I met Jack between my junior and senior year of high school, when I spent the summer at Northwestern University. N. U. had a “Cherub Program” designed to acquaint potential N. U. students with the excellencies of Northwestern’s speech, debate, and film departments. I became acquainted with the excellencies of Jack Tate.
At seventeen, protected by my parents and Midwestern conservative values, I was completely charmed by Jack. Darkly handsome, Jack was from North Carolina and seemed to know much more about winning girls than did the farm boys from West Bend, Wisconsin. He winked, he wooed, and he warmed my heart with flattering phrases. When he asked me to study with him one night, I wasn’t sure if he just needed a study partner or saw me as something more. But afterwards, as we walked out of the library and into a night fragrant with lilacs, he took my hand to walk me back to Willard Hall. On the way, he led me off the path and into an ivy-covered corner where two sorority house walls met. He kissed me passionately, like I’d never been kissed. My head was spinning. My desires had been awakened. This “cherub” had gotten her wings.
I could only think about Jack. Life was suddenly electric and my focus was Jack, Jack, Jack. As Thomas Chalmers put it, centuries ago, in his classic essay:
Under the impulse of desire, man feels himself urged onward in some path or pursuit of activity for its gratification. The faculties of his mind are put into busy exercise. In the steady direction of one great and engrossing interest his attention is recalled from the many reveries into which it might otherwise have wandered; and the powers of his body are forced away from an indolence in which it else might have languished; and that time is crowded with occupation…
Chalmers could have been describing a new career, a new project, or a new ministry. For me it was a new, and truly, my first boyfriend. I was controlled by my desire, my mind was in busy exercise, and I was not languishing, but alive, my thoughts crowded with occupation of Jack!
Jack and I returned to Northwestern as freshmen. We resumed seeing one another, but I began to see flaws in the object of my affection. He flirted with other girls, he lost his temper, and he had violent mood swings – tender one moment, furious the next. There were times he frightened me, and the deepest part of me thought I would be wise to stop seeing him. And yet – I couldn’t bring myself to do that. It wasn’t so much that I was so afraid of his reaction, though I was, but I feared the emptiness in my life, the vacuum that would be created by his absence.
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t just say no.
Truly, I believe it was God’s mercy that brought Steve Brestin to my attention for I had neither wisdom nor spiritual insight. He seemed older than the other boys at Northwestern (he actually wasn’t, just much more mature). Ironically, we met in a class called “Human Behavior.” It was a large freshman lecture class combining psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Northwestern was challenging, and students took copious notes. But Steve simply listened. (I learned later that he memorized as the professor spoke.) He was different in other ways: other-centered, kind, mature. I didn’t know if he would notice me for I suddenly felt so young, like the teen-ager I was. But I kept choosing to sit in the seat directly in front of him.
On Monday, February 5th, Steve learned forward, and in a deep masculine voice I came to treasure, said, “I’ve run out of paper – would you happen to have any paper?”
I knew he didn’t take notes, so this was a hopeful sign! I tried to remain nonchalant as I handed him some paper. After class I grabbed my books and hurried out so as not to seem like I was pursuing him.
He ran after me and caught up with me in front of Deering Library, stepping in front me and introducing himself. “Hi, I’m Steve – I’ve wanted to meet you for weeks.”
To my great embarrassment, I was visibly trembling. He seemed concerned, and asked, “Are you cold?”
I nodded, blaming the wind from Lake Michigan. Immediately Steve took off his raincoat and put it around my shoulders. Then he asked me if I would go out with him that coming Wednesday night. (It was February 7th — an anniversary we celebrated for the next forty years.) I had all kinds of homework and normally would not have gone out on a weeknight, but I quickly agreed.
All I needed was that one date. Steve engaged me in conversation like no one had ever done before. He asked me question after question and really listened. He treated people, including me, with such gentle kindness. I kept thinking, “This is a man with character.” When I came home, I remember flopping backwards on my bed and exclaiming to roommate Heather: “This is the man I am going to marry.”
“What about Jack?” I shook my head. My heart had been captured by a new affection.
I broke it off with Jack. I could say no. Why?
It was the expulsive power of a new affection.
I don’t know what kind of a man Jack eventually became, but I do know that when we were dating, he looked great, but was becoming destructive to me. Yet I kept swimming toward him, like a fish swims toward a lure. Even when I began to see the danger, it was hard for me to swim away. What enabled me to finally turn was Steve.
1. Did you ever have your heart broken and then recovered by finding someone new? Or have you ever lost a job, ministry, or friend — but then recovered through a “new affection?”
THE EXPULSIVE POWER OF A NEW AFFECTION
Thomas Chalmers tells us that the only way to break the hold of a beautiful object on the soul is to show it more beautiful object. When a destructive “Jack” has a hold on us, what is our “Steve” that can rescue us?”
Though earthly love may seem a paltry comparison to our love for the Lord, I think it is the closest analogy we have, and one God uses to help us understand what gazing on Him and His gospel can do for us.
Many of us have not grasped the beauty and the power of the gospel. In part, that may be due to the way we have been taught, even in Bible-based churches. Each time reform has come to Christianity, it has been to bring the gospel back to the center. During the Reformation men like Luther called the church back to the gospel. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s love. We are already so deeply loved that He died for us. The Lord doesn’t want us to try to earn His favor, but simply to peer into His gospel and respond. How did I fall in love with Steve? By watching him and by responding (I sat in front of him, I went out on a Wednesday night, I told Heather about him…) and my affection for him withered by affection for Jack.
In the 21st Century, God’s Spirit has been moving again, awakening believers to this central truth. The Gospel Coalition has been formed by two present day reformers, D. A. Carson and Tim Keller, helping preachers to recapture the Gospel in their preaching. Christianity is not morality, not trying to follow Jesus’ example, not trying to earn His favor, but beholding Him and peering into His gospel.When we do that, there is an organic change in us, for He melts our hearts and wilts our desires for our idols. Those good things, instead of being ultimate things, return to their rightful place — like Anne’s story at the end of the last post about food. (Read it if you haven’t!) She didn’t find victory by continually repeating a rule, but her affection for the Lord is withering her idol. It isn’t about “doing” but about “loving, grasping the gospel, beholding.” Every other religion says “obey and you will be accepted.” Christianity says, “you are accepted, so you want to obey.” You may find this hard to believe, but I’ve found a preacher I like almost as much as Keller! His name is Colin Smith and he is a pastor from Scotland who has spoken at The Gospel Coalition and has helped me to see why this indeed, is a mighty movement of God. I will tell you how to listen to one of his messages, which so compliments this week’s study and will fill your sails, at the end of this post. But first, we are going to listen to another sermon by Keller.
YOU HAVE THREE ASSIGNMENTS THIS WEEK: LISTEN AND ANSWER QUESTIONS ABOUT KELLER’S MESSAGE: WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?
WATCH AND CONTEMPLATE REBECCA’S U-TUBE VIDEO AND SEE HOW IT REFLECTS WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED ABOUT THE GOSPEL.
LISTEN TO COLIN SMITH’S MESSAGE AND RECORD WHAT YOU LEARNED
This amazing blogging group has been so hungry and good about listening to sermons. This message by Keller shows the Gospel is richer and deeper than we might have understood. Then answer the following questions based upon it. You’ll need to sit down and have your Bible at hand as well. Here is the link and the sermon is free.
So often we think of “The Gospel” as the ABC’s of Christianity — as the way to get in. I know for years I associated it with “the plan of salvation,” as put forth in a tract that was instrumental to me, “The Four Spiritual Laws.”
The Gospel is “the way to get in,” but it is so much more!
THREE UNIQUE AND COMPLEX ASPECTS OF THE GOSPEL
It is, indeed. “sonship.” Understanding God’s great love for us can transform our daily life — it is personal, experiential. Keller tells a story from Thomas Godwin of a father walking with a little boy, and then stops, lifts his son up, kisses him, and then they continue walking.
Read Mark 1:9-11
1. How did this confirm both to Jesus and to the world His Sonship, and, correspondingly, the personal pleasure God the Father had in Him?
Read Romans 8:15-16
2. How does the Spirit confirm to us that we are, indeed, His “sons” in whom He has great delight?
3. Keller says that when you share the Gospel with people, they think you are inviting them into morality. (In another sermon he said, “They think you want them to become Republicans!” :>) His New York congregation is repelled by that idea! ) The Gospel is not morality, but something far different. Could you explain the difference between morality and the Gospel?
4. Keller said that rich doctrines are hard to put in a nutshell. What examples did he give other than the doctrine of The Gospel?
HISTORICALLY BASED BECAUSE IT IS GOOD NEWS, NOT GOOD ADVICE
5. What is the difference between good news and good advice?
6. Why do the historical events matter in Christianity? Why do they not matter in other religions?
7. Meditate on Caravaggio’s “Doubting Thomas.” When you think of this historical incident, why is this “good news” and not “good advice?” Comments on this artwork?
In every other religion you are saved by the teaching of the founder, in Christianity you are saved by the founder.
Now in the message Keller returns to the key concept of sonship. (As a side note, did you know that it is a great honor for women to be called “sons” in Scripture. It was revolutionary in biblical times for women to be considered equal with men.)
8. Why is it other religions cannot give you assurance about your status now?
9. What question does Martin Lloyd Jones ask – and what answers reveal a lack of understanding or understanding of the Gospel?
10. How does the teaching that we are saved by grace but have to keep it up by good works miss the Gospel?
11. What does it mean to you that His righteousness is put on you? (Remember how Susan told Tammy that even in her failure she got an A+?) How does this replace fear motivation with love motivation?
12. How does 1 John 4:18-19 relate to this?
A NEW KINGDOM THROUGH WHICH WE SEE EVERYTHING
13. The word Kingdom is a symbol for a new administration, a new set of values.
How does the Gospel bring a new structure to your life? How is the Gospel upside-down from the world’s values?
14. Why does the Gospel unite people of all classes, races, and accomplishments? Have you experienced this? Has your attitude changed toward people with whom you used to not associate?
15. How does Keller define the Gospel in a nutshell according to the Kingdom?
16. How does 1 Peter 1:12 show that the Gospel is complex?
17. What is your take-a-way from this message?
SECOND ASSIGNMENT: MEDITATE ON REBECCA’S VIDEO AND EXPLAIN HOW YOU SEE THE GOSPEL IN IT.
i had told you we would look at Thomas Chalmer’s essay more closely, but you’ve done such a good job with that, and I’m excited to where God has led me in discovering Colin smith. I don’t know how to give you the link to this amazing message, but I can tell you how to find it. Go to the I-tunes store and type in Colin Smith Transformational The Gospel Coalition. Listen to the 2009 message that comes up called Transformational Exposition. This Presbyterian Pastor from Scotland beautifully is training pastors how to preach the Gospel — it will give you an idea of what Gospel preaching is — and what it is not! I found it helpful not just for me as a speaker, but for understanding more of what angels gaze at and long to understand in the complex beauty of the Gospel.
18. Listen to Colin Smith and report!
MEETING OUR BLOGGERS! ELIZABETH!
I haven’t had the joy of meeting Elizabeth face to face but would love to sometime, for I sense a kindred spirit. I remember when I mixed up Elizabeth with Susan, another contemplative woman, and was praying for Elizabeth in ways that didn’t make sense — but she was so gracious.
Elizabeth gives “Clues of her Conversion,” saying she took it from my idea on my blog, and I confess I took it from Lauren Winner’s “Girl Meets God.” It’s a soul stretching way to look at Christ wooing you from early on — and I’d love to have more of you share your “clues.” Elizabeth’s are fascinating — God was at work in her, as He was in each of us, as a little child, wooing, her, and we’re so glad He did!
HERE IS WHAT ELISABETH WROTE:
First Clues of Conversion
I was raised Catholic, and in 2nd grade I told the priest at confession that I didn’t need to go through him, I was sure I could talk to God on my own.
At age 5 I witnessed Him answer my personal specific request. I was told by my mom not to bother God with such thing, but I knew better-and He answered!
I wept over the Stations of the Cross booklet at night in my bed.
After college I married my high school sweetheart. We have weathered many storms, but His grace has overwhelmed us. My husband is a true tender warrior for Christ and an amazing father.
We have 2 children we adopted at birth and are humbled and honored at the way He chose to knit our family.
My passion is to love my family well.
A specific way this study is changing me-and this is huge-is with my relationship with my daughter. I see how I have made an idol of my child-desiring her to be exactly what I think she should-devastated by her resistance to me. This study is helping me release her back to Him. I see my own desperate need for mercy and grace and because of what He has done for me, I can give her that same mercy and grace.
This is one of my favorite blog entries from Elizabeth:
I have my ideas of what my life should be like-expectations of myself as wife/mother/sister/friend/daughter, children who are well behaved and obedient and saved(!), enough money, good friends, etc…(the list never ends). By clinging to that picture of my life, by wanting to “save” it, on my own strength, I have made it an idol. My actions declare that I know better than God and want my way. I become frustrated at anything that threatens to disrupt the picture in my mind. I require myself to live in a state of striving, complaining, disappointment, depression, exhaustion.
But if I lay it down, at the altar, before the Lord…every decision, every time my children disobey me, every time my husband is late getting home or has yet another business trip, when I hear of a friend’s child with brain damage, when I hear bad reports from the doctor….if I lay it down and give it back to Him, as an offering…then I find Life. My heart rests, peace fills me.
… The past several weeks I have subtly seen a difference in the way I respond. All of the above mentioned issues happened recently, but each time, often out-loud, I said “it is Yours, Lord”. Even the small things, when my husband called to say he was having to leave town again, my usual response would at least be a sigh and a list of all it would “cost” me (we have no family anywhere near, so it’s always hard when he’s gone)…but I said “I give it to Him, He will take care of us”. And I felt instant peace. THAT is not me AT ALL! Bigger things-my children’s salvation..laying it down, always giving it back, as an offering of faith to Him.
Unweaned children cry in mother’s arms until they get something from mother – her milk. Only then are they quiet. But a weaned child is satisfied just with mother herself, with her very presence
This is Dee again: I also was so blessed by some of Elizabeth’s stories of growth with her daughter from our last post — so if you missed them, go back and read them. It is such a joy to me to see “my children walking in the truth.” Elizabeth gives me that joy, as do so many of you.
Let’s bless Elizabeth!