Monthly Archives: September 2009

Wise Words from Mark Driscoll on “Loads” and “Burdens”

mark-driscollI found this somewhere on the web and thought it was well worth pondering together (does anyone forget where they found content? ).  In the quotations below, pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church (Seattle, Washington) defines what he sees as the difference between a “load” and a “burden” that we carry in our personal lives:

A “load” is a light enough pack that someone should be expected to carry it alone. Practically, this means that the typical person needs to find a job, pay their bills, read the Bible, attend church, pursue Christian friends, pray, repent of sin, share their faith, watch their diet, exercise, and look after themselves and their spouse and children if applicable.

A “burden” is a heavy load that is simply too much for one person to bear without the loving help of Christian friends. Practically, the person with cancer or another debilitating ailment, the mother of young children who is abandoned by her husband, the poor elderly widow who cannot pay her bills, and others like them should not feel guilty for seeking reasonable help nor should they be chastised for doing so. Rather, the church exists in part to help lessen their burden by taking some of the financial, emotional, and practical weight out of their pack and carrying it for them.

He goes on to suggest a helpful practice for ministry:

One key to ministry is discerning what is a load someone else has to carry (in which case we show concern) and what is a burden we and others need to help carry (in which case we take some responsibility).

He concludes with a nice exhortation to not extract too much from our church leaders and thus become part of their pastoral “burden”:

Are you someone who is expecting too much time, energy, money, and/or investment from the leaders in your church? Which loads do you need to just buck up and carry without whining until someone else does your job? Have you manipulated others’ concern for your load to get them to take on your responsibilities as their burden in the name of loving Christian community?

This is a nice piece, and these are sound words.  I was challenged by it to do all I can not to be a burden to my pastors.  It can behoove all of us, I think, to reflect on how we can serve our churches rather than primarily asking them to serve us and our personal desires.

Exhortation like that of Driscoll, of course, can do much to create a culture in which the leaders love the people, the people love the leaders, and each group seeks to outdo the other in serving one another in the name of Christ.

(Photo: Adrian Schoonmaker)

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David Brooks: We Need a Moral Economic Awakening

debtNYT columnist David Brooks has a thoughtful column out today called “The Next Culture War” that suggests that the shameful levels of debt our country is now carrying are a moral issue.  He’s got a great point, I think, though I disagree with him on a number of matters (the “culture wars” and the issues raised in them are actually of great importance, easy as they are to skewer intellectually).

Here’s the bottom line of his argument:

In 1960, Americans’ personal debt amounted to about 55 percent of national income. By 2007, Americans’ personal debt had surged to 133 percent of national income.

Over the past few months, those debt levels have begun to come down. But that doesn’t mean we’ve re-established standards of personal restraint. We’ve simply shifted from private debt to public debt. By 2019, federal debt will amount to an amazing 83 percent of G.D.P. (before counting the costs of health reform and everything else). By that year, interest payments alone on the federal debt will cost $803 billion.

Here’s his conclusion:

These may seem like dry numbers, mostly of concern to budget wonks. But these numbers are the outward sign of a values shift. If there is to be a correction, it will require a moral and cultural movement.

Our current cultural politics are organized by the obsolete culture war, which has put secular liberals on one side and religious conservatives on the other. But the slide in economic morality afflicted Red and Blue America equally.

This is, I think, a remarkable point in a provocative piece.  The debt in which we as individuals and as a country find ourselves is most assuredly a moral issue. The Bible has a great deal to say about debt (see Proverbs 22:7 for starters).  And here’s an Al Mohler radio program from a few years back that deals nicely with the moral issue of debt.

If you have lots of debt, or are thinking of taking lots more on to finance an education or some other venture, I would encourage you to ponder that long and hard.  I’m no financial expert, and I don’t have the life experience that some do, but if I were you, I would do whatever I could not to plunge myself into the moral and fiscal chaos that is debt (I blogged about this a while ago and said as much).

On a societal level, this is tricky business, because character is not popular right now and people feel very little connection to the greater project that is society.  Those who bury themselves in debt don’t realize that this has huge consequences for society, especially when such behavior is multiplied by millions and millions of people all overextending their resources.

There are times to take on debt.  It’s not all bad.  Sometimes you have to take it on.  But we would do well to remember that it is not simply a fiscal issue, a monetary preference (or not).  It’s an issue that has deeply biblical overtones–and personal and societal consequences.

(Image: eHow)

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The Lost Wilderness of Childhood

chabonThe provocative writer Michael Chabon recently published a marvelous essay called “Manhood for Amateurs” on the loss of what he calls the “Wilderness of Childhood” in the New York Review of Books.  In the piece, Chabon muses on the ways in which modern children have been robbed of the danger and wonder inherent in childhood exploration.

He writes of past days of freedom and adventure:

The thing that strikes me now when I think about the Wilderness of Childhood is the incredible degree of freedom my parents gave me to adventure there. A very grave, very significant shift in our idea of childhood has occurred since then. The Wilderness of Childhood is gone; the days of adventure are past. The land ruled by children, to which a kid might exile himself for at least some portion of every day from the neighboring kingdom of adulthood, has in large part been taken over, co-opted, colonized, and finally absorbed by the neighbors.

Chabon recounts a startling story of two neighboring children who have never met one another due to their cloistered childhoods:

We schedule their encounters for them, driving them to and from one another’s houses so they never get a chance to discover the unexplored lands between. If they are lucky, we send them out to play in the backyard, where they can be safely fenced in and even, in extreme cases, monitored with security cameras. When my family and I moved onto our street in Berkeley, the family next door included a nine-year-old girl; in the house two doors down the other way, there was a nine-year-old boy, her exact contemporary and, like her, a lifelong resident of the street. They had never met.

The whole piece is worth reading.  Chabon’s book of the same title, out next week, also looks like a great read.

There’s much to think about in this article.  Are we over-parenting?  Are we robbing our children of an important gift, the wilderness world where adventure, a little danger, and freedom wait to enchant and mature them?

I’m not sure.  I’m a young father.  I want my daughter to have a full and happy life.  But I also want to protect her.  I do sometimes wonder if our laments about the lost freedom of former days miss the fact that the world has become so much more complex and scary for parents.  Speaking without almighty facts or stats, we seem less innocent as a society now, less protective of children.  Many of us would love to set our kids free as we hear used to happen in former days, but there are many understandable obstacles in the way of a “liberated” childhood that some wish for.

I can say one thing.  I’m committed to not over-parent my children.  I want them to experience adventure, freedom, liberation, and a tiny bit of danger.  But fundamentally, I want to keep them safe, happy, and healthy.  In a modern world, we will have to work hard to reconcile these twin desires, trusting at all times in the providence of our great God, acting with all the wisdom and prudence we can muster.

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Does Money Bring Happiness? Pro Athletes: No

KennyAWell, they didn’t say it quite that openly.  But the stories of five prominent and now retired professional athletes, covered elegantly by the Washington Post, suggest that while money is not in itself evil, neither does it guarantee happiness.  In fact, it often does not.

Here’s the tagline from the article on former NFL player Peter Boulware:

What brings purpose to life at age 34 when you have everything you could possibly want but nothing to hitch your dreams to? Former NFL star Peter Boulware thought politics might be the answer, but that was before he lost.

The story on Kenny Anderson is poignant and leads with this:

Former NBA player Kenny Anderson, who has seven children by five women and blew through more than $63 million in salary, is hard at work on a comeback — as a man and a father.

Baseball player Aaron Boone’s career closed on a frustrating note:

By every tangible measure, Bret Boone’s comeback last year at age 39 was a failure, as he failed to get back to the major leagues and walked away from the game for the second time in two years. But in Boone’s view, it was a success.

Visit here to find these and two other stories.

I don’t know about you, but I love these kind of “Where are they now” stories.  I find them endlessly fascinating.  I’m not exactly sure why–what is it about my psyche that makes me wonder where John Crotty has gone (he’s a broadcaster for the Miami Heat)? 

Among other things, the articles show that money brings temptations, and temptations, when not met by the power of the Holy Spirit, bring sin and disarray.  One thinks that getting rich and famous is hitting it big–but it’s really becoming a bulls-eye for Satan.  Most of us were not made to be able to handle such trappings of success.  Without providence, we are simply no match for temptation. 

It’s fun to read these stories.  But it’s also good to realize that Ecclesiastes and the general voice of Scripture is right.  It’s better to know God and worship Christ than to have any other thing.  Much as the culture whispers to us elsewise, the stories of these athletes and so many other “successful” people remind us that God is right.  “How much better to get wisdom than gold!  To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.” (Proverbs 16:16) Amen. 

But don’t just know this truth–live it out.  If you have Christ, you really do have more than you could ever want.  We need to let that condition the way we think about our homes, our possessions, our pastimes, our families, our churches, and our very lives.

(Photo of Kenny Anderson by Andrew Innerarity/Washington Post)

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The Link 9.25.09: Glenn Beck, The Way We Die, and Driscoll’s Free Stuff

GlennBeckThis is an eclectic day.  As usual.  For the report on Ravi Zacharias, see number 7.

1. Time Magazine recently ran a piece on conservative commentator Glenn Beck.  Interesting read.

2. A piece to read from the NYT on the debate over health-care, end-of-life issues, and “death panels.” There’s a bunch to sort out here, but we need to note at least one thing: while it’s important to focus on reforming end-of-life care, Christians have a huge interest in preserving the lives of the elderly and the right of the elderly and infirmed to live.

3. Mark Driscoll lists some free stuff that Mars Hill is and has been giving away.

4. Just heard this cutting-edge Chicago band: Milano.  Check out “Zombie World” toward the end: “the dead are going to live, the living are going to die.”  That’s going to be true, one day soon.

5. Theologian and Evangelical Theological Society president Bruce Ware on “Missional Christology.”

6. Soon and very soon, Andrew Sherwood of 9Marks is going to blog the “God Exposed” at Southeastern Seminary featuring names like Dever, Akin, Anyabwile, and McKinley.  My friends on Baptist21 are doing a panel: here’s a pic.  Looks like another packed event for B21…

7. For those who are wondering, the audio and video from the Henry Center’s Kantzer Lectures and Ravi Zacharias events will be online soon.  We had an incredible response to Ravi’s visit–ATO Chapel was completely filled, between 100-200 people filled the overflow room as well, and we had many more by webcast (including some of you–thanks for watching!).  We are grateful to God for this response, for Ravi’s global ministry, and the chance to participate in it in our small corner of things.

–Have a great and God-saturated weekend, all.

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NYT: Modern Women are Unhappy

modernwomanI have blogged about this before–mainly because it keeps coming up–but I’ve just read a fascinating piece called “Blue Is the New Black” by NYT op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd in which she briefly explores her thesis that modern women are unhappy. (Photo: Adam Polselli)

Here’s a synopsis of her argument:

[T]he more women have achieved, the more they seem aggrieved. Did the feminist revolution end up benefiting men more than women?

According to the General Social Survey, which has tracked Americans’ mood since 1972, and five other major studies around the world, women are getting gloomier and men are getting happier.

Dowd outlines what modern women must juggle in their quest to be happy today:

When women stepped into male- dominated realms, they put more demands — and stress — on themselves. If they once judged themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens and dinner parties, now they judge themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens, dinner parties — and grad school, work, office deadlines and meshing a two-career marriage.

“Choice is inherently stressful,” Buckingham said in an interview. “And women are being driven to distraction.”

Finally, Dowd suggests that one major complicating factor is children:

One area of extreme distraction is kids. “Across the happiness data, the one thing in life that will make you less happy is having children,” said Betsey Stevenson, an assistant professor at Wharton who co-wrote a paper called “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.” “It’s true whether you’re wealthy or poor, if you have kids late or kids early. Yet I know very few people who would tell me they wish they hadn’t had kids or who would tell me they feel their kids were the destroyer of their happiness.”

The more important things that are crowded into their lives, the less attention women are able to give to each thing.

Read the whole piece.

*******************

I don’t know if you care about this piece.  But it’s a hum-dinger.  Maureen Dowd is a very influential cultural voice.  She is a feminist.  She is highly successful and driven, as evidenced by her weekly column for the Times. She is admitting, in public, that modern women are unhappy.  This is essentially an admission–hold your breath here, deep breath–that feminism is not working.  Coming from a feminist, that’s astonishing.

Dowd’s words about children are so telling.  Women must work very hard to raise children well.  This endeavor entails considerable sacrifice and hardship, especially relative to the kind of libertarian, narcissistic, no-commitment happiness that our culture so chases after.  But the problem is this: raising kids is hard work, and unlike many men, they have a hard time leaving responsibility behind (evidence: “deadbeat dads”).

Modern women would hugely benefit from returning to traditional roles.  Their current state of unhappiness, as Dowd characterizes it, is a direct result of the influence of feminism.  God did not give us roles as a kind of sexual prison; He gave them to us for our good and flourishing.  If we reject this plan, coded into both our design and the Word of God, then we will surely suffer.

Modern women are unhappy.  Feminism is not working.  It is the call of the church of Jesus Christ to image the kind of happy (though by no means easy) life of the biblical home.  We do so not merely as a means of witness, in these strange days, but as a means of rescue.

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Unknown E. P. Sanders Video on Jesus and Judaism

epsandersA friend tipped me off to this: emeritus Duke New Testament scholar E. P. Sanders discussing Jesus and Judaism.  Included in the roughly nine-minute video are Sanders’s view that Christians have needlessly pitted Paul and Jesus (who are “about love” in the eyes of conservatives) against Pharasaic Jewish thought, his pronouncement that people often think of the ancient rabbis as “Calvinistic Presbyterians,” and his view that it is more important to find what Jesus did than what He said.

The video, though brief, is quite interesting for those concerned with issues of New Testament interpretation and, by extension, the New Perspective on Paul, which Sanders has played a role in creating.  Sanders discusses his emphasis on telling the story of Jesus without majoring on His words because scholars don’t know which of His reported words were actually said by Him.  He notes toward that end that he still wants to follow Jesus, but that the Christianity of his childhood (the evangelical kind) has “largely disappeared.”

As I said, this is a brief but noteworthy little video, produced by Duke University to highlight some of its leading scholars and thinkers who are engaging contemporary matters.  I was reminded while watching it of the importance of trust in the Bible.  Our task when approaching the Bible, as I blogged about a few weeks back, is not to speak, but to listen.

We must trust the Word and not our doubts and the doubt factory that is the modern theological academy.  We do not separate the words of Christ from the deeds of Christ.  We know Christ as a unified whole, not some kind of mute spiritual action hero.  As God dwelling in human form, Christ speaks with the authority of God, He lives as the way to God, and He dies as the incarnate grace of God.

This is Jesus, whom the Scripture reveals as the one who brings life to a nation caught in legalism and death and who now brings it to us.

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Free Live Webcast of 9-23-09 Zacharias Lecture on Postmodernism and Mission

RaviPointingMy employer, the Henry Center of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL) is pleased to announce that on Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 1pm, it will offer a free live webcast of the Scripture & Ministry lecture by legendary apologist Dr. Ravi Zacharias entitled “Toward an Evangelical Understanding of Postmodernism and Mission.”

Tune in here at 1pm for the free live webcast.  If you want the actual address, here it is: http://tiuproductions.com/livestream.  This is an excellent platform–you can see how many other people are watching the event even as chat with fellow observers.  Cool stuff!

Also, please visit the Center blog for Hansen Fellow Andy Naselli’s live-blog and summary of the lecture.  If you missed Andy’s terrific live-blogging for the Kantzer Lectures, check it out here (click on the blog tab for the other installments).

In addition, please note that Dr. Zacharias will speak in chapel on Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 11am (this event will not be broadcast).

We’re really excited about our cutting-edge webcasting and live-blogging.  But make no mistake–those who live in the Chicago area will not want to miss the opportunity to hear Dr. Zacharias in person.  Though I have no official word on this matter, I am sure that some day soon, we’ll one day reminisce about the chance we had to hear a great Christian apologist in action.  Webcasting is great–but nothing will ever replace live engagement with a wise speaker.

I am jazzed about Dr. Zacharias’s visit.  He has long been a hero of mine.  In college, a number of my friends and I used to listen to his material, including a powerful message on the love of Isaac and Rebekah called “I, Isaac, Take You Rebekah” that is etched into my mind (here’s the book, well worth the purchase).  This was before there was a whole industry devoted to dating and marriage.  That sermon, a mix of spiritual and practical advice, cast a powerful vision for marriage.  Don’t let the cover fool you–that cd (and book) is well worth buying today.

Lastly, the above picture of Ravi pointing upward is vested with symbolism.  For the duration of his career, he has humbly and eloquently pointed sinners to the cross of Christ.  How appropriate–in the picture, we can’t see his face, but rather his gesturing finger and a huge crowd that is, as he speaks, coming into contact with the awesome gospel of Jesus Christ the Lord.

With that, I’ll see you soon–either in person or on the web.

(Photo: WorldviewWeekend)

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The Morality of Football: Children and Concussions

youthfootballAfter a brief blogging hiatus–aided significantly by a defective modem and mind-numbing customer service–this blog roars back to life.  Look out.

I’ve blogged about this before, but it’s come up again.  The NYT has a blog discussion called “When It’s More Than a Headache” going on right now about concussions in youth football. (Photo: Shawn Poynter/NYT) It includes the following sobering word from a New York City doctor named Jordan Metzl:

I was in my office last week when David, a 17-year-old high school football player, came in with his parents. David is a senior and has above average speed and receiving skills. He’s hoping to play college football next fall. The complication: he has had three concussions including one last year that kept him out of school for a week.

Despite widespread and ever increasing information that is available on adolescent concussion, there still is remarkably little information that a physician can give an athlete like David. Why are some athletes prone to suffering concussions? What makes their symptoms persist? Aside from stopping contact sports, what can be done to prevent these injuries?

These are scary words. We’re right in the swing of fall sports now.  I enjoy football as much as anyone out there.  There is something unique to football–it’s a delicate balance of grind and grace, of tactics and explosive innovation.  It is also, however, violent.

Before you jump to defend football by responding that there’s great good to go with the violence, just chew on this stat: “High school athletes sustained 137,000 concussions in the 2007-8 school year, according to a study from Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.”  That’s just the number of reported concussions from high school sports, the greatest offender of which is football (by far).  Then consider the fact that football can damage people for the rest of their lives.

I don’t have a massive therefore to suggest here.  Decisions about youth sports are gray areas, to be sure.  Many young men play football without sustaining concussions.  Others get “dinged up” but are fine.  Still others, however, may be damaging their bodies and their brains for the rest of their lives.  That is a big price to potentially pay, no matter what one’s goals are.

I suppose that the conclusion I hope readers, and especially Christian readers, would reach is this: we should think hard about youth sports.  We should very carefully consider whether our boys should play football and other high-contact sports.  We should think even harder about whether our girls should play these kind of sports (girls in high-contact sports sustain up to five times the number of serious injuries, like ACL tears, that boys do–are we so certain about the physical sameness of the genders?).

Parents are faced with these realities.  We should not simply rubber-stamp what the culture thinks and does.  We have to take everything captive for Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).  We should not assume that our children will just “be fine.”  They may be fine, but they may also undergo great harm in sports.  That’s a risk that we and they may take, but they should not do so because of the desire for fame, riches, self-greatness, parent-pleasing, or other sinful motives.

And this applies to our viewing and support of sports as well.  Should we watch and support sports as violent as professional football?  Many of us will continue to wrestle with these difficult issues–but even wrestling with them will be a kind of victory in itself.

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The Culinary Delights of Portland, Maine

rosemontI am not just a blogger, an armchair theologian.  I am in fact a part-time, self-appointed tourism assistant for my beloved home state: Maine.

Acting as I constantly do in this role, and recently surfing various websites, I came across this NYT article on the excellent cuisine of one Portland, Maine.  I might note before hastening on that this article was the number one article on the Times website.  Eat your heart out, Maureen Dowd. (Photo: Stacey Cramp/NYT)

Here’s what the piece, entitled “A Rich Symphony of Food” (interesting how we often mix metaphors to speak of food and the arts) by Julia Moskin, has to say by way of summary.  Why is Portland, Maine a hotbed for great cooking?

In the last decade, Portland has undergone a controlled fermentation for culinary ideas — combining young chefs in a hard climate with few rules, no European tradition to answer to, and relatively low economic pressure — and has become one of the best places to eat in the Northeast. The most interesting chefs here cook up and down the spectrum, from Erik Desjarlais’s classically pressed roast ducks at Evangeline, to the renegade baker Stephen Lanzalotta’s gorgeously caramelized sfogliatelle (sold out of the back of Micucci Grocery, an Italian-imports shop), to Mr. Potocki’s simple but brilliant chili-garlic cream cheese and handmade bagels.

Read the whole article.

Can I share something with you?  Maine, speaking generally, has amazing food.  I swear.  I’m not making it up.  You could eat your way up the coast and back.  That’s right–on top of being breathtakingly beautiful, Maine boasts excellent cuisine.  In my college town, Brunswick (a quintessential New England college town), there were three Thai places, one Indian restaurant, several good Chinese establishments, an incredible old-fashioned donut shop, another incredible old-fashioned drive-in burger place (Fat Boy’s–wow), an Irish/German fusion restaurant, a gourmet pizza place (Benzoni’s, RIP), and more.

So here’s the point: plan a vacation to Maine.  It’s not that expensive to go there.  Early fall, late spring, summer, or winter (if you want to ski) are all great seasons.  Go up route 1.  Rent a car and drive up it.  Along the way, make sure you eat at Amato’s, where you will get the best Italian imaginable.  Go to Epi’s in Bangor or Bar Harbor, where you will a sandwich Greater Than Which No Other Can Be Conceived.

You could not go wrong with a stay in Camden, one of the prettiest towns you’ll ever see (couples might want to honeymoon or visit here for a getaway).  Sugarloaf is great for skiing or golf.  Freeport has incredible shopping in a charming environment.  And, if you make all the way up the coast to my little hometown, Machias, you could lunch at The Artist’s Cafe and eat a sumptuous dinner at The Riverside Inn.

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here.  Honestly, you should plan a vacation to Maine.  Don’t take just my word for it–take that of the NYT.  As they say, “Go to Portland and eat.”

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