Closeness and melancholy

This is a bit off subject from my less-than-blinding excursion through Cost of Discipleship, but it has been on my mind the past few days…Despair

What is it about closeness to God (and periods of closeness and renewal) that tends to bring with it an almost insatiable tendency towards despondency? Luther despaired over the most seemingly minor of sins. Spurgeon wrestled with depression like few will dare to admit. Mother Theresa faced seasons, even years, when she all but lost hope. Others, no doubt, have been in the same position throughout the centuries.

Now, I certainly make no claims to be anywhere near the stature, greatness, holiness, or closeness to God as the three named above, but I certainly feel an affinity to them if only in this one respect. Throughout my Christian life, at those times when I am drawn most closely to Christ, I am tormented by my own emotions. The smallest upset can throw me into a deep funk. The experience of others’ joy can make me withdraw, almost bitterly at times. At those times, the reality that I am blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph 1.3) is lost and snuffed by my own melancholy!

Why does the devil torment me at these times…cursed is he among the damned! “Stealer of joy, quencher of happiness, devourer of blessing–fit only for the lake of fire are you, Lion of Hell!

But…”Praise be to you, O Christ, giver of all joy, nurturer of happiness, mediator of all blessing–to you and the Father and the Holy Spirit be all praise glory and honor!!!

At all times, I am driven to the cross of my Savior by my want of righteousness and need of grace. Especially at these times, I am bound to focus on Christ and not on myself or my circumstance. Like no other time must I be reminded of the promises of Jesus: that he never to leave or forsake us (Heb 13.5b); that his yoke is easy and his burden light (Mt 11.30); that he is Immanuel, God with us (Mt 1.23).

Thanks be to God for his marvelous grace in Christ Jesus!

Amusement (21 Nov)

I realize that the weather around Houston is apt to change from moment to moment, but the current header of the National Weather Service’s Houston/Galveston office may be a bit extreme! Note the simultaneous appearance of both hurricanes and snowmen:


For closer look click the picture above or (while it lasts), click here.


It is time for one of those uniquely American holidays, Thanksgiving. A time to gather round the table and thank God for the bounty of the land over the past year and his gracious hand of Providential care over all aspects of our lives. How better to ponder these gifts than with a poem…and how even better to think on God’s grace humbly than through the words of a child, our 10-year old daughter. Ali penned these words yesterday:


Thanksgiving is a time of thanks,
A time of singing praise.
It’s a time of being happy
In all different sorts of ways.

A time of seeing family,
A time of seeing friends,
A time of eating turkey,
How I hope it never ends!

The stuffing’s by the turkey
And the gravy’s by the rolls.
Does everybody have a plate?
Do I need to pass out bowls?

Now everybody’s seated
Let s give a prayer to God
For all the things he gave us
And for sending down His Son.

For love and friends and family
And lots of things to do,
For peace and joy and blessings,
And time to spend with you!

To my American readers, ‘Happy Thanksgiving!’ May we not lose sight of the roots of this holiday and fail to spend time thanking our Heavenly Father for the riches of his mercy lavished on us. To those outside the States, may you be pleased to spend time giving thanks to God who has so richly blessed us in every way through Christ Jesus our Lord. The peace of Christ to you all!

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Th 5:18).

Poetry–The Sea

We went to the beach again this week for a few minutes of recuperation and sanity.  The words of the poet sum up my feelings after a few days back at work:


Searching my heart for its true sorrow,
This is the thing I find to be:
That I am weary of words and people,
Sick of the city, wanting the sea;

Wanting the sticky, salty sweetness
Of the strong wind and shattered spray,
Wanting the loud sound and the soft sound
Of the big surf that breaks all day.

Always before about my dooryard,
Marking the reach of the winter sea,
Rooted in sand and dragging driftwood,
Straggled the purple wild sweet pea.

Always I climbed the wave at morning,
Shook the sand from my shoes at night,
That now am caught beneath big buildings,
Stricken with noise, confused with light.

If I could hear the green piles groaning.
Under the windy, wooden piers,
See once again the bobbing barrels,
And the black sticks that fence the weirs;

If I could see the weedy mussels
Crusting the wrecked and rotting hulls,
Hear once again the hungry crying
Overhead, of the wheeling gulls;

Feel once again the shanty straining
Under the turning of the tide,
Fear once again the rising freshet,
Dread the bell in the fog outside,

I should be happy!—that was happy
All day long on the coast of Maine.
I have a need to hold and handle
Shells and anchors and ships again.

I should be happy, that am happy.
Never at all since I came here.
I am too long away from water;
I have a need of water near.

– Edna St. Vincent Millay

CoD Part 5, The Cross

My favorite chapter in all of Bonhoeffer’s CoD is chapter 4, entitled “Discipleship and the Cross.” It is my favorite for a multitude of reasons but perhaps, sadly, because it cuts across the grain of so much of the “Christianity” of contemporary America and clings solely to the cross of Christ. It is at once an wonderful and sobering piece…one to be read and re-read numerous times. Throughout this chapter I constantly find myself nodding and saying silently, “Yes…yes.”

Jesus says explicitly on more than one occasion that to follow him is to encounter suffering. Conveniently, we tend to omit those passages in our preaching and teaching, at least in Evangelical circles. Bonhoeffer will not let us off that easy, surprise, surprise. He begins the chapter by discussing the scandal of the suffering Messiah in the eyes of the Jews of Jesus’ day, among the Twelve, and in the early church herself. Again and again, though, Jesus said he must suffer, must be humiliated, and must die. There was no evading the issue for him, and for Bonhoeffer, there is no escaping suffering, humiliation, and death for Jesus’ followers. Continue reading

The World Needs Poets…

“The world needs poets!” That may be construed as a bold assertion by some, a statement of the obvious by others, or an irrelevant waste of words by still others. I stand by my words; however, because among all humanity, it is the poets who truly communicate. Let me elaborate:

  • Engineers must crunch numbers, but it is the poet’s words in the briefing that delicately present the findings…
  • Politicians must write laws, but it is the poet’s words in the courtroom that convince the jury…
  • Educators must teach the facts, but is the poet’s words in the mnemonic that children remember years later…
  • Generals must create war plans, but it is the poet’s words in the trenches that inspire men to die…
  • Theologians must parse verbs, but it is the poet’s words in sermon and song that remain in parishioners ears…

Academics typically snub their noses at poets.

Can one imagine a poetry blog at Southern Seminary, where I attended? Too flaky for prim and proper scholars…even Baptists, especially Calvinists. That’s too bad, because hearers are much more likely on Monday to remember the words to yesterday’s hymns than the intricate explanation of the nuances of the second aorist passive tense in Greek.

Can one perchance find a poetry reading group at NASA, where I work? Not on your life! Again it’s unfortunate because the American people might really get into the adventure of space exploration if presented to us in something other than jargon-filled, engineering prose.

In other words, we must encourage the poets among us and nurture the poet within us. This is necessary in all aspects of life but especially in the real of our faith. To quote J.D. Walt of the Asbury Seminary poetry blog:

Poets must be encouraged for with a mere handful of words they subvert the world order. Is it any wonder our poets are the most dangerous liaisons of the Kingdom? Poets take words to their highest power. Like chemists experimenting in the lab, poets combine words into combusting compositions. Theologians laboriously wrestle with words to describe, define and delineate the qualities and character of God. Poets train words to dance in the declaration of God’s glory. They craft cathedrals with words. And when poems burst into song the world joins the dance.

Yes! Exactly! He gets it! The ‘most dangerous liasons of the Kingdom,’ precisely because they capture the imagination and fan into flames the passion of the human heart…all of which is possible with theological precision and correctness, I might add. And so, I will begin to take a weekly break from my usual prose and post some creative verse–some original and some borrowed / some classic and some contemporary…all to inspire and enjoy, and we’ll see where it takes us!