Friday, December 31, 2010

My Reading List: 2009

When my friend, Susan, and I heard that President Bush and Karl Rove had a friendly wager over who could read more books in 2008, and that they had both tipped the scales at somewhere above 160, we just knew we had to pick up the pace. Frankly, I'm pretty sure Susan already hovers around 100 books annually. But it was at least good motivation to start keeping a list of books I read. As the busy manager of a household of 12, I don't have the kind of time to read that the leader of the free world does. Nevertheless, here is my 2009 list (which shall, of course, be followed by my 2010 list in the next post). But you gotta start somewhere...I have kept this list comment-free. But I'd be happy to comment on any one of these if you're curious.

Pierced for Our Transgressions by Steve Jeffrey,
Thousand Year War by Richard Maybury
Whatever Happened to Justice? by Richard Maybury
Ancient Rome and How it Affects Us Today by Richard Maybury
Liberal, Conservative, or Confused by Richard Maybury
The Last Jihad by Joel Rosenberg
Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope
One Hundred Cupboards by ND Wilson
El Dorado by Baroness Orczy
Keturah's Journey by Monica Holman
World War I and How it Affects Us Today by Richard Maybury
World War II and How it Affects Us Today by Richard Maybury
Deception by Randy Alcorn
Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments by Randy Alcorn
The Problem of Pain by CS Lewis
The Faithful Preacher by Thabiti Anyabwile
Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
The Courage to be Protestant by David Wells
A Tale of Two Sons by John MacArthur
If You Could Ask God One Question by Paul Williams
Cat Among Pigeons by Agatha Christie
Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot
The Truth of the Cross by RC Sproul
The Iliad by Homer
The Odyssey by Homer
Caesar's Gallic War by Olivia Coolidge
Lessons from Blackberry Inn by Karen Andreola
Leepike Ridge by ND Wilson
Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung
Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper
Ben Hur by Lew Wallace
Why We Love the Church by Kevin DeYoung
Surprised by Joy by CS Lewis
A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller
Lessons from a Sheepdog by Phillip Keller
The Lost Prince by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Inimitable Jeeves by PG Wodehouse
The Inklings by Melanie Jeschke
Age of Accountability by Tedd Tripp
Future Men by Douglas Wilson
Dandelion Fire by ND Wilson
Expectations by Melanie Jeschke

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Justice, Mercy, and the Lockerbie Bomber

I hate bullies.

No, let me rephrase that. I hate, loathe, despise, and abominate bullies (to borrow a line from Meet Me in St. Louis). I was watching A Christmas Story the other night, and I tuned in for the part where Ralphie decks the neighborhood bully. It's a glorious scene of the triumph of right over might. As I sat there and cheered on Ralphie, my husband looked at me and rolled his eyes. "That's the spirit, dear. That's the love of Jesus." Last night, my girls were watching Anne of Green Gables, the sequel. When the terrorized, little student finally has enough of the spoiled, rich kid, she both shoves her face in the mud and shoves mud in her face. Another glorious scene. Another cheer from me. Another concerned look from my gentle husband.

We serve a God who is both just (to all) and merciful (to some). The amazing thing is that He also delegates the responsibility of performing justice and mercy to us here in His creation. Justice falls to the jurisdiction of the government; mercy is falls to the Church's jurisdiction. The corollary to that, of course, is that justice does not fall to the Church, and mercy does not fall to the government. (I have previously discussed the problems of mixed-up jurisdictions here.) So, when governments refuse to carry out justice, the people are left with no recourse. And a people with no recourse are a hopeless people.

On December 21, 1988, Pan Am flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270people, including 11 on the ground. Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, now dubbed the Lockerbie Bomber, was tried and found guilty of complicity in this act of terrorism. Fast forward to August, 2009. Al-Megrahi, it was revealed, was dying in prison of cancer. And here's the absolutely unbelievable part: the British government released this murderer to Libya on "compassionate grounds."


So what if he's dying of cancer? A just government wouldn't have given him the opportunity to get cancer; it would have given him the chair. So what if he's in discomfort? I imagine 259 people having their bodies obliterated into a million tiny bits and scattered across air and sky was a bit uncomfortable, as well. So what if he would die in prison without his loved ones to gather around him? I'm sure the British government could have arranged for his loved ones to be at his execution.

All told, then, in the end, this mass murderer served 11 days for every life he took. ELEVEN DAYS!!! That, my friends, is a travesty of justice. The British government has failed the people of the world by failing to carry out the justice under its jurisdiction. And there is not one blessed thing we can do about it.

What about mercy? As a member of the Church, that falls to me. I must admit, and my family and friends will heartily concur, I am mercy-challenged. When I heard on Dec. 9, 2010, that the Lockerbie Bomber was in a coma, my first reaction was, "Good riddance." But the Holy Spirit has a way of pricking my conscience. His nudge reminds me that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Neither, then, must I. So this girl, who relishes the part of the story where the bully bites it, started to pray for the Lockerbie Bomber. For his soul. For his eternity. I confess that my first attempt was through clenched teeth. ""

This has been a stretching, sanctifying experience for me. Yet again, God has dragged me to the Cross and shown me myself. Once again, what I see is not pretty. But when I think of Mr. al-Megrahi standing before the Judge and giving an account, it sobers me into a position of mercy. For just because a government has failed over its jurisdiction does not give me an excuse to fail over mine.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mercy: The Ability to See

"Tell Graham to see."

During her last lucid moments, Graham's wife exhorts him with those words in the movie Signs. In the end, Graham does indeed see. He sees the reason for his son's asthma; he sees the reason for his wife's death; he sees the reason for his brother's athletic abilities and his daughter's preoccupation with water. Ultimately, this film by M. Night Shyamalan is about God's providence. God does not owe us a window into His providential workings. But every once in a while, He gives us one.

Mercy is a gift. And I think it is a gift because it is the ability to see. Only God's elect can possess true mercy because only God's elect know they have stood on the brink of judgment themselves. Only God's elect have smelled the smoke on their clothes, seen the flames in all their horrific clarity, and felt the heat reach up and try to take them. Only God's elect know, truly know, the depravity of their own souls and know that their just dessert is that Pit. Only God's elect know that God has reached down and given their punishment to His son, instead imputing His righteousness onto them.

There is a subset of God's elect who cannot help but remember what they have seen and smelled and felt. And their passion is to rescue others from the same brink. Their hearts break for the lost because they see what exists over the edge. So, in terms of eternity, these gentle mercy-givers have great compassion for lost souls. And temporally, they are a stop-gap for all the pain that exists between birth and death.

I think the best mercy-giver understands justice as well as a prophet does. They see what awaits us on the other side. They understand what it will take to satisfy the Father's wrath for every sin, and they dearly want everyone to escape that fate. But they also understand that justice requires that His wrath be satisfied, that each payment be made in full. They understand that mercy in no way replaces justice. Rather, it transfers the responsibility of payment to another. But, one way or another, the debt to our Creator will be paid. Mercy seeks a way for that transfer to take place.

So, lately, I am reminding myself to see.
See what I deserve.
See what I've been spared.
See the others who need to avoid that same fate.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

And Justice for All

I think I came out of the womb concerned about justice. When I was a little kid, my mom had me pegged as a mercy-giver. I would get so upset when a friend, or especially a sibling, was mistreated that I would cry. By the time I was a teenager, my 'mercy' had an edge to it, and my mom changed her assessment of my gifting to "weeping prophet." But as I analyze the focus behind my tears, which sometimes still come, I have to say they are more tears of anger than compassion.

Perhaps that is the difference between someone bent towards mercy versus someone bent towards justice. Both can be present at the same tragic episode and both shed tears over it. But our motivation is fundamentally different. While the one concerned with mercy weeps over the trauma to the victim, the one concerned with justice weeps over the audacity of the perpetrator. One feels compassion; the other feels anger. One is offering band-aids and kleenex; the other is organizing the man-hunt.

Mercy is a wonderful thing. Our God is a merciful God, and His mercies are new every morning. But mercy is predicated on justice. For if there were no justice, there would be no need for mercy. And our God is a just God, too, whose justice is foundational to the universe.

We can count on God to punish every sin. We can count on God to demand right behavior of all of His creatures. We can count on God to hate bribes and favoritism and nepotism. God's justice is consistent and in force over every square inch of His creation.

But the social justice crowd gets this concept called justice precisely wrong. As much as they decry favoritism, they play favorites with the "poor" or the "oppressed", even when the poor and oppressed commit crimes--as if being poor or oppressed is an excuse. Kevin DeYoung explains the view of the social justice movement in Why We're Not Emergent:
"When we need a good reading out of the text" (the 1,189 chapters of the Bible), "we should do so with a prejudice of love, reading with the poor, weak, and marginalized in mind."
But DeYoung goes on to explain the problem with prejudice:
"This sounds nice, but is it really workable as an interpretive key? Rollins ' " (an emergent) "hermeneutical grid is a moving target. For instance, do we read the text with the poor in rural Alabama in mind or the poor in Sudan, the weak in power or the weak in moral resolve, the marginalized in Rollins' Ireland or marginalized fundamentalists in a secular university?"
For if God was a capricious God, a prejudiced God requiring payment from some but overlooking payment from others, He would be a tyrant. God's sovereignty means He can be just. God's goodness means He will be just.

He will be just to all. That's the bad news.
But fear not, my mercy-giving friends. He will be merciful to some. And that's much better news.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh

Every year, we gather little ones around the tree and tell the amazing story of the Incarnation. And like I noted in an earlier post, we should be talking about this all year round and not hording this wonderful news for just 25 days each December, but it's healthy to give it special focus once in a while. I try to boil things down so the kids can keep a specific focus every year. This year, I've been telling them, "Christmas is the beginning of God keeping His promise to fix the problem."

I like to tell the story in parts, usually ending on a cliffhanger note. It drives the kids crazy, but they love it. Last night, we picked up around Jesus' second birthday, when the Magi show up at the door with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. As we walked through the story, I was struck by the fate of those gifts. The gold I can figure out. Joseph, a carpenter and likely a part of the artisan middle class, a business owner, might have invested it or put it away for a rainy day.

But what about the frankincense and myrrh? Frankincense was used as incense in worship. Myrrh was used in burial. What went through Mary's mind as she saw those gifts? Surely, she knew their significance. Did the sword already begin to pierce her heart as she looked at them?
"Frankincense--because my son is God.
Myrrh--because my son will die for us all."
As a mother, I can tell you that it would have been a tortuous reminder of what was to come for my precious little boy.

What did Jesus think as He saw them? Did those bottles in His house serve to remind Him of who He was? Did the frankincense remind Him that He was a holy God separated from a people He loved? Did the myrrh remind Him that only He could bridge that separation? Did He, even then, begin to set His face like flint for the Cross?

Gold, frankincense, and myrrh--gifts for a toddler. I can't help but wonder why.

Christmas--Sacred? Secular? Sacrelar?

Christmas. It's the most wonderful time of the year. I love Christmas, and I always have. I love gifts. I love snow. I love old Christmas movies like Scrooge, Meet Me in St. Louis, It's a Wonderful Life, The Bishop's Wife, and White Christmas. I love Christmas music from nearly everyone from Elvis to Handel. (This morning, Brett and I were listening to REO Speedwagon do "Children Go Where I Send Thee", which was actually pretty rockin' good...cause we heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend who...never mind).

When I was a kid, my parents did Christmas BIG. In our house, Santa not only brought the gifts but the tree, too! And we knew Santa had arrived because we saw a light flash across our windows AND we heard him jingling and ho-ho-ho-ing across our roof. He always left a note by the half-eaten plate of cookies. It was a wonderful, magical time of year.

So add to the list of things I love about Christmas, Santa Claus.

But wait. Did I mention I was raised in a Christian home, where my family loved the Lord and lived the Gospel? It was news to me when I became an adult that Christmas is actually a holiday infused with contention. Surround yourself with serious believers, and you are soon to discover, sadly, that we're a pretty uptight bunch. And opinionated, too.

First, there are those who refuse to acknowledge anything sacred whatsoever about Christmas. These are believers who can be divided into two groups: one who doesn't celebrate it at all and one who celebrates Christmas only as a secular holiday. Both of these groups tell me, "Where the Bible is silent, we must be silent, too."

Then there is the group that refuses to acknowledge anything secular about Christmas. Santa is a lie from the Pit of Hell sent to distract us from the true meaning of Christmas. Frosty and Rudolph make it difficult for our children to tell the difference between fairy tales and the real supernatural world. (That argument is an Epic Fail--and I am the counterexample.) The Christmas tree is pagan at best, phallic at worst.

Really? Phallic?!?!

I think my mother-in-law had the best insight into this mess: Christmas is really the collision of two holidays all happening on one day. What wisdom from this great lady whom I love and respect. And our family observes both. We do Santa, and we do him big: milk and cookies, notes from Santa, stomping across the roof after midnight on Christmas Eve(well, not in a two-story)...because I wouldn't dream of depriving my children of the magic of childhood. But we observe the Incarnation, not as a formal holiday on one day but all year long...because I wouldn't dream of depriving my children of the Gospel.

This year, as I rock around the pagan symbol and wait for Santa Claus to come to town, I wish all my dear, beautiful friends a Merry Christmas...and hope your boxers aren't getting in a bunch in the process. No matter how we differ regarding December 25th, I love you all.