The Church service handout mentioned this book as if it were being handed out at the door. I didn't see it when I came in, so I went back down to the entrance to ask. There was a table, and they wanted $8 donation. I paid it. Somebdy else had dropped in a $20, and I could have done that too, but I didn't expect it to be worth even the $8. So far, I was right.
This church tries hard to meet the spiritual needs of their congregation. At least it seems that way. They conscientiously preach the Word. At least the Senior Pastor does. He doesn't seem to give much guidance to his associates. Whatever. This year they handed out bookmarks, each with a different "Spiritual Discipline" divided into exercises, one each week, a different Spiritual Discipline each month, sort of like when I was in Boy Scouts, we were to do "a Good Deed for the day," like one was enough. What a crock. This book, we are told, is the Spiritual Discipline for December, 31 chapters, four or five pages, one each day of the month.
This book is aimed at persons other than myself. It is repetitious, maybe even ponderous. It's meant to be read slowly -- to children (explicitly) -- and maybe to Feelers who can derive warm fuzzies from it. That's not me.
When I was a member of a liturgical church, I appreciated the liturgical seasons. Like the hymns, they fed my soul at that time. That was then, this is now. Apart five minutes near the beginning of each of the four Sundays in Advent, this church doesn't do liturgy. They also don't do hymns. What they do in its place is musically insipid and theologically dubious (see "Collected CCM Posts in My Blog"). So these days, when my soul feels hungry, I binge on recorded hymn tunes, like last Friday for a half-hour or more (see also "CCM: Feeding Garbage to My Soul"). But liturgy -- including Advent -- is not where I'm at this year. The imprecatory Psalms are for where I was two years ago, but not today. The Bible is like that, diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks.
But I'll give the guy a fair hearing. I'm glad they didn't pick this
year's offering from ChristianityToday (they did last year, but
this year it was a big turn-off for me. Too many women. I read through
it -- and hoped). God is Good. So here I am reading Tripp. I don't know
where the church is getting their Advent readings this year, but I don't
think it's Tripp. Whatever.
Our eyes have gone lazy and our hearts have grown cold... Familarity often means that what is very important may no longer exercise important influence over us in the way it should.Maybe that is true of others (I wouldn't know), this guy is a pastor and probably knows people like this, but I see he used weasel words "often" and "may" to exclude the people who do not fit his model. He describes nobody else -- including me. I have maybe 70+ years of daily Bible reading and prayer, so familiarity is the name of my game, but if "what is very important [did not] exercise important influence over [me] in the way it should," I would not be reading his book at all. I would not even be reading the Bible and going to a church that is doing a good job of being irrelevant to my life. Somewhere around a century ago, Johannes Winklhofer gave us that great line usually attributed to Steven Covey,
The most important thing is to keep the most important thing the most important thing [my translation]and I mostly try to do that. Except reading Tripp is not that very important thing. Moses (quoted by both Jesus and Paul, and exemplified throughout all Scripture) tells us that the most important thing is to
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and...Tripp has some other "most important thing" in mind. Yes, "the roses of grace" make it possible to do that, but they are the means to the end, not the end itself.
Love your neighbor as yourself. [Mt.22:37,39, oNIV]
The majesty of the patient and forgiving love of this story defies words.Perhaps that is true, but the actual story of what God did for us (and expects of us in return) not only does not "defy words," it has actually been committed to words, and I read from that sacred Word every day. Perhaps Tripp only meant it as hyperbole, but that kind of departure from truth does not inspire confidence in the rest of what he has to say.
We're often unwilling to do what God says if it doesn't make sense to us.People often make generalizations about others (implicitly meant to include me) and I see that it does not describe me, and my reaction is usually, "Speak for yourself." I find myself thinking that a lot as I go through this book.
If God tells me to do something, and I do not understand what He calls
me to do, if it doesn't make sense to me, it is ignorance, not unwillingness.
If I know and understand what He calls me to do, and choose not to do it,
well, I probably have done that, perhaps even often, but I don't remember
much that far back. Most often I'm either too lazy or too busy to think
through the implications of my choice (thereby to infer that it is in fact
an obligation God has laid on me), or else I have a bad case of Clue Deficit
Disorder (which is often).
The entire redemptive story hinges on one thing -- the eternal willingness of Jesus.Maybe this is another instance of hyperbole. From God's perspective there were several conditions involved, like "the fullness of time," and the love of God, and probably others I can't think of at this moment. Whatever. He's losing me.
There is only one word that captures this amazing, history-altering event: glory [his emphasis]I am reminded of that discussion-terminating remark by Humpty Dumpty to Alice in Lewis Caroll's Through the Looking Glass,
There's glory for you!" ...Neither Alice in Carroll's book, nor I today, have much patience for people inventing new definitions for words the rest of us know what they mean and it's different. According to my tattered desk dictionary:
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."
glo-ry 1. exalted praise, honor or distinction... 4. resplendent beauty or magnificence...There are six other variations on these two, none of them fitting in the context of Tripp's usage ("amazing, history-altering event"). Maybe Tripp was right in saying this defies words -- at least the words in his own vocabulary.
Because sin blinds, it also leaves us in a constant state of delusion. [his emphasis]I had to re-read this entire chapter a second time to try and figure out whether this "constant state of delusion" continues into our state of grace -- in which case the author is also still deluded, and I should waste no more time reading his deluded book -- or if it magically terminates when we become Christians, in which case this chapter is not speaking to us (and me in particular) at all, and he is wasting time addressing deluded people who aren't going to read his book at all. I still don't know. Unless the author is still deluded. Basically this chapter cuts the feet off his whole book.
What the world cried out for was a substituteI don't hear the world crying out for anything that God or Tripp has to offer, least of all a "substitute" for Adam's failure. They mostly don't care. They just want to make the best of their miserable short life on this wretched world, and they mostly see Christians as the problem, not the solution.
A "substitute" may be -- and indeed is -- needed to restore us to what God intended us to be, but that's a heavy theological inference that we cannot expect the "world" to cry out for, when not even the vast majority of those who call themselves "Christian" have any clue what it's all about. Maybe they might learn it reading this book, and maybe they won't get it here any more than they got it sitting in the pew on Sunday morning when one of Tripp's colleagues said much the same kinds of things.
This chapter began with Tripp's memories of what a wonderful thing substitute
teachers were when he was in school, because they couldn't teach. I have
no such memories. The one substitute teacher I actually remember handed
out a story written entirely in puns: "Ladle Rat Rotten Hut" was a retelling
of "Little Red Riding Hood," and far from being useless, it was a wonderful
insight into the communicative nature of language, which is a fine topic
for an English class. I still have that handout in a box out back somewhere,
I saw it when I was repacking to come here, some six years ago.
If you had to summarize the Christmas story with one word, what word would you choose?I don't believe in one-word summaries -- to paraphrase Mark Twain, "All simplifications are wrong, including this one" -- but if you insisted, I might choose "glitter." Glitter is shiny stuff that attracts attention, like the angels singing to the shepherds, and the star that guided the wise men. There's no mention in Tripp's question that this is necessarily about the Biblical Christmas story, and glitter is also what people used to put on their Christmas trees (before the frowny spoilsports took it off the market), and more generally to spiffy up their houses and shop windows during tbe month of December.
But Tripp thinks the word should be grace [his emphasis]. Nothing I see in the Biblical Christmas story resembles the Biblical concept of grace, that's an idea Tripp has imported into the Biblical Christmas story from other parts of the Bible. It may make a nice sermon, but it's not in the text here. But Tripp doesn't seem to be very strong on promoting Scripture anyway. I'm a Biblicist. Some preacher gets up on Sunday morning and preaches a sermon that grabs a bunch of unprovenanced ideas from all over the Bible, and from all over unBiblical Christendom, I'm likely to tune out. I have no way to verify his claims in real time, and (because it's spoken, not written) no way to verify them afterwards. And far too often, such sermons are littered with bad theology and/or utter nonsense. At least this is printed. I can look at the Biblical Christmas story in the four texts that arguably touch on it, and I can see that "grace" is not there. Why should I believe anything else he has to say? (See my "BS Detector" elsewhere).
I see the back half of Tripp's book has more (and longer) Scripture
quotations than the first half. On the average, still not much more than
one per day (not counting the unquoted references attached to each daily
...we're perennially unhappy with life...(As before) Speak for yourself, buddy. Some 15 or so years ago I made a conscious choice to practice contentment. I have not arrived yet, but I'm a lot closer now than I was then. And furthermore...
You see, if we're honest, we're not angry because the people around us are breaking God's lawWell, actually, now that I think about it, most of the residual anger I have not yet sublimated into contentment, is in fact because the people around me -- specifically those supplying the tools I'm forced to use in doing the work God gave me to do -- are actually breaking God's Law, the Golden Rule that Jesus himself called The Second Great Commandment. I should be thanking God that wicked people are producing evil tools, because God is Good, and God is in charge, so God will work out the result of their evil behavior to be Good for God's people (including me), but in the heat of battle I don't often remember that. If they were doing The Right Thing, then I wouldn't feel this frustration (aka anger), which is the basis of Tripp's bogus claim, but they're not, and that neither surprises nor thwarts God's Good for His people, and in retrospect, I know that.
Skipping over some repetitious bogosity...
Why do we all struggle with envy?Speak for yourself, buddy. I cannot remember the last time I felt envy. I have no bucket list. I'm happy with what God has given me, and if I look around, I have more than 90% of the people in the world, what is there to envy? Yet, even the people in the poorest countries of the world, those countries where government corruption has reduced (for example) what was once the richest country in Africa, in one generation bad government reduced it to the poorest in the world. In my lifetime. Yet God's people in that horrible situation can thank God for His Goodness, "for great is their reward in Heaven." I'm not volunteering, but if I wanted to envy somebody, it would be them. Better I should be happy with what God has given me, and most of the time I am. Except for those tools, but I'm working on that.
Skipping over some more repetitions...
The core content of your Bible is one single storyThere are people who like to think that everything that can be imagined is "story." I'm not one of them. The world I live in is filled with lumps and bumps and colors and shapes and stories and commands and analyses and poetry and activities and glitter and stuff. God likes diversity, and He made a lot of very diverse things, and much of MY Bible is filled with diverse things suitable for diverse people and for the same people in diverse situations. Some of it is story; more of it is something else. I like it that way. Too bad about Tripp, living in a boring flat monochromatic world with nothing but story. I'll bet this line is a hoax, and Tripp doesn't really believe it. Whatever. Not my problem.
What would happen if I would start every day by praying, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, this day as it is in heaven?"I think if Tripp did that, he would start to have a fun life like I do. I don't use those exact words, but the idea is that God is in charge, and God knows what He is doing, and it's awesome. Sure, there's some not-fun stuff, but Jesus envisioned "the joy that was set before him," and I can do that too.
Let your joy at what your savior has gifted you with be mixed with grief...Chapter and verse, please, I cannot find that idea in my Bible. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us to "fix our eyes on Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame." In another place, we should "grieve with those who grieve," yet remembering that "we do not grieve like those who have no Hope..." Rejoice in the Lord always, rejoice and be exceeding glad. My mother was grumpy, and it rubbed off on me, but I like rejoicing better.
More than halfway through, this is getting to be a grind. Maybe I'll
take a break and (ahem) be glad I don't need to read this every day. The
church handed this book out (one per family), but the senior Pastor does
not preach like this book reads. Instead he preaches the Word, usually
with references in the Service Notes. I like that. The pastors of some
of the daughter (satellite) churches preach like this book, but I don't
go there. Maybe the people in those congregations need that kind of preaching.
I didn't know all that when I started coming here, but God did. God is
If you listen, you will realize that we communicate with the language of hope all the time.Not me. Maybe once or twice in any given year, I might respond to some other person's statement of hope with the classic line "Hope springs eternal..." but it's not my hope. More than 20 years ago, my then-new friend was probing to see if I was a believer, and I pulled his leg by replying "I hope so," then followed it up with a reference to Heb.11:1. The modern English notion of "hope" as a wish for something not particularly likely is not in my working vocabulary. I don't waste my time wishing for what I cannot have, not even for what I might (but not certainly) have. I prefer to spend my efforts on what I can cause to happen. And if I fail (I often do), I move on to the next project. Tripp thinks "God created our lives to be propelled and directed by hope..." but he gives us no reason to believe God said so -- and I rather think not.
Let me suggest four ways that we all tend to swindle ourselves...When I was a member of a liturgical church, part of the liturgy each Sunday repeated the prayer of David in Ps.51:10:
1. We all tend to minimize our sin.
2. We all tend to doubt the wisdom of God's law.
3. We all tend to be more concerned about the wrongs of others...
4. We all tend to deny what's in our hearts.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.To the extent that we are invited to pray that with the Psalmist, we can reasonably expect that God's promise in Ezek.11:19,
I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.can and did happen to us, if not daily, at least upon our new birth into His Kingdom. Therefore self-denial (which is different from the self-deception of Tripp's #4) is both possible and desirable, and the kind of minimizing of our sin that actually takes place is real and virtuous, in keeping with what Jesus told the woman taken in adultery, "Stop sinning," and again different from the self-deception of Tripp's #1. His #2 has not been true of me for as far back as I can remember, but overcoming his #3 has recently (before I read this) become a priority in my own spiritual growth. He writes in the present tense, but in my case it is past. At least I'm working on it. Tripp is not helping.
...over the thousands and thousands of years between the sin of Adam and Eve and the birth of Jesus...Literally, two is plural, so 2000 counts as "thousands" so that "thousands and thousands of years" could be as little as 4000 years, but that's not the semantics of the phrase in the English language. It's a nit, but I like to take "ALL Scripture" as inspired by God and "profitable for teaching," so that I do not deprecate the chronology of the Bible, which would amount to (in Tripp's own words) "doubt the wisdom of God's law." That's not something I do.
...you ignore his existence, and God will still love you. You can fail to do what he's called you to do, and he will still love you.It is common for pastors (and those they have misled) to believe in "God's unconditioinal love," but not only can I find no such teaching in my Bible, I do find it contradicted in the words of Jesus [John 14:21]. But then the Biblical notion of God's love (and what He has commanded us to do, both to Himself and to those around us) is rather different from the modern English selfish attraction and feel-good warm fuzzies, so that the English word is a poor translation of the Greek word, and nobody really understands these verses as the original readers did. Oh well.
There's probably not a day in your life where you haven't sung or haven't heard a song.I long ago observed that when music I like is playing, I tend to sing along instead of doing the work God gave me to do. And if it's not music designed to praise God, it annoys me so much that I still can't do the work God gave me to do. So I turn the music off. I packed up my phonograph and records some six moves (38 years) ago, and never got them back out. Maybe 20 years ago I noticed that I often woke up in the morning with a song of praise to God in my mind (heart?) and I greatly preferred that to the fewer times when it was some other song. That's going away now that the church I attend these days doesn't sing much praise to God on Sunday morning (see my blog posts here), but after fretting about it for a year or two, I have taken steps to repair the damage. It's working. Anyway, most of my days are without song of any kind. I like singing praise to God, but I also must keep the most important thing the most important thing, and for me at this time, that is not music. God understands.
Tripp's point is that Christmas carols -- at least the ones he mentions,
not including (for example) "Jingle Bell Rock" -- give praise to God. I
agree. This church had other priorities the first Christmas season I was
in attendance (only one Christmas carol the whole season), but this year
they have done a whole bunch, some of them I can even sing -- it's harder
when they mess with the harmony because they don't provide musical scores
like the hymnbooks in previous churches. Oh well.
The Christmas story is a wisdom storyI don't know what he means by "wisdom story," which doesn't seem to fit the theological definition of "Wisdom Literature" (Psalms, Proverbs, etc.) but then he's been making bogus claims about "the Christmas story" all through this book, why should he stop now?
We all carry stories with us, and the stories we carry become the means by which we make sense of the individual storiesthat we live every day.I don't carry stories around, least of all "my story." I don't think in terms of "story" like the post-modernists. I enjoy a good story (a novel or movie) as much as the next person, but not when it's based on premises opposed to God. When I was checking books out of the local library (that was before Covid) I passed up whole categories of stories I did not want to read. You can read about some of them in my blog. The movie I watched today, when it was over, I told myself "I did not like this one." It happens, because "story" is not supreme, God's Truth is. Mostly it's not worth even thinking about, except today. Whatever. Later on the same page:
I wrote this devotional so you would embed your little personal story in the larger story of redemption.
I hope ... that you would make sense of every dimension of your life through the lens of what the Christmas story tells you about life.Like all hopes everywhere, it's a forlorn hope, which my dictionary defines as "almost certain to fail." The Christmas story tells me little or nothing about life, it's a tiny fraction (less than 1%) of what the Bible has to say to me and all believers everywhere (including Tripp), put there (I suppose) to indulge those people who want "stories" while the rest of us read the parts that feed our souls the way stories seem to feed Tripp's. God is Good and God is gracious, giving each of us what we need and are willing to accept. I read the whole Book, skimming over the parts obviously intended for other people -- or myself at other times.
I mostly try not to read God's Word through any "lens" likely to distort
what God has to say. Some of it is "story" and I read it that way. Other
parts are poetry (enough said), or songs of praise -- and sometimes I am
lucky enough to have those songs set to singable music -- or reasoned syllogism
which can read with understanding, and so on. Sometimes there are little
bits and pieces of instruction, how to make my life conform better to the
pattern set by Jesus, and I need to pay attention, so to make necessary
changes. I do that, and then those parts no longer apply.
Tomorrow you will reach for a story to make sense out of what is happening in your story.Tomorrow I will do no such thing. I have no story I care to make sense of, and "reaching for" (whatever that means) a story is not going to help me make sense of what I consider unimportant. Sometimes people greet me with the usually meaningless "How are you?" and I respond "I try not to notice," (which is true) and then because they are usually startled, I add, "I figure it is good enough that God notices," (which is also true). I want to focus my attention on the Good Work God has given me to do. Occasionally some little discomfort comes along to remind me (as Dr.Paul Brand pointed out in his excellent book The Gift of Pain) "Don't do that." My sister gave me a lot of insight, one of them being that "People don't want to hear about your aches and pains." She was right. There's no story here. Go home, folks.
Every day of your life, you preach some kind of gospel to yourself.I don't know what he means by "gospel," the Greek word usually translated "gospel" really means "good news" but I don't "preach" good news to myself or anybody else, not every day, not any day at all. God gave that preaching job to somebody else. When I was finishing up my undergraduate degree at Berkeley, I invited God to give me that job, and He said "No."
But when I read this line, I suddenly realized that Tripp is giving us a confession. Every one of these 31 chapters is a little sermon like he might preach at his church -- if he had one, the bio on the dust jacket does not give us any reason to believe that's how he spends his time. Some authors write one book, then publish it multiple times with different titles. Louis L'Amour and Suzette Haden Elgin were like that. Others write a book with multiple chapters, read any one chapter -- it doesn't matter which -- and you've read the whole book. I read a book like that earlier this year (see "Keepers of the Garden") and this is another.
But wait, it gets worse. Like so many pastors when I was growing up (less so now) where every sermon had an altar call, every one-chapter sermon in this book preaches sin and grace and God's love, then gives an altar call. If his readers believed his sermon in chapter one, they would not need him to preach the same sermon thirty more times. I believed that sermon many decades ago, I certainly don't need it again. But most of the time he's not saying "You-all are sinners," he's saying "We..." He has not believed his own sermon. His sermons in this book were not meant to be believed. Some people, we say of them that they "like to hear the sound of their own voice." Trip likes to see his own words in print. They don't need to have an effect, just writing them and having some church pay $8 a copy is all he cares about. It's his income. No wonder I didn't like it.
Me, I don't think that way. I set a goal to make the world a better place (in obedience to God's Golden Rule command) then try to do that. Getting paid for it is not that relevant. A little, because getting paid for it is the only objective evidence that I succeeded at my goal. But the money? It all comes for God, and there's more where that came from. It's quite liberating.
The associate pastor leading our Sundy morning Bible class asked me to cover for him last summer while he had other obligations. I did the early chapters of Proverbs. I did no altar calls, everybody was there because they already love Jesus more than the other things they might do on a Sunday morning. I'm not on the leadership team of that church, I have no inside track on what they want their members to hear, so I looked to make it interesting, and to provoke them into a life more in conformance to Jesus. At least it wasn't repetitious, no "lens" to turn everything into the same sermon. I don't know if I succeeded, I guess the pastor was not dissatisfied, he asked for more.
2022 November 30, December 8, 15