folks not only sleeping, but occasionally actually laying down in the pews. Ironically, it is a chapter later in the New Testament, in Acts 20, that we read of someone falling asleep, and falling out of a window, during a sermon of the Apostle Paul.

The Next Charlie Parker Would Never Be Discouraged

Busy days. I have zero time to write, so I share a link. Here’s a sermon by a friend on the difficulty of the Christian life. It’s a sermon for those who have thought about giving up but found that that they can’t. It’s worth listening to. If you listen to it, let me know; I’d be glad to post more. Visit the link HERE.