Sunday, September 25, 2011

Born Again: The Complete Works

Here it is--the entire "Born Again" series in one place.  I believe it is the single most important written project I have undertaken, because the lives involved are real, the lessons life-changing, the consequences eternal.

But don't take my word for it:
  • This is such an amazing testimony of one woman's path to a relationship with God, and Jailer's prayerful interactions with her. I hope many will take the opportunity to read the whole series--it's a guaranteed blessing! - Barbara Parker, Standing in Faith Ministries
  • This brought tears of joy! Awesome! Praise God for His faithfulness! Thank you so much for sharing this series! -- Petra, This Good Steward 
  • This is one of my favorite series on the blogosphere. I love a good salvation story: hearing how God reaches into someone's life and draws them to Himself never ceases to bring me unsearchable joy and leaving me praising Jesus. -- Stephen Porter, Manifest Blog
  • Wow!!! Most impressive thing I've ever read ... or even heard about!!! -- reader Steve Brown
I invite you to to enjoy the story and share it widely with those who have ears to hear.

Born Again 1: A Letter From Sharon
Born Again 2: Assurance and the Quest for Inner Peace
Born Again 3: I'm Just an Emotional Wreck!
Born Again 4: He Rewards Those Who Earnestly Seek Him
Born Again 5: I'm Constantly Battling With Him
Born Again 6: The Harsh Truth That Gets in Your Guts
Born Again 7: I Want it Now
Born Again 8: An Act of the Will
Born Again 9: Jesus Without Religion
Born Again 10: What Do You Want?
Born Again 11: The Jesus Who Lives in Me
Born Again 12: My Husband Thinks I'm Weird
Born Again 13: God's in the Heart-Changing Business
Born Again 14: I Have Taken That Leap

Finally, the most important testimony of all:


Jailer,

I just wanted to let you know that I truly enjoyed the final chapter of your series. Thank you for taking great care of the story to make sure that it portrays a lesson. I am very honored that you cared enough to share my story with other people. I truly felt uplifted as I read through it from an audience's point of view. I think I'll be visiting these pages time and again to gain encouragement if ever I feel the need. I am very fortunate to have you as my friend. You have my utmost respect and gratitude.

Love in Christ,

Sharon

The Tame Lion: Domesticating Jesus

“Do you think I keep him in my wallet, fools?" said Tirian. "Who am I that I could make Aslan appear at my bidding? He’s not a tame lion.”  -- CS Lewis, from The Last Battle
Those of us who grew up loving the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis will never really warm up to the movie versions.  This is often true of book-to-movie translations, of course, but there is a certain richness to the language in the books that the movies give mere lip service to.  If your Narnian experience has been limited to movies, I strongly encourage you to read the books.  Or even better ... read them to your children!

I have very fond memories of my father reading Narnia to us as we gathered around his bed.  None of us were Christians at the time, but still I remember getting goose bumps at hearing various astonished Narnians exclaim about Aslan (the Narnian Jesus character), "He is not a tame lion!"

I knew virtually nothing of Christ at the time, so there was much in the Narnia tale that I naturally missed.  However, at least one central truth made its way into my consciousness:  whoever God was, His nature was not up to me to define.  By imprinting this vital truth deep within me early on, God prepared me to ultimately reject the false gospels and, in the fullness of time, humbly embrace the true King of Glory. 

Who is this King of Glory?  In the words of the wise Mr. and Mrs. Beaver:
“Is – is he a man?” asked Lucy.

“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion, the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh,” said Susan, “I thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king I tell you.”
A crucial truth that Narnia was able to communicate to a young, unbelieving boy has faded from much of the church's postmodern theology:  Jesus is not tame.  He is not safe.  But He is good!

Much of the history of Christianity has been devoted to domesticating Jesus—to reducing that elusive, enigmatic, paradoxical person to dimensions we can comprehend, understand and convert to our own purposes ... None of it works because once you domesticate Jesus he isn't there any more ... If Jesus makes you feel comfortable with your agenda, then he's not Jesus. -- Fr. Andrew Greeley

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Joy in the Journey with Mrs Jailer

Tuesday will mark our 21st wedding anniversary. There is truly a joy in the journey, and sharing it with such a beautiful, faithful and wise friend and lover has magnified that joy beyond measure.

Oh, and we both love Michael Card!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Born Again 14: I Have Taken That Leap

Previous:  Born Again 13:  God's in the Heart-Changing Business
Navigate:  Born Again:  The Complete Works

It's time to come clean.

What I have not told you -- though you may have guessed -- is that Sharon and I had briefly been romantically involved, back when this saga began 25 years ago.  The relationship had crumbled as I realized my girlfriend did not really know the Jesus I knew, and could not really share what was most precious in my life.  Although I was still very young, I knew that hoping to convert my girlfriend was probably wishful thinking.  There were too many other emotions (and hormones) at work, let alone how it presumes on God's mercy.  The brutal fact was that I was "unequally yoked", and I was forced to break it off.

Young people don't generally recognize the damage done by the careless romances typical of that age.  Though I am gratified that God kept me sexually pure (in deed if not in thought) through that period of my life, I am not particularly proud of my adolescent conduct.  In the decades since I have offered up a few overdue apologies, and probably yet owe a few more.

Even so, Sharon's story reminds us that God's promises stand on His holy character, not our weak imitations.  It also reminds us that spiritual rebirth is not microwavable, and His mercy is not on-demand; God works on His timetable and in His way.

So now, as we draw her long and wonderful saga to a close, it's appropriate the final word should go to Sharon.  She sent me this after the fourth installment of this series, because she wanted me to be clear on a few things.  She began by quoting my blog:
"I pressed the 'Send' button with a wave of gratitude tarnished only by a hint of doubt. The gratitude sprung from my sense of great privilege at being chosen for this sacred charge, a moment toward which I'd truly done so little to contribute--indeed, perhaps not a little to impede many years ago. The doubt came from my inner pessimist. Sharon was reaching the threshold of eternity. When she at last arrived and counted the cost, would she pull back?"
You absolutely left me speechless after reading the 4th in the series ... I'd really like to say something. 
Twenty five years ago, you introduced me to a concept that was so powerful. I have never met anyone who was so truthful in his relationship with Christ and I was in awe. I truly did want what you had, but I didn't know how to obtain it. After you left my life, I befriended people who showed similar characteristic as you when it came to Christianity. I still remember the guy who gave me my very first Bible that I wrote notes on and the girl who studied Hebrew and Latin as her majors just so she could read the original text of the Bible. They were all very wholesome and godly people, but none of them had the conviction that you had. You were so forceful with your beliefs that most of the time, I did pull back, yet I still wanted what you had. But you left, leaving what you started unfinished.  
I don't blame anyone but myself in understanding where I am today. I just realized that maybe this part of my life was meant for you to finish, and you've just done that. Questioning my feelings about my relationship with Jesus is like standing on a ledge of a cliff and a voice calling out telling me to take a leap but I always said no. I have been standing on that ledge all my life. Today, I am happy to tell you that I have taken that leap. 
You have NO IDEA how free I feel. THANK YOU for returning home and completing what you started.

Yours in Christ forever,
Sharon

Sunday, September 4, 2011

When it's Day to Me, it's Night to Someone

Location: Fredericksburg, VA, USA
Since my passion for introducing the cellmates to 20-year-old music can't begin and end with Rich Mullins, I thought I'd detour into the realm of Mark Heard. Mark died in 1992 of heart failure, but not before establishing his music as some of the more searching and honest of the genre.

This song, "Some Folks' World" is a simple but profound call to true compassion. 



Some folks' world is war-torn
Some folks' world is fine
This planet makes no sense to the untrained mind

Some folks hope for fortune
Some folks hope to die
Each man sees his fate through his own two eyes

And when it's day to me it's night to someone
And when it's night you might not want to go on

Some folks eat what flies leave
They get what they can take
Hunger has no heart and it will not wait

Rain can ruin your weekend
Or rain can spare your life
Depending on who you are and what your thirst is like

And when it's day to me it's night to someone
And when it's night you might not want to go on

All folks' days are numbered
But most folks do not care
And no man calls his coin when it's in the air

Some folks taste of Heaven
Some folks taste of Hell
Some folks lose their taste and they cannot tell

And when it's day to me it's night to someone
And when it's night you might not want to go on

Written by Mark Heard © 1982 Bug 'n Bear Music ASCAP

Friday, September 2, 2011

War Is Interested in You


In her poem Of a Forgetful Sea, Kelli Russell Agodon talks of the forgetfulness invited by the seashore:

Here war is only newsprint.

How easy it is not to think about it
as we sleep beneath our quiet sky,
slip ourselves into foam, neglectful
waves appearing endless.


Just before, however, there is an ominous note, as she writes of her daughter’s attempts to save the small creatures she finds from the threats she sees:

She tries to help them
before the patterns of tides
reach their lives.

She knows about families
who fold together like hands,
a horizon of tanks moving forward.


So, while “Here war is only newsprint”, one can’t quite forget it (or disintegrating families) even at the seashore: It’s out there – “a horizon of tanks”. Moreover, if we try too hard to put it out of our minds, we run up against the truth very loosely attributed to Trotsky (by Alan Furst, at the opening of his novel Dark Star):

You may not be interested in war,

but war is interested in you.


Indeed, the Lord warns us in the 24th chapter of Matthew that in this age, “… there will be wars and rumors of wars” (verse 6) and the history of the 20th century was surely replete with all of that: Most of Furst’s novels are set in the 2nd world war, a maelstrom which perhaps ended 50 million lives. Looking to a larger stage, Niall Ferguson sets his history War of the World in the period from the beginning of the 1st world war to the end of the Korean war, and apologizes for ending his tale even there.

So, whether or not it’s valid to tie the name of Trotsky (who certainly played a significant part in 20th century conflict) to the saying, it seems pretty safe to accept it as a truth worth remembering: “War is interested in you.” Having attended Jailer’s change of command ceremony early this summer, I’ve reflected a lot since then on that saying, and on the question it raises: How ought a Christian to respond to this, and, especially, how ought Christians in the military to view themselves in light of it?

One possible answer would turn on a dichotomy suggested by this truth: Members of some militaries (like Hitler’s Waffen-SS) were pretty unambiguously vehicles for furthering war’s interest. Others (like the modern Swiss Armed Forces) are pretty unambiguously vehicles for responding to that interest, should it intrude. So, while uncompromising pacifism certainly has its place in Christian history, it seems pretty straightforward that, if they are not pacifists, many Christians would feel comfortable about the role of the latter sort of military, but few would feel comfortable about the first.

But, given that a Christian may feel comfortable serving in a military which he views as existing to respond to war’s interest, how is he to respond if he finds the ground shifting under him? A case in point might be the more traditional German military, as events led up to the 2nd world war: Even during the early years after Hitler came to power in 1933, they might have viewed themselves as legitimate defenders of their nation. Then, suddenly in 1939, they’d have found themselves plunged into wars of aggression where, especially to the east, the populations they overran were to be regarded as literally sub-human (“Untermenshen”) and treated accordingly. We know how some did respond, culminating in failed assassination attempts, but most just went along. Many of the latter must have been believers. Had they been on a slippery slope for years before they became involved in atrocities? At what point ought they to have got out?

Closer to home, what is a Christian supposed to say about service in an “imperial” military? Surely Rome’s military during the Church’s early years was that, and there were many Christians who served in it. More to the point, the British military in the 19th century was surely imperial, and, though we may feel more comfortable with the term “hegemonic” than “imperial”, so is that of the United States today (and so has it been for over half a century). One point of view about this is expressed by Niall Ferguson in his book Colossus, where he urges the argument that the U. S. role as hegemon is a good thing (as was the British role before it), and that, were the U. S. to demit that role, the consequences could well be catastrophic. But a contrary point of view is that of the presidential candidate Ron Paul, who condemns U. S. foreign policy as “imperialistic”, and ties it (echoing President Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex”) to oppressive government and loss of freedom. (See Congressman Paul’s book, A Foreign Policy of Freedom: Peace, Commerce, and Honest Friendship.) What is a Christian supposed to say about issues like this? Ought he to be indifferent to them? If not, are there lines he ought to draw?

As I said above, seeing Jailer’s ceremony just after reading Trotsky’s “quote” got me to thinking. Might events lead Jailer into the sort of bind in which some Christians serving in the German military found themselves less than a century ago? Short of that, and going back a bit more than a century, what would it take to precipitate the sort of situation where British soldiers herded Africaner families into concentration camps? Should that – or something like it – happen, how ought he to respond? Should he be, even now, in a role that might lead to that?