Abraham Lincoln's very unhappy marriage


Some excerpts from The Slow Fires of Misery:

  • Lincoln’s marriage was a mess, and accepting the pain brought deep strength in the long run.
  • It was a pain-filled marriage. The familiar lines in his face and the somber countenance reveal more than the stress of civil war. But the two stayed married. They kept at least that part of their vows.
  • Historically, the misery of painful emotions was not a sanction of divorce in most cultures. Marriage durability—with or without emotional pain—was valued above emotional tranquility, for the sake of the children and the stability of society.
  • Lincoln brought debilities into his marriage to Mary Todd. He was emotionally withdrawn and prized reason over passion. She said that he “was not a demonstrative man … When he felt most deeply, he expressed the least.” He was absent, emotionally or physically, most of the time.
  • Mary often flew into rages. “She pushed Lincoln relentlessly to seek high public office; she complained endlessly about poverty; she overran her budget shamelessly, both in Springfield and in the White House; she abused servants as if they were slaves (and ragged on Lincoln when he tried to pay them extra on the side); she assaulted him on more than one occasion (with firewood, with potatoes); she probably once chased him with a knife through their backyard in Springfield; and she treated his casual contacts with attractive females as a direct threat, while herself flirting constantly and dressing to kill.
  • How was it that Lincoln, when president, could work so effectively with the rampant egos who filled his administration? “The long years of dealing with his tempestuous wife helped prepare Lincoln for handling the difficult people he encountered as president.” In other words, a whole nation benefited from his embracing the pain.
  • America can be glad that Abraham Lincoln did not run from the fires of misery in his marriage. There were resources for healing he did not know. But when they fail, embracing the fire is better than escape.

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Are We Christians (and Our Churches) Stuck in a Stifling Status Quo?


Check out missiologist Alan Hirsch's 2 minute video. He speaks quite fast, so here's the transcript:

I think that Christians are very risk-averse. And churches are very risk averse.

Churches are places that you don't normally associate with adventure or risk or creativity. Because here is the deal: If you want to be creative you have to risk failure. If you want to achieve something beyond the status quo, you have to get out of the status quo. That means you can't make everyone happy.

The problem is that without that (risking failure and getting out of the status quo), you never go anywhere. So we are stuck with this stifling status quo, which I think many churches are stuck in, because we have cultivated this (obsession with) safety--this middle class obsession with safety and security. I'm afraid that that will kill us in the end.

A little bit of danger is good for us. A risk doesn't have to always be death defying. Doing a job that pushes us out of our comfort zone is very good for us. 

I think that in America we largely self-identify as a middle class society.  There is nothing evil about the middle class. But one of the "bad" things about the middle class is its cultural obsession with security, safety, comfort and convenience. There is no question about that. That is the bad side. There is this need to secure the kids.

But when that (need for security) becomes obsessive, it is dangerous to the gospel. Because it attenuates the gospel. Because the gospel calls that into question. So what we do is, we have to resolve the tension. We usually do this in the name of the family. So the gospel becomes a "civil religion" that just affirms my lifestyle. I think the middle class America or the "middle class church" easily co-opts Christianity to be this "civil" religion. It becomes a country club atmosphere without threats. It is nice and safe. It is part of my world, the religious aspect of my world. But I don't experience adventure or journey or quest over there (in the church) at all.

But real adventure and real journey and real quest is where we are stakeholders in the outcome, where our bodies are on the line. But it doesn't happen very often. It is good for us! If it doesn't kill you, it will make you a lot stronger...but it could kill you.

Let us acknowledge it. It doesn't have to be far out, it doesn't have to be death-defying, but you have to put yourself out a little bit. One of the things you will learn is you will find Jesus in new ways. You learn to trust God in new ways. And let's see what God can do through us!

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The God Who Made Everything (Genesis 1-2)


What is the point of Genesis? Jesus says that the entire OT Scripture, including Genesis, is about Jesus (John 5:39; Luke 24:27, 44). John 1:1-3 tells us that Jesus is the Word and the Creator God. Let's see what Genesis 1-2 teach us about God and about man.

The debates over the symbolism and literary genre of Genesis 1-2, and the debates regarding the relationship to contemporary science is highly complex and confusing not only to the uninitiated, but also to the scholar. But what is the irreducible minimum that Genesis 1-2 must be saying for the Bible to have any coherence at all? What do Genesis 1-2 tell us?

Some Things about God

  1. God simply is. The Bible does not attempt to prove the existence of God. So, if humans chose to be the measure and judge of all things, the Bible will disappoint them. God is not the object whom we humans evaluate. God is the Creator who has made us, which changes all the dynamics. Cartesian thought begins with "I," which puts me in the center of evaluating all things, including God. But the Bible states that God simply is (Gen 1:1).
  2. God made everything (that is non-God). My existence is dependent on God. God's existence is self-existence. God has no cause; he just is. He always has been. In contrast, everything else in the universe began somewhere, whether in a big bang or in human conception--somewhere. Everything in the universe apart from God is dependent upon God.
  3. There is only one of God. Jews recite the Shema (liturgical Jewish prayer) to this day: "Here, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one" (Deut 6:4). Yet there is a hint of complexity to his oneness, when he said, "Let us make man in our image" (Gen 1:26). Could it be that already there is a hint that this one God is a complex being, a complex unity?
  4. God is a talking God. The God of the Bible is not some abstract "unmoved mover," some spirit impossible to define, some ground of all beings, some mystical experience. God has personality and dares to disclose himself in words that human beings understand. However great or transcendent he is, he is a talking God.
  5. Everything God makes is good--very good. In Genesis 1-2 there is no hint of death or decay, of butchery, malice, hate, one-upmanship, arrogance, pride, or destruction. Everything is very good...until Genesis 3.
  6. God comes to an end of his creative work, and he rests. God wasn't saying, "I'm tired." But he rests and designates this 7th day in a special way. This theme of rest will be picked up later.
  7. The creation proclaims his greatness and glory. From the vastness of the universe to the intricate complexity of the atom, God reveals his greatness and glory (Ps 19:1-4).
Some Things about Human Beings
  1. We are made in the image of God. "Image of God" has generated endless discussion over the millennia. What is this image of God? God talks, we speak. God creates, we are creative. God works, we enjoy a capacity to work. Though there are similarities, there are unbridgeable differences between God and us. God is self-existent, we are not, for like everything else in creation we are dependent creatures. Nihilism is seductively attractive. Living as a wanderer with no meaning has an aura about it. Meaning can be found only in being made by God, in his image, and for God, with an eternal destiny. This radically changes our perception of what human beings are. Otherwise we slouch toward "self-referential incoherence"--we compare ourselves with ourselves. We have no external standard by which anything should be judged; we can't find an anchor for our being anywhere. So, we drown ourselves in our activity of choice: intellectual, romantic, career, physical, pleasurable pursuits, etc. However, human beings, made in God's image, were made to work, rule, serve as God's stewards, to be surpassingly God-centered, as his image-bearers.
  2. We human beings were made male and female (Gen 2:19-24). The woman is equal but different from the man. She is not identical but his sexual and emotional counterpart. In marriage the two become "one flesh."
  3. The man and his wife were innocent (Gen 2:25). A theory to nudist colonies is the idea that if you could be completely open and transparent in one part of your life (physical nakedness), then sooner or later you could foster openness and transparency in every part of your life, and become wonderfully open, candid, honest, caring, loving people. That's the theory. But it never works. We have so much to be ashamed of; there is so much we need to hide. But in Eden ("delight"), Adam and Eve have nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed of. This is paradise.
God made us, and we owe him. The modern sensitivity finds this extremely highly offensive and infuriating. But if we reject this simple truth, this blindness is itself a mark of how alienated from God we are. It is for our good that we recognize it, not because he is the supreme cosmic bully but because without him we would not even be here, and we will certainly have to give an account to him. The next chapter, Genesis 3 will explain why the simple truth that God created us is so highly offensive.

The above outline is from D. A. Carson, The God Who is There, Finding your place in God's story, p 11-26.

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A Church With Major Problems (1 Corinthians 1-4)

In 1 Corinthians Paul writes to a church--a church with many painful problems. Why does a church, sanctified (made holy) in Christ Jesus (1 Cor 1:2), have problems?

It is because everyone in the church is utterly sinful, from the top to the bottom, even if we are redeemed by the grace of Jesus (1 Cor 1:4). Very interestingly, the top think that the problems are predominantly the sins at the bottom, while the bottom think that it is the leader’s sins that is the major problem.

How does Paul see these problems?


Understanding the Gospel from the Fall (Genesis 3)

If we do not understand man's obviously fallen condition, we will not understand the glorious gospel of our salvation. This post does not cover the entire chapter, verse by verse in its depth and wealth. But we can think of Gen 3:1-24 in 3 ways:
  1. Satan (The Lie) (Why we sin)
  2. Man (The Cover) (How we act)
  3. God (The Solution) (What God does)