Monthly Archives: November 2008

Saturday Devotions: Persevering Faith

1 Peter 1:6-7 reads, 

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

These verses reminded me today of the need to persevere in trials.  Many of us know this, though, but fewer of us keep our eyes on the goal, or the end, of this perseverance: the greater glory of Jesus Christ.  This, and not an abstract character-building, is what we seek.  When you and I rejoice in the midst of a miscarriage, or the loss of a job, or a needed conflict with a child or friend, we give God great glory, and we honor the Savior who went through awful suffering to save us.

All Christians can and should live in this way.  As a husband and father, I am reminded that I have a special duty to set an example for my family when faced with trial.  I am called to lead them in acting in faith in the midst of trial.  If my program falls apart, my dissertation fails, or my job ends, I am called to rejoice in order that my “tested” faith might glorify Jesus Christ.

I am quite aware of how I personally fall short in this area.  But I am reminded by the apostle Peter to forge ahead and to seek fresh opportunities to give God glory in the midst of the fire that finds it way to all of us by the will of the Father.  Trials are not accidents but opportunities, Peter says, and so should we handle them.

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Hiestand on the Pastor-Scholar

I somehow missed these worthy words from my buddy Gerald Hiestand, a pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel, on the need for pastor-scholars:

piper“The legacy of such great men teaches us the value of uniting the role of pastor with that of theologian; yet a resounding absence of such a union marks the church today. Our most significant theologians now reside almost exclusively in the academy. To be sure, the rise of the academy requires thoughtful academic theologians who live and move in that environment. But is it best that virtually all of our theologians have moved to the academy? There is a need for a renaissance of the pastor-theologian, pastors who endeavor to do theology from the pastor’s study and not solely the professor’s lectern.  Not every pastor is called to a life of scholarship. Nor is every professor called to the pastorate. But many young people today feel the pull between a life of scholarship and the life of the church. It is to our detriment if we force such individuals to choose between these two callings.”

This is something I’ll be writing more about in days to come.  For now, it’s enough for me to heartily second Gerald’s words, and to point you to an exciting event that the Henry Center will be doing on this topic.  Piper, Carson, and Q&A at one of Chicago’s most exciting churches–does it get any better?

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Happy Thanksgiving

Colossians 3:16-17 reads,

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Amen.  Happy Thanksgiving, all.

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Killing Narcissism: Or, How Focusing on Others Might Just Save Our Souls

“I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social categories I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself and do my work.”  (Clyde Kilby quoted in John Piper, The Hidden Smile of God, 112)

A good friend passed this cutting quotation to me in the midst of a conversation, and I thought it too excellent to not share with friends.  It seems a scripturally saturated thought, as it pushes we who are narcissistic, self-focused sinners outside of ourselves and forces us to concentrate on other people and on bigger, more significant matters of life.

This is the kind of quotation, I think, that should not cause us to attempt knee-jerk reactions to patterns of our lives but should instead prompt us to meditate on every aspect of our existence.  It might even be worth printing out and putting up on one’s mirror.  Or one might write it on the first page of a journal.  Whatever the case, this piercing word from an old English professor caused me to sit up straight.  I’m going to try to keep it in my mind for a long time, and use it to fight sin and silly thoughts and bad habits. 

God needs to reign in my mind and life; others need to occupy my attention; I need far less attention and praise than I give myself.  This could apply to those who use Twitter, those who have never heard of Twitter, and everyone in between.  Every Christian in every place could likely use a reminder that life is not about us, and thus we should not structure our lives as if it is.  We should avoid things that tempt us to act as if this is so, and should devote ourselves to larger, more important things.

If we do so, we’ll abase or lower ourselves and we’ll lift Christ high.  We’ll worry less about our cars or clothes or Facebook pages or blogs or classes or hair growth or children, and we’ll worry far, far more about making God great.  That is no small thing (though we are).

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Are Roommates the New Family?

Just found an interesting article that captured a cultural trend.  The New York Times writer Stephen Williams penned a piece called “Home, Hangout, Departure Lounge” that profiles a group of roommates living together in New York City.  It’s a short but noteworthy article that includes the following:

nytHere’s how the group came together: “The four roommates from Grand Rapids became friends in high school. Each of them eventually made it to New York, where all but Mr. Armstrong attended the Fashion Institute of Technology. It was there that Mr. D’Adamo joined the crew. He now works in sales at the Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams furniture store in SoHo.  About four years ago, everybody except Miss Scott rented an apartment together in Harlem. It had a huge kitchen and living room and four bedrooms, and cost $2,600 a month. Then Miss Scott moved in, staying in whichever room was empty — all of the roommates spent (and continue to spend) many nights with their significant others. When it was decided that Miss Scott needed her own room, they started looking for a five-bedroom place to share. They like hanging together.”  

Here’s how they think about family: “It’s nice to have some sort of family here where you know each other’s business, their parents, everything,” Mr. Vosovic said.”

They live separate lives together: “It’s a great little commune, especially because while the residents hang out now and then, and give birthday parties for one another, they still live separate lives. So far, there are no plans to break up a good thing. But Mr. Vosovic has ideas for the future. “Hopefully the girls will get pregnant and we’ll have babies with live-in baby sitters!” he said.”

Clearly the roommates are nice people.  They prize that most precious of modern buzzwords, “community.”  That’s no bad thing.  They sound fun and caring, and it seems that they have created their own little family.  It seems, though, that they have accepted the current generation’s radical redefinition of family–where once it referred to a “nuclear” unit composed of husband, wife, and children, now it refers to any number of shifting collections of friends and acquaintances.  Having seen many couples seemingly fall out of love, observing the fragmentation and geographical isolation of the modern family, groups like this are recreating family the best they can.

But this comes with a price.  It means that one lives as one likes.  It means the delaying of responsibility and maturity.  As a new father, I can say that I have found fatherhood to be one of the most spiritually stimulating experiences of my life.  It is a blast, simply put, though it involves tons of dedication, sacrifice, and hard work.  I’m very much figuring all that out, but I can already see how fatherhood helpfully changes us and robs us of our selfishness, if we allow it to do so.

Though this modern way of living–with relationships, work, and friends neatly compartmentalized–seems optimal, it can mask a pervasive narcissism and refusal to mature.  The call to make a family, which many of us will hear, brings together all aspects of life, unifies them as a single whole, makes us whole people.  One can’t have a “life” at work, another with one’s boyfriend or girlfriend, another with one’s roommates.  Rather than accepting a new definition of the family, an unbiblical one, Christians need to be salt and light by transmitting the beauty of the natural family to a confused, compartmentalized world.

In the end, it strikes me that these young people are looking for something that they can’t find outside of Christ–a family greater than their own.  This little group of roommates, in their own way, is reaching for a community they cannot enter, a joy they cannot taste, unless God makes them His own by giving them faith in His Son through the work of His Spirit.   

Whether single or married, we need to call all people to the true family, the family of God.  Our natural families, saturated with goodness and blessing, are just a snapshot of the beauty of God’s spiritual family in which both all people may find ultimate fulfillness.  In New York City or rural South Dakota, the local church beckons to the sad and lonely, calling all to join it in its journey to the lasting home, the dwelling place of God.

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Pastor Calls for More Sex; Celebrity “Rehab”?

I’ve been websurfing a bit this morning, and I can’t limit myself to citing just one article.  So here are a number of especially compelling pieces for you to check out:

1.  Stanley Fish just wrote an interesting piece on academic freedom for the New York Times.  Quick excerpt: “Indeed, to emphasize the “personal” is to mistake the nature of academic freedom, which belongs, Finkin and Post declare, to the enterprise, not to the individual. If academic freedom were “reconceptualized as an individual right,” it would make no sense — why should workers in this enterprise have enlarged rights denied to others? — and support for it “would vanish” because that support, insofar as it exists, is for the project and its promise (the production of new knowledge) and not for those who labor within it. Academics do not have a general liberty, only “the liberty to practice the scholarly profession” and that liberty is hedged about by professional norms and responsibilities.”

2.  The New Yorker covers the strange phenomenon that is luxurious celebrity rehab.  “Rehab” seems to end up looking a lot like “vacation”–or is it just me?  That aside, it is startling to see how painfully these people feel.  They talk about the “Beast,” the force that drives them to use drugs, but they are so far from recognizing the true beast.

3.  Interesting article on the power of Google.  It’s especially interesting to see people like the author, one who “tuned out” from mainstream media and culture in the 60s, embrace the technological revolution of our era.  Colors all those psychedelic pictures from Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane concerts, doesn’t it?  Little did those people know that they would be participating in just a few short decades in the most powerful capitalist market the world has ever seen.  Idealism, you old dog, you die a hard death.

4.  The Times looks into one pastor’s call for “congregational copulation.”  You know, we come off looking pretty weird in this one, and I’m not sure that I would do the same, but how weird are evangelicals, really, in a world that can’t sell anything–chapstick, gum, music, books, you name it–without reference to sex?

I’m not sure what posting will look like this week, but these should tide you over for the time being.

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Legalism and Twitter

A quick word following up on the Twitter discussion began last week:

I’ve seen the word “legalism” attached to my blogs.  While I don’t think I’m immune to legalism by any stretch, I would note very quickly that I avoided attaching the word “sin” to my post.  I also strove to avoid an automatic equation of Twitter and narcissism (or a foolish waste of time, or other sins and problems).  It is my personal opinion that one can easily fall into these traps with Twitter use given its concise, self-driven nature.  But at no point did I say that one automatically falls into these patterns by using Twitter.

Furthermore, sometimes we can confuse a discussion of what is edifying and helpful with what is sinful.  Now, behavior that does not edify can easily become sinful.  But it need not be.  It may simply stay in the realm of unwise or unedifying.  It seems to me that Twitter can easily fall into this category.  Those who read my posts carefully will note that I spent the lion’s share of them discussing the vacuous nature of much Twitter usage.  It is not necessarily, inherently sinful to tell me you just watched Cinderella Man.  But neither is it necessarily edifying.  I would argue, to continue, that a pattern of such posting could well drag one into a pattern of time-wasting that could in the end prove unwise and even sinful.  Does this make sense?

With that said, my exhortation to not use Twitter was intended to be a bit startling.  As other sections of each blog articulated, many godly people use Twitter and do so for good reasons.  I don’t personally think one has to use Twitter to live an edifying life, and I push back against techno-obsession and an over-realized drive to redeem all aspects of culture, and I have seen few people use Twitter in a way that seems robustly edifying or meaningful.  But that’s not to say it can’t happen.

I guess at the end of the day I lean towards focusing one’s effort on the cultivation of face-to-face fellowship.  That, rather than an essentialist understanding of Twitter, is where my exhortation sprang from.

Thanks to all who’ve chimed in and to Rich Brooks for being an insightful discussion partner and the leader of a terrific website, Christ and Pop Culture.

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The Week-est Link, November 21, 2008: Keller, Psychotic Kids, and More

1. I saw several Keller articles linked somewhere this week and wanted to sharekeller them with you. The series is a few years old (don’t let that in any way deter you from reading) and is called “Advancing the Gospel into the Twenty-First Century.” Parts one, two, three, and four all make for exceptionally provocative reading and thinking.

2. This week, the New York Times ran a disturbing story on the use of antipsychotic drugs with children. Here’s a frightening section: “From 1993 through the first three months of 2008, 1,207 children given Risperdal suffered serious problems, including 31 who died. Among the deaths was a 9-year-old with attention deficit problems who suffered a fatal stroke 12 days after starting therapy with Risperdal.”

There are serious psychological problems that can develop in children and adults. But in general, we seem to see a pattern in our day: weak parenting due to loss of Judeo-Christian cultural influence, strong children with bad behavior, hapless parents who turn to psychology and drugs for help, children who suffer and may even die. The adoption of unChristian modes of thought by adults leads to suffering for children. A sad and twisted world, this.

3. Recently read through Harry L. Reeder III’s The Leadership Dynamic. I can’t say that the text is itself unusually dynamic, but it is a solid walkthrough of Christian leadership by a faithful pastor with a great mind for military history. Quite readable, and full of good anecdotes.

4. Also picked up a book called Total Church with some good ideas about holding truth and community in balance in a day when churches can fall off on either side. The authors, Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, make the case for a house church model. I didn’t come away from the text certain that I had to start a house church, but the book did make me think hard about how we Americans can unhelpfully idealize the institutional church. I would recommend Total Church–it will make you think about the church.

5. If you live in the Chicagoland area, you should make it out to Newport Coffee in Bannockburn (right near Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) at least once. Best coffee I’ve had up here, and I’ve researched mochas intensively since I came. If you want a great burger, go to Norton’s in Highland Park. Unbelievably good.

–Have a spiritually nourishing weekend, all.

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David Brooks: Recession Means Cocooning (and Opportunity for the Church)

David Brooks of the New York Times and Bobos in Paradise fame on the social effect of the recession:

“Finally, they will suffer a drop in social capital. In times of recession, people spend more time at home. But this will be the first steep recession since the revolution in household formation. Nesting amongst an extended family rich in social capital is very different from nesting in a one-person household that is isolated from family and community bonds. People in the lower middle class have much higher divorce rates and many fewer community ties. For them, cocooning is more likely to be a perilous psychological spiral.”

What does this mean for the church?  Opportunity.  As recession hits, people who normally put their hope and trust in things like their bank accounts find that hope imperiled.  This lowers their guard, often, creating an opportunity for earnest, kind, Spirit-emboldened Christians to witness to the hope that lasts beyond any and all recessions, the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This may not be the last great harvest of the church, as we Christians can sometimes think in moments of cultural crisis, but it may still be a season for powerful witness and declaration of hope.

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The Twitter Debate: To Use or Not to Use?

Yesterday’s blog drew a good number of reactions from thoughtful folks. Here are a few responses to comments from yesterday’s post.

Many Christians will use Twitter or their Facebook status relatively responsibly. Many, for the most part, won’t be narcissistic, self-promoting, time-wasters, and so on. Great.

Many others, however, will not. And thus Facebook and Twitter and their blog will often be used, as much of life in our day is, for narcissism, self-promotion, immaturity, and time wasting, while really important things go undone.

facebookAfter a while of thinking about Christianity and culture, I’m not one to say that all things are worthy of engagement by Christians. I’m in no hurry to see a movement of Christians embrace jello-wrestling as a means of evangelism, for example. Can Twitter be used for good? Yes, it can. I think it will take some effort and intentionality to do so, though, because I think it’s inherently structured to share generally needless information. I’ve done some research in thinking about this, reading various folks’ Twitter accounts, and I can say that rarely do I find them edifying or meaningful. They’re sometimes funny, sometimes amusing, but rarely are they really edifying. Often–most often, I would say–they focus on mundane things that in my opinion do not need to be shared. I have yet to see a good case for why you, the reader, need to know that I just drank a hot chocolate and that I like hot chocolate. Why do you, the reader, need to know this?

As technology and other factors fragment society, it seems to me that we need to focus a great deal on meaningful face-to-face interaction. This doesn’t preclude email, blogging, or whatever, but I don’t think the answer to a high-paced world is an avalanche of rather unimportant communication about mundane things. Doesn’t it seem natural to a Christian to focus most of their attention in such a situation on the cultivation of real, substantive communication? Maybe it’s just me, but that seems obvious.

If our world makes it difficult for us to meaningfully connect (and it does), why accommodate? Why not push back?

The public nature of Facebook and Twitter concerns me. It’s one thing to text a friend. It’s another to tell 500 people. I don’t need to stand up in a crowded cafeteria and shout, “I JUST BOUGHT THE TATER TOTS! THEY’RE SMELLING GREAT!” Why should I do this on the Internet? How does this help my Facebook friends to know and love me? I personally don’t write my parents, who live far away from me, with a list of what I eat or do in a given day. There is no need, and the communication of such things may, it seems, ultimately cheapen the sharing of real news. If I don’t tell these things to my parents, why should people I barely know learn these things?

I’m not against Facebook or blogging or texting. I use and do all of these media. But I don’t believe the modern myth that all technology has to be good simply because it’s new and fun and simple. I don’t believe that. I follow David Wells in seeking to understand that the use of technology can shape our souls. It can make us thin, it can make us distractable, it can make us shallow, it can make us narcissistic. So I’ll use some new media, but very carefully. Other new media I’ll just avoid, especially when it seems to give as little payback as Twitter does.

With all this said, many of the people who disagree with me are mature, godly, helpful, insightful, faithful people. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go scratch my back. After that, I plan on pacing the room for a bit; then, I’m contemplating maybe getting some water; after that, who knows? The possibilities of minutiae are endless!

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