Category Archives: All In

Three Ordinary Radicals

Carlson pic TimeIn our series, ALL IN! we come to the 8th Commandment against stealing. I called it, Who are you Robbing?  which you can access here. We highlighted three doctors – ordinary servants of Christ – who have freely given their lives out of love for God and their African neighbors. Their stories teach us the depth of what it means to not waste our lives and to live with radical generosity.

This month is the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Paul Carson, Evangelial Covenant missionary, in the Congo in November 1964. He became known as the “Congo Martyr” – killed by insurgent rebels. The story was featured on the covers of both Time and Life magazines. His tombstone, bears the inscription “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)  Shortly after Carlson’s death, his wife, Lois and others formed the Paul Carlson Medical Program with the goal of raising money to support the hospital and local economy. Since 2000, it now operates under the name Paul Carlson Partnership out of Chicago with a mission that focuses on investing in health care, economic development, and education in Central Africa. Read more here about this remarkable life and the on-going work in Congo.

FAST FORWARD to Afghanistan, April 2014.

umanos-follow-up-241x300Dr. Jerry Ulmanos was a pediatrician, a life-long member of a Covenant Church, who was one of three Americans slain by a member of the Afghan security  force in Kabul. His widow, Jan said, “Jerry always wanted to serve underserved populations. Afghanistan was just one of them. He always had a desire to be the hands and feet of Christ. He was always a light for Christ, and he had a love and commitment that he expressed for the Afghan people because of that love for Christ.”

She added, “We would really like for all of our friends and family and anybody else to please honor Jerry’s memory by opening up your heart to the Afghan people as well as any other populations around the world that need to see Christ’s love.

One of Jerry’s heroes was Dr. Paul Carlson. His story motivated Umanos to pursue a career in medicine and in missions. On his medical school application, Jerry wrote: “In conclusion, I want to underscore clearly that my desire to be a medical missionary is not some command of God against my wishes…On the contrary, I believe God wants me to serve him and has left the manner by which I do this up to me. And becoming a doctor and a missionary is what I truly desire. Dr. Umanos embodied what it means to be an unreserved disciple of Jesus Christ. You can read more of his story here.

Nancy WritebolFINALLY – on the front lines of the Ebola crisis in Liberia

Dr. Nancy Writebol was the first Westerner to contract the Ebola virus this July. She is a missionary doctor who was serving in Liberia. Read her story reflecting on why “Risk is Right,” in an interview from Nov. 8th. It is a powerful read! 

I ended the sermon that included these stories – with an excerpt from Wendell Berry’s Sabbath poem (1993 I)

Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes…

Every day you have less reason
not to give your life away.

C.S. Lewis on Chastity and Lust

chastityThe 7th Commandment on adultery, as with the other commandments, is miles deep. It guards the sacredness of sex and marriage. Listen to Cheryl Lavornia’s recent sermon (“What’s Love Got to Do With It?”)  for the straight talk on adultery and associated de-humanizers! C.S.L. has a classic word about the true problem with lust. Here is an excerpt from Mere Christianity.

Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. There is no getting away from it: the old Christian rule is, “Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.” Now this is so difficult and so contrary to our instincts, that obviously either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it now is, has gone wrong. One or the other. Of course, being a Christian, I think it is the instinct which has gone wrong.

. . . You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act—that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally (strange) about the state of the sex instinct among us?

. . . [Y]ou and I, for the last twenty years, have been fed all day long on good solid lies about sex. We have been told, till one is sick of hearing it, that sexual desire is in the same state as any of our other natural desires and that if only we abandon the silly old Victorian idea of hushing it up, everything in the garden will be lovely. It is not true. The moment you look at the facts, and away from the propaganda, you see that it is not.

They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been hushed up. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still in a mess. If hushing up had been the cause of the trouble, ventilation would have set it right. But it has not. I think it is the other way round. I think the human race originally hushed it up because it had become such a mess. Modern people are always saying, “Sex is nothing to be ashamed of.” They may mean two things. They may mean “There is nothing to be ashamed of in the fact that the human race reproduces itself in a certain way, nor in the fact that it gives pleasure.” If they mean that, they are right. Christianity says the same. It is not the thing, nor the pleasure, that is the trouble. The old Christian teachers said that if man had never fallen, sexual pleasure, instead of being less than it is now, would actually have been greater. I know some muddle-headed Christians have talked as if Christianity thought that sex, or the body, or pleasure, were bad in themselves. But they were wrong. Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body—which believes that matter is good, that God Himself once took on a human body, that some kind of body is going to be given to us even in Heaven and is going to be an essential part of our happiness, our beauty, and our energy. Christianity has glorified marriage more than any other religion: and nearly all the greatest love poetry in the world has been produced by Christians. If anyone says that sex, in itself, is bad, Christianity contradicts him at once. But, of course, when people say, “Sex is nothing to be ashamed of,” they may mean “the state into which the sexual instinct has now got is nothing to be ashamed of.”

If they mean that, I think they are wrong. I think it is everything to be ashamed of. There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips. I do not say you and I are individually responsible for the present situation. Our ancestors have handed over to us organisms which are warped in this respect: and we grow up surrounded by propaganda in favour of unchastity. There are people who want to keep our sex instinct inflamed in order to make money out of us. Because, of course, a man with an obsession is a man who has very little sales-resistance. God knows our situation; He will not judge us as if we had no difficulties to overcome. What matters is the sincerity and perseverance of our will to overcome them.

Before we can be cured we must want to be cured. Those who really wish for help will get it; but for many modern people even the wish is difficult. It is easy to think that we want something when we do not really want it. A famous Christian long ago told us that when he was a young man he prayed constantly for chastity; but years later he realised that while his lips had been saying, “Oh Lord, make me chaste,” his heart had been secretly adding, “But please don’t do it just yet.” This may happen in prayers for other virtues too; but there are three reasons why it is now specially difficult for us to desire—let alone to achieve—complete chastity.

In the first place our warped natures, the devils who tempt us, and all the contemporary propaganda for lust, combine to make us feel that the desires we are resisting are so “natural,” so “healthy,” and so reasonable, that it is almost perverse and abnormal to resist them. Poster after poster, film after film, novel after novel, associate the idea of sexual indulgence with the ideas of health, normality, youth, frankness, and good humour. Now this association is a lie. Like all powerful lies, it is based on a truth—the truth, acknowledged above, that sex in itself (apart from the excesses and obsessions that have grown round it) is “normal” and “healthy,” and all the rest of it. The lie consists in the suggestion that any sexual act to which you are tempted at the moment is also healthy and normal. Now this, on any conceivable view, and quite apart from Christianity, must be nonsense. Surrender to all our desires obviously leads to impotence, disease, jealousies, lies, concealment, and everything that is the reverse of health, good humour, and frankness. For any happiness, even in this world, quite a lot of restraint is going to be necessary; so the claim made by every desire, when it is strong, to be healthy and reasonable, counts for nothing. Every sane and civilised man must have some set of principles by which he chooses to reject some of his desires and to permit others. One man does this on Christian principles, another on hygienic principles, another on sociological principles. The real conflict is not between Christianity and “nature,” but between Christian principle and other principles in the control of “nature.” For “nature” (in the sense of natural desire) will have to be controlled anyway, unless you are going to ruin your whole life. The Christian principles are, admittedly, stricter than the others; but then we think you will get help towards obeying them which you will not get towards obeying the others.

In the second place, many people are deterred from seriously attempting Christian chastity because they think (before trying) that it is impossible. But when a thing has to be attempted, one must never think about possibility or impossibility. Faced with an optional question in an examination paper, one considers whether one can do it or not: faced with a compulsory question, one must do the best one can. You may get some marks for a very imperfect answer: you will certainly get none for leaving the question alone. Not only in examinations but in war, in mountain climbing, in learning to skate, or swim, or ride a bicycle, even in fastening a stiff collar with cold fingers, people quite often do what seemed impossible before they did it. It is wonderful what you can do when you have to.

We may, indeed, be sure that perfect chastity—like perfect charity—will not be attained by any merely human efforts. You must ask for God’s help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again. For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still. It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.

Thirdly, people often misunderstand what psychology teaches about “repressions.” It teaches us that “repressed” sex is dangerous. But “repressed” is here a technical term: it does not mean “suppressed” in the sense of “denied” or “resisted.” A repressed desire or thought is one which has been thrust into the subconscious (usually at a very early age) and can now come before the mind only in a disguised and unrecognisable form. Repressed sexuality does not appear to the patient to be sexuality at all. When an adolescent or an adult is engaged in resisting a conscious desire, he is not dealing with a repression nor is he in the least danger of creating a repression. On the contrary, those who are seriously attempting chastity are more conscious, and soon know a great deal more about their own sexuality than anyone else. They come to know their desires as Wellington knew Napoleon, or as Sherlock Holmes knew Moriarty; as a rat-catcher knows rats or a plumber knows about leaky pipes. Virtue—even attempted virtue—brings light; indulgence brings fog.

Finally, though I have had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.

‘You’re killing me!’ – the many faces of destructive talk

Death and life are in the power of the tongue…!  Proverbs (18:21)

The 6th Commandment against murder guards the sacredness of human life. In our series, “All In” I called this teaching, “You’re Killing Me: The 6th Commandment and the Sacredness of Human Life,” which I encourage you to listen to here. 

I crafted what I called an Alphabet of Verbal Anger – OR – 26 Variations on the Theme of Murder. I’ve included some of the results of each here:

A – Abuse – yes, I said abuse that can’t be called anything less

B – Bullying that seeks to create fear

C – Constant Criticism that erodes respect

D – Dismissiveness that belittles 

E – Explosions that destroy any peace

F – Forcing compliance that takes away freedom

G – Gossip that ruins reputations

H – Humiliation that puts you down

I – Intimidation that controls and frightens

J – Judgment that criticizes and tears down

K – Killing the spirit that paralyzes

L – Lying – that kills trust

M – Minimizing that devalues

N – Name-calling that attacks your identity

O – Offensive, profane words that spoil

P – Put-downs that cover over weakness

Q – Quarreling that avoids the issues

R – Ridicule that erodes self-image

S – Sarcasm that reveals hatred

T – Threatening that manipulates

U – Undermining that can lower respect

V – Violating that creates insecurity

W – Wounding that weakens the spirit

X – eXasperation that urges you to give up

Y – Yelling that batters the senses

Z – Zeal that can include a false spirituality, covering over un-Christlike behaviors

NOTE: One husband suggested that he’d like to craft an Alphabet of Upbuilding Speech! You may want to work on that one too!

In the sermon, I seek to be sensitive also to those currently in abusive situations. There are levels of domestic violence, and physical violence is always preceded by verbal abuse. Our denomination has a ministry called Advocacy for Victims of Abuse with online resources here.

Honor Authority*

question authority rIn our series called “All In,” we’re mining the gold deep within the Ten Commandments. The 5th Commandment sermon: “Honor to Whom Honor is Due,” (available on audio here) travels from parenting to work-place to church authority.

The Fifth Commandment is about much more than a happy family, but you may be blessed to see Larry Crabb’s ‘definition’ or ‘goal’ of parenting, based on Ephesians 6:1-4.

The Goal of Parenting:

To drive out foolishness through discipline

To build in wisdom through teaching and example

All in an atmosphere of love and involvement.


(Crabb defines ‘foolishness’ as the belief that I can meet my God-given needs for security and significance without God or what he chooses to provide.’)

Don’t miss your Sabbath!

sabbathSabbath-keeping should be one of the joys of life!  Listen to Cheryl Lavornia’s sermon in our All In series to find out why.

I’ll add a couple of my favorite Sabbath quotes:

“…on the best of these sabbath days, I experience a lovely freedom from expectations – other people’s and also my own. I go free from the tasks and intentions of my workdays, and so my mind becomes hospitable to unintended thoughts: to what I am very willing to call inspiration. The poems come incidentally or they do not come at all. If the Muse leaves me alone, I leave her alone. To be quiet, even wordless, in a good place is a better gift than poetry.”

— Wendell Berry in This Day (Berry’s collection of his many years of ‘Sabbath Poems.’)

“Sabbath, in the first instance, is not about worship. It is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being.”

— Walter Bruggermann

“…Call the Sabbath a delight…”  (Isaiah 58)

“Sabbath was made for mankind…” (Jesus, Mark 2)

Psalm 119 ~ Bonhoeffer’s Unfinished Book

DietrichBonhoefferWorksVol15I have three of the 17 volumes of Bonhoeffer’s Complete annotated works translated from the German over a 20 year span. They include background notes from scholars and often fascinating detail from the margin of his Bibles, letters previously unpublished, etc. One gem in Vol. 15 is the notes he began on each verse of Psalm 119 – an acrostic poem of 22 stanzas of 8 verses each.  Every verse has different and “new variations on one theme, the love of God’s word.”

We have learned that “in the winter of 1939-40, Bonhoeffer intensified his long-practiced meditation on the Psalms and considered an interpretation on Ps. 119 ‘the climax of his theological life.'” His closest friend, Bethge noted that this Psalm was ‘the biblical passage quoted most frequently by Bonhoeffer.’ In his American diary, Bonhoeffer called it his favorite Psalm. He saw this project as central to biblical ethics.

We have notes on only 21 verses of Bonhoeffer’s Psalm 119 meditations. One reflection has been a constant reminder to me about “delighting” in God’s Word.

God gave us the Scriptures to be read and pondered anew every day…
Why do I forget God’s word? Because I cannot yet say as the Psalm says:
“I delight in your statutes.”

I do not forget the things in which I delight!
(Works, Vol. 15, pp. 517-18)

10 times in this great Psalm of the Word – the word DELIGHT is used to describe the Psalmist’s response to the revealed Teaching of God. Two more:

In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. (v.14)
If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. (v.92)

A suggested practice:
As a way of increasing your delight in the Word, read and meditate on this Psalm. We are reading 2 stanzas per week in worship currently. You may want to take a month and read one 8 verse stanza each week day.

“O how I love your law; it is my meditation all the day!” (Psalm 119:97)

Are You “All In?”

all-in-logo_webWe’ve began our new teaching series called “All In.”  Listen to the intro sermon here. The biblical book of Deuteronomy reminds us that the choices we make – make all the difference!

Some resources for this ten week journey:

I highlighted an article from Yale University responding to the allegation that education has stopped asking questions of deepest human concern: What is a life worth living? What does a flourishing life look like? This newsletter frames the question and provides links to other great articles and videos.
You can also read a more detailed article by Miroslav Volf here.

Our series will expand on the Ten Commandments and the “ALL IN” passages of Deuteronomy as essential foundations for the Christian to live as an “Everyday Disciple.”

An excellent commentary for studying  Deuteronomy is by Christoper Wright. (It’s only $10 in ebook form.)

And now….what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? (Deut. 10:12-13)