Book Conversation #3: J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life by Paul Miller
Written by Pastor Jim Law
Glad to be back for our weekly post on the J-Curve by Paul Miller. Our reading target for this week was chapters 14-23. My effort below will be to list a number of bullet point themes from this large section of reading. I would encourage you to do the same and feel free to post to the blog if you have comments or questions.
In the J-Curve, Paul Miller has given a deliberate effort to connect the believer, through our union with Jesus Christ, into a hope-filled journey as we live by faith in “the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us.” (Galatians 2:20) The chapters this week contain some helpful teaching as we process the various challenges of life. Specifically, as followers of Christ how are we to think and respond when trials and suffering inevitably confront us.
Chapter 14– Miller provides a wonderful illustration about “Kayla” who served in a special needs camp at her own expenses and was brought into a controversy at the camp that was very painful. Miller with great precision links Kayla’s suffering to the descent of Jesus through the incarnation.
Miller writes, the Apostle “Paul’s imagination was so captivated by Jesus’ descent into love that he created a work of art, a poem. His poem tells the story of Jesus, the original J-Curve, and then applies it to our lives.” Of course, Miller was referring to the familiar passage in Philippians 2:5-11, which he refers to as “The Descent of Love.”
Kayla’s suffering was “relatively mild,” but, I believe Miller’s conclusion is right for many in the church, “it’s in small incidents like this, when we’ve tried to do our best and then everything goes south, that we struggle to live out our faith. Often, the accumulated slights of low-level suffering operate like a hidden cancer, souring our relationships and suffocating our soul. Knowing the patterns of the love J-Curve is helpful, even liberating.”
This observation is a wake-up call for slumbering saints that somehow we can get through life and escape suffering. Miller notes, “Even small acts of love…increase the possibility of suffering…our control decreases…suffering chooses us.” We are called to follow in the marks of Christ’s wounded feet. Miller concludes, “One of Scripture’s most basic rules is what happens to Jesus, happens to us.”
Chapter 16- This chapter offered challenge in assessing what is “good,” and Miller focused on the love J-Curve in Philippians 2 with a call to unity, (2:1-5). For love to work, our pride must die. What differences does Miller identify between the popular “therapeutic call to love” compared to the Apostle Paul’s call to love from Philippians 2:5-11?
Chapter 17 provides an important reminder of the hidden saints throughout the world, and history, who serve God behind the scenes and unnoticed by many. Humility is the art of disappearing for the sake of love. Miller discusses the importance of merging sound doctrine with love and good deeds. He emphasized the importance of the church capturing this biblical balance as a response to a growing secularism that offers so called “good” proposals, but ultimately is not good as Christ defines it. Miller writes, “The church is one generation away from its functional death and marginalization in America. We must recover a vision of the beauty of Jesus and the beauty of those who emulate his life. The original is far better than the secularized imitation.”
Chapter 18-23- In these closing chapters, I was taken by how Miller answered the question in chapter 18, “How do we connect Jesus’s obedience to ours?”:
1. See that you are in a J-Curve and recognize you are reliving the gospel. Jesus does this in Gethsemane when he asks his Father to remove the cup of suffering. Jesus is experiencing unbelievable grief, and yet He is on mission.
2. Receive the suffering. Take the cup. Decide to own it as a gift from your Father (Philippians 1:29).
3. Boast in your weaknesses. When we are transformed by a vision of inhabiting the gospel, eventually our weaknesses become our boast. They become our glory, because in our weaknesses, Jesus shines through.
I trust this book is challenging and encouraging you in your walk with Christ. Feel free to post thoughts or questions you may have from our reading. Our goal is to finish the book next Wednesday, April 12 with chapters 24-36. This is an ambitious reading schedule for a week, and if you need to stretch it out a bit, no worries. Keep reading and notice how the power of the resurrection comes to those in Christ with strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.
Pastor Jim Law