Monthly Archives: November 2006

Connecting With People Through Beauty, Part One

It is clear that our culture has fallen in love with beauty. We are an aesthetic culture, and it is not truth that captivates us but beauty.

We who are in Christ also love beauty. We do not love beauty for it’s own sake, of course. We love it because God Himself is beautiful and because He is the creator of beauty. He has planted it here amongst the bleakness of earthly life. We may thus celebrate beauty and connect with those who love beauty but not because God made it. The lost among us love beauty because it is indeed a special part of creation. Their problem, of course, is that they love beauty more than they love God.

This is an important point. Our love for beauty drives us to enjoy a great many things on the earth that are naturally attractive. The human affection for sunsets, beaches, pretty eyes, and majestic vistas is well known. Yet the Christian never focuses overly much on the creation. The Christian never loses sight of the Creator as the pure expression of beauty, truth, and goodness. In this respect we are radically different from the unbeliever, who sees the world’s beauty just as we do but never looks up, so to speak, to see beauty in its essence. We may compare this to appreciating the sand and rocks of a lovely beach but never turning around to see the ocean in its vast and seemingly infinite glory. How foolish this would be, to go to the beach and never look at the ocean–in fact, to steadfastly refuse to look at it. Foolish as this is, it is exactly what the lost among us do–and exactly what we would do were we not compelled by the Spirit within us to gaze at the goodness of a transcendent God.

We Christians are those who love the beach but glory in the ocean. We steadfastly seek to avoid loving anything more than good, and our love is bound up with what we consider beautiful. One gazes at what one longs for and loves; and what one gazes at, one eventually seeks; and what one seeks, one is often consumed by. Those who are consumed by lust for the physical form have merely followed their gaze to its logical end. Those who are consumed by love for God have done similarly–they have fallen for the object of their gaze. We see, then, how important the choice of what one gazes at is. If you find God beautiful, your love for Him will consume you. If you find a face beautiful, or a form, or a feeling, your end will be no different. Your gaze will lead you to pursuit, and pursuit will lead you to worship.

Thus you will sell your soul and never remember the transaction.

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Soon to Post

It being finals week and all, I will post soon. It will be a busy week, so stay with me.

Topic to be discussed ASAP: connecting with people through the search for beauty in the world.

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Thanksgiving Memories

I try to keep this blog more on the impersonal side, but there are certain times when you need to be personal and reflect on your background, even as you think toward the future.

I grew up with idyllic Thanksgivings on the coast of Maine. In grammar school, we didn’t merely hear about the cherished first Thanksgivings of the pilgrims. We lived them. The fall foliage was beautiful. The pumpkin chocolate chip cookies at school were delicious. The time with family around a full table was memorable. Thanksgiving was such a special event, and it was primarily special for that last trait, the time with family. My family would travel to the homes of both sets of grandparents, and share food and conversation. We would travel four hours to Portland, Maine, for our first meal with the Strachans and Karams, and then travel an additional three hours to Massachusetts to the Dustin home. These were sweet times.

But times change like the seasons, and now I am in Louisville, KY, far from my parents and grandparents, who I love so dearly. Now, I am with my new family, the Wares, who I love dearly. This year marks the one-year anniversary of the dinner at which I met my wife, Bethany, at the Ware home. One year to the day, we’ve been married nearly five months. A year has changed everything. I have a new and wonderful family, new traditions, and a lovely woman of God to share the day with. These are such happy days. This is such a happy first Thanksgiving together.

God is good. He has given me all this. He has given me the salvific forgiveness of Christ, which has changed my life and eternity. He has given me wonderful parents, who taught me to love God and gave me an incredible childhood. Finally, he has given me the woman of my dreams and prayers. This holiday is about all these good things, but all these things point us first to the God who gives them.

Now, these remarks concluded, I’ve got a family to join. Mom, Dad, and Rachel, I love you. And to anyone who’s reading this, thank you, and have a wonderful holiday.

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Forget Groupies, and Think Soldiers

I was planning on writing today about Christian groupies and why they exist. But then I popped in Saving Private Ryan, and realized that I wanted to write about something else. I wanted to write about courage. Then, in a dash of inspiration, I realized I wanted to write a poem commemorating those who died to build and make strong our country and world. I guess, then, you could tie this all in to Thanksgiving, and then you have a nice little cheesy tie-in.

did you ever ask
your grandfather
what he saw?

did he ever stare
far-away
and see nothing?

I know what he saw.
my education is not his;
it borrows,
but I am taught nonetheless.

he and a million young men
driving too fast,
laughing too much,
suddenly were
dying too young.

though evil, they had not met such a foe,
until it tore their backs
and bled their blood
and robbed their mothers
of years
of rest.

they thought,
when they returned to this land,
that they brought everything back.
but they did not know
that they left something there
lying, amongst friends and foes,
a piece of the heart,
the innocence of youth,
the quiet of nights,
buried in soil like the sea.

you may never
ask your grandfather
what he saw
but maybe
you know
just the same.

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How Do I Know if I’m a Christian Groupie?

The very thought that I might have groupies had not occurred to me, but thank you, Al, for pointing out that frightful prospect. :) Perhaps these qualifications will be helpful in identifying whether all three of you who are groupie candidates do indeed qualify.

You know you’re a groupie if you hang on every word that your hero speaks. It’s one thing to listen to what a wise person says. It’s another thing to treat every word that said wise person says as if it’s golden. This can happen easily in the Christian world. We can so enjoy the work of men like John Piper or John MacArthur that we treat them as (practically, if not theoretically) infallible. This is a dangerous position, because you are putting a man in a place that only God should have. Do you evaluate critically what your hero/mentor says? Do you think about whether they might be right or wrong, and give serious thought to that question? Or does critical evaluation leave your mind nearly as quickly as it came? If so, you’re a Christian groupie.

You know you’re a groupie if you tenaciously argue for your mentor in every possible situation where possible disagreement may arise. We all have our heroes, and we all defend them to the core. But ask yourself–can I stomach the possibility that my hero is wrong? Or–this is a big test–can I stomach the possibility that my hero may be significantly wrong on something? That’s a tough test. No groupie can pass it. It is a sign of considerable maturity for a person to have a hero, to greatly respect him, but also to realize that this hero is but a man, with flaws and inconsistencies. This perspective is quite different from the less mature perspective, which is characterized by thinking that one’s mentor has no flaws and that therefore said mentor needs to be defended at all costs at all times. It is good and right to have people whom we look up to. It is not so good and right to assume the responsibility of attacking as full-time bulldog for such a person.

We’ll talk more about this tomorrow. For now, though, know that I believe it an excellent idea to have role models and heroes in the faith. This is necessary. Those who do not have role models are missing out. But our heroes are human. We must always remember this. And we must remember that they are super-humans–humans, yes, but unbelievably good humans. No, they’re sinners to the core. Keeping this perspective in mind guards us from sinful over-trust in humanity–and keeps us from the kind of bitter disillusionment that always follows when one human discovers that another is just like him.

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How Do I Know if I’m a Christian Groupie?

The very thought that I might have groupies had not occurred to me, but thank you, Al, for pointing out that frightful prospect. :) Perhaps these qualifications will be helpful in identifying whether all three of you who are groupie candidates do indeed qualify.

You know you’re a groupie if you hang on every word that your hero speaks. It’s one thing to listen to what a wise person says. It’s another thing to treat every word that said wise person says as if it’s golden. This can happen easily in the Christian world. We can so enjoy the work of men like John Piper or John MacArthur that we treat them as (practically, if not theoretically) infallible. This is a dangerous position, because you are putting a man in a place that only God should have. Do you evaluate critically what your hero/mentor says? Do you think about whether they might be right or wrong, and give serious thought to that question? Or does critical evaluation leave your mind nearly as quickly as it came? If so, you’re a Christian groupie.

You know you’re a groupie if you tenaciously argue for your mentor in every possible situation where possible disagreement may arise. We all have our heroes, and we all defend them to the core. But ask yourself–can I stomach the possibility that my hero is wrong? Or–this is a big test–can I stomach the possibility that my hero may be significantly wrong on something? That’s a tough test. No groupie can pass it. It is a sign of considerable maturity for a person to have a hero, to greatly respect him, but also to realize that this hero is but a man, with flaws and inconsistencies. This perspective is quite different from the less mature perspective, which is characterized by thinking that one’s mentor has no flaws and that therefore said mentor needs to be defended at all costs at all times. It is good and right to have people whom we look up to. It is not so good and right to assume the responsibility of attacking as full-time bulldog for such a person.

We’ll talk more about this tomorrow. For now, though, know that I believe it an excellent idea to have role models and heroes in the faith. This is necessary. Those who do not have role models are missing out. But our heroes are human. We must always remember this. And we must remember that they are super-humans–humans, yes, but unbelievably good humans. No, they’re sinners to the core. Keeping this perspective in mind guards us from sinful over-trust in humanity–and keeps us from the kind of bitter disillusionment that always follows when one human discovers that another is just like him.

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How Do I Know if I’m a Christian Groupie?

The very thought that I might have groupies had not occurred to me, but thank you, Al, for pointing out that frightful prospect. :) Perhaps these qualifications will be helpful in identifying whether all three of you who are groupie candidates do indeed qualify.

You know you’re a groupie if you hang on every word that your hero speaks. It’s one thing to listen to what a wise person says. It’s another thing to treat every word that said wise person says as if it’s golden. This can happen easily in the Christian world. We can so enjoy the work of men like John Piper or John MacArthur that we treat them as (practically, if not theoretically) infallible. This is a dangerous position, because you are putting a man in a place that only God should have. Do you evaluate critically what your hero/mentor says? Do you think about whether they might be right or wrong, and give serious thought to that question? Or does critical evaluation leave your mind nearly as quickly as it came? If so, you’re a Christian groupie.

You know you’re a groupie if you tenaciously argue for your mentor in every possible situation where possible disagreement may arise. We all have our heroes, and we all defend them to the core. But ask yourself–can I stomach the possibility that my hero is wrong? Or–this is a big test–can I stomach the possibility that my hero may be significantly wrong on something? That’s a tough test. No groupie can pass it. It is a sign of considerable maturity for a person to have a hero, to greatly respect him, but also to realize that this hero is but a man, with flaws and inconsistencies. This perspective is quite different from the less mature perspective, which is characterized by thinking that one’s mentor has no flaws and that therefore said mentor needs to be defended at all costs at all times. It is good and right to have people whom we look up to. It is not so good and right to assume the responsibility of attacking as full-time bulldog for such a person.

We’ll talk more about this tomorrow. For now, though, know that I believe it an excellent idea to have role models and heroes in the faith. This is necessary. Those who do not have role models are missing out. But our heroes are human. We must always remember this. And we must remember that they are super-humans–humans, yes, but unbelievably good humans. No, they’re sinners to the core. Keeping this perspective in mind guards us from sinful over-trust in humanity–and keeps us from the kind of bitter disillusionment that always follows when one human discovers that another is just like him.

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Identifying Christian Groupies

One would think that in the Christian world, we wouldn’t have evangelical celebrities, because we’ll just cotton to Christ. It’s not so, however. This week, we’re going to looko at some distinguishing characteristics of Christian groupies. We’re going to ask questions like:

  • How can I know if I am a Christian groupie?
  • Why do Christians tend to become groupies?
  • What are the benefits and downsides to groupie-dom?

These are important questions, and they demand important answers. Check back here throughout the week and you’ll be able to tell if you are indeed a Christian groupie.

Let me say in closing that I am well acquainted with this netherworld, as I have been something of a hero-maker myself. There is certainly a place for having heroes in the faith. But we can also go overboard and cling too tightly to one person. There’s always a danger with heroes that we will forget that they are human like us. Without knowing it, we’ll begin to worship them a bit. It’s helpful to know, then, what are the signs of such behavior.

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Normalcy in Evangelism, Part Deux

I refuse to bend to the common practices of the blogosphere (which is the going-away favorite for dorkiest word ever invented) and post cute things like photos or poetry on my blog. Instead, I do moralistic blathering. And who wins? We all win, that’s who.

In all seriousness, and it’s abounding, I want to ever so briefly resume our discussion of the need for Christians to be normal. I’m arguing that it’s evangelistically expedient to do so. This prompts a question. It may be helpful to be normal, but is it godly? Quickly, I would say that Paul in Acts 17 is being normal. Jesus in eating and drinking with sinners and attending wedding bashes was normal. Jesus working as a carpenter was normal. So there’s a biblical precedent for normalcy. Who really thinks that when Jesus went to work, He sermonized the whole time? I’m sure he seasoned His conversation with the gospel, and I’m sure that He took opportunities to speak of the importance of faith in Yahweh, but let’s be honest, He nailed nails and carried wood. He went to wedding bashes and hung out with people and, oh yeah, working astounding miracles like changing water to wine. Now, may we also say that as He did so, He brought the gospel to bear on the situation? He wasn’t hanging out for the sake of doing so. I’m sure He enjoyed talking with people of all types, but He had a purpose and a plan for His life that included radical gospel ministry. Here is where things became decidedly abnormal.

But you know about that. If you’re a Christian, you know about the need to share the gospel. You may not be realizing, however, that you are commending the gospel to your hearers by being normal–by shooting the breeze about sports, by joining a knitting club, by talking about the world’s greatest tv show, “The Office.” It is wonderful when Christians witness to lost people. But in a world that is increasingly hostile to lost people, we commend the gospel when we show people that gospel transformation changes a person’s heart. It doesn’t automatically wack you out, such that you eat raw meat, never comb your hair, and torque every conversation to introduce the gospel. “Yeah, I love that deodorant. Say, not to be awkward, did you know that before we are saved, we are a spiritual stench to God?” I think oftentimes the most normal thing to do is simply to share the gospel with people in a normal conversational style. If they are interested, pursue it. If not, say your piece and then return to normal discussion. Such behavior shows people that the gospel, while certainly overhauling one’s life, doesn’t leave one unable to converse on a normal level with people.

This call to normalcy extends to the context in which we witness. I would never say door-to-door witnessing was wrong. Nope–wouldn’t do it. I would, however, encourage people to try to engage people in a more public setting. Society is more closed than it used to be, and many people associate all door-knockers with sheisty salesmen or cultish folks who try to get you to join religious groups that meet in buildings without windows. For your average everyday dude, that is not gonna fly. I remember identifying that things have changed in the evangelistic world when I entered an apartment complex to share the gospel with people. I buzzed this lady’s room, and she came out, and peered at me, and in one of the most socially uncomfortable moments I’ve ever experienced, told me she wanted nothing to do with me. Thinking back, I understand her attitude (I am a child of this age, after all–privacy in one’s home is big). Who knows who she thought I was and who knows what she thought I was going to do. I also approached people on playgrounds in hopes of giving them information about a church. That also made the “extremely uncomfortable moment” list. Parents thought I was some sort of gospel-spouting child stealer. I wanted to sink beneath the wood chips.

Here’s another idea. Go to a place where people have made themselves public, and then try to witness. Also, get to know your neighbors. They can then trust you, unlike total strangers who descend on their doorstep. Pray like crazy, love them, talk to them normally, and avoid seeking the one perfect conversational starter that leads to the gospel. People today are cynical. They distrust sales pitches. When you think it’s right, just tell ‘em the gospel. If it works, awesome. If it doesn’t, try again another time. Normalcy is no excuse for passivity. It is simply a reasoned approach that tries to befriend the lost world in order to commend the gospel and extend love to those who want fulfillment and hope but who doubt they’ll find it in raw meat and mildly deranged conversation.

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New 9Marks Article Up On Manhood

“We are a generation of wimps raised by mystics.

Such are many Christian men today. Exaggerated piety, deficient manliness, and outright cowardice have conspired to bring about the current state of affairs. “

There’s the teaser to my article. I think it’s a solid read, and you can find it here. Those who read this blog will find me saying familiar things, though you’ll want to look at the review in order to get acquainted with Manly Dominion, an excellent book written by a Michigan pastor named Mark Chanski. I’ve never met Pastor Chanski and I don’t know what his brand of manhood looks life, but I can honestly say that his work is inspiring and challenging. All Christian men would be served well by reading it.

I might also say that I am being provocative in the above teaser, and that I was not raised by a mystic. I was blessed with a Dad who blended strength and gentleness in a way I am trying to emulate in my own marriage. I hope people understand the difference between speaking for one’s generation collectively, as I’m doing there, and speaking about one’s personal life, which I’m not doing in saying my generation was raised by mystics. I’m doing what lots of folks do when they want to get someone’s attention: speaking strongly. My former pastor used to say, “If you’re not a member of a church, you’re going to hell.” Well, there was some truth to that, but he was mostly being provocative. I was writing along similar lines.

Feel free to tell me what you think of the review. We’re working to push back Christian wimpiness, one man at a time. I’m a work in progress, but at least I can find books out there today to put some steel in me. If I don’t become more manly in the end, at least I can say I read about it.

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