Book Conversation #2: “J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life”
Written by Pastor Jim Law
Glad to have back for our weekly post on our current read through J-Curve by Paul Miller. This week our reading target was chapters 5-13, which covered a number of rich doctrinal truths and helpful illustrations for the living of the Christian life.
In chapter 1, Miller defined the J-curve as the shape of the normal Christian life as our lives follow Jesus’s. By mirroring Jesus’ life, Miller presents the J-Curve as containing: 1.) some kind of suffering in which evil is weakened or killed; 2.) weaken the flesh and form us into the image of Jesus; and 3.) lead to a real-time, present resurrection.
“In Harvard” was the title of chapter 5. Miller points to our union with Christ which is a common picture of a believer’s relationship with Jesus found in the New Testament. The apostle Paul references this union as a believer being “in Christ,” a term he uses over 170 times.
For Miller, his aspirations of being “In Harvard” was a point of boasting in his achievement, but to be “in Christ” is to follow Paul’s example of boasting in Christ and His righteousness alone. We can substitute many things for “Harvard” in our lives, but at the heart of following Jesus is finding our righteousness in Him and responding to the trials of life by trusting in Christ alone.
Chapter 6 provides a timely example of how suffering comes in many forms for the believer and are brought by God to sanctify us. Miller mentions the trial his daughter Emily faced when she was put on the bench during her field hockey season. This chapter provided much needed correctives on our attitude toward sports and the setbacks that can come in that arena. The application included any idol that we embrace in this world. What did you think of Miller’s response to the mother who expressed outrage at the coach’s treatment? This mother’s response is common, “’I can’t believe what the coach is doing with Emily and her friend.’ I (Miller) said, ‘I’m actually thankful Emily has this low-level suffering on my watch. Life is much more like sitting on the bench than starring in a game.’”
Chapter 7 provided a helpful teaching on the complementary ways Justification by faith and the J-Curve flow in the Christian life. This chapter emphasized that the proper growth that comes in believing the gospel is that we actually become more and more like Jesus. We move from knowing about something to entering into a deep, personal knowledge. Miller compares the difference between babysitting and parenting as an analogy of embracing suffering in our walk with Christ. Babysitters are hired hands, while parenting changes you. Even so, when we embrace suffering, it changes everything for us. Instead of nourishing slights and running from the suffering inherit in life and love, we embrace Christ in the suffering.
Chapter 7-10 provided an excellent challenge to the Christian life when the J-curve is missing in your life. Miller emphasized the importance of dying to self as obedience to following Christ. A common example was given of a professing believer named “Tom” who justified his unfaithfulness to his wife. Miller described Tom as one who “believed the gospel, but he didn’t become like the gospel. Tom’s grace-only lens harmonizes with the therapeutic vision of the fragile self—hunting for balance, security, and identity. Both the grace-only lens and the therapeutic lens reinforce people’s self-absorption. Tom was self-absorbed.”
In Colossians 3, Paul establishes our sanctification in the dying and rising of Christ. Dying with Christ imprints us with his image: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
In chapters 11-13, Miller provided challenging teaching on: our daily battle with the flesh, well placed thorns by God Himself, along with some helpful illustrations on what it means to put our flesh to death. I would point you to the footnotes in these chapters to the life and ministry of Joni Eareckson Tada. If you are not familiar with Joni, her life has been a strong witness for Christ in our generation. Joni’s life was changed radically after a diving accident in her teens which rendered her a quadriplegic. She has brought glory to Christ on many fronts and in recent years passed the 50thanniversary of her accident.
I hope this book is challenging you spiritually and I’m glad you have decided to join me in this study. Our reading assignment for next Wednesday will be chapters 14-23. This pace is a little over one chapter daily and will have us on schedule to finish up on April 15th. Please feel free to post any comments or questions on my blog, www.jamesblaw.com, or at www.fbcg.net.
Look forward to hearing from you. Will post again next Wednesday.
Pastor Jim Law