Apr 2, 2020

"Though the Body Is Shut In" — An Ancient Church Father Weighs in on "Lockdown"


"Though the body is shut in, though the flesh is confined, all things are open to the spirit. In spirit, then, roam abroad; in spirit walk about . . ."

Tertullian, the ancient church father, wrote a profound letter to Perpetua and the other young Christians with her in a Roman prison. He was coaching them through the imprisonment, the isolation, the upcoming martyrdom—so full of potential emotional and spiritual pitfalls. Odd as it seems, his letter rings true for us today, in our coronavirus lockdowns and our uncertain times. 

As we encounter fear for our families and futures, it seems that our fleshly tendencies toward selfishness, division, and lust are exacerbated and revealed. Perhaps we've had a first few days of staying strong, but at some point the Lord's purpose for our individual hearts in this lockdown will become apparent: up to the surface comes the dross, visible in all its slimy, grey grime. Mothers who are suddenly homeschooling may be the most vocal about it, but fathers who are contemplating losing their incomes and singles who are getting a bit too much "community" with their housemates and older folks who are becoming more and more isolated are all feeling the deep effects as well. 

Honestly, we're surprised by our own susceptibility to irritation and fear, which bubble up and become visible inside this "lockdown" pressure cooker. It's even more surprising to find out that the "holy" persecuted Christians, already imprisoned and sentenced to death because they had tenaciously held on to their faith in Jesus, were discovering the VERY SAME PROBLEMS inside themselves. So, they had faced down the threat of death and stayed strong, but they hadn't arrived at the simple Christian maturity to handle the practical irritations/limitations with grace? Unbelievable.

Tertullian coaches:
  • Satan will try to set you "at variance with each other" (dissensions, fights, etc.)
  • Don't let "this separation from the world alarm you" (for "the world is more really the prison . . . you have gone out of a prison rather than into one.")
  • You have "lost some of life's sweets", but even businessmen understand that it is good to "suffer present loss, that after gains may be the larger."

According to Tertullian, there are massive pluses to being forced into one room instead of being able to walk around the streets freely. We don't see prostitution, immodestly dressed people, idolization. We aren't being persecuted or grieved by watching evil around us. We have liberty to pray. In his words:

"You have no occasion to look on strange gods, you do not run against their images; you have no part in heathen holidays, even by mere bodily mingling in them; you are not annoyed by the foul fumes of idolatrous solemnities; you are not pained by the noise of the public shows, nor by the atrocity or madness or immodesty of their celebrants; your eyes do not fall on stews and brothels; you are free from causes of offense, from temptations, from unholy reminiscences; you are free now from persecution too. The prison does the same service for the Christian which the desert did for the prophet."

I have friends who are angry about the economic devastation of what they see as government overreactions and are reevaluating their plans for the future, and others who are taking joy in more time with their children and less time obligated to "good" social/church events.  I know some who are intensely fearful of falling ill or who are freezing up on the path God already set before them, and others who are pushing through fear to try to take joy in serving those in pain. We are a mixed bag . . . faith and fear fight for ascendancy in one soul, and the turmoil inside unsettles us.

My pastor reminds us often that God is a master of 10-dimensional chess. The coronavirus is not about you — that's not why half the world's population is on lockdown and the global economy is shot overnight. It's God's judgment on the world's rampant bloodshed and perversion. It's Satan's attack on the human race and the growing movement of large Christians gatherings. It's God's invitation for His people to reset, reevaluate, and resume the core activities of life in Christ Jesus. It's nature's stingback at being genetically manipulated, poked, twisted, and misused. It's a humbling . . . potentially clearing the way for a revival. It's a pruning of the church and a shaking of the world. It's many more things. And while they all together form a perfect storm — one that could forever change the way life in our century is lived — you have not been forgotten on those waves. 

"Peace, be still."  And even the wind and the waves obeyed Him. Remember:

"The prison does the same service for the Christian which the desert did for the prophet."

So in the midst of the world's perfect storm and your refining-fire "prison" (a.k.a, home lockdown), when the outcomes are unknowable, we have an invitation from God, who calls us those "who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom 8:4). 

There is a great invitation before us, the same one that was before every imprisoned Christian before us. "Life" is upended — but was that really "life", or was it merely existence? I believe we are meant to find REAL life in the middle of these days, on these particular pages of plot twists and unexpected disasters. It is there for the finding and the taking. But, as Tertullian coached Perpetua, it must be chosen . . . choose the Spirit and not the flesh. Who knows where God will take us!   

"Let us drop the name of prison; let us call it a place of retirement. Though the body is shut in, though the flesh is confined, all things are open to the spirit. In spirit, then, roam abroad; in spirit walk about, not setting before you shady paths or long colonnades, but the way which leads to God. As often as in spirit your footsteps are there, so often you will not be in bonds. The leg does not feel the chain when the mind is in the heavens. The mind compasses the whole man about, and whither it wills it carries him. But where thy heart shall be, there shall be thy treasure. Be there our heart, then, where we would have our treasure."  

I encourage you to read the whole letter to the imprisoned — you'll be surprised how helpful an ancient church father can be in modern-day troubles. To read, CLICK HERE
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I've dropped the ebook price of Perpetua for April to make it more available for all of those who are stuck at home and longing to be free. We may be in lockdown, but we might as well travel to the ancient Roman Empire while we are!  It's now $3.99 — Please let your friends know, too. https://www.amazon.com/…/dp/B07RCDHG21/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0… )

Jul 15, 2019

Why Read the Last Chapter?—Caring about God’s Story in the Book of Revelation


“Ugh, I’ve never read the book of Revelation.”

“Oh,” I stammered, taken aback. “Why?”

My mind raced, trying to generate the most positive benefit-of-the-doubt explanation—she’d been a believer for years, but maybe she just hadn’t gotten that far in her Bible reading yet. Her offhanded answer silenced my attempted “spin”:

“It’s too confusing and scary.” She shrugged nonchalantly. She was positive she wouldn’t understand the last book of the Bible and had no plan to ever read it.

I’d spent the recent months finishing the first draft of a new novel. How carefully I had crafted the storyline! Threads that ran from the very beginning of the first chapter were finally wrapped together in the last. An astounding thought hit me: Was it possible a reader might simply never read the end of the story?

Does anyone do that?

Flabbergasted, a deep sense of solidarity with my Creator sparked inside me. In that moment I saw God as an artist, a history teller, writing an intricate storyline that is not only true but every detail of which He’s carefully crafted over thousands of years. His life and His heart have been poured into this book called the Bible—it’s His primary way of showing Himself to those He loves most deeply, after all. More than that, His future is in this book. As a novelist, I write holy fiction, but He writes holy truth.

From the point of view of an author, the book of Revelation is the final chapter of a sweeping, beautiful saga. (And as C. S. Lewis suggests in The Last Battle, that saga is the title page of the Great Story itself, which will unfold for eternity.) The Bible’s narrative encompasses the human story from its beginning to its end, and all our moments from the mundane to the epic. I find my soul written out in its pages. Not one of us is absent. Artists like Lewis have told us much about ourselves, but no earthly wordsmith could create this perfect revealing of the individual heart, illuminated by the context of God’s Great Story. He has written us a book not only about Himself but about ourselves.
Like the best novels and true-life accounts, the Bible has a conclusion that blows the reader’s mind and makes sense of the rest of the story. This is reasonable since it itself is the cosmic, true story, the structure of which forms the pattern for all substories and parables and fables: good vs. evil (we couldn’t have made this up before Eve ate—it wasn’t in our realm of knowledge); the hero and the beauty (yes, love and rescue and self-sacrifice, all started in the Trinity’s heart before Adam ever saw her); the final showdown; happily-ever-after . . . you get the picture. What we know of story, we got from God’s. Without His initiation of a beginning, a middle, an end, and an eternity, we’d be stuck in lives of seasonless monotony.

Young girls love to curl under their blankets and listen to Daddy read stories in character. They even love when the slightly scary wolf makes a wolfy growl in Daddy’s throat voice, and they can shiver excitedly, all cozy because the safety of being the little one snuggled next to Daddy’s gentle bulk is a delight beyond compare. How I love watching violent thunderstorms from the cover of a deep porch. Mist occasionally dampens my face; meanwhile, an arm’s length away, blasts of wind and water are ripping leaves off trees and raging down the asphalt road. It exposes life’s real situation: the earth is in chaos, and I am safe.

Why do we forget this when it’s time to dig into the troubling and mysterious, literal and obscure, final chapter of the Word—The Revelation of Jesus Christ? (That’s its full title, by the way.) It might speak of frightening times and take intentional work to understand, but isn’t love found there—in the searching and the resting, in watching the chaos from inside the arms of a God who tells me His secrets ahead of time, to keep my heart safe?

Have I ever shied away from knowing about the danger “out there”? Probably. Has my ignorance kept me from appreciating the power God is daily exercising in keeping me safe? Yes. If I knew that He’d arranged for a reckless car to run out of gas before it reached my intersection, I’d feel a lot of gratefulness at the end of the day. Could it be that telling the vulnerable their real story is a gift to them, not an assault on their fears? There are dozens of reasons to ingest and understand the storyboard of the upcoming showdown between God (and His Church) and Satan (and rebellious humans)—a.k.a. the end times as revealed in Revelation—and this one undergirds them all: love.
I wish my tongue-tied self could have shared this with the friend who doesn’t plan to study Revelation: Dearest one who doesn’t want to read the last chapter of a story that’s actually about you and written by your Love, don’t you know . . .

Love tells you His whole story.
Love warns of danger ahead of time.
Love offers His strategies to save your heart’s life.

In summer of 2001 my prophetic father, a pastor, sat me down privately at the kitchen table and gravely shared that God had recently spoken to him: in the autumn of that year something would happen that would change our lives irretrievably (Americans’ lives, and possibly all the world’s). My father had never told me a prophetic word of this magnitude, or so directly, before. Several months later, on the morning of September 11, my colleagues and I watched on our conference room television as the twin towers fell and a new era began. I called my father, telling him to turn on the news. “Remember what you told me? It has happened,” I said.

Why did God tell him, and why did he tell his daughter? I remember my father saying, “I don’t know exactly what it is, but I don’t want you to be afraid. I don’t want you to be surprised.” And when the day came:

I knew God had not abandoned us.
I knew His sovereignty had not been overturned.
I knew His plans for His people would not be thwarted.
I knew God was in control.
I was not afraid.

There were things to fear, yes, things to keep a watch out for—skies to scan every morning as I threaded my way among the high-rise buildings of downtown Chicago, a potential next target. But God had known, and God had told His people ahead of time. Since then, I’ve heard similar stories. Here and there God gave the heads-up to other normal people, quite unlikely and unpowerful folk, and the church wasn’t taken completely off guard.

None of us can read the future history of Revelation and somehow fix the world so it doesn’t happen. But that’s not the point of reading the last chapter. If a Man who loves me wants to tell me His secrets, I want to hear them. If a Man who loves me will explain to me how to survive a coming danger, I will note it carefully. If a Man who loves me is ready to share the great story of His heart, His people, and His future, I am ready to listen all the way to the end. Not only that—I am ready to join it.

A story’s great literary art is not complete without its conclusion. A movie’s climax is never left on the cutting room floor. When a novelist exposes his inner soul through the course of his crafted storyline, his real fans don’t give him a congratulatory thump on the back with the offhanded comment that they never finished the book, the middle was good enough for them. Who would do that, particularly to a brilliant writer they love and whose novel they are in? Most stories can be enjoyed in their middle but only understood from their end.

And this Bible “story” is so much more than a novel to read—it is life to live. The value of good theology notwithstanding, the primary reason to delve deeply into Revelation is relational. If the God who loves us has written down His life story and ours and wants us to intently read the last chapter so it all makes sense—so we’re not afraid, so we know His heart, so we can be His partners through it, and so we understand how the eternal Great Story begins—we will.

Jul 5, 2019

Author Edition of Perpetua — 50% OFF July 6 & 7


I'm super excited to announce the 15th Anniversary Author Edition of Perpetua!


1 Restored Chapter
Multiple Restored Passages
eBook functionality (meaning, you can make the print larger!)


As an intro price that I particularly hope readers who already have a the print version will take advantage of, the book is on a special 50% OFF sale on Amazon July 6 & 7.