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Russ Ramsey

author, pastor, speaker

Russ Ramsey grew up in the fields of Indiana. He studied at Taylor University and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv, ThM) before becoming a pastor. He and his wife and four children live in Nashville Tennessee. Russ is the author of Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015.)

Behold the King of Glory Release Party!

Come one, come all. Logos Christian Bookstore here in Nashville, together with the ever-gracious Edgehill Cafe, is throwing a book release party for Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Friday, February 6, starting at 7:00pm.

Edgehill Cafe will provide some delicious food and beverage. We’re planning a fun evening with a couple surprises.

Come on out and tell your friends. This event is free and open to the public. I’d love to see as many of you there as can make it. Thank you so much, Rabbit Room community, for the amazing encouragement and support you’ve given this writer. I’m grateful.

Here are the details:

When: Friday, February 6, 2015, 7:00pm-9:00pm.

Where: Edgehill Cafe, 1201 Villa Pl. Nashville, TN 37212

What: Book Release Party for Behold the King of Glory

Capturing Beauty: Miss Pork Cuisine

The small Midwestern town where I was raised is idyllic in many ways. It has a city pool where I spent my boyhood summers swimming with my friends, a dignified sandstone courthouse at the intersection of Jefferson and Main, a single screen movie theatre that was built in the late 1920s, and an annual county fair known as the Pork Festival.

The Pork Festival is a nod to our roots. We are a farming community—producers of all manner of crops and livestock. For those who hail from my town, the Pork Festival is part of the rhythm of life. Every September the carnival pulls into town, the streets around the courthouse are blocked off, the tents go up, the vendors with their standard county-fair wares (mirrors frosted with AC/DC and Van Halen logos, nunchuks, and cheap stuffed animals) set up shop, and the entire town adopts the attitude that we are all taking a long weekend together.

My earliest memories of independence came from those times when my parents would let my brother and I break free from their watchful eye so we could roam the confines of the festival at night, riding the Scrambler and the Octopus, and buying survival knives and throwing stars with our allowance money.

For three days we lived on breaded tenderloin sandwiches, elephant ears, and lemon shake-ups. We were kings in a kingdom flowing with sugar and fried food.

The festival’s main event was the parade on Saturday.

A Toast to the New Year

I wish I could go back in time and capture in stop motion the evolution of an idea. If I could, I would try to capture the formation of the Rabbit Room from its inception when it was not much more than an idea to the community it has now become.

I was fortunate to be one of the original contributors to this site. Back then, we were nothing more than a collection of untested writers—most of us anyway. But what we had in common was a love of art and a respect for the way it can serve as a hammer and chisel in the hands of God.

The blog began as a wood-paneled list of entries on subjects ranging from Lyle Lovett’s Road to Ensenada to an essay on self-righteousness told by way of a story about failing to recycle paint cans to a brilliant little piece A. S. Peterson wrote about pickles. We were taking some of our first swings at writing blog posts and finding our voices. I, for one, was awkward as a middle-schooler, all knees and elbows.

One Star Lit for Them

[The following excerpt has been adapted from chapter 23 of Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative, by Russ Ramsey.]

In the months after the census, Joseph and Mary stayed in Bethlehem, making their home there. (Mt 2:11) Learned men from the east, experts in the sacred texts, had heard that somewhere in Judea a boy had been born king of the Jews. They remembered how the Jewish holy book said, “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” (Num 24:17)

So when they saw a new star rise in the west, an uncommon one that seemed to have been lit just for them, they followed it. It led them to Jerusalem. Wanting to honor this king and pay tribute to his majesty, they began to ask around. Where was he?

Herod the Great was a paranoid sociopath—a personality perfect for his position as the ruler of Judea under the authority of Rome. He built his empire to create the illusion that he was a man who could be in many places at the same time. Aside from his fortresses at Herodium, Sebaste, Machaerus, and Masada, he also built palaces in Caesarea, Jericho, and Jerusalem. At any moment, he could have been in any one of them, so at every moment, he might as well have been in all of them. His affinity for architecture was well known, as was his obsessive mistrust of those around him.

There could only be one ruler in Judea. This was Herod’s passionate commitment. Already the bones of one wife, several sons, and multiple distant relatives cluttered the family tomb as the result of his conviction that each and every one of them was involved in a conspiracy to kill him.

Where the Lambs are Kept

[The following excerpt has been adapted from chapter 22 of Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative, by Russ Ramsey.]

The shepherd’s life was ironic. Their job was to care for the animals that would be sacrificed to atone for the sins of the people. Yet because of their handling of these dirty creatures, they themselves were unclean and thus prevented from keeping the ceremonial law. And because they were ceremonially unclean, they were often regarded as untrustworthy, irreligious, and poor in reputation.

Nevertheless, it was also expected that one who did his job well, a good shepherd, would be willing to lay down his life for his sheep. (John 10:11) A good shepherd was someone who cared deeply for the lambs under his watch, many of which were appointed to die on the altar of the Lord for the sins of the very people who looked down on the shepherds.

The shepherds’ lives were, in effect, sacrifices.

On one particular night, in the pastureland skirting Bethlehem’s northeast side, some shepherds sat like sentinels at their posts, keeping watch over their flocks, unaware of the angel regarding them from the skies overhead.

What would an angel think of their strange vocation? It was God’s idea that in this world sheep would depend on shepherds to watch over them. The Maker could’ve made them differently—and yet there sat the musty men with their staffs and their rods, cooperating with the order of creation, lest the beasts under their care perish. Though their solitary work afforded them many silent nights except for what they chose to speak or sing over their flocks, this night would be different.

It Was Not A Silent Night

[The following excerpt has been adapted from chapter 21 of Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative.]

Nazareth to Bethlehem was a long journey. Weeks had passed, and they’d exhausted nearly every topic of conversation they could think of, including the details of the strange things they had seen and heard over the past year. They spoke of angels, of dreams, of their hopes for their people, and of their love and fear of God.

The people of the cities and camps where they lodged along the way didn’t know much about Joseph and Mary. They could see that he was earnest and driven and that she was pregnant and about to burst.

But this couple carried a holy secret, whispered into their ears by the lips of an angel and conceived in the warmth of her womb by the overshadowing Spirit of God. It played like a distant symphony, building in its movements and phrases to a coming crescendo that would shake the foundations of the world. But for now it remained a quiet, distant sound pulsing in the hearts of the man and his bride.

To their amusement—and to her discomfort—the baby often turned and kicked. They hadn’t planned to spend the final weeks of her pregnancy on the road, but this miracle didn’t suspend life as they knew it. The extraordinary work of God and the ordinary business of living under Roman occupation ran in tandem. So when the order to register for the Roman census coincided with the final weeks of Mary’s pregnancy, it meant a trip to Bethlehem. They had to go.

When Joseph Woke From His Dream

[The following excerpt has been adapted from chapter 20 of Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative, by Russ Ramsey.]

Joseph was a decent man. He didn’t want to shame Mary, though he could have and no one would have blamed him. But he didn’t want to lose her either. What could he do? His bride-to-be was pregnant, and he wasn’t the father. His world was spinning. This burden weighed heavily on his heart, flooding his thoughts and his dreams.

Joseph wasn’t a complicated man. He was honest and hard-working—noble in ancestry and character. He dreamed of one day having a son of his own to teach the family trade. He dreamed of married life. He dreamed of a home of his own. He dreamed of the respect of his community.

But Mary’s condition threatened all of that, waking the young man from his dreams to a harsh reality. He knew the moment approached when he would have to act. And when he considered his options, his heart ached.

One night as he tossed and turned, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. He had come to set something straight. This baby was not forming in Mary’s belly because of anything she had done. This was something God had done—something God was doing, part of the order and structure of his divine purpose.

The Ordinary Overshadowed

(The following excerpt has been adapted from chapter 19 of Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative.)

No one remembers where Mary came from, but Joseph was descended from the great King David, though for his part he was a common laborer, a carpenter.

They were simple, honest people, dreaming and working toward a life they could live out together as husband and wife and, God willing, as a family. They probably expected to be ordinary in every way and perfectly happy for it.

But all this was interrupted in a moment when the angel of the Lord—the same one who visited Zechariah six months earlier—appeared to Mary and told her something that would alter the course of her and her husband’s lives—and for that matter, the world itself.

The angel said to Mary, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Though the angel’s words were friendly, Mary feared for her life. What could this messenger of the great I AM possibly have to say to her?

Behold the Lamb of God: The Daily Devotional

A few weeks back, I woke to an email in my inbox from a friend who had created a Facebook page for my book Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative.

I immediately thanked him and then panicked because I didn’t really have any idea what I was supposed to do with it.

Here’s what I’ve come up with: a daily advent devotional to go along with the chapter of the day.

I would love for you all to check it out, and I would love for any of you who feel so inclined to tell your friends about it and share it around the interwebs.

In the coming weeks I’ll run a few longer excerpts from the book here at The Rabbit Room as well. Hope you enjoy.

Also, my follow up book, a 40 chapter Lenten companion called Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ will be available through the fine folks at Crossway Books in January.



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Rembrandt Is in the Wind

[The following is an excerpt from my essay by the same title in the forthcoming Molehill, Vol. III.]

Rembrandt is in the wind.

The sea surges and swells. The little fishing boat has no hope of holding on to the churning foam below. The bow rides up the back of one white breaker while the stern dips in the valley beneath it and the next.  Waves break over the sides. The half dozen men to Rembrandt’s right shout and strain at the sails, struggling to keep the ship from capsizing. The five men to his left plead with Jesus of Nazareth to save them. Rembrandt stands in the middle of the boat, his right hand tightly clutching a rope, and his left pinning his hat to his head. His name is scrawled across the useless rudder, as though this is his boat on his sea and they are all caught in his storm. He and everyone else in the ship are soon to be lost unless their leader intervenes.

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt’s only known seascape, is one of his most dramatic paintings, capturing that moment just after the disciples knew they would die if Jesus didn’t save them and just before he did.

The five foot by four foot canvas hung in the Dutch Room on the second floor of the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum for close to one hundred years. Everyone who looked at it saw the same thing; Rembrandt looking out through the frame to us—looking us dead in the eye. The terror on his face asked us what the disciples were asking Jesus: “Don’t you care that we’re perishing here?”

The Year of the Boss

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” —Jesus of Nazareth

Several years ago I decided that I was going to give Paul Simon my undivided attention. For reasons I cannot explain, I had never really listened to him beyond what I heard on the radio and MTV back when MTV played music videos.

Since so many of my friends regarded Simon as one of their favorite songwriters, I decided I would download the iTunes Essential Paul Simon playlist and listen to nothing else for at least a month.

I was immediately taken in by the brilliance, complexity, and originality not just of the music, but of the artist himself. Paul Simon has been a consistent treasure in American songwriting for over five decades. I find that amazing.

Early this year, I decided I would do for Bruce Springsteen what I had done for Paul Simon. This would be The Year of the Boss.

Ellis Island

One day I will take the boat to Ellis Island.
I will walk the pier and enter the station.
I will see the stacks of abandoned steamer trunks,
the rejection papers under glass,
the black and white photos of the mustachioed men
in their bowler hats, and the women with their parasols.

I will study their eyes,
looking for hints of their hope,
their fear, and their desperation.
I will try to imagine them standing on that same floor,
not browsing a museum,
but looking for a new world.

I will climb the Separation Stairs
and I will consider Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats.
I will think about what it means
to be a citizen of a Kingdom
I must leave everything to enter.
And then I will understand
that I, too, am an immigrant.

The Audiobook of Behold the Lamb of God

[Order now to start reading on December 1st. The digital audiobook of Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative is available in the Rabbit Room store. Ebook available via Amazon.]

This past spring when my friend Stephen Gause (record producer, songwriter, and one of the kindest men I’ve ever known) invited me to work with him to turn Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative into an audiobook, I jumped at the offer because I wrote the book to be read aloud. Much of my own editing during the writing process came from reading what I had written aloud. If it sounded like writing, I rewrote it. I wanted this book to be something people could read to each other because beautiful are the feet and voices of those who bring good news. There’s something rich and lovely about one person telling the story of the coming of Christ to another.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Pt. 5: Scowling at the Angel

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Pt. 1: The Sacramental Echo
Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Pt. 2: The Letters
Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Pt. 3: Meant to Live
Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Pt. 4: Struck

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” —Galatians 5:22-23

We sat together, just the two of us. The sun would be coming up any minute. We didn’t say much. We couldn’t. We were on the verge of bursting into tears, but neither did. What we did say was mostly of a light-hearted nature.

It was our eighteenth anniversary.

“In sickness and health,” I joked.

“Yeah, well,” she said, “it’s only fair. You stuck with me through four labors and deliveries. It’s the least I can do.”

A man wearing black scrubs and carrying a clipboard entered the waiting area and barked, “Ramsey. Ramsey.”

Together we stood and made our way to the shouting man who led us to the elevator.

“I’ll be right out here,” my wife said. “I’ll see you just as soon as they’re done.”

I squeezed her hand, gave her a kiss, handed her my wedding ring, and then stepped into the elevator as it closed and carried me up and away.

The man in black said, “If you have any modesty issues, now is the time to get over them.”

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Pt. 4: Struck

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Pt. 1: The Sacramental Echo
Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Pt. 2: The Letters
Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Pt. 3: Meant to Live

“By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” – Ephesians 2:8

“I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.” – Annie Dillard

Everything was draped in a blanket of shimmering white. As a country kid I preferred the outdoors, so when this snow came I layered up to spend as much time in it as I could before the thaw. The air was bitterly cold—the dry kind that freezes your lungs when you take a breath. Everything was so still that my boots crunching through the surface of the snow made a muted sound as though I were in an acoustically perfect concert hall.

Our dirt road was socked in so that no one could pass, so I stood on my plat of Indiana farmland alone and uninterrupted. I walked to the end of my driveway to look out past the giant blue spruce blocking my view of the prairie when out of the corner of my eye I saw something. There on one of the pillowy boughs of that tree, amid the alternating layers of bluish-green and white, sat a gray speckled dove. I crept toward it. It didn’t fly away. It wasn’t until I was only inches from it that I realized the little bird was dead, frozen where it had nestled in.

With my gloved hands I picked it up and held it in such a way that if it wanted to take to flight, it could. It weighed next to nothing. I wondered if it was hollow. I studied it closely. A gentle breeze came and ruffled its feathers, startling me into thinking it had snapped back to life. I almost dropped it out of fear.

I started thinking about how the Bible talks about birds. I thought about how God must know the number of feathers on that bird if he knew the number of hairs on my head. (Mt 10:30) I thought about how we are fearfully and wonderfully made, (Ps 139:14) and how the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, (Ps 24:1) and how God cares for the birds of the field. (Mt 6:26) This was God’s bird. He made it. He was there when it poked its little beak out of its little shell. God aligned its DNA to produce feathers. He gave it instincts to find food. He gave it the proportions for flight. And he numbered its days—a number now expired.

In my own romantic teenage way, I found myself caring for the little creature, even grieving a bit the way a child grieves a goldfish just before the flush. I couldn’t shake the thought that God loved this little lifeless bird in ways I couldn’t comprehend.

So I decided to pray.

It started as a prayer of thanks for the magnitude of creation and for God’s attention to the tiniest details. But before I knew it, found myself praying for the bird itself. Like a priest presenting his offering to the Lord, I raised the dove up in my hands and prayed, “God of all Creation, you gave this bird life and you have cared for it all of its days. Now it is dead. If you wanted, you could bring it back to life. Right here and right now I know you could. It wouldn’t take much. Just a word. Not even that. So if it be your will, I pray that you would raise this little creature from the dead and give it new life.”

Then, through the vapors of my own breathing, I stared at the bird in my hands and I waited. What happened next changed my life and has been shaping it ever since.