Adapted from a sermon by Charles Spurgeon
It is righteous, this pleasure in natural things:
In these star-speckled heavens – sky-scattered delights! –
In these meadows, pale garnished with daisies and kingcups;
In seas, where beasts creep from deeps darker than night’s
Vasty pitch; in these woods, sounding round as with wing
Beats swift minstrels mark time and, mid-carol, take flight.
They are madmen who marvel the mountains and say
Of their chisel-chipped peaks – here brushed light, there daubed dark –
“No, I see here no God,” though the Maker’s mark’s made
In pinched clay. There is something of him in this art.
Only look: Lift your eyes from that beauty-blind way
To rejoice – echo: “Good” – as God praised from the start.
O what gladness – what joy! – in the craft of his hands.
Hear our Christ in the hills – how he thundering raves!
Hear him whisper his hush at the sea’s pebbled strand,
Where his cadence sings soft in the sun-stippled waves.
When admiring these works of our Father we stand
All the nearer, among them, to him. If we say,
Then, that bulbs’ goblets gold, filled with sunlight in spring,
Speak of life newly waking from winter-wrapped rest –
How much more must the sight of a man new-born bring
News of goodness and grace? How much more should a breast
Choked with thorns, once – once withered with sin’s leeching sting –
Give us joy when revived by Christ’s cross-borne caress?
How much more than the buds of the silver-leafed birch
Bursting new should those walking, once-dead, now proclaim:
“Let this slum-become-temple, this whorehouse-turned-church –
This old life dawning new like the darkness turned day –
Spur your praise!” Though there’s joy to be found when we search
Shore and brake, glory’s more in creation remade.
I read novels to my oldest son, Jack, nearly every night. He’s 6. Our favorite stories are tales of imagination and high adventure—Narnia, The Hobbit, The Green Ember, Half Magic—but as good and beneficial as they are, I realized some time ago that the Bible was missing from our reading regimen. Not collections of Bible stories (we’ve been reading those for years), but the actual word of God.
I’m convinced that the Bible offers something that no other book can give: An encounter with the living Christ. So we bought Jack his own Bible in an easy-to-understand translation (NIRV) and started in Genesis 1 with plans to go straight through to the end. Little brother Ollie (age 2) listens in.
It’s been sporadic and slow-going, so far, but I think that’s okay. The point is that Jack will grow up in the habit of making time to read his Bible regularly, and he’ll see the priority Becca and I place on it. I’ve set a long-term goal: By the time Jack is 10, he’ll have read the entire Bible. Sure, there are some parts I’ll leave out this first go-round (Lot and his incestuous daughters, for example), but my philosophy, with very few exceptions, is: If it’s in there, I read it. Then we’ll talk about it.
This “most anything goes” approach has led to a lot of interesting conversations. Some are funny, like when Abraham died: “Abraham dies? He’s the main character!” and “He was 175 years old? If he had that many dollars, he’d have enough to buy the Smaug Lego set.” Some are difficult, like the covenant of circumcision or Sodom and Gomorrah. (You know, those.) Sometimes I don’t know what to say aside from, “Good question. I don’t know. Let’s find out together.”
Then there was the story where God tells Abraham to kill his son, Isaac—that story was trickier than most.
They reached the place God had told Abraham about. There Abraham built an altar. He arranged the wood on it. He tied up his son Isaac. He placed him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand. He took the knife to kill his son.
Jack interrupted: “Wait, he’s going to kill him?”
“Well, God told him to offer his son as a sacrifice, but no, wait for the end—he’s not going to kill him.” (Spoiler.)
“What’s a sacrifice?”
“Remember I told you that the Bible says the punishment for sin is death? People used to make sacrifices so the animal’s death would pay the price of their own sin. The animal would die so they wouldn’t have to. But watch what God does here.”
I finished the story.
Abraham looked up. There in a bush he saw a ram. It was caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram. He sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.
I tried to wrap it up: “This is a tough one, Jack. In fact, this is one of your mom’s least favorite stories in the whole Bible. And I almost agree, because without Jesus, this is a really horrible story. But we have Jesus. It’s not horrible, because part of the reason the whole thing happened is so that Israel would know who Jesus was when he came. God gave this story to his people as a gift.”
That confused him.
“Look,” I said. “A dad took his son onto a mountain to offer him as a sacrifice for sin. Can you think of another time a son went on a mountain and died for sins?”
“Yes, Jesus. Look at what happens: God gave Abraham the sheep to be used for the sacrifice to save Isaac; and later, God provided another lamb, Jesus, to be the sacrifice to save you and me. Did you know they call Jesus the Lamb of God? This is why: Jesus was the sacrifice for our sin, so we don’t have to kill a sheep like Abraham did. Does that make sense?”
(Good enough for me, so I kept going.)
“That’s why this story is actually good news. God saved Abraham’s son, but later on he gave his own son to save us—to save you and me. God never actually wanted Abraham to kill Isaac, he just wanted to show his people about Jesus. They knew this story so they could remember it when they saw what Jesus did.”
Jack was quiet and crawled into my lap and snuggled into me for a hug, not looking at me. He never gets like this.
“Are you okay?”
“Are you bothered?”
“Are you afraid that God will tell daddy to kill you?”
“No, God won’t tell me to kill you. I promise. I promise a thousand times over.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because God already killed Jesus. He took all of our sin and put it on Jesus, so we don’t need to have another sacrifice for any of our sin. Abraham was pointing forward to Jesus, but we get to point backward to Jesus. Jesus died so that you don’t have to. God doesn’t want me to sacrifice you, because God already sacrificed Jesus instead. So he’ll never, ever tell me to kill you.”
Another hug, a better one this time, then we ended with a short prayer:
Thank you, God, for providing the sacrifice for Abraham to save his son. And thank you for providing your own son, Jesus, as a sacrifice to save us—to save me and mom and Jack and Oliver. Thank you that we don’t have to pay for our sin with death because Jesus already did. Amen.
I don’t know that I got the answer right, but I think I did okay. And I hope that, if you have children of your own, this dialogue encourages you to pile on the couch or gather around the dinner table or sprawl on the bed with your kids. Open up God’s word and jump in with them. Tell them the story of God. All of it. It doesn’t matter that you get all the answers right, or that you have answers at all, or that you do a good job pronouncing all those names and places. What matters is that you read it to your children, confident that in those pages they’ll find Christ—and trust that God will do the rest.
NOTE: I’m grateful to The Jesus Storybook Bible and the Gospel Transformation Bible for pointing the way on this one. If I got lost en route, the mistakes are my own; these two guide maps are excellent, and I highly recommend them.
My favorite thing about Christmas is the waiting. It wasn’t always that way: When I was a kid, my favorite thing was opening my presents. (We didn’t do Santa, so the presents came from mom and dad.) As I grow older, though, I could sit with the waiting for what feels like forever—because I know for a certainty that the waiting will pay off. The seasonal anticipation builds to a climax that happened in history more than 2,000 years ago. Read More
We’re about three weeks from Christmas, and we haven’t put up any decorations. No garland, no lights (inside or out), no tree, no angels, no stockings. Our house looks about as festive as it did around Labor Day, which is to say that it looks exactly how it has looked on any given day since we took down last year’s decorations. Read More
This guest post is brought to you by C.S. Lewis. To be fair, in this essay, “Talking About Bicycles,” Lewis is actually quoting a conversation with a friend, and it is this friend who passes along the wise words below. Still, Lewis has the byline for the essay, so he gets this byline, too.
Before reading Lewis, though, take a moment to look at the bike pictured above. It’s my bike, and yes, it has a six-pack carrier. Does yours have a six-pack carrier? Didn’t think so. If you want one, I found mine here.
“Talking about bicycles,” said my friend, “I have been through the four ages. I can remember a time in early childhood when a bicycle meant nothing to me: it was just part of the huge meaningless background of grown-up gadgets against which life went on. Then came a time when to have a bicycle, and to have learned to ride it, and to be at last spinning along on one’s own, early in the morning, under trees, in and out of the shadows, was like entering Paradise. That apparently effortless and frictionless gliding—more like swimming than any other motion, but really most like the discovery of a fifth element—that seemed to have solved the secret of life. Now one would begin to be happy. But, of course, I soon reached the third period. Pedaling to and fro from school (it was one of those journeys that feel up-hill both ways) in all weathers, soon revealed the prose of cycling. The bicycle, itself, became to me what his oar is to a galley slave.”
Another guest post from a writer far more famous than I am. This one is by G.K. Chesterton, and it’s about one of my favorite subjects. It’s appropriately titled “Cheese.”
My forthcoming work in five volumes, `The Neglect of Cheese in European Literature,’ is a work of such unprecedented and laborious detail that it is doubtful whether I shall live to finish it. Some overflowings from such a fountain of information may therefore be permitted to springle these pages. I cannot yet wholly explain the neglect to which I refer. Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. Virgil, if I remember right, refers to it several times, but with too much Roman restraint. He does not let himself go on cheese. The only other poet that I can think of just now who seems to have had some sensibility on the point was the nameless author of the nursery rhyme which says: `If all the trees were bread and cheese’–which is indeed a rich and gigantic vision of the higher gluttony. If all the trees were bread and cheese there would be considerable deforestation in any part of England where I was living. Wild and wide woodlands would reel and fade before me as rapidly as they ran after Orpheus. Except Virgil and this anonymous rhymer, I can recall no verse about cheese. Yet it has every quality which we require in an exalted poetry. It is a short, strong word; it rhymes to `breeze’ and `seas’ (an essential point); that it is emphatic in sound is admitted even by the civilization of the modern cities. For their citizens, with no apparent intention except emphasis, will often say `Cheese it!’ or even `Quite the cheese.’ The substance itself is imaginative. It is ancient–sometimes in the individual case, always in the type and custom. It is simple, being directly derived from milk, which is one of the ancestral drinks, not lightly to be corrupted with soda-water. You know, I hope (though I myself have only just thought of it), that the four rivers of Eden were milk, water, wine, and ale. Aerated waters only appeared after the Fall.
Before I had even finished the foreword to Prepared by Grace, for Grace, I was afraid I had gotten in over my head. This book, promises Sinclair B. Furgeson of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C., “will be eagerly read by students of seventeenth-century theological literature, whether literary scholars, historian, or theologians.” Uh-oh. I’m no student of 17th-century theological literature—scholar, historian, theologian or otherwise.
It’s true: This book reads more like assigned reading from a seminary syllabus than it does like the latest paperback by Chan or Platt (introduction, no doubt, by whichever of the two didn’t write the rest). But—and this is key—do not let this dissuade you. It’s accessible, intelligent and rewarding.
This is a guest post by the Prince of Preachers, C.H. Spurgeon. I would say it’s my favorite excerpt from his sermons, but that’s not entirely accurate, as it’s the only Spurgeon excerpt I’ve ever read. Still, I can’t imagine finding one I like more than this.
I must confess that I think it a most right and excellent thing that you and I should rejoice in the natural creation of God. I do not think that any man is altogether beyond hope who can take delight in the nightly heavens as he watches the stars, and feel joy as he treads the meadows all bedecked with kingcups and daisies. He is not lost to better things who, on the waves, rejoices in the creeping things innumerable drawn up from the vasty deep, or who, in the woods, is charmed with the sweet carols of the feathered minstrels.
Today, I read in an article that 12-year-old boys in a handful of California counties can now place online orders for free condoms and lubricant without the consent of their parents. In other words: whether they want to or not, or are even aware of it, taxpaying parents are buying prophylactics and lube for their newly pubescent sons.
The article features the sad tale of Juan Bautista, a high school senior and teen father:
When Bautista was having sex with his former girlfriend, he said condoms were not a priority. ‘I would go into a store, but end up buying a soda,’ he said.
As a general rule, I get a little cynical about books that open with big promises. And Chris Brauns’ Bound Together: How We Are Tied to Others in Good and Bad Choices opens with a doozie: If I “carefully investigate the reality that we are deeply connected to one another,” he claims, I will “discover truth that is fundamental to all real joy.” And then he doubles down: “Indeed, without the truth that we are bound together there is no joy.”
Those are big promises, and right out of the gate. But before I tell you if he keeps his word—before I tell you whether I’ve discovered a truth that is fundamental to all real joy—I’ll walk through the basics of his book.
At 30 years old, I’m on the leading edge of what has, for some time now, been called the most selfish generation in history. In a memorable article from The New York Times Magazine, Judith Warner wrote that our generation—born between 1982 and 2002—has been depicted “by employers, professors and earnestly concerned mental-health experts as entitled whiners who have been spoiled by parents who overstoked [our] self-esteem, teachers who granted undeserved A’s and sports coaches who bestowed trophies on any player who showed up.”
Ouch. That stings a little, but I don’t disagree with the general idea. I’m not convinced, however, that the problem can be explained by pandering parents, grade inflation or equal-outcome sports. It goes much deeper than that.