Who Has the Words of Eternal Life?

I like to think I am not like Peter, the regretful, faltering, denying follower of Christ, but I am more like him in my heart than I pretend to be in my flesh. I think a lot about his question to Jesus, “Master, to whom else would we go?” He follows it by an assurance of his commitment to Jesus, but one can’t help wondering if his question betrayed beneath it the possibility that if another more compelling voice came along, he’d be down for it.

I read an interview with the great thinker Wendell Berry this morning on The New Yorker. It was a long one, but these are the best kind, allowing the interviewer to peel back layers, the interviewee to grow more relaxed, and the reader to exercise attention for longer. The whole piece is good and I recommend it, but one section in particular remains in my mind:

“As I understand my effort, it is to deal with the problems of, for example, land use, in their real complexity. And of course, I’ve failed. I get invited to talk to a lady at Time, and we have a very nice talk, and I answer five questions. It’s obviously inadequate. And then there’s this thing I wrote, “Eating Is an Agricultural Act," I’m so sorry about. By itself it’s baloney.”

Did you hear that? “I failed.” “Obviously inadequate.” “I’m so sorry.” “Baloney.”

What strikes me in this interview (and really has always struck me about Berry’s writing) is his absolute willingness to own his past mistakes. To say something he worked on was inadequate. To admit failure and be sorry about what he said, what was published, and what others read.

This past week on social media I shared a snapshot of a book I read in an afternoon. Within seconds of sharing it, the messages started rolling in. “You’re an influencer, you shouldn’t share this book…” “You’re a public figure, you should consider how you’re leading others astray…” “You’re spreading the gospel of Satan.” The latter in particular tickled me because if there’s one thing I know about Satan it’s that he doesn’t have any good news. But the accusations were similar: because of who I was, I shouldn’t share the imperfect words of a fellow sister in Christ, one who displayed humility, care, attentiveness, and a willingness to be wrong in her book, simply because she runs in different theological streams than I do. Several things strike me here: The first is that I am not the Christ. The second is that I have never called myself an influencer. And the third is that we are very quick to assume it is we who have the corner on the words of eternal life and not, perhaps, someone else who loves Jesus just as much.

What is the common campfire round which these anecdotes gather? It is the warmth and goodness of a willingness to be wrong. To be doing our very best to do what makes sense, what compels us, what draws us in and delights us, but to be willing to say at the end of it all, “Jesus, you alone have the words of real life, eternal life,” which means we do not. Peter. Wendell Berry. The author of the book I read. Me. My ardent followers on social media. We do not have the words of eternal life. We simply carry the words given to us in broken earthenware jars, sip by sip, bit by bit, to our fellow humans, pointing always to the One who does.

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Seven Ways We Fail and Get Back Up Again

The first time the word sin is mentioned in Scripture is not at the moment when sin entered the world, but the moment before the fracturing of two brothers, Cain and Abel. After Cain brought his offering to the Lord (which, for whatever reason known to them and not clearly to us, displeased the Lord), the Lord said, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4).

That phrase, "Its desire is contrary for you," has always stuck to me like an autumn burr on a wool sweater.

There are so many things in our lives pressing us back, crouching at our doors, slinking in unforeseen gaps and spaces, taking up room, both invited and uninvited. Sin is not a passive agent, but if we are passive, it can rule over us. There are so many areas in my life where I am the passive agent regarding sin. I say something smartly but intended to get my point across: sin. I leave something unfinished in hopes someone else will notice and do it: sin. I cite needs and desires as my primary motivator: sin. I avoid dealing with my emotions, letting them build and bubble over: sin. Wherever I look, sin is crouching at my door. 

A pastor at our church once said, "We don't get over our sin by constantly looking at our sin, we get over it by looking at the work of Jesus on the cross." This sounds really good, but if we don't make the cross both deeply personal and deeply practical, it can be difficult to see the ramifications of the work of Jesus in all the small places where sin reigns supreme in our lives. We can apply the gospel to the Big Sins, but overlook its power over the "little foxes that ruin the vineyards" (SoS 2:15).

Nate and I have been talking about some work God did in us as singles and now as a married couple, ways we have recognized the power of sin to creep in and the ways it has ruled us (and still does in so many ways), and exercises we do to press back and bounce our eyes to the cross. These are not grand theological gestures, they are small things designed to teach us restraint, remind us to submit, to fear God, of the bounty of God, and of the joy found completely in him. 

Over the next few weeks I'll be doing a series of posts on seven ways we try to rule over the crouching presence of sin in our home. I'll expound on our methods for engaging the gospel in these areas of our lives, the ways we fail, and our hope for the Church more and more. 

None of these things are done perfectly. In none of these areas have we arrived. And in every one of these areas we are prone to wander, to fail, and to forget. One of the best blessings of the gospel, I think, is the fact that it never changes. When I fail, forget, and wander—the cross and the empty tomb never change. The point is not to do these things perfectly, but to actually let the imperfection of my doing them remind me of how much I need Jesus every single day. We fail often and regularly at all of these, but: 

1. We choose reading, writing, and talking instead of screen-time in order to engage and flourish as flesh and blood humans. 

2. We practice not a work/life balance, but a work/rest model in order to see God as our Creator, Redeemer, and Joy. 

3. We eat whole foods, in-season, and locally if possible, in order to care for our bodies and the earth well. 

4. We practice hospitality not as an event or social engagement, but as a way to sacrifice ourselves, our time, and our energy, for the flourishing of others.

5. We choose the way of peace instead of violence and listening over making ourselves heard, as a way to remind ourselves we are not omnipotent, omnipresent, or omniscient. 

6.  We eat meals together in order to press back against the culture of busy, quick, fast, and convenient. 

7. We endeavor to live using restraint in our finances, not so we can build bigger savings accounts or retirement funds, but so we can serve others more freely today.

I often get questions about the way we practice Sabbath as New Testament Christians or why we choose to have a young man living with us or what made us decide to not have a television, and more, and my hope is that in writing more on these specific intents, I will be able to answer those questions more fully. None of these things are without theological purpose and very real—sometimes painful—sacrifice. That's on purpose. Not because we're masochists, but because we're Christians living in a hostile-to-the-way-of-Jesus-environment. It's never been easier, more convenient to not carry the cross and follow Him. So how, in 2017, in the suburbs, without children, with paying jobs, with every gadget available to us, do we say, "No, sin, you will not rule over us. We're already the children of a King." 

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The series will be tagged: Seven Ways so if you're looking for the whole thing at some point, just click on that tag at the bottom of the page.