shutterstock_238020544Friends and I who are now called “seniors” take two distinctly different approaches to risk. Some of us feel more willing than ever to try new things. Our motto might be, “What have I got to lose?” Others are so fearful of making foolish decisions that they live in a state of paralysis. If they ever dare to entertain the question, “What have I got to lose?” their immediate response is, “Everything!

These two views largely determine the outcome of our decisions, as well as the level of angst we experience when we make decisions.

I’ve seen some friends spend their “golden years” trying to save enough, insure enough, and hedge enough bets to reduce their risk to zero. By the time they cover every conceivable contingency, life has passed them by. I feel a deep sadness when I peer into their coffins.

We need to admit that risk a fact of life, even at the end of it. So let’s keep a few essential realities in mind when we make decisions now:

  • Physical death is a sure thing. Physical life is not.
  • Financial failure can be guaranteed. Financial success cannot.
  • Sorrow will come looking for you. Happiness will not.
  • Do nothing risky and you will receive the inevitable rewards of inaction.
  • But act with faith in the providence of God and–while you may lose things familiar and secure–the rewards can be far greater.

Worth remembering on this day when financial markets are in turmoil and the Dow Jones has fallen more than 600 points.

 

 

OK, class, repeat after me…

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Book. Whoever believes in that Book shall not perish but have eternal life.

What? You say you’ve memorized another version? All right, recite that one if you please…

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Yes, I like the poetic cadence of the King James Version of 1611, too, but don’t you think its rendering of this verse is rather outdated? I mean it’s so…pre-modern!

Ever since the Enlightenment (which was just beginning to dawn in 1611), Western civilization has placed its faith in books. We have believed that if you read, studied, and assimilated the facts of the greatest book on any subject, you could master that subject. Do you want to become a skillful diesel mechanic? Hit the diesel books. A French chef? Julia Child wrote the book.  A brilliant nuclear physicist? Hie yourself to yon physics research library.

Of course, the greatest of all great books is the Bible, so we modern Christians have assumed that the same principle holds: Read the Book; memorize the Book; comprehend the Book; master the Book and you will master the subject. Hence our Revised Modernist Version of John 3:16 — “God so loved the world that he gave his only Book…”

One problem with that: The subject of this Book is God.

Even if we comprehend this Book, we do not comprehend God. Even if we master this Book, we have not mastered God. Even if we follow all the personal examples in this Book, our skillful imitation does not make us followers of God. God is a Person, and learning everything ever written about that Person would be no substitute for knowing the Person himself.

This is not a plea to dispense with Bible study because, as the apostle Paul advised young Timothy, all Scripture is “profitable” for understanding the ways of God. But it is not sufficient. To trust God and let Him become part of your own life story, you have to know Him personally.

Muslims traditionally call Jews and Christians “people of the Book,” because we cherish and study many of the ancient Scriptures they cherish. But if we suppose that phrase really describes what we’re about, we’re just as mistaken about the essence of Christianity as the Muslims are.

We are not just people of the Book. We are people of the God who became incarnate in human flesh, who lived among us, and now lives within us. As the writer of John’s Gospel said, all the books in the world cannot contain that story.

More than once, I’ve discovered a favorite author by accident. That’s what happened with David Rhodes, whose 2009 novel Driftless was offered to me as a free e-book through Barnes & Noble’s “Free Fridays” program. B&N’s online book review piqued my curiosity, so I downloaded the book and started reading. I’d not heard of Rhodes before then, but Driftless grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go.

Driftless takes us to an isolated Wisconsin farmers’ town called Words. Rhodes’ richly sensory descriptions of the town and its people transport us to that bucolic place, which at first seems like Jan Karon’s cozy town of Mitford. But as we get to know its people, we find that many of them are perched on the precipice of disaster…or have already slipped over the edge.

Like the farmer who goes to his barn to milk the cows in predawn serenity and stops at the tool shed on his way back to fashion a pipe bomb. Or the sweet spinster, confined to her wheelchair, who cashes out the family home and takes it to a casino to test whether God loves her. Ordinary people who find themselves thrust into dangerous, frightening situations and discover what they’re made of–not unlike David Rhodes himself.

Repeatedly, Rhodes takes us inside the spiritual conscience of his subjects. We learn what they understand of God, their relationship with God, and their purpose in life. This made me want to learn more about Rhodes himself.

The grandson of a Quaker minister who grew up in a Wisconsin farming community, David Rhodes published his first three novels in the early 1970s. Those books captivated the attention of the literary world, so that John Gardner called him “a fresh eye in American fiction.” Paralyzed by a motorcycle accident 1977, Rhodes published no more stories for the next thirty years. He became addicted to pain-killing drugs, his marriage disintegrated, and every attempt at writing fell flat.

Thirty years later, Rhodes was rediscovered by a couple of college students who read and loved his earlier books. They tracked him down through his former agent, connected him with a publisher, and eventually Driftless was published. I wouldn’t say that the book is an intentionally Christian novel, but it provokes meaningful reflection on the issues of life and death by portraying life in dramatic authenticity.

Rhodes’ interview on NPR’s “On Point” reflects on his 30-year odyssey back to publication, and reveals his genuine interest in other people’s spiritual journey. Worthy of careful study by every Christian writer, in my opinion.

Son-in-law Ryan sent a text message about teaching our granddaughter Jillian how to pray at bedtime. They gave thanks for Mommy, brother Evan, their home, and their food. Then Ryan asked, “What else would you like to thank Jesus for?”

“Marshmallows,” Jillian replied. So they thanked the Lord for marshmallows.

“And what else would you like to thank Him for?”

“Teaching us how to toast marshmallows over the fire,” Jillian said. So they thanked the Lord for that, too.

Lord, thank you for reminding me through Jillian that I only need the faith of “these little ones” to talk with you today.