Blog Archives

The Power and Pain of Hitting “Delete”

Delete.

I’m starting to hate that word. Today marks the beginning of editing my way through my Gospel book to get a couple of chapters ready to shop around (more on that later). Since I’ve been over the early chapters a few times already, I thought they’d be pretty set by now.

I was wrong.

.

.
.
Instead, I’m making far more changes this time around than ever before. And I’m okay with that. They are good changes and I think they’re making the writing clearer and more focused. That’s not the problem.
.
The problem is that I’m finding that I need to get rid of stuff I really like. As I’m discovering, that’s one of the keys of editing. It doesn’t always matter whether something is good. Every section exists to serve the whole. If it doesn’t, get rid of it.
.
For example, here’s a paragraph that I  used at the beginning of one chapter.
Like many kids, I used to assemble models—airplanes, cars, boats, etc. At least, that’s what I was supposed to be doing. I wasn’t very good at it. The kits came with complete instructions, but I didn’t have the patience to read them very carefully. Instead, I’d look at the box to get a general idea of how the finished product should look, and then I’d start working—this piece probably goes here; that one sort of fits over there; just push a little harder; some extra glue will help; probably didn’t need that piece anyway; I can cover that with some paint. You can imagine how my models generally turned out. Several frustrating hours later, I’d have something that looked like it belonged in a post-apocalyptic horror movie—a bad one.
I like that paragraph. I like the image of a small child hunched over a basement table trying desperately to jam mismatched model pieces together. I like the rhythm of the various clauses. And, I like how it led into a section on the ways we mess things up when we act without knowing the plan (i.e. the Gospel).
.
Unfortunately, that isn’t really what the chapter is about. Close, but not quite. Consequently, it introduces a thought that isn’t developed anywhere in the chapter. As much as I like it, then, it needs to go. I may be able to use it somewhere else, though I need to be careful about forcing it in just because I like it. For now, it needs to go.
.
Good writing in the wrong place is bad writing.
.

And, of course, this is true for any kind of writing. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a high school book report, a seminary research paper, or a book on the Gospel. Every piece exists to serve the whole. If it doesn’t, then it actually weakens the whole. Get rid of it. Even if you worked really hard on it, you have all kinds of research to support it, and you think it’s the best thing you’ve ever written. Be ruthless. If doesn’t fit, get rid of it. Your paper (and your readers) will appreciate it.

Hit delete. It hurts. But, it’s a good hurt.

[By the way, I don’t actually delete sections like this. I copy them into another document for future possible use. But writing a post on “The Power and Pain of Copying and Pasting Text into Another Document for Later Use” just didn’t have the same ring.]

The king is dead! Long live death and destruction?

Aragorn, the king, has returned. Let the rejoicing begin! Victory is here!

But, suppose that the story unfolded a little differently. Rewind the tape a little. Go back to the part of the movie where Aragorn jumps off the ship—black cloak flapping in the wind, dark eyes fixed intently on the orc army, grim face promising death to all who stand in his way. The promises of the kingdom in his hands. The hope of all humanity on his shoulders.

And an arrow hits him right between the eyes.

Knocked back against the side of the ship, he slowly collapses to the ground in a bloody heap at the feet of his shocked companions.

The king is dead!

Without Aragorn, the ghost army has no reason remain. So, the ghosts all head back to their home under the mountain. There is no dramatic rescue of the humans trapped inside the city. The orcs win and the humans are all massacred.

No kingdom, no blessings, no shalom. Only shoah. The king is dead and all hope is lost.

Now, suppose that you’re the orc who shot the arrow.

I’m sure you really didn’t understand what you were doing. You’re an orc. So it’s not like you’re all that smart. You saw some dingy-looking guy dressed in black and holding a pretty wicked looking sword. He scared you a little. You’d heard that he was supposed to be some great king who would restore peace and order throughout the land, but you didn’t buy it. You thought he was the enemy. So, you killed him.

You killed the king.

You killed the only hope for the world.

Oops.

And, that’s exactly what happened in our story. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter had to stand up in front of an entire crowd of people and deliver some bad news. The Promised One returned. He came with all of the blessings of the kingdom: life, Spirit, peace, forgiveness, purity, new creation, healing—shalom. After so many long centuries of waiting, after all the uncertainty and doubt, after so many false hopes and broken dreams, the King came to restore the kingdom.

And you killed him.

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. (Acts 2:36)

The King came, and you killed him. The hope of the world, nailed to a cross.

Now what do we do?

[You can read the rest of the posts in this series on the Gospel book page.]

.

Water, spirit, and life: dry bones made new again

You’re standing by the Jordan River waiting for your turn. In the middle of the river, John the Baptist is just straightening up from baptizing your friend Joseph, water streaming down his arms and dripping from his beard onto Joseph’s head.

Suddenly John stiffens, eyes wide with surprise.

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (Jn. 1:29)

Um, what now?

This is the One? Are you sure? After all this time, could it really be?

Well, if it’s actually him, then surely he’ll do something cool next—fight some Romans, make water flow from a rock, or eat a locust. Well, maybe not the locust. John does that a lot, and it’s pretty disgusting.

And then the weirdest thing happens, not what you were expecting at all.

The One gets baptized (Mt. 3:13-17).

And, as he rises from the water, what looks a bit like a dove—only more ethereal and glorious—comes down from the sky and settles around his head and shoulders. Could that really be the Spirit of God? What’s going on here? Who is this guy?

Then.…the voice.

This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.

Do you see what’s happening here? Water, spirit, life. The Spirit of God descending on the Son of God to bring the life of God to the people of God. The Promised One is here!

That’s why John the Baptist gets so excited when he says that this is the one who would come and baptize people with the Holy Spirit (Jn. 1:33). Without the Spirit no one can enter into the Kingdom (Jn. 3:5) because the Kingdom is all about God’s people being brought to life by God’s Spirit so that they manifest God’s glory in creation. And, Jesus is the one who gives the Spirit to God’s people without measure (Jn. 3:34) because he is the one who is full of the Spirit (Lk. 4:1). Jesus is the Promised One who brings Spirit and life into the world again.

To a woman caught in a spiral of sin and shame, Jesus offered himself as the living water who would restore her to true life eternally (Jn. 4:14). To a crowd more interested in the spectacular and the miraculous, Jesus offered himself as the bread of life who would satisfy their deepest cravings (Jn. 6:35). To a woman crushed with grief over the death of a loved one, Jesus offered himself as the resurrection and the life—the one who would defeat death and bring hope to a people lost in despair (Jn. 11:25).

Water, spirit, and life returned to a broken world.

And, Jesus brought new life for the whole person. The lame walk, the blind see, the leper is healed…broken bodies restored to life. This wasn’t just some “spiritual” life that renewed our inner selves but left the rest of us relatively untouched. No, when Jesus offers new life, it’s new life for our whole being.

Dry bones. Everywhere you look, the lifeless bones of your people. Dead. Empty. Hopeless.

Then He comes.

And everywhere he goes, spirit and life seep into the parched skin of a once-dead people. He spreads it around like an overly exuberant flower girl at a wedding, unabashedly scattering multicolored petals of joy on the surprised guests.

God promised. Jesus came. Life returns.

[You can read the rest of the posts in this series on the Gospel book page.]

Gollum saves the day

I’m a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. But, one thing always confused me. Why did he call the last book The Return of the King? If you’ve read the book or seen the movie, you know that the title refers to the fact that the kingdom of Gondor has been without its rightful king for a very long time. And, the true king of Gondor, Aragorn, has not yet returned to claim the kingdom as his inheritance. So, from the title, you presume that the heart of the book will be the return of Aragorn to reestablish the kingdom of Gondor.

And, in one of the story’s climactic scenes, that’s exactly what happens. A huge army of vicious, ugly orcs has invaded Gondor and looks certain to destroy its capital city, slaughtering all of the Gondorians (Gondorites? Gondorans? Gondor-people?) along the way. At the last possible second, Aragorn and his companions arrive on a fleet of black-sailed ships. Leaping from the side of the ship, Aragorn stares down the waiting orcs before unleashing his own army of ghost-soldiers (it’s complicated) to destroy the opposing army and save the besieged humans.

The king has returned.

Big deal.

The story isn’t even close to being over. Indeed, there’s an even larger orc-army just waiting to be unleashed on the humans. And, they haven’t faced the evil overlord, Sauron, who is behind all of this in the first place.

So, the good news is…the king is back. The bad news is…you’re about to be eaten by an orc anyway.

The story doesn’t seem to find its true resolution until the Ring of Power, which Sauron needs to sustain his awesome evilness, is destroyed by being tossed into the depths of a powerful volcano. Actually, it doesn’t really get tossed into the volcano. Technically, one of the more interesting characters in the story, Gollum, steals the ring and while triumphantly dancing around with glee, he falls into the fiery volcano with the ring clutched in his greedy little hands. (The moral of the story, of course, is that one should never dance near open volcanoes.) And, once the ring is destroyed, Sauron dies and his orc armies are finally vanquished.

So, the real hero of the story is…Gollum. After all, he’s the one who destroys the ring and defeats Sauron. The evil one is defeated. Victory is won. Let’s go home.

So, why does Tolkien call this book The Return of the King? Why not Gollum Saves the Day? Wouldn’t that be a more fitting description of the book’s real climax? Not for Tolkien. Killing Sauron isn’t really the point. Sauron needs to be defeated, of course. But, that’s just one part of a much larger story—the restoration of the kingdom. That’s why Tolkien continues the story even after Sauron dies, telling us about Aragorn getting married, establishing his kingdom, and ruling for a nice, long time. That’s the good news. Killing bad guys is one thing. But unless the king returns and establishes the kingdom, things still won’t be the way they’re supposed to be. It’s only when the kingdom comes that you have all the blessings of the kingdom: peace, justice, prosperity, pretty elf-wife—shalom.

The good news is about the return of the king.

The Messiah of the Month Club

You’re standing in front of a long row of pictures. Each presents the image of a man, and from the look of their clothes they all lived a long time ago. Underneath each picture is a brief bio. Intrigued, you lead closer and read about the first person.

Simon claimed to be the Messiah. He lived in first-century Palestine. Convinced that he’d been called by God to lead God’s people out of their Roman captivity and into the promised Kingdom, Simon raised an army in open rebellion against the Romans. He was captured and killed.

Hmmm. That doesn’t sound like a very promising beginning for a Messiah. So, you move on to the next one.

The Teacher of Righteousness was believed by many to be the Messiah. He lived in first-century Palestine. Convinced that he’d been called by God to lead Israel to a true knowledge of God, he led a group of followers into the desert and established a separatist group committed to personal and corporate holiness. He died and the community eventually dispersed.

Well, at least he wasn’t captured and killed by the Romans. That’s a little better. But, you’d still expect a little more from God’s anointed one.

Judas of Galilee claimed to be the Messiah. He lived first-century Palestine. Also convinced that he’d been called by God to lead God’s people out of their Roman captivity and into the promised Kingdom, Simon raised an army in open rebellion against the Romans. He was captured and killed.

That sounds rather familiar. You’re beginning to wonder how many of these Messiahs were wandering around in first-century Palestine. Was there a Messiah of the Month club? Could you check out a Messiah for a few weeks and see if he was really going to live up to all the hype before the grace period expired and you had to keep him or send him back? I wonder who paid for the shipping.

Jesus of Nazareth was believed to be the Messiah. He lived in first-century Palestine. Convinced that he’d been called by God to lead Israel out of their bondage and brokenness, he gathered a small group of followers and proclaimed that God’s kingdom was at hand. He was arrested and killed.

Okay, this is starting to get a little repetitive. If they’re going to have a Messiah of the Month club, they really should mix things up a bit more. How about a barbarian Messiah who leads his savage hordes on a rampage through Rome? That would be cool. Or at least have a Messiah who actually wins. Otherwise, it just gets depressing.

[You can read the rest of the posts from this series on the Gospel book page.]

Roundup of posts from the last chapter of my Gospel book

I spent the last week or so blogging my way through the last chapter of my Gospel book. Although I did it primarily as a way of keeping myself on track and ensuring that I continued to make steady progress on the project, I also received several helpful comment, and it looks like quite a few of you followed along through the chapter. So, thanks for doing that.

I don’t know that I’ll post an entire chapter again since a blog really isn’t the best format for following the logic and flow of a presentation over multiple posts like that – especially when I can’t really take time at the beginning of each post to summarize what’s happened earlier.

But, I’ll still put stuff up occasionally if it’s a piece that looks like it can stand on its own reasonably well, or if it’s something that might solicit some feedback.

Anyway, if you’ve missed any of the posts from the project, you can always find the links on the Gospel book page. Here are the ones from the last chapter.

No King, No Kingdom (When He Comes 2)

I grew up on stories about King Arthur. Great stories. Every time you turn the page Arthur and his knights are feasting, celebrating, jousting, slaying monsters, and just having an all-around good time. It sounds like a great place to be, with peace, justice, and plenty for everyone (except the monsters, of course). And, at the center of it all, the king—leading, ruling, judging, and partying. It all works because the king is there ruling over his kingdom, making sure that everything is as it should be, striking out at anything that threatens the  peace.

But, what’s a kingdom without a king? The depressing part about the Arthur stories is that you know it won’t last. By the end of the story, Arthur will be dead and his kingdom will lie in ruins. (If you didn’t know how the story ended, I’m terribly sorry for giving it away. And, by the way, the Titanic sinks.) Without Arthur, everything falls apart.

It’s quite a simple principle really: no king, no kingdom. Until he comes back, nothing is going to be the way that it should be.

The same idea shapes the story of Robin Hood and his merry men. From one perspective, this is a story about a bunch of men who spend all their time camping, drinking, wrestling, singing, and annoying rich people. To me, it always sounded like Peter Pan for adults.

At the heart of the Robin Hood story, however, rests something much more significant. The kingdom is broken. Richard the Lionhearted, England’s king, has been gone for many years. In his absence, Prince John, the king’s brother, and all of John’s cronies have taken over the kingdom, oppressing the people and pillaging the land. The land is now ruled by greed, power, violence, and hatred.

Robin Hood and his merry men have a very different vision of how things should be. They see a kingdom ruled by grace and peace, a kingdom where the rich help the poor, the strong serve the weak, and everything is as it should be. They see a kingdom where the king rules again.

In many ways, these are stories about faith and hope. Despite all of the problems the kingdom faces, all the enemies they encounter, and all the evil they see, Robin Hood and his men press on toward their vision of the kingdom. The king has been gone for so long, many begin to wonder if he will ever return. But, Robin Hood’s men continue to long for what could be, what should be.

However, it all rests on the coming of the king. Robin Hood and his men can trick Prince John day long, and it won’t change anything. They can steal from the rich, give to the poor, and have all the forest parties their hearts desire. But, without the king, the kingdom will still be broken, evil powers will still control the way things go, people will still be oppressed, the vision will remain unrealized.

When the king comes, however, it will all be different. That’s the hope at the center of the story. That’s what makes Robin and his men work so hard toward this future vision. That’s what makes them “merry”. In the face of all the injustice and oppression, they have their vision of the kingdom and they live out that vision to the best of their ability in the forest – their little outpost of how things should be. And they have hope.

When he comes, it will all be better. When he comes, the kingdom will be restored and things will be as they should be.

When he comes….

[This is the second part of a chapter on OT promises for the future of God’s people. Read the first part here.]

A whole chapter of my Gospel book

I didn’t get a whole lot of writing done on my Gospel book over the holidays, despite the fact that this was supposed to be one of my higher priorities during the time off. So, I’m trying to get that ball rolling again. To that end, I’m going to try something a little different over the next few days. In the past, I’ve posted excerpts of the book – usually sections where I was trying something a little different and wanted to get some feedback. This week, I’m going to post a whole chapter. Hopefully this will help keep me focused on actually making progress. And, it also opens the door for more feedback from anyone who’s actually interested enough to read it.

If you want to get a feel for the project as a whole, check out the Gospel book page. This particular chapter focuses on summarizing some of the key OT promises associated with God redeeming his people (e.g. new king, holiness, spirit, life, new creation, etc.). The previous chapter ended on a pretty down note, discussing God’s glory leaving the temple and his apparent rejection of his people and his plan. So, this chapter serves to explain the promises that provide hope despite failure and apparent rejection. Thus, it’s the final chapter before I finally move into the NT.

Instead of posting the chapter all at once, I’ll post one section each day (hopefully). That’s partly because it’s too long for one blog post, but mostly because it’s not actually done yet! I’ll post the first section later today.