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A sermon preached at David’s Community Bible Church

Millersburg, Pennsylvania

July 19, 2022

Life is hard.

My wife often turns to me after a phone call or an email has brought really tough news that someone we know is suffering and says it: Life is hard…

I often feel this way after reading the news. I close up my laptop or lay down my phone and murmur to myself or say to Karen or groan before God: Life is hard…

We’ve had our own, more personal reasons to recognize this Home Truth over the past two years. Each of us has had a cancer diagnosis. Karen and I have both undergone cancer surgery. Each if us is doing well, but we’re far more conscious of our own mortality … our own fragility … our own dust-to-dustness … than we were before ‘the C word’ entered our home.

Some of my dear Colombian students, wonderful, emerging Christian leaders, face unspeakable odds in life. You wonder how they even get up in the morning sometimes. As they confide in me about their lives … as I hear them out … as I seek for ways to put wind in their sails, I regularly come away from conversations shaking my head and saying it: Life is hard…

As I volley the illness and the bereavement and the tragedy that comes across the wires courtesy of the DCBC prayer list, I once again shake my head against this undeniable, grim reality: life is hard…

And I watch the gradual but steady passing of my personal generation of ‘local heroes’ from Lykens Valley. My own parents’ graves, freshly dug over the past four years not a hundred yards from use his morning, are surrounded by the resting places of my Sunday school teachers, my Dad’s baseball buddies who were always so good to me, and the parents’ of my friends from childhood and teenage years. Right out there!

Life is hard…

I suppose none of this should surprise those of us who are  followers of Jesus, sons and daughters of biblical faith. We of all people should be the most clear-eyed about reality, the most in touch with how things really are, the least prone to look away from both the goodness and beauty and joy of this world that our Lord has made … and from its hard edges, twisted and deformed as they are by human rebellion.

Still, despite the confidence and stability our faith provides, life somehow beats us up. It arrives with a rude thud more often that we’d like and brings out of us … out of me, at least, that whispered recognition that … life is hard.

And I don’t think we’re caving into some kind of therapeutic wimpiness if we say so.

I have a little project going about the 22 men and women from Millersburg who never came home from World War II. I call it Valley of Lions: The story of the Millersburg 22 and the families who lost them. If I ever manage to retire, I hope to turn my little ten-year-old hobby into a book.

Do you realize that in the final eighteen months of the year, a family in this little town was getting a telegram notifying them that their son or daughter was Missing in Action or Killed in Action on the average of once every month. The final push into Germany in late 1944 and the first half of 1945 was really brutal. So far, I’ve tracked three of those awful telegrams arriving to little Moore Street alone. Moore Street, across the street and a few blocks down from what was my little Moore Street School, with the likes of Mrs. Heckert, Mrs. Wert, Miss Shomper, and Mrs. Lenker loving us forward.

I can’t imagine the darkness that descended on this little town from the time that Blaine G. Walter, Jr. was lost on Guadalcanal in 1942 to the days just after the end of the war when Josephine Strohecker died in Naples, Italy and 2nd Lieutenant William Jones’ plane exploded and crashed on landing as it took off from a Pacific Island on his way home after the war. He’d logged more than 900 hours across 43 bombing runs over Japan. And now the war was over … and he was coming home. Lieutenant Jones is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery beside his mother, his only survivor.

Life must have been incredibly hard in our little Valley of Lions during those years.

Life was hardLife is hard. Probably life is always gonna’ be hard.

Or am I the only one who feels this way?


Well, if the heaviness of this reality presses you down this morning … or if it has … then you’re not living something that’s contrary to the Lord’s people at any time.

The so-called psalms of lament provide us with words to pray when loss and sorrow are our lot.

And then there’s this one spectacularly vivid example of faith as it expresses itself in sorrow. We call it the Book of Lamentations.

It’s just five chapters long and easy to miss.

But we shouldn’t miss it. It’s there in our Bibles, waiting to orient us … to gather us in its sad arms … to teach us to wait without denying our pain.


But let’s not float up on the surface this morning now that I’ve taken the risk of preaching a one-off sermon on loss and sorrow and how to conduct ourselves when those experiences overwhelm.

Let me take us deeper into the hardness of life. Let’s take this to a whole new level.

586 years B.C, the part of Israel that still clung to the name was all but wiped from the map. These people are actually known as Judah, but they’re all that’s left of Israel those six centuries before the time of Jesus. Jerusalem was is capital. When they wax romantic, they call their beloved city ‘Daughter Jerusalem’ or ‘Daughter Zion, the Beautiful/Beloved’. 

So much that represents God keeping his promises is anchored in that city. The king in the line of King David. The Temple, where the Lord is encountered as nowhere else. The priests, charged with moderating the relationship between this sometimes dangerous God of Israel and the people who locked themselves into covenant with him. The sacrifices, that all-important, God-given mechanism for maintaining access to the Lord and closeness with him.

It is in every sense of the word the promised land. Every building, every stone, every family who manages to get to Jerusalem every year or from time to time is participating in something that the Lord has promised and delivered. Jerusalem is for the sons and daughters of the Exodus from Egypt no ordinary place.

And then, decades—even generations—of warnings from the prophets and political/religious battles about whether the Lord would actually allow Holy Jerusalem to be lost, it happens. The Babylonian Army, its lines fattened up by all kinds of hired mercenaries, descends on Jerusalem. They tear down its temple. They level its royal houses. They turn the place of sacrifice into dust. They kill many of the priests and put the rest in manacles. They catch the fleeing king, but they don’t kill him right away. First, they gather up his sons and snuff out their lives one by one as he is forced to watch. Then they put out the king’s eyes, so that the last thing he will ever see is the reality that none of his sons will ever sit on his throne again.

Then they carry off the nobles who’ve survived to Babylon to disappear into the mists of loss and tragedy, just like every other deported people of the time eventually disappeared and were forgotten.


Psa. 137:1         By the waters of Babylon,

                                    there we sat down and wept,

                                    when we remembered Zion.

Psa. 137:2            On the willows there

                                    we hung up our lyres.

Psa. 137:3            For there our captors

                                    required of us songs,

                   and our tormentors, mirth, saying,

                                    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

Psa. 137:4         How shall we sing the LORD’s song

                                    in a foreign land?

Psa. 137:5            If I forget you, O Jerusalem,

                                    let my right hand forget its skill!

Psa. 137:6            Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,

                                    if I do not remember you,

                   if I do not set Jerusalem

                                    above my highest joy!

Psa. 137:7 ¶        Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites

                                    the day of Jerusalem,

                   how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare,

                                    down to its foundations!”

Psa. 137:8            O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,

                                    blessed shall he be who repays you

                                    with what you have done to us!

Psa. 137:9            Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones

                                    and dashes them against the rock!


Now we’re talking loss. Now we’re talking sorrow.

We call this disaster ‘the Exile’. It is to the Old Testament what the death of Jesus is to the New Testament. And the Jews’ unlikely return to the land seventy years later is to the Old Testament what the resurrection of Jesus is to the New. We are talking about a national death … and eventually, a national resurrection.


I wonder sometimes, when I’m trying to convey to my students the absolute horror of the Exile what modern events we could compare it with without cheapening either the one-of-a-kind experience of Exile or the modern comp we’re using to try to bring it home.

Probably the Jewish experience of the Holocaust, 1933-1945, compares, though the numbers are far larger. It’s no accident that many Jews prefer to use the same term Sho’ah that the biblical prophet Isaiah employed to speak of the biblical exile. Sho’ah means ‘storm’ or ‘destruction’ or both.

Maybe—and I say this carefully—Ukraine would be a modern comp if, God forbid, Kiev were to be leveled, Ukraine’s ability to self-govern erased, and all attempt to maintain a Ukrainian identity were successfully stomped down. Let us hope and pray that never happens. If it were to happen, maybe then we’d find it easier to get close to the darkness of the biblical Exile.

But let me just say this: our petty discomforts and injustices and our more modest and very real losses don’t come close. However, what they do share with the Jewish experience of exile is loss and sorrow. You and I both know, in some inescapable degree, what those things mean. And if you’re too young to know what I’m talking about when I use words like ‘loss’ and ‘sorrow’, well, I have hard news: One day you will.


I mentioned the book of Lamentations. In fact, it’s the book that provides our Scripture text for today.

I love that a book like Lamentations gets included in our Bible, alongside other ruffians like the Book of Job, the Psalms of Lament, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. These are not easy voices to listen to. They challenge and they prod sometimes far more forcefully than they console. But all of them are God’s own Word to us and we do well to linger over them from time to time.

We don’t know exactly who wrote the five chapters of this little book. What we do know is that they were penned in the aftermath—probably the immediate aftermath—of Jersusalem’s destruction. The lines of this poetic biblical text speak to us of what it meant for Israel to lose so very much. I’ve described Lamentations to my students as one, long poetic scream. That’s what it is.

Let me warn you about Lamentations. The writer is sure that God is behind the calamity. He describes the Lord through most of this poem as his enemy, as Israel’s enemy, as fallen Jerusalem’s enemy. He’s equally sure that Jerusalem has deserved all this. But he thinks the Lord has been awfully severe … even savage … in meeting out justice to his people and he wonders how much longer it will go on. He doesn’t know if he can take any more.

I wonder if you’ve ever felt like this. I have. The cause of our sorrow … of our loss … may be different than the stubborn rebellion of Jerusalem in this writer’s day. But the consequences may feel very much like what he describes.


What are we to do in the darker chapters of our pilgrimage? How can we live faithfully in the shadows of sorrow and loss that afflict us? How can Lamentations be a word from the Lord to us this morning?

Let me read (again?) our text for today. I must tell you that it’s the brightest spot of all five chapters. It’s the climax of some very steep hiking. The road from chapter 1, verse 1 up to this pinnacle I’m about to read is pretty steep. And shortly after this passage, things descend again.

Yet these verses allow us to see the truth and the hope to which this biblical author, writing as though he is Jerusalem itself, has battled. The verses read like this:

Lam. 3:19       Remember my affliction and my wanderings,

                        the wormwood and the gall!

Lam. 3:20       My soul continually remembers it

                        and is bowed down within me.

Lam. 3:21       But this I call to mind,

                        and therefore I have hope:

Lam. 3:22       The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;

                        his mercies never come to an end;

Lam. 3:23       they are new every morning;

                        great is your faithfulness.

Lam. 3:24       “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,

                        “therefore I will hope in him.

Lam. 3:25       The LORD is good to those who wait for him,

                        to the soul who seeks him.

Lam. 3:26       It is good that one should wait quietly

                        for the salvation of the LORD.

What I want to express to the people of God from the Word of God today does not depend completely on these eight little verses. Yet it takes the hope that is expressed here in this pinnacle of the entire book and it looks backwards in the book … and forwards in the book to get a grip on what Lamentations means to followers of Jesus today.

In this spirit of peering at the whole book through the lens of its finest verses, let me offer you four Biblical words of exhortation for when darkness and sorrow have become your companions:

  • Say it out loud!
  • Say it to God!
  • Say it all!
  • Then do the next thing.


The ‘it’ I’m taking about is the reality of my suffering.

Sometimes we’re squeamish as Christians about naming before God just how bad things have become for us. We feel we shouldn’t offend God or that we should not feel as badly as we do.

The Biblical witness doesn’t share that reluctance to speak out of our depths, to name our sorrow, even to use strong words to present before God what we have experienced.

A book like Lamentations invites us to say it out loud

By the time we get to Lamentations 3, verses 19 and 20, the author has been crying out before God about what he calls there ‘my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall’ for two and a half chapters. He’s been pouring out his heart in the strongest possible words, remembering, as he says here the very depths of his affliction. 

His lament … his complaint … is honest and open and authentic and very, very real. 

He takes risks in the way he names the cause of his pain. He is not ‘too careful’ or ‘too precise’.

He says it out loud!

He says it like the many psalms of lament, given to us so we’ll have words to pray in our darkest moment.

He says it like Jesus on the cross, when he prays aloud the words of Psalm 22, ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’

He says it out loud.

I believe his honesty is a crucial part of his healing.


But note a critical element in all the lamenting that the Bible places into the hands of the Lord’s sons and daughters. This lament, from start to finish, is taken to God himself.

All that this writer has to say, he says it to God!

He knows that God can take it. He understands that the only sin that lurks around at moments like this is not saying offending things to God but rather abandoning the conversation with God. That’s the thing that’s to be avoided, not strong speech to God himself.

Scripture invites us to trust sufficiently in God that we can take all that we are to Him in prayer. And the invitation doesn’t get switched off when the only thing we have to offer him is groaning … and tears … and even, like the author of Lamentations, anguished screams and hopelessness.


Third, Lamentations teaches us—it seems to me, anyway—that in moments of great suffering it’s important that we say it all.

Now here I want to take you on a little bit of a detour. Don’t jump off the train on me. I need you to stay engaged while I try to explain something about the book of Lamentations.

As one of my teachers at the Moore Street School used to say to us when she wanted us to pay attention and not drift off, Put your thinking caps on!

The book of Lamentations is an acrostic.

There, I used a technical term, something that an old prof like me tries to avoid when preaching. But if you’re a dentist or an engineer or a lawyer or a machinist or a farmer or an executive assistant, you know the value of technical terms. You don’t want to have to make up words every time you refer to an important point. You just wanna’ say it. 

So here’s a new word for some of you: ACROSTIC.

An acrostic is an alphabetical poem. The psalms and the book of Lamentations and much of the Bible are poetry. That simply means they’re constructed with very special attention to how words work. That’s what poetry is.

So it’s no surprise that a book of laments called Lamentations would be poetry … that it would care very much how words work and construct them so that they work in the way the author intends.

What is surprising is that Lamentations is an acrostic.

So what’s an acrostic? Well, I’ve already said that an acrostic is an alphabetical poem.

That means that the writer starts out with a line that begins with the letter ‘A’. Next, he writes a line that begins with ‘B’. Then ‘C’.  What do you think his next line would begin with?

In reality, sometimes it’s 3 or 4 lines that begin with ‘A’. Then 3 or 4 that begin with ‘B’.

Now we can’t see this in our English Bibles, because he wasn’t writing in English. He was writing in Hebrew.

So we miss out on this acrostic thingy. But he didn’t. He was deadly serious about it.

Now here’s the thing: Acrostics — alphabetical poems — fit well and work well when the topic is a happy one. In the psalms they show up when the psalmist is praising the order or the beauty or the productivity of creation … or of God’s law.

Happy themes, right? Well-ordered, predictable topics, right? That’s where an acrostic — an alphabetical poem — makes hay. Because the fit between the order of the topic and the order of the poem play very nicely together.

Are you following me?

Now here’s another thing: Sorrow, loss, and catastrophe are nor ordered events. Psychologist, sociologists, and just any of us who cares to think about it for a moment will explain that sorrow and loss are disordered moments. They are at the opposite end of human experience from the carefully configured construction of an acrostic … an alphabetical poem … with its almost obsessive dedication to order and design.

When one of the Millersburg mothers took that telegram from the postman in 1942 (Blaine Walter) or 1943 (Richard McBride) or 1944 (Ray Kohr, Asa Romberger) or 1945 (Gene Lentz) and read the words she hoped she’d never see, that was not an ordered moment. When you collapse in tears before the grave of your husband or wife, that’s not an ordered moment. When your spouse walks away, that’s no ordered moment. When millions of Ukrainian mothers climb onto evacuation trains with children and pets in tow and their husbands and fathers left behind, that is not an ordered moment.

When Jerusalem the Promised went up in pillars of smoke and clouds of ash, that was not an ordered moment.

So why does the writer of this biblical lament choose the most highly ordered form available to him for his long shriek before the God whom he hoped was hearing his prayer?

Well students of this book—and I am one—have come up with some interesting explanations. I’d like to share two of them with you this morning.

One explanation says that this prayer comes in this form because it obligated the pray-er to name every painful fact as he sat in Jerusalem’s ashes and expressed a people’s grief to their God. A to Z. One at a time. Nothing left out.

I think this makes some sense, and it leads me to my third piece of instruction that I believe Lamentations hands to us this morning: Say it all! 

When you’re praying out of the depths, name everything. Whether it’s your own sin, an unjust abuse you’ve suffered, the loss of a loved one. Take a page from the writer of Lamentations and walk through it in conversation with God. First A, then B, then C…

Say it all.

But there’s another way to understand the strange use of an acrostic to express the worst possible grief and loss. 

When you’ve been run over by a freight train, and you don’t know what to do, try this: Do the next thing.

No matter how small, no matter how ordinary, no matter how insignificant in the face of your pain, just do the next thing.

Look, my life has been a good life and God has blessed me beyond words. But like many or most of you, life has at different times chewed me up and spit me out. I’ve seen dreams die. I’ve had people walk away. You know, it’s nothing dramatic, but it’s my life and I have my quota of scars just like you do.

I’ve come to believe that the way faith manifests itself after loss is trusting God that there’s a future by taking a brick and starting to build the future. One tiny, measly brick at a time. It doesn’t sound very spiritual, does it? But I think it’s post-traumatic faith in action.

And I think it may well be what the writer of this Biblical lament is doing by saying to himself (and centuries later, to us), today I’m gonna’ work on ‘A’. Tomorrow I’ll get up, I’ll shower and shave, and then I’ll set to work on B. This is how the future is born. This is how we partner with God in creating a future when everything we’ve experienced suggest there won’t be one.


But if everything I’ve shared this morning up to now represents reliable, biblical instruction on how to live and survive our loss and our sorrow, then I’ve managed to save the best part for last.

The best part is the God who accompanies us in our loss. Strangely, he is often silent when we feel like we need to hear his voice more than we ever have. But the biblical witness assures us that he is still there.

Let me read a portion of our text again:

Lam. 3:21       But this I call to mind,

                        and therefore I have hope:

Lam. 3:22    The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;

                        his mercies never come to an end;

Lam. 3:23       they are new every morning;

                        great is your faithfulness.

Lam. 3:24       “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,

                        “therefore I will hope in him.

Lam. 3:25    The LORD is good to those who wait for him,

                        to the soul who seeks him.

Lam. 3:26       It is good that one should wait quietly

                        for the salvation of the LORD.

In these most amazing verses, the pray-er of this long lament discovers that there is in fact reason to hope in the Lord and to wait for the Lord.

If you’re reading slowly and thinking clearly, you might wonder how in the world a person who has suffered so much … who has been so articulate about the God-wrought devastation of his people … should turn and affirm that it makes sense to hope in the Lord … that it’s not crazy but actually reasonable and life-giving to wait for the Lord’s salvation.

How did he come to this conclusion?

Well, I bet what he claims to be true here will bring an ‘Amen!’ out of more than a few bruised hearts here this morning, because what this writer has discovered to be true is also what you have discovered to be real and true. 

It goes like this: 

The steadfast love (חסד) of the Lord never ceases.

His mercies never come to an end.

They are new every morning.

Great is your faithfulness.

Do you hear the totality of the claim in the words nevernever, and every?

The whole declaration pivots on one of the Bible’s richest claims about the God of Israel and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

That claim insists that his loyal love // covenant love // persistent loyalty is simply inexhaustible.

What that doesn’t mean is that we experience God’s love in a kind of straight-line, unremarkable, always-on sort of way. It doesn’t mean that. And we don’t!

In fact, we sometimes cry with the writer of Psalm 22 and with Jesus on the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why do you stand so far off?’

But we also learn that his chesed is like a life-giving river … that sometimes goes underground and stays there for a very long time … but eventually … in our desert … we find ourselves amazed when that river springs up again to the surface and invites us to drink of its waters, to cool ourself in its refreshment.

His mercies, we learn, are experienced as though new with every fresh morning. Some of those mornings come after a very long night.

This we know. This we base our lives on.

This is why verse 3.25 can pick up Israel’s long chant that ‘the Lord is good. His lovingkindness is forever’ and add a little twist that makes all the sense in the world: ‘The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.’ 

And then this little bit of instruction for those who have ears to hear: 26. ‘It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord’.

Now he has hardly been quiet, this writer of Lamentations. His waiting has been pretty noisy. But he’s battled his way to the realization that the Lord is indeed trustworthy, even in the darkest of nights.

I think his lament is his way of living out that second part of 3.25‘The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.’

And I think it can be yours, too.

So when sorrow and loss become your companions, don’t you dare abandon your conversation with God. Pursue him … seek him out, with whatever words you have. And when you tell him about all that’s wrong….

Say it out loud!

Say it all!

Say it to God!

And then what are you gonna’ do? Do the next thing.

When we do these things, we so often discover what we could never discover in our comfort and our ease:

The steadfast love (חסד) of the Lord never ceases.

His mercies never come to an end.

They are new every morning.

Great is his faithfulness.



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For a scholar bone-weary of the educationalist wars, Lee Schulman’s introduction to The Formation of Scholars is both balm and hearty invitation to risk the reading of the book that follows. His emphasis on the carefully vetted vocabulary of ‘formation’ and ‘stewardship’ frames up the work’s inspection of what must change in this pinnacle of educational achievement that we call the PhD without neglecting what must be conserved.

The book’s lead-off chapter (‘I. Moving Doctoral Education Into the Future’) profiles the dimensions of what is at stake. On the one hand, massive numbers of human beings enroll in doctoral programs. On the other, a shocking half them leave their programs prior to completion. The challenges that foment the carnage are both long-standing or traditional and relating to new challenges around novel technologies and other environmental variables. This early attention to the both-and dynamic in a context that lends itself to revolutionary screed is encouraging from the outset.

The Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate (CID) professes to bring to this formidable nexus a jaunty confidence that things can improve, motivated in part by the doctorate’s native inclination to ask hard and uncomfortable questions. An early axiom that corresponds to this hopefulness is the expectation that, where hard questions are unleashed in a permission-giving environment, profitable changes will be identified and in time implemented. 

The formation of scholars, we are told at this early juncture, involves identity, training, and formation. The process cannot be reduced to any one or even two of the features of the long path that is entailed. Already, hope becomes anchored to scholarly integration and intellectual community, two motifs that will recur throughout this volume. A third critical concept—at least in this reviewer’s eyes—emerges in this first chapter, that of the steward. It is worth pausing to absorb some defining expressions:

‘The contemporary environmental movement has adopted the word steward by focusing on sustainable management that will make resources available for generations to come. Here the emphasis is on people living in concert with the environment and on preservation with an eye towards the future. A steward, then, thinks about the continuing health of the discipline and how to preserve the best of the past for this who will follow …’

‘A fully formed scholar should be capable of generating and critically evaluating new knowledge; of conserving the most important ideas and findings that are a legacy of past and current work; and of understanding how knowledge is transforming the world in which we live, and engaging in the transformational work of communicating their knowledge responsibly to others.’

‘By invoking the term steward, and by focusing on the formation of scholars who can indeed be good stewards, we intend to convey a sense of purpose for doctoral equation that is larger than the individual and implies action. A scholar is a steward of the discipline, or the larger field, not simply a manager of her own career.’

In this first chapter, such agreeably anchored thinking leads to a brief advance look at the structure of a book that is meant to tease out the implications for both continuity and change which such concepts all but require.

The book’s second chapter (‘Setting the Stage for Change’) sketches the relative novelty of doctoral education in America and its migration from an environment whose chief virtue was that ‘no one is in charge’ to the point where established traditions often pass unexamined from one cohort and one generation to the next.  The survey sheds light on two distinct stories:

‘On the one hand, the story is of change—gradual, yes, but ongoing and significant as PhD programs have evolved in response to new funding source and incentives, more and different students, recalibrated purposes, and other changing circumstances both within and outside of the academy. On the other hand, the story is one of stasis—of structures and assumptions that have become increasingly difficult to budge.’

These stories in turn engender ‘four larger ideas’ that become the stuff of ensuing scrutiny: (a) The (Partial) Myth of Money, (b) The Power of the Disciplines, (c) The Double-Edged Sword of Decentralization, and (d) Students as Agents of Change and Improvement. The last of these—students as change agents—comes in for persistent mention precisely because the CID discovered that students are both deeply invested in their programs and capable of enacting real change when they seize or are granted the opportunity to become genuine actors in the process which has claimed a large share of their lives.

The authors open their third chapter (‘Talking About Purpose’) by conjuring the often terrifying beast called ‘qualifying exams’ and then arguing that the purpose of this mile-demarcating ordeal is about as opaque as can be imagined. The obvious desideratum of clarity is then pursued by way of the three-part metaphor of mirrors, lenses, and windows:

‘Mirrors, lenses, and windows improve vision—and thus understanding and motivation to change—by providing new views. Mirrors allow us to see ourselves … Lenses enhance the ability to see by sharpening focus and magnifying detail in one area .. Windows provide the opportunity to gaze at the work done by our neighbors.’

The burden of this chapter lies in its implicit exhortation of doctoral constituencies to summon the courage to design to purpose. Encouragement towards amply populated conversations about purpose and then the identification of the structural components that sustain its pursuit pervade the chapter, together with the recognition that not all of these conversations will be easy ones.

The book’s fourth chapter (‘From Experience to Expertise’) explains how one learns to think like a practicing and productive member of his or her guild. Where lies the path from early experience to that established presence and competence that are captured by the word ‘expertise’?

The CID discerns three principles that mark the road with milestones. The first is ‘progressive development’. This developmental pathway includes the acquisition of research competence, a fluency in the art of teaching what one has learned, and those interactions within one’s field that produce enduring professional identity. A second element of becoming expert (somehow, the adjective seems more accurate than the noun) is ‘integrative learning’. The most effective doctoral programs encourage their subjects to ‘make connections across settings and over time’. Thus, one becomes fluent in the history and dominant dialects of one’s discipline as well as capable of conceiving of that discipline as one among many, some of which are in fact contiguous with one’s own area of expertise.

Finally, the CID makes a plea for ‘collaborative learning’, rooted in the conviction that the world is becoming ever more complex and so isolated research ever more incapable of comprehending sizable pieces of it. A series of three imperatives rounds out the chapter, calling for greater awareness of the structure(s) of an expert’s knowledge and the need consciously to introduce students into these; a call to students to develop a keen sense of how they learn; and a plea to all to interact as genuine partners.

The fifth chapter (‘Apprenticeship Reconsidered’) engages the hoary ‘apprenticeship model’, its roots extending back to Medieval origins and its whispered ‘When it works…’ dynamic acknowledged out loud.

‘The solution, it seems to us, is not to abandon the apprenticeship model but to reclaim and urge it in directions more purposefully aligned with the vision of learning that is needed from doctoral programs today, combined with known ways to foster that learning.’ CID’s solution becomes ‘a shift of prepositions: from a system in which students are apprenticed to a faculty mentor, to one in which they apprentice with several mentors.’

CID would pry the apprenticeship model from its one-on-one ‘Darwinian’ manifestation and reconfigure it ‘more broadly as a theory of learning and a set of practices that are widely relevant’. The constituent elements of this theory and practice are then described with reasonable specificity. One might query, however, whether the apprenticeship model requires incarnation in a one-on-one relationship and whether its relecture as theory and practice risk a gnostic dissipation of its genius.

In what is arguably the strongest entry of the volume, chapter six (‘Creating and Sustaining Intellectual Community’) focusses on ‘intellectual community as a synthesizing concept that pulls together our major themes: the formation of scholars, integration of research and teaching, and stewardship. Intellectual community is also essential to the new vision of apprenticeship …’ It is, after all, precisely in community that the noble ideas put forward by so many educationalists and both identified and named in the present volume become real. They are of little value as abstractions. Yet they are both generative and catalytic when they take shape in the mix of human beings united by a common intellectual cause.

The chapter approaches intellectual community from three principal angles. First, it names the characteristics of intellectual community. Next, it identifies activities that foster such community. Finally, it describes the impact of such community upon the formation of scholars, both in its presence and its regrettable but too common absence.

Nowhere is the belief in doctoral formation as plainly evident as in the final summons of the book (Chapter 7: ‘A Call to Action’). One senses that the principal and supporting actors in CID consider the PhD too valuable to be left untouched. Reform is needed and meaningful change will require all constituencies to bend shoulder to harness.

Five appendices provide details and documents of the CID methodology.

This reviewer is engaged in a thriving theological university in Colombia, where a long history of providing solid, undergraduate level is producing adventurous forays into graduate level education, with a PhD beckoning from just over the horizon. In this context—where words like ‘relevant’, ‘practical’, ‘interdisciplinary’, ‘contextual’, and ‘accessible’ are often considered self-authenticating icons worthy of enthusiastic genuflection—The Formation of Scholars brings its thoughtful examination of what one might call ‘responsive traditioning’. In this reader’s experience, the book achieves this with all the refreshment of an August rain. The Formation of Scholars should remain at the elbow of all shapers of high-level graduate education.

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Times like these are best met with lament.

Not with firm declarations and explanations in the name of God, or calls for peace and stability above all else. As though we knew more, understood more than we do.

Just lament. We have been given words for it, why not use them?

Yet even in this present darkness one must confess a persistent hope, one that will not die.

Gerard Manley Hopkins captures this tenacious hope as only he can.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
     It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
     It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? 
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;      
     And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;      
     And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell; the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. 

And for all this, nature is never spent;      
     There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; 
And though the last lights off the black West went      
     Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent      
     World broods with warm breast and with ah!
         bright wings. 

          —Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, The Grandeur of God

Come. Brood now, brood again over us.

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The Idea of a Christian College by [Arthur F. Holmes]This little work, revised in 1975, distills the thinking of one of the most profound conceptual minds behind the modern history of Illinois’ Wheaton College, arguably the flagship of the North American ‘Christian Liberal Arts College’ fleet. Phrases like ‘all truth is God’s truth’ and ‘the integration of faith and learning’ subsequently became common and even anodyne slogans of Christian liberal arts colleges throughout North America.

But in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, Holmes was breaking new ground in defense and cultivation of the Christian college. The desire to break free from an inward-looking and fearful Fundamentalism never lay far from the surface. The book still expresses itself with an almost alarming lucidity and is perhaps as much a counter-cultural manifesto in these pragmatic times as it was when Wheaton’s great philosophy teacher was holding forth with his English accent and scribbling the lines of this book with his forceful pen.

Two of the book’s nine chapter titles are questions. The first makes its query in the broadest possible terms: Chapter 1, ‘Why a Christian College?’.

In this opening salvo, the author alleges a veritable jungle of ignorances and misconceptions about what a Christian college is actually for. In this spate of ground-clearing, Holmes is already arguing against a protective and certainly a defensive purpose for such an institution. Holmes finds the answer to his ‘Why?’ in the interpenetration of two distinctives, the educational and the religious. Educationally, the Christian college exists not in order to indoctrinate but rather to educate in ways that are both deep and daring. Religiously, such a college does not keep its piety separate from the other disciplines that come in for research and teaching. Rather it engages all appropriate disciplines from a faith commitment that is articulated and foundational.

From Holmes’ perspective, theology is bound to exercise a sort of queenly function in this endeavor, even if the author is at pains not to allow his queen rights of tyranny. Significantly, ‘Theological Foundations’ is the title of the book’s second chapter and, in a manner of speaking, of its first declarative chapter. Holmes discerns four theological pillars for the project of the Christian College. First, the fact of creation means there is much to be explored and investigated, all of it coming from a Maker’s good hand. The bugbear here is Gnosticism, which would counteract Holmes’ program by placing that truth which is worth one’s while in the sphere of the esoteric, far removed from the creative sphere that humankind is invited to and charged with investigating.

It is perhaps unfortunate that Holmes capitalizes ‘Gnostic’, inadvertently pointing his reader to a defined religio-intellectual movement that can be historically located rather than to the general disdain for the created physical realm that he clearly intends. The gnosticism he wishes to rebuke is with us today as an unorganized and largely unreflective set of mind whose exponents know little both of the historical Gnostics and of the family resemblance that Holmes glimpses in them.

The second pillar is the human person, a complex and rich feature of creation who is at his or her best when curiosity ranges wide across the created plain. Indeed, ‘(T)he educator’s task is to inspire and equip individuals to think and act for themselves in the dignity of persons created God’s image.’

Third, the fact that the realia that present themselves to us are the work of a single, benign Benefactor means, first, that all truth belongs to God no matter where it is found (that is, not exclusively nor even principally through the lens of theology) and, second, that truth is a unity no matter how beguiling its complexity. Faith, then, does not impede one’s quest to engage and understand truth; it empowers it: ‘Faith is neither a way of knowing nor a source of knowledge. Faith is rather an openness and wholehearted response to God’s self-revelation.’

Holmes’ fourth theological pillar is the oft-referenced ‘cultural mandate’. Human beings are cultural creatures. As such, we imitate God as we engage with and create culture. ‘To confess God as Creator and Christ as Lord is thus to affirm his hand in all life and thought. It is to admit that every part of the created order is sacred, and that the Creator calls us to exhibit his wisdom and power both by exploring the creation and developing its resources and by bringing our own created abilities to fulfillment.’

The Christian College’s theological foundations, then, fuel a robust and fearless education enterprise.

In his third chapter (‘The Liberal Arts: What and Why?’), Holmes traces the historically shifting lines of what has come under study in the enterprise to which we now refer as ‘the liberal arts’. But he is more concerned to move beyond this ‘extensional definition’ to an ‘intensional definition’: ‘the liberal arts are those which are appropriate to persons as persons, rather than to the specific function of a worker or a professional or even a scholar’.

One might consider Holmes’ person as person here to be the second accusative often attached to the verb ‘to teach’. That is, one teaches something to or for someone. His emphasis upon the formation of a person sets his approach and indeed the practices of a ‘liberal arts college’ off from vocational and other forms of education. There may be no more violent rupture than this between the author’s program and the pragmatic spirit of the age that renders unremarkable proposals to assess the value of an educational institution principally or even exclusively by counting the dollars its graduates earn within, say, ten years of their departure from it. Holmes believes that educating the person represents a larger and more compelling ambition than that, nor will he concede that to do so is not to attend to matters of a graduate’s employability.

When we ‘make a person’, in Holmes’ view, we are dealing with a multi-faceted though integrated creature. He or she is a reflective, thinking being, a valuing being, and a responsible agent. There is a place for other kinds of education, Holmes avers, but it is the particular remit of liberal arts education to provide ‘an opportunity to steward life more effectively by becoming more fully a human person in the image of God, by seeing life whole rather than fragmented, by transcending the provincialism of our place in history, our geographic location, or our job.’

Because the entire trajectory of Holmes’ apologia for liberal arts education tacks towards the formation of a person rather than the transmission of skills, Chapter 4 (‘Liberal Arts as Career Preparation’) flows as something other than the rearguard maneuver to which it might otherwise have been reduced, particularly in the face of prevailing notions that any education worthy of one’s dollar must demonstrate a short path to a (well-)paying job. The author is entirely convinced that the liberal arts education is solid preparation for a vocation, but not via a mechanical or short path. Rather, Holmes argues, such education forms a complete person who is eminently employable precisely because she has been pressed into significant scrutiny of her attitude towards work, exposure to a wide breadth of education, and development of conscious values that are patient of articulation. In a day in which one’s vocation may include serial dedication to a sequence of jobs, this—in Holmes’ view of things—is the kind of applicant that any employer should be loath to overlook.

Although an unsympathetic reader might by this point have begun to conclude that Holmes wants the church qua church to keep hands off the education of its young, his deep dive into how faith and learning integrate suggest otherwise (Chapter 5: ‘Integrating Faith and Learning’). Here Holmes argues that if a mature faith does not lie at the root of a Christian liberal arts college’s shared life, then it ought to abandon the adjective ‘Christian’. Yet this centering of Christian faith at the core of the college does not take us back to the notion of indoctrination.

Sometimes even interaction (reviewer: between faith and learning) has been repressed in favor of indoctrination, as if prepackaged answers can satisfy inquiring minds. Students need rather to gain a realistic look at life and to discover for themselves the questions that confront us. They need to work their way painfully through the maze of alternative ideas and arguments while finding out how the Christian faith speaks to such matters. They need a teacher as a catalyst and guide, one who has struggled and is struggling with similar questions and knows some of the pertinent materials and procedures. They need to be exposed to the frontiers of learning where problems are still not fully formulated and knowledge is exploding, and where by the very nature of things, indoctrination is impossible.

Holmes moves on from a soaring paragraph like the one just quoted to survey four approaches to the integration of faith and learning: attitudinal, ethical, foundational, and ‘worldview’. He finds a thoughtful Christian appropriation of each of these approaches as the needed, if composite, thing. The volume’s chapter four is, as one says, worth the price of this little book all by itself. Nearly fifty years on, this propositum rings remarkably undated.

It is patently obvious that ‘academic freedom’ is nowadays either a push-and-pull activity within Christian educational institutions—and not merely the Christian liberal arts college—or a topic of derision by secular critics who regard it as impossible within a religious framework or both. Holmes recognizes the dilemma that the alleged existence of the thing surfaces. His sixth chapter, entitled simplify enough ‘Academic Freedom’, addresses ‘(1) why academic freedom is important in the Christian college, (2) how it may be conceived, and (3) some criticisms it meets.’ His discussion is prefaced by a simple definition of his principle term: ‘Academic freedom is the recognition that faith and intellect, like love, cannot be forced and must not be, if each is to play its part in relation to the other.’

Holmes is also cognizant of the damage that is achieved in its absence.

To deny academic freedom is historical suicide. Rather than confirming men in the truth it will drive them from it. Rather than cherishing orthodoxy it will render it suspect to every inquiring mind. Rather than developing the intellectual resources essential to Christian thought and action it will stifle them. Rather than launching a strategic offensive into the citadels of secularism it will incarcerate us in the ill-equipped and outdated strongholds of past wars.

Holmes’ summons to professors to attach the words ‘responsibly’ and ‘carefully’ to their practice of academic freedom will not satisfy all trustees and all alumni, nor indeed will it be applauded by all professors. But it does set off academic freedom in the context of a Christian college context from that intellectual unaccountability which imagines itself devoid of presuppositions and is in other ways painfully and historically naive. One imagines that Holmes would agree that academic freedom is a core principle that in practice is a matter of constant negotiation. 

If the book’s high-water mark has been reached by its fifth or sixth chapter, this does not imply that subsequent chapters represent a winding down. Rather, for example, Chapter 7 (‘College as Community’) anchors all that has been said in a realistic—one might even say unsentimental—view of the college community. Perhaps today more than at the time of writing, ‘community’ is patient of a number of interpretations. Holmes would doubtless reject the most romantic of them, for he is convinced that community is not easily achieved and is built around the reality that the college community’s common cause is educational. One belongs to and participates in this community because one has chosen to learn and to do so in the company both of teachers and of other student learners. One can imagine elements of community that Holmes would happily discard on the grounds that they make little or no contribution to learning. 

Having suffered through chapel services in which the speaker appears to be on a mission to discredit learning, this reviewer finds Holmes’ take on college chapel to be particularly helpful:

So can the college chapel service that is a regular part of community life in the Christian college. It should not be peripheral to the educational task but should constantly renew the vision of a Christian mind. When the well-intentioned speaker discourages intellectual pursuits or cultural involvement or political action, he turns off many students. Chapel speakers should realize that a Christian college exists to cultivate the intellect and involve people in their culture, and that it is therefore more than a conserving influence in the world. A college is Christian in that it does its work in a Christian way, not by encouraging an unthinking faith to counterbalance faithless thought. If education is God’s present calling to students, then no question arises about whether God or studies comes first, for God is to be honored in and through studies. Compartmentalization has no place on the Christian campus.

Holmes constructs his penultimate chapter (8, ‘Experience is not Enough’) around two premises. First, ‘experience alone is not understanding.’ Second, ‘Education requires understanding.’ About a half-century after the book’s first printing, it is challenging to recognize Holmes’ erstwhile antagonists with completely clarity, though it is not difficult to name their daughters and sons. One can surmise that he was battling a reduction of education to quasi-educational ‘practical experiences’ as well as the corresponding diminution of rigorous reflection that accompanies this, as other, reductionisms. Regardless, the chapter’s final paragraph suggests a certain baring of teeth at the approach of adversaries, whether intramural, extramural, or both.

Liberal education develops the person. It is an open invitation to join the human race. Christian liberal arts education is an invitation to become increasingly a Christian person. But neither the excitement of traveling in Europe, nor the trauma of living in a ghetto, nor simply looking at paintings or making them, not unexamined religious experience and service activities can develop an educated person. Experience must be humanized if it is to be educational; to be humanized it must be educated. In the final analysis that is why raw experience is not enough; uneducated experience cannot educate. Experience alone is not education.

This reader was drawn inexorably towards the final chapter with its promised personification of the author’s argument for a certain kind of education. In his ninth chapter—‘The Marks of an Educated Person’—Holmes considers two fictional but highly recognizable individuals who have enjoyed the benefits of a liberal arts education but in fact have not emerged from the process with the desired qualities. His final page is dedicated to a description of another. Her name is Pat, and Holmes’ profile of her is worthy of quotation in full though it will easily signal the five decades that have passed since he conjured her image.

Pat is widely read. She has read Plato and Augustine, Shakespeare and William Faulkner. She’s acquainted with both Bach and Bartók, and enjoys Monet and Picasso. She thinks of them all as her friends. But she does not brag: she wears these friendships lightly.

Pat is alert to the issues of the day: she feels the injustices of apartheid and admits there are ambiguities in Nicaragua. She listens to the other side, rather than reacting with an outburst of ridicule or anger. She measures her judgments before she acts, and before she votes. Her vote, in the end, is the kind of vote a democracy needs—informed, principled, and caring—not just blindly partisan. Her friends tell me she always gets to the heart of an issue.

Pat is aware of some new developments in science and technology, biology in particular, and the moral dimensions of genetic research both interest and concern her greatly—even though her major was literature. She continues to read, to learn, to grow, for she realizes that however large the circumference of her knowledge, just as large are the borders of her ignorance. Yet she doesn’t worship either knowledge, or art, or influence, or even her relationships with her friends. She worships the One from whom all blessings flow, the One who gives but also takes away. Whatever her abilities, whatever her development, whatever her accomplishments, she blesses the name of the Lord.

Pat, I say, is an educated person.

Beyond longing for the increase of Pat’s tribe, what ought one to do with a little and old book like The Idea of A Christian College?

One might begin by placing it at the center of intentional conversation in any number of Christian educational institutions, whether or not they aspire to the moniker ‘liberal arts’. The work is accessible, compelling, and remarkably up to date in the light of its age.

Holmes never insists that the kind of education he describes is the only or even the best kind of education. One suspects that he would wish a thousand flowers to blossom, though he would tenaciously resist any attempt to uproot his particular plant. What he persistently—and by this reviewer’s lights, effectively—combats are the short-cuts, the settling, the mere self-preservation cum indoctrination, the gnostic alternatives to engaging the world as it comes to us, the vicious and purblind pragmatisms that claim to know what is ‘relevant’ and what is not. 

One might wish to query Holmes as to whether the Christian liberal arts education he admires is, is not, or can be made accessible to more than a sliver of the globe’s inhabitants. Alas, he is not present to respond. One guesses, however, that the response we cannot hear would begin by a gently persistent probing of the assumptions behind such a question.

This reviewer, feet firmly planted in a South American context that no one would call privileged, is convinced that—no matter where we begin—Arthur Holmes’ little apology for something larger, more beautiful, and more enduring would move us higher, move us closer to a shared life of learning and teaching that is worthy of all our sweat and tears.

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A sermon delivered at Faith Church, Mansourieh, Lebanon

26 January 2020


If you begin to type into Google, ‘Are there snakes in Lebanon?’, the computer will complete the sentence for you by the time you get to the letter ‘L’.

That means lots of people have wanted to know the answer to that question.

But by the time you’ve arrived at the letter ‘e’ of ‘Lebanon’, Google will also show you that lots of people have asked ‘Are there snakes in Lesotho?’ and ‘Are there snakes in ‘Lefkada’?’ and ‘Are there snakes in…’ several state parks in my country that begin with the letter ‘L’.

Lots of people are afraid of snakes, it seems. I have an intense interest in natural ecosystems and have several bookshelves groaning under the weight of books about the birds, the animals, and the trees and plants in the places I have lived. But even I must confess that I share a fear of snakes.

One of the most fearful moments of my life occurred many years ago as I stood in the surf off a beach in Costa Rica, where I lived, with one of my two small boys in my arms. I watched in horror as my younger son—just a toddler—walked on the beach towards where I could see a snake moving about the sand. Johnny was surrounded by many adults who could have rescued him—and eventually did—but none of them was paying attention. I watched, terrified by what I was watching as though in slow motion from out in the sea, too far away to get anyone’s attention, fearing for the life of my little boy.

Let’s listen together as our brother Rabih reads our Bible passage for today, Isaiah 11.1-9. Listen carefully for good news about snakes.

وَيَخْرُجُ قَضِيبٌ مِنْ جِذْعِ يَسَّى، وَيَنْبُتُ غُصْنٌ مِنْ أُصُولِهِ،وَيَحُلُّ عَلَيْهِ رُوحُ ٱلرَّبِّ، رُوحُ ٱلْحِكْمَةِ وَٱلْفَهْمِ، رُوحُ ٱلْمَشُورَةِ وَٱلْقُوَّةِ، رُوحُ ٱلْمَعْرِفَةِ وَمَخَافَةِ ٱلرَّبِّ.وَلَذَّتُهُ تَكُونُ فِي مَخَافَةِ ٱلرَّبِّ، فَلاَ يَقْضِي بِحَسَبِ نَظَرِ عَيْنَيْهِ، وَلاَ يَحْكُمُ بِحَسَبِ سَمْعِ أُذُنَيْهِ،بَلْ يَقْضِي بِالْعَدْلِ لِلْمَسَاكِينِ، وَيَحْكُمُ بِالإِنْصَافِ لِبَائِسِي ٱلْأَرْضِ، وَيَضْرِبُ ٱلْأَرْضَ بِقَضِيبِ فَمِهِ، وَيُمِيتُ ٱلْمُنَافِقَ بِنَفْخَةِ شَفَتَيْهِ.وَيَكُونُ ٱلْبِرُّ مِنْطَقَهَ مَتْنَيْهِ، وَٱلْأَمَانَةُ مِنْطَقَةَ حَقْوَيْهِ.

فَيَسْكُنُ ٱلذِّئْبُ مَعَ ٱلْخَرُوفِ، وَيَرْبُضُ ٱلنَّمِرُ مَعَ ٱلْجَدْيِ، وَٱلْعِجْلُ وَٱلشِّبْلُ وَٱلْمُسَمَّنُ مَعًا، وَصَبِيٌّ صَغِيرٌ يَسُوقُهَا.وَٱلْبَقَرَةُ وَٱلدُّبَّةُ تَرْعَيَانِ. تَرْبُضُ أَوْلاَدُهُمَا مَعًا، وَٱلْأَسَدُ كَالْبَقَرِ يَأْكُلُ تِبْنًا.وَيَلْعَبُ ٱلرَّضِيعُ عَلَى سَرَبِ ٱلصِّلِّ، وَيَمُدُّ ٱلْفَطِيمُ يَدَهُ عَلَى جُحْرِ ٱلْأُفْعُوَانِ.لاَ يَسُوؤُونَ وَلاَ يُفْسِدُونَ فِي كُلِّ جَبَلِ قُدْسِي، لأَنَّ ٱلْأَرْضَ تَمْتَلِئُ مِنْ

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:1–9 ESV)

Scripture presents Jesus to us in many ways.

Here, the Old Testament prophet, writing eight centuries before angels would announce Jesus’ birth, glimpses Jesus ahead of time.

Now I’m convinced that he doesn’t yet see Jesus with the clarity of those of us who are privileged to live on this side of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. But he sees him, nonetheless.

The prophet sees Jesus as a ‘shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots’. Did you hear that in verse 1 of Rabih’s reading?

Jesse was David’s father. David of course has been dead for two hundred years when the prophet writes these words. Worse yet, Isaiah knows that David’s royal line will very soon be cut off. What little remains of ancient Israel will be king-less and lost in Babylonian exile.

Their whole world will have ended, and all the promises of God—apparently—will have been lost along with their land, their temple, and their king.

Isaiah writes from close proximity to this tragedy. Yet the prophet also sees that, out of that cut-down towering tree that was David, a little shoot—a tiny branch—will surprise us by emerging.

This will be an unexpected new son of David, the one we know—although Isaiah did not yet know him by name—as our Savior, Jesus.

With a beautiful poetic touch, Isaiah describes him in three way: First, by his endowment. Second, by his conduct. Third, by the results of his rule.

First, let’s look at Jesus endowment … his magnificent saturation with the Spirit of God.

وَيَحُلُّ عَلَيْهِ رُوحُ ٱلرَّبِّ، رُوحُ ٱلْحِكْمَةِ وَٱلْفَهْمِ، رُوحُ ٱلْمَشُورَةِ وَٱلْقُوَّةِ، رُوحُ ٱلْمَعْرِفَةِ وَمَخَافَةِ ٱلرَّبِّ.وَلَذَّتُهُ تَكُونُ فِي مَخَافَةِ ٱلرَّبِّ، فَلاَ يَقْضِي بِحَسَبِ

And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. (Isaiah 11:2–3 ESV)

The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon this ‘shoot from the stump of Jesse’. The expression in the language of Isaiah is a rich one. It speaks of the kind of resting that saturates a location. We could think of the way thick, billowy clouds sometimes roll over your Lebanese mountains and come to cover … to rest upon … the valleys in between those magnificent ridges.

When the Spirit rests upon a person in this way, there can be no shortage … no deficit … no need of more of the Spirit.

Isaiah counts seven aspects of this Spirit, drawing upon words that have become famous in the Old Testament for intelligence, perception, and strength. This new son of David will be supremely endowed with these qualities. He’ll see correctly … he’ll perceive accurately … and he will act effectively. There’s no distracting him, no confusing him, and no stopping him.

You can almost hear Isaiah’s ancient listeners, their kings taken from them, crying ‘Hallelujah!’ when they anticipate this new root, sprung from the stump of Jesse. I hope it makes you say ‘Hallelujah!’ as you consider this Jesus who now rules over us.

Second, the Spirit will make this ruler one who is not deceived by appearances. Let’s hear again, in Arabic, verses 3-5:

وَلَذَّتُهُ تَكُونُ فِي مَخَافَةِ ٱلرَّبِّ، فَلاَ يَقْضِي بِحَسَبِ نَظَرِ عَيْنَيْهِ، وَلاَ يَحْكُمُ بِحَسَبِ سَمْعِ أُذُنَيْهِ،بَلْ يَقْضِي بِالْعَدْلِ لِلْمَسَاكِينِ، وَيَحْكُمُ بِالإِنْصَافِ لِبَائِسِي ٱلْأَرْضِ، وَيَضْرِبُ ٱلْأَرْضَ بِقَضِيبِ فَمِهِ، وَيُمِيتُ ٱلْمُنَافِقَ بِنَفْخَةِ شَفَتَيْهِ.وَيَكُونُ ٱلْبِرُّ مِنْطَقَهَ مَتْنَيْهِ، وَٱلْأَمَانَةُ مِنْطَقَةَ حَقْوَيْهِ.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. (Isaiah 11:3–5 ESV)

You know what the problem with rulers is, in your country as well as in Colombia and the United States, where I live? They are driven by appearances rather than by reality.

They cater to the well-dressed and the well-scented. They are misled by the open wounds of the poor, the smell their clothes and body accumulate from living in the street, the unshaven cheeks of the fathers and the sunken eyes of the mothers as they struggle to care for their children.

But not this ruler.

His insight penetrates appearances and goes right to the heart of the matter. As a result, he restores relationships among those whom he rules according to the reality of the thing. When he strikes, he strikes the truly wicked who resist his rule. When he uplifts, he uplifts with righteousness and faithfulness, those who truly need his restorative touch.

This ruler cannot be corrupted. His judgements are always true and right. This is why those who have been rescued by his gracious rule can only praise him with gratitude in their hearts. With gratitude in our hearts.

Finally, let’s come back around to snakes. I’ll ask Rabih to read verses 6-9, where we learn the results of Jesus’ rule:

فَيَسْكُنُ ٱلذِّئْبُ مَعَ ٱلْخَرُوفِ، وَيَرْبُضُ ٱلنَّمِرُ مَعَ ٱلْجَدْيِ، وَٱلْعِجْلُ وَٱلشِّبْلُ وَٱلْمُسَمَّنُ مَعًا، وَصَبِيٌّ صَغِيرٌ يَسُوقُهَا.وَٱلْبَقَرَةُ وَٱلدُّبَّةُ تَرْعَيَانِ. تَرْبُضُ أَوْلاَدُهُمَا مَعًا، وَٱلْأَسَدُ كَالْبَقَرِ يَأْكُلُ تِبْنًا.وَيَلْعَبُ ٱلرَّضِيعُ عَلَى سَرَبِ ٱلصِّلِّ، وَيَمُدُّ ٱلْفَطِيمُ يَدَهُ عَلَى جُحْرِ ٱلْأُفْعُوَانِ.لاَ يَسُوؤُونَ وَلاَ يُفْسِدُونَ فِي كُلِّ جَبَلِ قُدْسِي، لأَنَّ ٱلْأَرْضَ تَمْتَلِئُ مِنْ

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6–9 ESV)

A passage like this takes us back to the garden of Eden, before humanity’s rebellion against our maker. But there is a twist that tells us that we are not truly being taken back to Eden but rather forward to a time when Jesus’ rule will have become complete.

You see, careful readers of Isaiah learn that he is not really talking about animals … about wolves, leopards, calves, lions, even about snakes. Rather, this imagery refers to peoples and to nations.

Jesus’ rule will bring to this bleeding, haunted world a time of peace when we will be free to lose our fears. Our fear of snakes, perhaps, but more importantly, our fear of violence … and conflict … and turmoil. Fear of our enemies.

Why? Well, our ancient rivalries will have become obsolete. They won’t make sense any more and we’ll gladly get rid of them. Our world will have become transformed. That last verse says it best:

لاَ يَسُوؤُونَ وَلاَ يُفْسِدُونَ فِي كُلِّ جَبَلِ قُدْسِي، لأَنَّ ٱلْأَرْضَ تَمْتَلِئُ مِنْ

They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:9 ESV)

Why do you think Scripture presents us with a ‘forward look’ like this?

I’m convinced it’s so that we align ourselves with Jesus’ rule of justice and peace starting from the moment in which we live. In fact, I think that by doing so we become agents of his increasing dominion over this earth.

We become more and more saturated with God’s own Spirit. We learn to see clearly, penetrating beyond appearances to the reality of those who surround us. And we lay aside our ancient anxieties and enmities and commit to doing no more harm on God’s holy mountain.

A text like this one rarely releases its grip on us before it has asked us one or two awkward questions.

Is your life aligned with Jesus’ rule in this way? Is mine?

Behold, your King. Jesus, the shoot out of the stump of Jesse.



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Why is it at once surprising and unsurprising to learn that George Frideric Handel wrote Messiah in one of the lowest moments of his life. England’s debtors’ prisons beckoned and all seemed bleak.

This is but one of the details that Patrick Kavanaugh’s lovingly written introduction to the Handel-Jennens libretto of this most majestic and enduring musical, human, and spiritual accomplishment brings to light. I am listening to yet another rendition of Messiah as I tap out these observations. Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s worknwsa-messiah2 is adorned in this case by Kiri te Kanawa, Anne Gjevang, Keith Lewis, and Gwynne Howell. But this is just one of a dozen offerings of Messiah that I might have chosen from Apple’s iTunes offerings on his cold Connecticut evening, proof perhaps that civilization has not ended just yet.

As the author of Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers and Spiritual Moments of the Great Composers, Kavanaugh treats seriously Handel’s religious motivation as indeed the overwhelming spiritual experience of writing Messiah over a period of weeks that the composer himself described in the moment.

We are reminded that King George II of England spontaneously rose when ‘the first notes of the triumphant “Hallelujah Chorus” rang out …” Audiences have been rising ever since.

Hearts too, accompanied sometimes in the life of this listener and of many others by irresistible tears before the sheer force of such a beautiful telling of what Christians believe to be the largest and best story of history.


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Salmo 15: Integridad

David Allen Baer Potter


¿Quién, SEÑOR, puede habitar en tu santuario?

¿Quién puede vivir en tu santo monte?


Sólo el de conducta intachable,

que practica la justicia

y de corazón dice la verdad;

que no calumnia con la lengua,

que no le hace mal a su prójimo

ni le acarrea desgracias a su vecino;

que desprecia al que Dios reprueba,

pero honra al que teme al SEÑOR;

que cumple lo prometido, aunque salga perjudicado;

que presta dinero sin ánimo de lucro,

y no acepta sobornos que afecten al inocente.


El que así actúa no caerá jamás.

(Salmo 15:1–5 NVI)



Tenemos un problema.

Usted no va a creer nada de lo que le voy a decir en esta mañana. Es más, usted no va a creer lo que este salmo nos dice. (more…)

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Servicio Religioso FUSBC

11 julio 2019



Tengo buenas noticias y tengo malas noticias. ¿Cuáles quieren escuchar primero?


Bueno, vamos con las malas:

En algún momento del semestre que en esta semana arranca, usted va a necesitar una resurrección. Lo digo con una cierta confianza, porque la matemática me respalda. (more…)

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What have we learned on the road?

Global Forum of Theological Educators

20-23 May 2019, Orthodox Academy of Crete


Χριστός ανέστη! // Christ is risen!

If it should turn out in the fulness of time that the Global Forum of Theological Educators, Verson 2.0 @ the Orthodox Academy of Crete should require a title, a refrain, a remembered rallying cry, a raison d’etre, I believe we will discover it to have been this:

Χριστός ανέστη! // Christ is risen!

We have asked ourselves in these days here in this magnificent location several questions about learners on the way. (more…)

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What have we heard?

ICETE Triennial Listening Team report

2 November 2018

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein. (Ps. 24.1 ESV)

This is the note that has been sounded, at least as the psalmist might well have expressed it were he listening in, during these days together in Panama.

While that note has rung, in plenary addresses and workshops and mealtime conversations and walks along this ocean that YHWH has created for his enjoyment and for ours, a group of your friends has been listening in as well.

I think I’d better explain … (more…)

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