Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Gig Harbor Reformed Bible Study KCIS Script

Is the good news of the gospel of grace alone in Christ alone--just too good to be true?

Do you worry that you might forfeit God’s mercy if you don’t obey, if you’re not good enough?

Did Christ’s sacrifice really and fully pay my debt? Is Christ’s righteousness alone sufficient--or do I need to add my performance, my obedience to complete the deal?

Was Justification by faith alone just true back in 16th-century Reformation Europe? Or does it remain the central message of the entire Bible—and my only comfort in life and in death?

For answers, you are warmly invited to the Gig Harbor Reformed Bible Study.

Mark Vander Pol, on staff at the White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation magazine, Escondido, CA will lead the opening study, Tuesday, February 16th at 7:00 pm at Cottesmore of Lifecare, 2909 14th Avenue NW, Gig Harbor.

You’ll not want to miss this opening study and introduction to the mission and ministry of the United Reformed Church.

For more information about Gig Harbor Reformed please go to gigharborreformed.wordpress.com; it’s easy to remember: gigharborreformed.wordpress.com; or call at 253-234-4727, that’s 253-234-4727.

Come Tuesday, February 16th, 7:00pm if you’re worn out at trying to win God’s favor by your performance. Come if you long for the “always-and-forever” embrace of the gospel of grace alone in Christ alone.

The Gig Harbor Reformed Bible Study is a mission work of the Bellingham United Reformed Church.

Check us out at gigharborreformed.wordpress.com

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

INKBLOTS, Writers' gathering

INKBLOTS, January 18, 2010

Seven men, glowing embers in the wood stove, Twisted Zin, common interest in many things, but what brought us together tonight was our interest in writing. Doug McComas, our gracious host, led off in prayer. A brief discussion about whether this was a guy-only writing deal or if female writers would be welcome--or would even want to come.

Brendan W. introduced us to No Plot No Problem, Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month (November); a challenge to write your novel in 30 days, prescribing so many pages per day. Theory: write, write, write… So B is planning to do it in February (forget November). He got the book on sale at Half Price Books. One wonders if a how-to book on writing works as well if you got it for half price? Does it only work half as well? Maybe he should have bought two of them.

Chit-chat opened then with discussion of plot. How many are there? 6 or 7? What’s most important? Plot or characterization? Tom Clancy’s plots were discussed—or bantered--and (over) simplified. Importance of choosing names, Barney character is going to be a certain type of fellow.

David K. leads off with some reworkings of his futuristic novel, political thriller. He put us in with the two brothers (half brothers with different last names).

D clearly likes guns, conservative political theory, fighting, and sibling rivalry. I do believe this manuscript has potential. “His thoughts about God had died with his mom.” More than half complete. The challenge is to get the big picture in a 10-minute sample reading of a book that is heading toward an apocalyptic epic.

What about mapping out a flow chart, or story board, to get the big picture down? DM said it seems like an intriguing tale of massive proportion. Inevitably big books came up, War and Peace, Brothers Karamazov (Братья Карамазовы), Anna Karenina, Tolkien’s trilogy. Does D need to consider dividing this into more than one novel, a series? Eyre Affair is brought up as a humorous almost spoof (not spoof), set in a fictional England where literature is the world, by Jasper Fforde.

Ben S. read a “doggerel” inspired by Jonathan Nichols, with apologies to Ogden Nash. Jonathan suggested to Ben that he write an epic on the second law of thermodynamics. “This is very silly,” B prefaced his reading. Ceramics and hammocks rhymes with dynamics, one learns. Fun stuff.

I inserted myself with a harangue on why it is so important to be writing poetry on the canvas, that is, within the conventions. There is no more expansive way to become acquainted with the subtleties and nuances of words, meaning, sound, cadence, all of which trains the ear, the mind, the imagination so one can write better, poetry or prose. Everything CS Lewis wrote in poetry he wrote better in prose, so did he waste his time writing all that poetry? No. It’s a significant part of what made him such a masterful wordsmith.

Doug M. read parts of the flashback to WWII with his protagonist (retiring missionary downed on same island he had fought on fifty years before), now reflecting back on going down the nets into the landing craft and amtracs. D ask if we were all agreed (or just me) that he needed to change to first-person point of view. I was vindicated by nodding around the room. D looked a little green and ran his hand through the hair that used to cover his pate.

Vivid description of the repartee of nervous marines preparing to make a beach landing under enemy fire. “Only God’s timing and marine training would keep him alive.” Nathan thought about… should be “I thought about…” There is a fairly high degree of you-are-there quality.

D finished with a self critique. I feel like it’s jerky. I suggested that the switch to first person would remove this perceived jerkiness. It is war, after all, and there is a great deal happening simultaneously, chaos it is often called. D said he would rewrite the chapter he just read to us in first person so we could see it. D wanted more criticism. And he wondered how to “fill in gaps” if he was in first person, maybe with a narrator.

Andy argued that there would be a solution to jerkiness, because the first-person protagonist has to see, hear, react to all the other action, words, and threats surrounding him. DK suggested that DM might leave the third-person meta narrative with the first-person reserved for the flashbacks. DM is thinking this is going to be enormous work to change the point of view. He’s 22 of 26 chapters.

DM asked what is the difference between good writing and writing to be published. What makes writing a success? I suggested that finally whether we are on the NY Times best sellers list, or whether we have fat royalty checks pouring in doesn’t matter where things really matter. Write for an audience of one. Write to glorify and enjoy God. Wonderfully freeing, but requires daily, constant re-calibrating, such proud, self-centered sinners we are, I am.

BW read us a poem based on a sermon, employing the cresting surf and the pattern made by the sea on the sands of the seashore as a metaphor for man’s life. We beat B up last time pretty badly for emoting (you’ve got to be tough at the INKBLOTS). Here is much more in the conventions, the boundaries that, in my opinion, makes something actually poetry. Some suggestions about the bigness of the topic and the shortness of the poem.

BW reluctantly, apologetically read another piece (prose?), a homily, an honest reflection on a sexual temptation, attractive co-worker, flirting--all a dream. BW takes sin seriously, and is not in this trying to mitigate sins of the heart. Quite the contrary, or there would be nothing written here. “Tin Mines,” he calls it. He recollects John Owen on the mortification of sin. His dream was like the tin mines and the blast of water, blasting dirt and ore in all directions. The homily is the heart-felt journey of a man who takes sin intensely seriously.

I commented that it reminded me of Thomas Kelly’s hymn “Stricken, smitten, and afflicted.” Especially the stanza beginning, “Ye who think of sin but lightly, Nor suppose the evil great, Here (at the cross of Christ, atoning with his blood for my sins, including lustful fantasies) may view its nature rightly, Here its guilt may estimate.” Our sins of lust are so great because they are such an affront to Christ our Bridegroom, and we are the groom, the bride of Christ.

Is anyone writing great, enduring literature today? It was suggested that there are splinter groups with “great” authors in them. I launched in with a lampoon on the elitism of the academy today. College kids get fed the professors favorite authors, ones who are just too “great” for the uninitiated, the common man, folks who are not capable of “getting it.”

Andy S closed in prayer with gratitude to God for giving us the gift of imagination and writing.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sermon Preview, January 17, Oberlin Cogregational

I'll be preaching Sunday morning at Oberlin Congregational Church, in Steilacoom, Washington, service at 10:15. Text is Luke 18:18ff, Jesus' encounter with the rich young ruler.

...II Corinthians 8:9 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that(A) though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

Jesus is in effect saying, “I am your treasure in heaven; sell all, come, and follow me.” The treasure is Jesus, not our good works, not our money.

But here’s the tragedy: The rich young ruler went away sad. A page or two before this text we read the words: “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Luke 16:13

The rich young ruler went away sad because he had come face to face with this absolute truth about serving masters: it’s one or the other. His life was consumed with laying up treasures for himself, both moral treasures with which he believed he could win God’s favor, and material treasures which were his idol.

He was a slave—a willing follower--of his money and his morality, and you can’t follow Jesus while following your money and your morality. You must come like a little child (Luke 18:17), like an infant, who must have everything done for them—that’s the gospel of grace alone.

Someone has described following Jesus like this: “I throw all my sins on a pile and then all my good works on the pile—and flee to Christ and him crucified.”
That is the gospel of grace alone. Add “and throw all my money on the pile—anything I am trusting in instead of Jesus”--and we have the solution for the rich young ruler. But he didn’t get it.

The gospel is really good news for the lost, for folks who are poor in spirit, who are morally bankrupt, for those whose lives are in freefall and they know it, for people who see that they have and are nothing in themselves. This was not the RYR. He clung to his riches.

Novelist John Steinbeck explores this wrong-headed human problem with wealth in his book The Pearl. You probably had to read it in an English class—or you will. In the story, Steinbeck convincingly creates a poor but contented pearl-diver named Kino—and then his baby is bitten by a scorpion—distressed, Kino sets out to find “the pearl of the world” so he can afford medical care for his son. And then he finds it, a great big goose-egg of a pearl, worth more money than Kino can imagine. Elated, he was certain that now his problems would be over.

As the action rises, Steinbeck masterfully shows how the pearl takes over, and Kino quickly becomes its slave. “The pearl has become my soul,” he realizes too late. “If I give it up I shall lose my soul.” Perversely, his inability to give it up destroys his livelihood, the tender relationship with his wife, and his son’s life. Finally, when his pursuit of temporal gain to solve his troubles has utterly failed, he listens to his wife. “This thing is evil. This pearl is like a sin! It will destroy us.” And together they throw it back into the sea.

I know what you’re thinking:
…surely there was some way to keep the wealth from the pearl and not lose everything else. Pearls aren’t evil in themselves, and think how much good could be done with all that money.

Of course, the same argument could be used about the rich young ruler’s wealth--and Jesus told him to get rid of it. Still you and I are inclined to believe the devil’s lie that wealth solves problems, and that you alone of all people in the cosmos won’t be corrupted by it. Precisely what Steinbeck’s character Kino thought.

And judging from the outcome of this biblical account, that’s what the rich young ruler thought too---I suspect it’s what most of us think--down deep where it really counts...