In Brief : The Underwater Welder

Sometimes, you log in to Amazon for the one moment a graphic novel on your wish list has dropped 75% in price. And in that moment, you buy The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire. Though Lemire dwells often in the superhero realm, Welder is the story of an ordinary man facing his past in order to face his future. It is an exploration of pressure crystallized on the black and white page.

The Artwork

The Underwater Welder is a story in ink mixed with grayscale watercolor. Damon Lindelof compares the story to an episode of the Twilight Zone in his introduction. The gray palette certainly helps, and enables some of the artistic effects, many of which are designed to nearly freeze a moment in time and allow the reader to think:

There are instances in the book where Lemire breaks a still shot into six panels. As a reader, I loved this effect as it forced me to survey the scene with particular interest. Creative application of such simple concepts add depth to a moment.

There are recurring liquid moments – perhaps a necessity in an underwater novel. Among these, there are plip panels which feature a drop falling into a puddle. They are distributed throughout, but they unify the storytelling voice and highlight moments within the broader context.

What often moves a story from quaint to profound, and what is perhaps my favorite overall feature of the art, is the author’s apparent trust in the moment he created. Beautiful visual stories let the human intellect do a little bit of the work. Storytellers who leave nothing to the imagination often steal from their own work because they remove their readers/viewers from the process. Lemire lets seconds linger in simplicity in such a way that invite engagement. He brings numerous moments to a standstill without telling the reader what to think.

The Story

The Underwater Welder tells the story of Jack Joseph, a father-to-be who works beneath an offshore oil rig as a welder. His father Pete, also a diver, died on Halloween when Jack was only 10. Jack is wrestling with generational chains, working to reconcile the past as he faces his own future.

The story, like the art, is simple enough as to be broadly appealing and applicable. Jack Joseph is utterly ordinary, which makes him accessible. But in the details, Lemire establishes a reason to care for his characters, to invest in their circumstance, and to anticipate the resolution.

Early on, Jack has something of a supernatural underwater encounter that stuns and confuses him at first, nearly killing him. With each passing hour, the encounter entrances him and compels him to return to the water.

Where the story goes all Twilight Zone is in the third and fourth episodes. Jack lives out an eerie extended moment derived especially as a revelation for his life. The noise is removed and he is alone with himself. Without spoiling too much, Jack is trapped by the gift of exploring the his father’s death and his present pain. It is marvelously drawn and presented. It was worth the full price of admission… which makes the 75% off even more celebratory!

In the back half, as Jack fights the generational pull to become his perception of his father, the story and artwork move seamlessly in circuit from young Jack to old Jack to old Pete. Lives are intertwined and in the knotted mess, Jack is figuring out what went wrong, what is still yet right, and where his future lies.

The second half of the story rolls downhill at a lively pace. I loved the conclusion, not because it was unforeseeable, but because it had heart. It had gravity and lent itself to contemplation. Jack Joseph’s life was colored by the complicated life and death of his father. Jack Joseph’s life was about to become the brush that would color his own child’s beginning. This is the tapestry of humanity, and it is worth exploring in all its ordinary glory.

Ultimately, The Underwater Welder is a story about the revelatory power of pressure. Pressure can crush things, leaving only pieces. Pressure can also chip away the brokenness to reveal integrity. Jack’s story, and the destiny of his family, lie in the human response to immense pressure.

A Worthwhile Read

Even as a graphic novel, The Underwater Welder is a welcome moment apart from the noise of life to explore and ponder the complexities of the human soul, a chance to consider the effect of sin that lingers from one generation to the next, an opportunity to weigh the significance of the father/son relationship, and an entertaining and visually engaging read to boot.

Jeff Lemire has set the table for a number of interesting conversations. Grab a cup of coffee and jump in.



Cru @ SRU : Ask Anything Night (Part 3)

My apologies for the delays in responding. My preaching weeks become scattered. Back to the joyful grind! (It’s probably healthy at this point to remind folks that I’m not on staff with Cru, so these positions are not meant to reflect the organization! I’m just a pastor guy asked to participate – if you have a beef… it’s with me!)


Have you struggled or do you struggle to sit still and listen for God? If you can hear God during quiet time how does that happen for you and what can I do? 

There are a couple things going on in this question. I’ll take them in order. I have always struggled to find the mythical “quiet time” that some folks describe. That does not mean I do not have meaningful time with God – it simply means that my meaningful time works in ways that fit my life and personality. For example, one of my favorite things to do is to walk with my Bible. I’m always the first awake in my family. In the seasons when the sun is up early, I’ll grab my devotional passages for the morning and walk the streets/sidewalks of town with my Bible. I find that walking is helpful for me to carry on conversation with the Word. I love to ride my bike in the summer. I try to take a verse or passage with me to consider while I pedal. In the months where I can’t walk, I miss it. Walking inside is not as fruitful. But still I’ll spend time at the dining room table (my “office”) or elsewhere with the Word. Walking is my preference, though.

I believe the calling on each individual is to meet with the Lord in a way and at a time that is fruitful. If I were to wake up early and then close my eyes to seek the mythical & magical quiet time, I would be asleep in two seconds. Likewise at night… or any other time. Life can be exhausting. But I’ve found a way that I am able to dial in (so to speak) and enjoy the Lord’s presence through his Word. If I were to offer advice in this matter, it would sound like this:

  1. Give the Lord your most fruitful mental hour. If your mind and heart are strongest in the morning, then devote time in the morning.  If it is evening, then evening. There is no prescribed time.
  2. Include the Word. The only way to know 100% that you’re hearing the voice of God is to hear his revealed Word in the Scripture. We so often take for granted the fact that the Word is living and active. It cuts. It heals. It is true and abiding. Whatever you do, do it with the Word… written, digital, memorized. Do it all.
  3. Explore until you find fruit. Some people can withdraw and be in a literal prayer closet. Some have places that allow for focus. Some walk 😉 Some talk aloud. Some journal. Some draw. There are lots of ways to interact with the Word that speak from your heart as a reflection on what God has revealed to be true. Pursue. Pursue. Pursue. Don’t be discouraged if something isn’t “working.” It just means you’ve found another way that, in this season of life, is not fruitful for you. But there is a way. I guarantee it.
  4. I am often discouraged by hearing how others do it “differently” (which my heart unfortunately believes is “better”). This is a poison on our devotional life. I’ve spent years whittling away the methods at which I fail. But in that I’ve had great times and seasons, and I’ve found things that encourage my soul. Listen to others (including me) for ideas and encouragement, but don’t believe my answers are better… they’re better for me.


What does Philippians 4:13 mean to you? 

Philippians 4:13 is unfortunately mishandled by the body. It does not mean if you put your mind to Jesus you can do whatever you want, which is most often how people understand it. We live in a sound clip culture that wants one sentence (preferably with 140 characters or less) to fix our lives. This approach does not work with Scripture. Bible verses do not exist in a vacuum. They require context.

The context of Philippians 4:13 is so beautiful and relevant that it is doubly tragic to see it abused. I encourage folks to read the whole letter! That’s the way it was written. It has a flow. But even the few verses surrounding 4:13 serve to debunk the way it is mistreated:

… for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.
In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret
of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 

Incorrect understanding: I can do anything if I put my mind to it (and keep Jesus in my pocket)
Correct understanding: Life will have highs and lows, but I can endure with Jesus.

Philippians 4:13 is a verse about contentment, the satisfaction that Jesus provides a satisfaction that extends beyond circumstance. Whether in joy or suffering, Jesus is enough. And because Jesus is enough, he provides the strength to abound with humility and to suffer with dignity.


What is your view on gay marriage? Also, what do you think of people who are Christian but support gay marriage? Do you think it’s a bad thing? 

My view on marriage begins with God, because God created marriage.
My view on marriage comes from the Bible – the WHOLE Bible – because it is the Word of God.

God created marriage in Genesis 2. Adam, though enjoying the full fellowship of God, was lonely. God exists eternally in relationship as three Persons – Father, Son, and Spirit. Because we are created in his image, it stands to reason that we, too, would desire relationship with others. In the garden, before the fall, God provided for Adam more than just a mate. He provided woman as a friend and companion who filled a very specific void, who would serve alongside him to fulfill the commission of Genesis 1. Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth. Have dominion. God created humanity to bring him glory by extending this commission. This has not changed. This is true today.

Marriage was not created to give us the warm fuzzies and make us feel good about who we believe ourselves to be. It was created to glorify God by living in line with his commission. Obviously sin screwed everything up. We still seek to fill the earth and to exercise dominion, but not to glorify God. This is the heart condition of all humanity. As such, it makes sense that we would distort what God has revealed to be true about everything, which would include marriage and sexuality. As such, any perversion of God’s intended design for humanity, marriage, and sexuality would stand as sin. This is ONE reason why sexual sin is so extensively dealt with in the Bible.

The other reason, just as important, is the gospel. From the beginning, God has used language depicting himself as a husband and his people as a bride. Most often, his people have played the role of the harlot – idolatrous and unfaithful, giving ourselves to any alternative that tickles our fancy. The ultimate expression of this marriage metaphor is the gospel. Jesus died to save his bride, the church. Paul says in Ephesians 5 that marriage is a picture of the gospel – a faithful husband dying to himself to present his bride pure to God… a bride loving her husband above herself. God, in his sovereign omniscience, gave us marriage to prepare us for what would be necessary in Christ – a plan which was laid forth before the foundation of the world. There is more at stake in the marriage question than a human relationship… it is the picture of the divine-human relationship that is compromised.

All that being said, I do not see homosexual marriage as honoring to our God, who created us for his purposes (not our own – that’s where the whole sin problem came from), and who created marriage as an active and widespread demonstration of the kind of love he has extended in Jesus Christ. The heart of sinful humanity is to do what we want, not what God wants. Every human faces this struggle. I face this struggle. The struggle will manifest differently in different people. As such, I believe in compassion. I cannot endorse the marriage, but that does not mean I cannot love the individual.

To answer that part of your question, I believe love is key, but love involves truth. The church is a hospital for sinners, and so I do not believe in casting down any one person for any one particular sin. But there must also be an understanding that certain sins have a far reaching impact. This means we stand on delicate ground. May God have compassion and help us! May he be glorified by the love that is indicative of his sacrifice for us! May we humbly approach him!

One final consideration (because this is a looooong dialogue these days) is with regard to identity, because the argument is very often made that sexual preference is a matter of identity – that it runs at the core of who we are. Human sexuality, by nature, involves another human. In fact, it requires another human. Sexuality involves the identification of an object of desire… but there has to be an object to desire, or it’s not human (we’re not asexual?!?). As such, I think sexuality is disqualified from providing true identity. True identity is in our souls. Regardless of the label, if we place our identity on something that is not intrinsic, we’re actually abdicating identity in favor of letting something outside of self define us.

The biblical assumption is that the image of God is intrinsic, stamped on our souls. That is how we were made. Obviously, folks can make the argument that God is outside of self, and so it’s the same thing. But I would also argue that if there is a transcendent God capable of speaking the universe into existence, then he is best qualified to tell us what we’re made of and why. (I know that sounds harsh, but I am brought low by this truth with regularity!)

The good news of the gospel is that, in Jesus, there is hope. The good news of the gospel that we cannot – in our sinful flesh – understand is that surrender to Jesus will involve surrender of those things which we have heretofore believed to be defining qualities. That last line might have sounded like bad news, but I assure you it’s not. Surrender to Jesus is to rightly acknowledge and agree with God that our basest desires are eternally flawed (and I’m not just referring to sexuality here. EVERY desire is broken and in need of new life). No matter who you are, what you do, or what you believe prior to meeting Jesus,  you must necessarily give it ALL to him and let him tell you what is right and true. The Christian life is a long sequence of finding out that he has better things for us… but most of those better things involve laying down sinful things that we are convinced will provide us happiness. That is the lie of the garden, the poison on God’s commission. There are numerous qualities that I would have used to define myself prior to meeting Christ. I am never happy to find that they are sinful. But I am ever grateful that he has shown me a better way.

There is hope.
And in our hope, there should be love.


How do I overcome judging myself and others? I know it is not my place to think negative thoughts about others and I do my best not to act on those judgments, but is there anything I can do to overcome judging as if I was God? 

Strangely, the answer is simple. But the outworking is lifelong and humbling. The gospel is the key. The good news of the life, death, resurrection, and reign of Jesus is not a get out of hell free card. It is not a ticket to be punched, a doctrine we adopt in a moment and then tuck in our back pocket. It is a truth into which we immerse ourselves, letting it shape us – heart, soul, and actions.

Why do I start there?

Because we are in desperate need to be reminded of the sin from which we’ve been rescued. We are in continual need of being reminded of his sacrifice. We live at the foot of the cross because his blood is an ever-present reminder of the vileness of our own hearts, and his willing compassion to die for us anyway. As we dwell on this truth, we find ourselves able to believe two truths:

  1. Jesus loves me.
  2. Jesus loves them.

As we come to understand that we’ve been loved, we are able to see ourselves through the eyes of God – flawed, yes. But loved. Oh, we are so loved! While we were enemies, God died for us! If you are in Christ, you are an adopted son or daughter of God, given by Christ the right to call him Abba! Father! Daddy! God draws so near, not because you’re perfect, but because he is good. The revelation of his goodness will change you. Get in the habit of preaching the gospel to yourself – in good days and in bad. In the good days, the gospel will humble you. In the bad days, the gospel will pick you up. The truth never changes, so live there.

As we come to understand the vast love of God, we are able to see others through his eyes as well – flawed, yes. But loved. They are so loved! Whether his enemies or his children, the sacrifice of Christ stands as hope for them, the hope of adoption stands for them! Just imagine what it would be like to call them brother or sister! Not because we chose them, but because God’s love is bigger than our choices. I might suggest you get in the habit of praying for the people you are prone to judge. Asking the Lord to smile upon them despite their flaws will change you.

The gospel will also, in time (and in relationship!) impart to you the kind of love that enables you to be honest with another person about a matter of the soul. In other words, it is possible to judge rightly without condemnation, with an eye towards restoration (Galatians 6!). While there may be times to address matters of sin in a broad forum (like an “Ask Anything Night”, or in expositionally preaching the Word of God), I believe the  intention of biblical community is that sin would be addressed in relationship with other people, where healthy fellowship allows for compassionate conversation, prayer, and accountability. My final suggestion would be to seek community, kindred souls tethered to the gospel of Jesus Christ, who can help you live an honest and humbly surrendered life!



I’m still letting these churn. If you have questions, or would like to pursue additional conversation (in person… I’ve never seen a fruitful extended online conversation), contact me!

Cru @ SRU : Ask Anything Night (Part 2)

Can you lose your salvation?

If you want to start a spirited discussion among a group of Christians, ask this question, step back, and watch. Unfortunately, there is no consensus view on the security of salvation. If you were to go on a proof-texting mission through the Scriptures, you would find a variety of verses that could help you lean in either direction. The question hinges on the nature of the grace given by God, and the relationship of grace to the atoning work of Christ. This is a much larger discussion in the realm of theology.

Personally, I do not believe genuine redemption can be lost. I do not believe God rescinds the gift of his grace, which I believe is effectual in accomplishing its purposes. For those who appear to exhibit genuine faith for a season, only to fall away (which I have seen quite often…), I would contend that while their outward show of faith may have seemed authentic, that it was rooted in the flesh (emotions and intellect without biblical repentance and faith) rather than in the life-giving grace of God. As John said, they were never in Christ. I find the doctrine of forever grace to be comforting in my darkest hours, in seasons of doubt or of pain.

If you go chasing this particular subject, do so gently in relationship to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Know the potential for division, and be willing to walk side-by-side with a Christian who sees this position through a different lens. Study the Scriptures, not just the words of men. And most of all, remember that the pursuit of the intellectual can become an obsession that fails to reach your heart… experience has taught me that this is more likely to produce arrogance than humility. Love must be the foundation of your pursuit.


Why do bad things happen to good people? How can God allow that? 

This one was covered well at the event. We start with definitions. In terms of sin and brokenness, there are no good people – in terms of righteousness. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The consequence of sin is the curse brought by God upon his creation in Genesis 3. The outworking of the curse is going to feel devastating at times and in many ways. Because this question is often first a cry for justice, we must at least consider the fact that a cursed existence is still an opportunity in this life to pursue reconciliation with God. The wages of sin is death, which means a lifetime of opportunity is an act of mercy on God’s part, from which we will have no excuse. God is indeed just, as the current condition was foretold as Adam stood in the garden representing the human race.

One struggle of a cursed existence is to watch nice people, kind people, loved ones, go through trials – all the while enduring trials of our own. Romans 8 describes all of creation as groaning, waiting for the fullness of final redemption upon the return of Christ. This is the result of sin. We, too, groan and wait.

But Romans 5 also now describes Jesus as the new Adam, the new head of humanity – received by those who come to know him by grace through faith. All of humanity stands in one of two postures – in Adam or in Christ. Those who are in Adam bear the weight of the curse now, and await the final judgment as a result. Those who are in Christ have had their portion of the curse laid upon Jesus – when he died, the final judgment was reverse because Christ bore it in fullness on the tree. In the meantime, we live a life marked by suffering – not as a form of ultimate judgment, but rather as a life of identification with our Savior who suffered. The pains of this life are the last pains we will endure. There is hope in such a statement, there is peace and even joy amidst trial in such a reality!

Bad things will happen to all people in this life. Sin guarantees as much. Death will be the ultimate bad thing. But for the Christian, there is a hope that changes everything here and now.


How can I know for sure that God exists? 

If you’re aiming for the extreme form of this question, in what way will God empirically and emphatically prove his existence to me so that I could not possibly hold any other belief than to worship his excellence? The answer is, he will not until the return of Christ. At that point, however, according to the Scriptures, eternity will be finalized. In this life, our response to God will always involve an element of faith, an element of stepping outside ourselves in order to trust something that is not in reach of our five senses (or even the rare sixth sense… ;)… )

If you dig into the study of apologetics, you can see the arguments for the existence of God. The ontological argument is the argument of being – the idea of God exists, which in and of itself is an argument for his existence. The teleological argument – the order of the universe suggests a source of order. The cosmological argument – every effect must have an adequate cause… the world is real, therefore the cause must be real. The moral argument suggests that objective morality requires a source… subjective morality leaves too many open doors. Obviously there are lengthy arguments into these ideas, and there are other ideas.

Ravi Zacharias describes how God meets us at the intersection of logical consistency, empirical adequacy, and experiential relevance… it’s a great clip if you’re looking for a brain exercise!

In moments of doubt, it’s easy to fall into questioning the existence of God. But the Scriptures are clear that nature reveals his divine power and attributes (Rom. 1). Vern Poythress has done some wonderful work in his book Redeeming Science to expound on this thought. However, as I’ve said already, there will necessarily be an element of trust that is born of the Spirit, not the senses – no matter how good the intellectual argument. Christianity is a matter of faith, not an academic framework – though the pursuit of the study of God is indeed fruitful at every turn!


If God hates wickedness, why do a lot of wicked people have really good things happen to them? 

The psalmists asked this question so very often! Were you to spend time in the psalms, you would find a kindred heart asking this question again and again! Yet again and again, the psalmist is drawn to lift his eyes from the mirror to the glory of God, to focus on him rather than obsessing over temporary earthly circumstances.

As we discussed at the Cru event, though, you can also consider the definitions of the terms. We assume that what is happening to “the wicked” is good, because in our covetous idolatry, we want the earthly blessing without an eye to the eternal consequences. We associate health, wealth, and earthly prosperity with the greatest blessings because in our sinful hearts we long to be comfy. But the call of Christ is simple, take up your cross and follow me. The phrase is not exactly cozy. Jesus suffered perfectly and completely, and the call to discipleship is akin to a call to suffer. As I was reading this afternoon – we want the blessings of the garden of Eden (peace, provision, presence of God) without first walking through the garden of Gethsemane (where Jesus sweat blood and endured the anguish of his soul). While in this sin-stained world, we must persevere. The true blessings are not of this world. We are to give thanks in every circumstance, to consider it pure joy when we face trials. Most often, the Bible brings warnings when things are going “well,” because it is in wellness that we are most prone to forget God.

God has promised to provide daily for his children. You won’t often see daily bread on an episode of MTV Cribs, though, and our sinful hearts just aren’t satisfied with that!


Unrelated, but related… 

I read a great quote from C.S. Lewis today, found in his essay titled God in the Dock: 

“The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He (man) is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the bench and God in the dock.”

This is convicting, indeed!

King Me

(This post is taken from a recent sermon on 1Samuel 8)


Having grown up in the US, I’v never lived under the reign of an honest to goodness, earthly king. I’ve never been a subject to a monarch. We choose leaders through an electoral process. And thanks to a culture of 24hr news that not only feels the desperate need to let ANYONE talk about SOMETHING for all 24 of those hours EVERY SINGLE DAY, but also feels the pressure to make the endless drivel sound exciting, our electoral process feels like it is wrapped in useless minutiae to the point that by the time we go to the polls, we’re somehow exhausted and annoyed at having exercised our constitutional rights.

But it’s always nice when the homestretch is in view. (Just think only 8 more months… sigh)

My practical knowledge of monarchy is limited, so in my Monty-Python-esque daydreaming, I kind of wish real-life monarchy would work like the game of checkers… or Draughts, if you embrace the game’s British roots.

Imagine with me, if you will, ancient kingdoms lining a battlefield. Men moving across the battlefield in a series of diagonal maneuvers, jumping OVER the opposing soldiers along the way. As opposing soldiers are leapt OVER, they recognizes the athletic prowess of their opponents and lay down their arms. But one brave man finally reaches the far side of the battlefield, he shouts, at which point one of the previously defeated men climbs on TOP of his shoulders, instituting the monarchy which comes with no particularly special powers other than the ability to move, and continue jumping over men, this time whilst backwards.

THEY say (you know you can trust what they say, because they are they.) that it is more difficult to master the game of checkers than it is to master the game of chess. Who would’ve thought?

This post is a reflection upon our relationship to God as KING. I really do believe it’s hard for us to practically understand what it means to have a sovereign reigning over us, because our cultural context is not exactly comparable. We can chase book smarts, but in our context, we rejected monarchy centuries ago, choosing instead to allow the people hold the power collectively – which has its merits and flaws in a sinful and broken world.


You need to know that it was always God’s revealed plan to provide a king, a sovereign who would reign over the earth with justice and peace. This king would come as a man in fulfillment of a promise. A long time ago, God told Abraham (Genesis 17:6)  that, in addition to blessing all the families of the earth through his family, kings would also come through his line. This promise was often renewed to the Israelites, ultimately leading to a narrower vision of one True king, the blessing for the earth who would sit on the throne forever.

Trouble springs when the people, in sin, try to wrestle the plan out of God’s hands, demanding the right thing for the wrong reason. This story is from Israel’s past. The heart behind it is as old as the garden of Eden, and the implications stretch to the cross of Christ and to you, to us today.


In 1Samuel 8, the nation of Israel asked God to provide a human king. Until this particular moment in history, the nation had lived under the kingship of God. As needed, in the midst of trouble wrought by their own sinfulness, our good and saving God would raise deliverers, called judges, who would restore freedom from oppression according to the will and the work of the Lord. But the judges were temporary. The day to day affairs of the nation knew YHWH, the God of the Exodus, as sovereign King. Samuel, the man after whom the book is named, served the Lord by leading the chosen people.  Samuel had been good to the people of Israel. He served faithfully as a prophet and judge. The people love Samuel. But his kiddos are rotten. The people fear for the future in a land surrounded by enemies. They fear life under poor leadership. So they ask for a king… it seems reasonable.

And I’ve already told you this was God’s plan. So why all the trouble? Why is it such a big deal that the people are asking for what God has promised them?

Sometimes asking for the right thing is, in fact, the wrong thing, when desired for the wrong reason.

Israel didn’t want God’s king. They wanted a king. They wanted this king to do what kings do. But their heart’s desire was to be just like everyone else. That we may be like all the nations. (1Samuel 8:5, 20)

The heart problem here is that God’s call upon his people is to be holy. Be holy as I, the LORD your God, am holy. To be holy is to be set apart. Consecrated. Different. To be holy unto the Creator of the universe is to stand out as belonging to the One who is distinct from this world in all the best ways. To be holy unto God is to be unlike any nation, any people, by virtue of faith according to his grace. Here the people of God ask God to make them just like everyone else. Plain. Fallen. Broken.

God recognizes the brokenness of their request when he acknowledges that it’s not Samuel that they’ve rejected. In fact, they’ve rejected God himself – because until this time, there was no human king in Israel. Only God occupied the throne. But these people flatly and boldly told their God that he was not enough – he was not what they had in mind.

Even after Samuel tells the people just how selfish and corrupt their king would be, the people will not relent. They iterate their demands for a king. This king would not just pronounce judgment on the people. This king, requested in sin, would be judgment on the people. And from an historical perspective, this was true of the first human king of Israel – a man named Saul. Saul would exhibit very few admirable moments. Through his continual sinfulness, his favor in the eyes of God would disappear almost as quickly as he was anointed. He becomes a picture of everything that happens when we, in our sinfulness, are given the reins of a kingdom.


If you read the story of Saul, don’t fall into the trap of believing that he is a bad guy and you are somehow better. Saul is we. He is a for real man who lived a for real busted life that stands as a stark reminder of what our fallen nature looks like if given a throne. His sin is our sin. His darkness is our darkness. I know this because the heart of Saul, the heart of the people’s request for a king, was born long before, in the garden, when Adam ate the fruit and told God he thought he’d make a better king.

Think about the familiar sin of the garden. Real life Adam is faced with a choice. Obey God, receive and follow him as the sovereign of his life. Or take the fruit. Disobey. Knock God off the throne and take it by seemingly genuine but more like imaginary force.

The parallels are striking, really. But the heart of the issue is a rejection of God as king. Adam, misguided and self-centered, wanted the throne for himself. He believed the enemy of our soul. The serpent whispered to his willing ears that God was withholding something from humanity… that partaking of the fruit would somehow open a window to our full potential! Wisdom! Knowledge! Lay God aside and claim for yourself the very thing he has promised to be!


The lie of the enemy and the heart of Adam are alive and well in the people of Israel in 1Samuel 8. Take the reins. Hijack the Lord’s promise, claim it on your terms. By asking you to be holy, God is holding out on you! You’re missing the boat on the good stuff! Kick him to the curb and you’ll find what you’re looking for by being just like everyone else.

When you read the story of Adam, don’t read it like a victim. Don’t read it like you could’ve done any better, like if it weren’t for this chump in the garden I wouldn’t be so broken. The Scriptures are clear, and any honest reflection on the condition of your soul would agree – you’re just as busted as Adam, and you’re just as responsible for the sinful condition of the world. We all are.


I wish these stories represented the worst of our sinful rejection of God. But there is one worse yet. You see, God did send his king to the earth. He sent his Son. Humanity had the opportunity to meet God in flesh. Jesus Christ came to earth as the eternal son of God, stepping down from glory to visit the world created by his hand.

Jesus walked the earth as the radiance of God’s glory, the perfect representation of God’s being.

Poetic people say the eyes are the window to the soul. For the precious generation who walked the earth with Jesus, they had the opportunity to gaze upon him, to look into the eyes, and thereby the very soul, of God. God remained true to his word. All of the promises. All of the waiting came to a crescendo at the fullness of time, the very moment for which God started the hands of the clock spinning. And now God’s people, the very people who rejected an invisible God in favor of a visible, if broken, king; would have the opportunity to welcome the fullness of God’s promise in the person of his Son.

Instead Jesus was met with skepticism, anger, hatred. Many who did draw near did so for selfish reasons, attracted to the novelty of his teaching and the spectacle of the miraculous. But when they were truly challenged by his perfection, most walked away. When he started to face persecution fueled by the religious leaders, many more abandoned him. When authorities arrested him and tried him for claiming to be himself, even those closest to him turned their backs in fear. The Jewish establishment condemned him for claiming to be God. The Roman establishment condemned him for claiming to be a king.

At the height of human sin, the most damning and simultaneously glorious moment in ALL of human history, Roman governor Pontius Pilate asked the crowd a question. (John 19:12-16)

Shall I crucify your king?

The response of the chief priests?

We have no king but Caesar!

In a moment, the full and final rejection of God took place as he stood, in the flesh before them and listened to the people boldly declare that earth’s emperor, the delusional, self-declared deity, was the ruler to whom they would submit. The people declared, as Johan Herman Bavinck so beautifully states, “that they would rather have a king who takes than a God who gives.” And they handed God over to die.

The sinful heart is as old as the garden.

But… there is good news.

Good because, what the chief priests didn’t realize is that, in their moment of rejection, God was also carrying out his plan. Never doubt the brilliance of our God to enact the perfect plan, even in the face of the insurmountable problem of our sinfulness. In the NT book of Acts, Peter declares in the 4th chapter that even this sinful rejection of the people was under the sovereign hand of God. Here is a glimpse of the mystery of God’s sovereignty.

Under the old covenant, the high priest’s job was to perform sacrificial rites, destroying the life of a sacrificial animal, a lamb or a goat, as a substitute on behalf of the people. By offering the sacrifice, the priest would atone for the sins of the people, a picture of reconciliation between a holy God and his rebellious people. The wages of sin is death. Without the spilling of blood, there is no forgiveness for sins. As the chief priests and elders of the people handed Jesus over to Pontius Pilate to be executed, they were filled with sinful hatred. Yet it was in that very act that they were leading the spotless Lamb of God, the sinless Son, to become the eternal atoning sacrifice. The chief priests, blinded by sin, were completely oblivious to the fact they were, on a mysterious level, doing their job. They were setting apart a sacrifice to atone for the sins of mankind.

Ultimately, Jesus is not only the sacrifice, but also the very real and perfect high priest who willingly laid down HIS OWN life on behalf of the world. But God was at work, in the sinfulness of humanity, carrying out his plan of redemption. That as the blood of Jesus was spilled on the cross, the price was being paid for countless generations of sin. Countless generations of rejection, faithlessness and idolatry, weakness and shame. His blood paid it all.

Felix culpa.


Three days later, as our Savior was raised to life, overcoming death and delivering the crushing blow to the enemy of our souls, he was making another promise. This time, the promise is that all who grab hold of Jesus by grace through faith would experience a resurrection like his. That one day, God’s promised King, the one who is now in heaven, exalted and reigning, will return to claim his own to be with him, bodily, forever.


He is our king.

And we who have received him, have received an inheritance that cannot be shaken. Surrender to him today as king,

In Brief : The Brick Bible

Title: The Brick Bible – The Complete Set
(Click image to view on Amazon)

Author: Brendan Powell Smith


I come at this review with such a heavy heart, because I believe the premise is brilliant, but the execution is terribly flawed. Using Legos to tell the greatest story ever told is fascinating and appealing to multiple generations. My generation would read out of nostalgia. My kids love everything Lego, and so the appeal would obviously be there. Smith’s execution of the scenery from an artistic standpoint is amazing. The photography is wonderful, the product of a decade of work. These graphic novels read so easily and well, that I am equally joyful and devastated, because the content couldn’t be more short-sighted and void of the fullness of God’s character.

I would summarize this attempt at a biblical synopsis as caricature at best. In leaving out the essence of the gospel, the story becomes a mockery of God’s revelation.


Regarding that violence…

Before I completely lose the people who might love this work, I am NOT upset at the violence or even the vulgarity of particular scenes. (Though I understand a number of panels have been removed because they carry the shock factor far beyond what might be “necessary” – I am thankful) I applaud the attempt at maintaining authenticity in the historical account. The Bible is a violent and vulgar story at times. Read the last two sentences again, because most reviewers who disapprove of the depiction do so for this very reason. In fact, it is the violence and vulgarity that caused Sam’s Club to remove this volume from their shelves.

Any faithful telling of redemptive history will include lots of blood, and lots of inappropriate accounts of sin. Yes, even sexual sin. The Bible is not shy about reminding us all of our legacy of sin. For the many who complain that a kid might just pick this up and be scarred, I remind you that they also might pick up the actual Bible and read the very same stories, though with words instead of toy pictures. Instead of silly plastic figures, they’d just have to use their imaginations to decide what it looked like when the Levite cut his concubine into a dozen pieces and shipped her to the tribes of Israel.


Brick Bible 1


A bigger issue…

I’ve spent a couple days trying to sum up the theology of the Brick Bible in my head. I still haven’t nailed it down, but here are a few key observations that bother me way more than the violence.

1) God the Father is always angry. Smith uses real Lego pieces from real Lego sets to provide faces throughout the work. (As a side note, it is part of the fun to look for characters I recognize – various Star Wars and Harry Potter, for example – and how they were used.) Smith’s chosen face for the Father is one of upturned eyebrows. God is presented in perpetual anger.

2) Missing the mark on Moses. Bible quiz: why didn’t God allow Moses to enter the promised land? You won’t find the answer in the Brick Bible. The account of Numbers 20 is included, but without the sin of Moses. Consequently, when God forbids Moses later in the Brick Bible, it is just another account of Angry God withholding goodness from people. The absence of grace is also reiterated by the inclusion of Moses among the murderers in hell at the conclusion of Revelation. Moses actually has the front and center place in hell for that crowd. So while our forgiveness towards others is necessary (see #5 below), God’s forgiveness is conspicuously absent.

3) God’s judgment is the big picture. It is true that Jesus talked about hell more than heaven, but Smith spends so much time on hell that you wouldn’t even believe heaven is a reality. I also missed the kingdom of heaven come crashing to earth. At every turn in these novels, God is judgment. Absent is “the LORD, the LORD, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulnessbut who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children”. (Exodus 34:6-7) I’m not saying God isn’t the epitome of justice, but his justice does not exist in a vacuum.

4) Jesus died for no good reason. The Lord is depicted as a kind of nice guy. He teaches – but his teaching is a frustrating mixture of moralism and futility, telling people to be good, but that it’s unlikely our angry God would ever let them into heaven. He provides no solution. His death was not only ineffective to pay the ransom for sin, but it was not appropriated to anyone to draw them near to God. It just sort of happened. Angry God strikes again.

5) Forgiveness might be the basis for salvation, rather than faith – and certainly not grace. Forgive others and God will forgive you. In other words, tolerance is king. Because the life of Christ was not a preparation for the death of Christ, and because neither the life nor the death of Christ are presented as a gift to sinful humanity through the good news, then the resurrection also is a byline. There is no real basis for hope. The way to heaven comes by forgiving everyone. The introduction to the New Testament Bricks, written by a seminary professor, provides the foundation for the relativism that follows. Truth is subjective (especially stuffy old truth provided by millenia of scholarship, prayer, and ministry by Christ through his Church), and so forgiving everyone as they live out their experience of truth is the apparent key to eternity.  Granted, this is not explicitly stated – but in the absence of the gospel, this is the most consistent message throughout.


Brick Bible 2



Can you make the Bible say that? 

The New Testament includes Scripture references near the spine, which is helpful – I’m guessing an idea that sprung up after the Old Testament novel since they are there absent. And yes, the vast majority of the text is direct quotation from the Scripture. But quoting half of a Bible verse is not necessarily helpful. Context matters. “Behold, the Lamb of God…” is a flowery half-quote, but it is given weight by the other half, “… who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29) Guess which half was not found in the New Testament novel?

A series of half-verses and quarter-passages without access to the explanations offered elsewhere in Scripture will only create a fractured doctrine built on a heaping mound of misunderstanding. The Brick Bible is a series of hand-picked illustrations used to portray a partial understanding of God. Imagine with me, if you will, the backlash if I were to use the same process to caricature another person? To see sin without seeing the image of God? To see their faults without their qualities? There is an inherent hypocrisy in this work of tolerance to skip out on the whole revelation of God as the perfection of love, justice, mercy, grace, wrath, and forgiveness.

Overall, I enjoy exercises in critical thinking. So I embraced the mental calisthenics. Though my facial expressions at times may have suggested otherwise, I found something in this reading. But where I had hoped to find a fun resource to reference in ministry from time to time, I instead found an account too dangerous to even grant such an endorsement. I would not recommend these books to anyone who is not familiar with the Scriptures. Otherwise, the absence of context could be very damaging.

The introduction states that the novels are an invitation to read the Bible. I’m not so sure. For those who already believe this always angry, one-sided caricature of God, they will only be emboldened in their incomplete views – such a result does not require further Biblical exploration. Believers might be drawn to the Scriptures to reaffirm what the novels miss. I’m not sure what happens in between.

If only someone would write a toy Bible with sound doctrine. A toy Bible with the shock of God’s forgiveness in the midst of our overwhelming sin will compel people to read the real thing for a good reason.




I’d Like to Speak to the Manager: The Great Divorce #6

The capitalistic endeavor of the intelligent man in the bowler hat continues as he labors off with the smallest of golden apples. This is the ghost determined to bring heaven to hell, to introduce a real commodity in a place with “no scarcity”, and maybe to turn a little profit in the process.

Lewis has a knack for description. Providing detail, yet all the while leaving endless room for imagination. A thunderous yet liquid voice. Rarely calling anything or anyone by name, he relies on engaging description to keep your mind wondering. As he described the efforts of Ikey, I couldn’t help but feel small. Literally small. As I imagined the scene, I imagined things being great in size. I couldn’t help it. I had to read paragraphs again to bring them to a manageable scale in my mind. I thank Mr. Lewis for this, because it is his ability and his gift to describe scenery in such a way that invites me and surrounds me.

The presence of the Water-Giant is exciting.


I saw now… that it was also a bright angel who stood, like one crucified, against the rocks and poured himself perpetually down towards the forest with loud joy. (the Writer)


The Writer became self-conscious in the presence of the Water-Giant. How fitting. It is exciting to me that this short chapter shadows the presence of the Lord, all the while portraying his brilliance.




Here we encounter the hard-bitten ghost, an opinionated skeptic through and through. He is defined by what he already believes to be true. He proudly carries his presuppositions into every situation, and carries them back out again unscathed. His earthly life as a traveler was, in the end, wasted, because he had no interest or appreciation for his circumstances. He already knew what he was going to see, and so he never really saw anything. His eyes and his understanding were darkened, and so his years were, in the end, fruitless. Oh, how often we miss moments because we refuse to see that there’s something to see.

This ghost even knows Management. As a side note, kudos to Lewis for capitalizing the final occurrence. As if to cement the hard-bitten ghost’s defiance of God, he subtly magnifies the final complaint by giving Management a sense of significance.


“What would you say if you went to a hotel where the eggs were all bad and when you complained to the Boss, instead of apologising and changing his dairyman, he just told you that if you tried you’d get to like bad eggs in time?” (the Hard-Bitten Ghost)


It is a loaded complaint. The assumption is that the eggs are, in fact, bad. What if, instead of the eggs, it is your tastes that have been corrupted? We’ve talked before in this series about the difficulties of relativistic thinking. The hard-bitten ghost has fallen into the trap of thinking that what he thinks is true, simply because he is the one who is thinking. He cannot see the possibility that his presupposition is wrong, that the eggs are in fact good and that his tastes have somehow been perverted.

If the Bible is true, then our tastes have been compromised. Sin has darkened our heart, causing us to view God and his absolute Truth as narrow, stifling, and judgmental. In response, we place ourselves on the throne, living according to definitions of right and wrong that we’ve concocted (and, on occasion, borrowed from God without giving him due credit). By keeping God out of the equation, we build our straw houses with tons of room to wiggle in and out of any solid definition or standard of right. (Romans 1)

We think we know.

The hard-bitten ghost wants Management to give him something that suits his darkened heart. Something to spice up his sinful straw house. The ghost wants a god that he can tote around in his pocket, one who bows to his every whim – not only answering his questions, but reading hollow answers from cue cards crafted in the ghost’s sinful core. In short, the ghost has already found the god his heart desires right in the mirror.

What if Management could give a new heart to appreciate the eggs? What if Management could replace a cold, dead heart with a living, beating heart, and open eyes to boot? To the hard-bitten ghost, this would probably seem like the ultimate joke at the end of a bad dream. But then again, that’s exactly what the cold, dead heart would think.

I’m thankful this morning that the one true God of the universe is in the business of removing hearts of stone and giving hearts of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:22-38) I’m thankful that he is in the business of opening eyes and ears to the truth of the gospel. But then again, as one who has found life and life abundant in Christ, that’s exactly what I would think.


“I prefer it up here.” (the Writer)


The fading hope in the Writer, stressed under the weight of encounters with ghosts who remind me all too clearly of my own clinging sin, now carries me, wondering, to the next chapter.



You can visit the Summer Reading page by clicking here, or by opening the menu at the top right.





Achan, Identity, and Repentance

(adapted from a recent sermon on Joshua 7)

So the guy takes a few thousand dollars in silver and gold… and a coat… he pleads guilty… and they give him the death sentence, ALONG with his family, a bunch of innocent animals, AND everything he owns. They essentially erase him.

I’ve come across different responses to a story like this:

1. Folks who think God unreasonable – and his followers a bunch of loose screws.

2. Folks who distance themselves entirely from God in the Old Testament. They say things like “MY God wouldn’t,” or “only the fundamentalists believe this stuff really happened. It’s probably an allegory. Let’s move forward a few hundred pages.”

3. Folks who celebrate the judgment of God falling upon others. They say things like “he had it coming. An example had to be made.”

I try – and it’s tough sometimes – to fit into a fourth category… folks who are heartbroken to see judgment carried out, not because we think God unjust, but because a fellow image bearer is taken – but who also trust that God has revealed himself to be good, a goodness that finds its ultimate expression in the gift of life won by Jesus Christ. The expression of the gospel reminds me that there has to be more to the story.

But how does a story like this INCREASE my affection for God through the good news of Jesus?

This story revolves around the treatment of these devoted things. What on earth are devoted things? In this story, they are things devoted to God, some for kingdom use, some for destruction. The common thread is that they are things devoted, irrevocably, irreversibly, in order that God’s will would be accomplished. If that meant rendering something to God for his service, so be it. And in this chapter, if that meant rendering something to God for removal so that his will is not impeded, so be it.

Jericho was devoted to the LORD. That meant everything that could be employed for carrying out his will was preserved and delivered to the treasury. Everything that was a stumbling block was removed, blotted out. God’s people here were instruments of his will in time and space.

Is that easy to swallow? Not necessarily. But if God revealed himself to be good? Better.

Why was Achan’s sin a big deal?

By taking and hiding silver and gold, Achan wasn’t stealing from the Canaanites. He was stealing from God. As the Creator, God ultimately owns everything. And in this case, he had reclaimed the silver and gold for his purposes.

God rolled away the reproach of Egypt when he called Joshua to circumcise the Israelites in Joshua 5. Rolling away the reproach is God’s way of saying he was renewing their lives and their identities, marking them for himself. They had once been identified with Egypt, with death, but God made them new. This applies to us when we receive new life and a new identity in Christ.

By taking the devoted things, Achan was identifying with things rather than with God. God rolled away the reproach of Egypt, Achan rolled on the reproach of Canaan. He shifted his trust and his identity away from God and placed it firmly in the things of this world. His sin had far reaching consequences. He brought reproach upon himself, upon his family who became guilty alongside, upon his nation, whom God held responsible until they purged the evil from their midst.

Achan poised himself as an enemy of God. Sadly, this is a familiar place for mankind.

According to Romans, we are all suppressors of the truth, bearing the wrath of God because we’ve exchanged the truth for a lie, worshiping created things rather than the Creator of all things. The earned and deserved sentence for sin is death.

Could it be that we are bothered by God’s judgment of Achan’s idolatry, his covetousness, his theft, his deception, because we, too, are guilty of the same sin? Sure, I never stole a pretty Babylonian coat, but sin is a matter of the heart. And if we are guilty of the same sin before the same holy God, would it not mean that we have earned the same fate?

Here’s another question. What happens when you find out you’re under the wrath of God?

I’m reminded of a hymn by Isaac Watts, a reflection on Romans 7:


Lord, how secure my conscience was, and felt no inward dread.
I was alive without the law, and thought my sins were dead.

My hopes of heaven were firm and bright, but then your standard came
With a convincing power and light, to show how vile I am.

My guilt appeared so small before, till terribly I saw
how perfect, holy, just, and pure was your eternal law

Then felt my soul the heavy load; my sins revived again;
I had provoked a dreadful God, all my hopes were slain.

My God, I cry with every breath for some kind power to save,
to break the yoke of sin and death, and thus redeem the slave.


The essence of the song is that we’re upbeat about our personal goodness, until we’re shown exactly how sinful we are. And it’s in those moments of clarity that we are most broken, most terrified of the holiness of God. And unless he gives us a reason to hope, some kind power to save, some redemption for our slavery to sin, we are lost.

Joshua calls out to the people, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you. In the morning therefore you shall be brought near… and he who is taken with the devoted things shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and because he has done an outrageous thing in Israel.”

Achan knew. He knew he was sunk.

The knowledge that sin is sin is meant to awaken a struggle within us. Revelation of our sin reveals death. Consequence. Awareness of sin should show us the helplessness of our cause apart from God so that we cry out in desperation like the apostle Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death!?!”

That, apparently, didn’t happen for Achan. The whole next morning ordeal wouldn’t have been necessary had he been moved to confession & repentance for his sin. Had he cried out to God for mercy.

Surely he was grieved over what was coming. But it wasn’t the godly grief of 2Corinthians 7 – the kind of grief that moves us to repent. He didn’t repent. He hid.

He decided to take his chances.

Achan didn’t see God as merciful. He couldn’t have. When you see God as a God of mercy, which he is, you plead for mercy – you don’t turn away. Though you know the penalty, you still plead because there is no other hope.

You don’t hide from the light when you know there is safety in the light. You only hide from the light when you’re afraid.

In the morning he waited. He watched. He sat back while the lots were cast… slow… agonizing… sealing his fate, round by round. He waited. And when it was clear that God had drawn his sin to light, had brought him to judgment; then he admitted his guilt. He confessed.

It was a polished confession. Neat. Eloquent. He used all those churchy words. Truly I have sinned. Coveted. But it was heartless. No repentance, just words. True confession comes from a humble heart. True confession is born of godly grief over having sinned against the Creator. True confession brings us in line with God’s truth, crying for the treasure of God’s grace.

Achan didn’t treasure the LORD. Achan was buried with his treasure. This has to be true because God has promised mercy to the humble and contrite heart.

You can wait like Achan.

You can provide a smooth answer like Achan.

But if your heart is not repentant when you face your sinfulness, then your answer isn’t worth the breath you’ve spent to deliver it.

One day you will face the risen Lord Jesus. One day your knee will bow. Your tongue will confess Jesus Christ is Lord. No one has ever entered the presence of the glory of God without confessing this to be true. The Scriptures testify. It WILL happen. But if the final judgment is the FIRST time you are brought low before him, the Word says it will be too late. Every man has been given this one life, and with it this one chance to repent. We are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment.

But the good news of the gospel is that mercy has been given! The blood of Jesus has been shed. The perfect Son of God came to earth as a man in order to live a perfect life. A perfect life in preparation to be the perfect sacrifice, so that his shed blood would pay the penalty for the sin of any who would turn to him in humble submission, in repentance and faith.

The good news of the gospel is that the penalty of death was transferred to God’s only Son so that everyone who calls upon his name would receive life. Mercy. Grace. Love.

We are called to repent and believe.

This story of Achan increases our affection for God by showing us our sin, by leading us to the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ and the fountain of life which flows. As we are brought low, he is lifted high as the only avenue of grace. The LORD turned from his anger when sin was removed from the people.

History here teaches us, not to execute the sinner, but to see that sin itself was given a death sentence in the ministry of the Lord – and so the call in the life of the Christian is to put to death the remaining sin, assuming a posture of repentance, receiving the gift of forgiveness in Christ alone.

Achan was called to grab hold of the promise of redemption given when sin entered the garden. We are called to grab hold of the promise of redemption fulfilled at Calvary.

Just How Personal?

Every once in a while, it might be good to ask ourselves why we use particular phrases. For that matter, we should also ask whether it is a good idea to continue using them. For the sake of discussion, I’d like to propose laying to rest the “personal relationship with Jesus.” Before you gather the lynch mob, please allow me to explain.

I understand the phrase. I’ve used the phrase. As time has passed, though, I’ve come to see possible issues with just tossing the phrase to the masses without qualification.

To clarify, I love the “relationship with Jesus.” Without question. By grace through faith, the relationship with Jesus is the key matter of every individual’s life. We will all one day stand before the Lord to answer the question he posed to his friends long ago, “Who do you  say I am?” It is my hope, my prayer, that countless saints will stand before the Savior with submissive, adoring hearts and declare him to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. The relationship is critical.

My issue, then, lies with the personal aspect.

A quick search of the term online yields an expected definition. “Of, affecting, or belonging to a particular person rather than to anyone else.” Scanning the results of the search uncovers additional insight to our cultural understanding and application of the word. I found other terms and ideas in the website bylines… private, user-centric, “maintained for personal use”. Personal ads for companionship seem to frequent the list. Again, none of these terms or ideas are unexpected from the search. After all, it’s personal.

But now apply them to the Christian faith.




Maintained for personal use.

SWM seeking savior who will carry through sand.

These terms don’t line up with the biblical description of a relationship with Jesus. Communal. Christ-centric. Other-centric. Maintained for God’s use. Following his footsteps rather than asking him to follow me around and pick me up in the midst of mine. Submission to the Creator of the universe according to his terms, for his purposes, for his glory alone for all eternity.

The more personal the relationship, the more likely the person has injected their own personality into the equation. The trouble with injecting a faith relationship with boatloads of personality is that our personalities are all fatally flawed. It’s a lethal injection.

The terms of a relationship with Christ are spelled out in the Scriptures. The Bible. The Word of God. The terms are completely external to ourselves. They are not entry points for negotiation, they are terms to which we must surrender. The first step is waving the white flag. There is no room for personality in the terms of the relationship. Obviously there is plenty of room for the expression of personality within the boundaries of the relationship, but on a paper diagram, this is secondary.

Perhaps a more useful term might be a biblical relationship with Jesus.

Why quibble over words? Does this really matter?

Consider one of the current diagnoses plaguing the church today: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. According to this diagnosis, God is one to whom we turn in order to do good (moralistic) and feel good (therapeutic), but we want him to stay out of our business (Deism). MTD is an unsatisfactory picture of God. His ultimate aim is not simply that we do good & feel good while he remains a cosmic spectator. His aim is surrender. Jesus, God in flesh, came to live a perfect life on our behalf, die a sacrificial death for our sin, and come intimately into our very hearts to bring the gift of life. This comes by surrender. Total and unconditional. Our doing good comes by his grace & the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Our feeling good is the result of the joy and peace we find in knowing and being known, in trial and triumph, by the One responsible for knitting together our very souls. The Lord remains transcendent (above creation – which, if left alone, leads to Deism), but he is also immanent (in creation – which, if left alone, leads to  God who is experienced and defined by our feelings).

Is it possible that MTD has gained prominence, not because it is the exclusive explicit message of the church (I don’t often hear God specifically presented this way – though maybe I’m wrong!), but because the primary message of the church has been an invitation to a personal relationship, delivered to a culture that believes truth is subjective? After all, if I could design my own, personal God, he would probably look a lot like the God of MTD.

Relativism presents a unique challenge to the gospel, because the biblical terms of surrender are the same for every human who has ever lived: often simplified as 1) repent of sin (sin as defined by God, not by our opinions) and 2) trust in Jesus (the Jesus revealed in the Scriptures, not by the media or even by many of his followers). Surrender. This is why Christians are a community. We are all recipients of the same grace. On the same terms. With the same God. The ground is level at the foot of the cross.

Somewhere along the way, some folks thought this communal expression of faith in Jesus became too dogmatic. Too traditional. Too corporately expressed. The personal touch was lost. Christians sought to be part of the group rather than knowing Jesus intimately through personal surrender. So Christians did what Christians do, particularly American Christians. Rather than stopping the pendulum, they swung it hard in another direction. (The beautiful thing about a pendulum is that you can swing in  360 degrees of possibility… the frustrating fun is waiting to apprehend the next direction) The focal point became the personal relationship. Going to church isn’t enough. The faith of your family isn’t enough. It’s got to be personal. Let’s talk about Christianity in terms of the personal relationship.

The heart of the expression is correct. The over-application in the midst of cultural relativism, I believe, has been harmful.

Couple the seemingly exclusive use of the term (how often have you heard someone invite a non-believer to join the covenant community of faith?) with our cultural excitement for individuality, and you have a taste of the current nature of the personal relationship: My Jesus. My faith. My relationship. Our me culture distorts the biblical relationship by way of lethal injection.

I know what the Bible says, but my Jesus wouldn’t say that…

My relationship with God is different…

It is the opinion of this redeemed sinner that if we simply toss the personal relationship to the masses without qualification – particularly in our post-modern, post-Christian, post-everything society – we are asking every individual to come to individualized terms of what it means to know Jesus. We remove the Word of God as the authoritative source of truth, and we lead many to believe that their drive-thru, have-it-your-way relationship with God is OK.

As one who will be held to account for my stewardship of the good news, I think about issues such as these. I long for the pendulum to stop, for balance to remain. When I step to the pulpit, I pray that I might present the relationship as biblically given as though God’s Word is actually authoritative. Yes, that means talking about the holiness of God and the reality that sin is deserving of eternal judgment, clarifying that the personal aspect looks like personal surrender – not personal terms, extending the invitation without reservation to be part of the covenant community of sinners on level ground, to walk together in faith and humility under the Lordship of another who is far more deserving of the sovereignty he boasts.