Monthly Archives: February 2012

Doing Big Things: City to City Church Planting in Paris

One of the most encouraging developments in our day is church planting in global cities.  My buddy Freddy Wyatt, for example, is planting the Gallery Church in Manhattan, a work that I love (featured recently in the New York Times).  Aaron Coe of the North American Mission Board (Southern Baptist Convention) is doing high-level thinking and strategy in this area.  The NETS program is targeting cities like Boston and major college campuses like Harvard and Dartmouth.  How can a believer not be excited and moved to prayer by efforts like these?

Another hugely encouraging program is the City to City initiative connected with Redeemer Presbyterian Church and Tim Keller.  This video gives you a feel for the CtC plant in Rome.  Watch it, get inspired, and pray for efforts like this.

Or maybe you won’t just pray.  Or maybe, like Keller and Freddy, you’ll discern that you yourself should do big things in joyful service to a great God.  Maybe you’ll launch out into a global city, taking on the incredibly challenging and exciting work of bringing the gospel to dark places.

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The Kid with a Big Heart: Elegy for a Fallen Basketball Star

Thomas Lake is the finest young sportswriter in America.  Working for Sports Illustrated, he writes long-form journalism pieces that transcend reporting and cross firmly over into beautiful, profound prose. 

He recently published a piece entitled “The Legacy of Wes Leonard.”  The story (featured in an issue with Jeremy Lin on the cover) follows a young Michigan basketball player who led his team to victory after victory until, just minutes after an incredible come-from-behind win, he collapsed of heart trouble and died.  As with Lake’s story on Darrent Williams, deceased Broncos cornerback, this elegy is long, poetic, and informed by Christian theology (Lake is a graduate of Gordon College).

Here’s a snatch:

After the autopsy, when the doctor found white blossoms of scar tissue on Wes Leonard’s heart, he guessed they had been secretly building there for several months. That would mean Wes’s heart was slowly breaking throughout the Fennville Blackhawks’ 2010–11 regular season, when he led them in scoring and the team won 20 games without a loss.

It would mean his heart was already moving toward electrical meltdown in December, when he scored 26 on Decatur with that big left shoulder clearing a path to the hoop. It would mean his heart swelled and weakened all through January (25 against Hopkins, 33 against Martin) even as it pumped enough blood to fill at least 10 swimming pools.

This heart pounded two million times in February, probably more, heaving under its own weight, propelling Wes’s 6’2″, 230-pound frame along the glimmering hardwood with such precision and force that finally a kid from Hartford gave up on the rules and tackled him in the lane. By March 3, the night of Wes’s last and most glorious game, his heart weighed 21½ ounces, double the weight of a normal heart, and it gave him all he needed from the opening tip to the final buzzer. Then the wiring failed, the current going as jagged as a thunderbolt, and Wes fell to the floor with his big heart quivering.

Read the whole thing.  I cannot wait to read Lake’s first book, whenever it comes.  Those who grew up reading the work of various SI authors will know that the magazine features not merely great sportswriting but great writing, period.  Lake continues that tradition.

(Image:Grand Rapids Press)

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Places You Should Visit: The Lanier Theological Library in Houston

If you haven’t heard of the Lanier Theological Library, check it out.  It’s an independently funded research center and library in Houston, Texas.  The resources at this evangelical resource outfit are outstanding. 

Lanier was created by Mark Lanier, one of the top attorneys in the country according to the New York Times.  Here’s a bit more about the library:

The Lanier Theological Library is an exciting new resource for all students and scholars of the Bible. The LTL is a research library and is open to everyone who will use it responsibly. Within the library, you will find a comprehensive collection of books, periodicals, historical documents and artifacts with topics ranging from Church History and Biblical Studies to Egyptology and Linguistics. The LTL regularly hosts events with noted authors, guest lecturers, and researchers who will challenge you both academically and spiritually. Come to the Lanier Theological Library and find serious tools for serious study.

The LTL is a place to go for serious Christian research and scholarship.  It’s a very exciting venture.

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“The Fighter” by The Fray: An Amazing New Song

A fantastic, soaring new song that captures the sadness and possibility of life in this world.

Isaac Slade explains the song here.  Here’s a snippet:

I went to Breckenridge and wrote by myself in a cabin up there for a while. I brought all of my journals from second grade until now. And I brought a couple big coffee table picture books, my little voice recorder and my guitar and just went up there. I bought a bunch of groceries and kind of holed up in this cabin and wrote a bunch.

One of the songs I wrote up there is called “Scars and Stories.” After reading through a bunch of my old journals and diaries, I was thinking about my marriage and all the relationships that led up to it. It was kind of a road map of how I got to where I am today and how I sort of fell in love with the girl that I’m married to now.

While I was up there one afternoon, I busted out a Norman Rockwell coffee table book and put it up on the piano. It was this really famous painting of his of this boxing match. The scene has the girl in the crowd with a surprised look with her man fallen in the corner and this big huge kind of doofus looking guy [standing over him], kind of looking like ‘What? I didn’t mean to kill him.’ I just set it up on the piano and started playing.

I’d never really done that before, started a song from scratch based on a visual. But I started writing “The Fighter.” I was writing it mainly about the guy wrestling with his doubts. It’s a scary thing to face your doubts, especially in a relationship.

Buy the whole album, “Scars and Stories,” here.  The Fray is, to my understanding, Christian.

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Get Hitched: Why Marriage Is the Social Program to Fix All Others

The Family Research Council runs a great outfit called the Marriage and Religion Research Institute.  This center has recently produced an extensively researched document called “162 Reasons to Marry” that is a stemwinder of a case for covenantal union.

Here’s what the report says at the outset:

With fewer than half our children now reaching the end of childhood in an intact married family, it will be good for all adolescents to learn again and again that an intact married life is a great good to aim for. If they are clear on the goal, they may be motivated to reach it. Just as the children who grew up in the Great Depression became the wealthiest generation in history, maybe we can hope that the children who experienced so much rejection between their parents will become the greatest generation of parents who belong to each other in lifelong marriage.

The report goes on to list the promised 162 reasons.  Here are a few; I would encourage you to read the whole thing, as I am firmly in line with the historic Christian church and modern political philosophers (and candidates like Rick Santorum) in believing that marriage is a) God’s ideal plan for widespread human flourishing and b) the best way to ameliorate many social ills (when coupled with other factors–spiritual, educational, economic, and so on).

Behavioral Problems

    1. Children from intact families have fewer behavioral problems in school.
    2. First-grade children born to married mothers are less likely to exhibit disruptive behavior, such as disobeying a teacher or behaving aggressively towards peers, than children born to cohabiting or single mothers.
    3. Adolescents from intact married families are less like to be suspended, expelled, delinquent, or experience school problems than children from other family structures.

Income

  1. Married families have larger incomes.
  2. Intact married families have the largest annual income of all family structures with children under 18.
  3. Among family structures with dual earners, married households in which both spouses are in the paid workforce have the largest income.
  4. Marriage increases the income of African-American men and women.
  5. Married households have the highest income-to-needs ratio.
  6. Men enjoy a larger “wage premium” (the financial gain men enjoy when they join a female partner) when they marry rather than cohabit.
  7. The marriage premium produces an annual income increase of approximately .9 percent.
  8. Women in intact marriages have a higher income-to-needs ratio than women in any other family structure.

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Youth Football & Collisions: Really, Really, Really Bad News

ESPN just released this frightening data from the first study of youth football and the impact of head-to-head collisions:

The first-ever study to measure the head impacts among youth football players has found that some hits absorbed by second graders are as forceful as those in the college game, and that unlike at in high school and college football most of the severe hits occurred during practices.

More:

The sample size was small, just seven players in a Virginia youth league between the ages of seven and eight. But its findings will help shape the debate about safety measures — and for some whether children should participate at all — in youth football, which is played by 3.5 million children below high school age. The average player in the study sustained 107 head impacts during the course of 9.4 practices and 4.7 games.

Most of those hits were modest in force, as measured by sensors installed in the padding of helmets. But some topped 80 g’s, similar to “some of the more severe impacts that college players experience, even though the youth players have less body mass and play at slower speeds,” the authors wrote. Boys of grade school and middle school age often lack the neck strength of teenagers, among other factors that can make them vulnerable to injury.

Read the whole piece (with thanks to Denny Burk).  It is positively chilling.

I wrote a piece on this kind of evidence two years ago for First Things Grantland recently published a piece that mused out loud whether football will be outlawed in the future in America; Malcolm Gladwell wondered the same a few years back in the New Yorker.  I don’t know what the future holds for American football, but it should be clear to anyone who cares about children that the physical nature of the game is jeopardizing their health.

Note that this is just the first study on this matter.  More will come. I suspect we will find exactly what many mothers and grandmothers have known by way of common sense for decades: that football as it is currently played is far more dangerous than we pretend it is.  In other words, I think many of us intuitively know that the game, though very fun and not wrong by nature, is in its present form nearly gladiatorial.  We treat the sport as if it’s low-risk, but in reality it is not.  It is high-risk.

There is a real challenge for Christians here.  I’m not saying that we cannot participate in or enjoy football, but studies like this one should alarm us.  Football is very dangerous for children, youth, and adults as it’s currently played.  Are we going to write material like this off?  Or will we realize that athletics fall under ethics, and help to lead the national conversation about how we can reform football to make it much safer?

Why have many Christians been silent on this issue?  Readers of this blog know that I love sports.  But I can’t love them more than I love wisdom, right?  The old translation of Proverbs 4:7 says it nicely: “In all your getting, get wisdom.”  I love that.  May we strive together on this point.

Some might counter by saying “football’s a way of life where I’m from.”  I understand that, but isn’t this whole gospel-driven movement about bringing all of life, not just your eternal destination, under the Lordship of Christ?  After all, setting widows on fire was a part of life in 19th-century India, but William Carey, heroic Baptist missionary, led the charge against that practice.  I hope that we will remember, with the Reformers, that Scripture is the “norm that norms all other norms” and bring the full force of the biblical conscience to a game that, though a gift of God’s common grace, is in dire need of Christian influence and wisdom.

(Image: Rob Tringali/Getty Images)

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Reflecting on the Reformed Resurgence: Band of Bloggers 2012

Timmy Brister, the mastermind/head/visionary behind Band of Bloggers, recently made this announcement:

We are excited about this year’s Band of Bloggers (on April 10, 2012, just before Together for the Gospel starts).  Each panelist has played a pivotal role with Band of Bloggers and the Young, Restless, and Reformed Movement.  At our first Band of Bloggers (April 2006), we were thrilled to have Tim Challies, Justin Taylor, Albert Mohler, and Russell Moore as panel speakers, and six years later we are even more happy to see that Justin and Tim will be joining us again.  Collin Hansen who coined the phrase “young, restless, and reformed” and wrote a journalistic book about it will also be joining us.  And for the first time, Kevin DeYoung, perhaps the most prominent Reformed blogger online has agreed to contribute his thoughts as well.  And I’m grateful for my good friend and fellow moderator, Owen Strachan, will be helping me lead the discussion at this year’s gathering.

If you want to go to BoB, you need to register ASAP.  Last I heard, the event was 2/3 full a day or two after it was announced.

I’m looking especially forward to this year’s gathering, because we’re going to reflect on the reformed resurgence and how blogging has contributed to it.  It will be fun to do that with some young leaders, and I know that many who join us will have made meaningful contributions to the broader movement.  The whole point of this is that we’ve witnessed “a thousand points of light” come to life in the last 5-6 years, a development that has allowed the books, talks, sermons, and discussions of the reformed world to spread like wildfire all over the world.

That, my friends, is a beautiful thing, one worth celebrating in six weeks’ time.

By the way, I think Southern Seminary still has some spots open in the special Together for the Gospel class.  It’s led by Russell Moore, Dean of SBTS, and will allow students to hear some great material, attend some pre-conference panels with a range of Southern faculty, and then attend the full conference.  You get three credit hours from SBTS.  It’s a fantastic bargain and has people enrolled from all over the country.

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Linsanity! Part 4: An Essay on Why David Brooks Is Wrong on Jeremy Lin

David Brooks just suggested in the New York Times that athletic success and humility necessarily conflict and cannot coexist in a person.  He wrote his piece, “The Jeremy Lin Problem,” on New York Knicks star (I love writing that) Jeremy Lin, who led the Knicks to their eighth win in nine games yesterday against NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.

Here’s what Brooks said about the conflict between “greatness” and “humility”:

Ascent in the sports universe is a straight shot. You set your goal, and you climb toward greatness. But ascent in the religious universe often proceeds by a series of inversions: You have to be willing to lose yourself in order to find yourself; to gain everything you have to be willing to give up everything; the last shall be first; it’s not about you.

For many religious teachers, humility is the primary virtue. You achieve loftiness of spirit by performing the most menial services. (That’s why shepherds are perpetually becoming kings in the Bible.) You achieve your identity through self-effacement. You achieve strength by acknowledging your weaknesses. You lead most boldly when you consider yourself an instrument of a larger cause.

And here is his closing word:

The odds are that Lin will never figure it out because the two moral universes are not reconcilable. Our best teacher on these matters is Joseph Soloveitchik, the great Jewish theologian. In his essays “The Lonely Man of Faith” and “Majesty and Humility” he argues that people have two natures. First, there is “Adam the First,” the part of us that creates, discovers, competes and is involved in building the world. Then, there is “Adam the Second,” the spiritual individual who is awed and humbled by the universe as a spectator and a worshipper.

Read the whole piece.  It’s very thought-provoking.

My buddy Barnabas Piper responded to Brooks last week.  He said this: “Brooks smelled something that stinks. He is on to something because the tension does exist, but his conclusions miss the mark. I believe there is tension present in the world of Christian athletes. But it is not a tension unique to that situation. It is simply an expression of the tension that exists in all our hearts all the time – that of seeking to glorify myself rather than glorify God.”  I think Barnabas is right.

If Brooks is correct, then humility essentially swallows ambition.  There cannot ultimately be a place for what Alister Chapman has called “godly ambition” in his recent biography of John Stott (a work I commend).  Stott believed that he best glorified the Lord by putting his gifts to work, not by stifling them in fear.  Dave Harvey offered some similar thoughts in Rescuing Ambition.

Brooks is of course operating not from an evangelical worldview (though he is friendly to evangelicals, including Stott) but from a Jewish one.  In the New Testament, Christ teaches the parable of the talents, in which he makes explicit that it is good to dream big and act boldly for kingdom purposes.  In the story, a master rewards servants who “make” more talents by dint of effort and ambition.  They hear “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23).  There is another servant who fearfully buries his talent in order to preserve it.  He reaps condemnation to himself:

“You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.  So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.  For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:26-30).

Clearly this parable is about more than just ambition; like so much of Christ’s teaching, it starts with a fairly mundane matter–how one works–and ends up setting the issues of faithfulness and diligence in a frightening eschatological context.  Nonetheless, it seems clear that what one could call “godly ambition” is commended here.

As Barnabas pointed out (and Chapman notes), there is gray area in this discussion.  We are sinful people, and even when we seek to please God, we can have some kind of mixed motive.  I think we’re wrong to see ourselves in strict black-and-white.  But this must not restrain us from working hard to promote the kingdom.

There were two moments in yesterday’s game against the Mavericks that I thought spoke pretty nicely to this discussion.  At one point, Lin was on a fast break with no defenders to stop him from scoring; his teammate Landry Fields was on his wing.  Many of the NBA’s leading lights would have taken the opportunity to show off, dunking the ball in spectacular fashion.  I’m personally not going to say that’s wrong, though it’s not selfless, either.  What did Lin do?  He gave up an opportunity to make himself look good and passed the ball to Fields, who slammed it home.  He made Fields, his weird-handshake buddy (read more), look good.  In that instant, in my view, he showed Christian virtue, the humility Brooks suggested could not exist meaningfully in such a star.

Another play spoke to a different strength.  The clock was winding down at the end of the first quarter.  Lin realized as he must that he was the best playmaker on the floor.  He attacked just before the buzzer sounded and hit a floater in the lane over Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks’ best player.  In that moment, he showed confidence in his own abilities, but this was a confidence that served his teammates.  Yes, it’s possible that there was pride in the decision to attack the basket, but I would see that play more as a way that Lin, clearly an unselfish point guard, served his teammates by using the skill given him by God.

This applies to all of life.  We should practice humility and “esteem others better than ourselves” (Philippians 2:3).  We should also take pains to identify the abilities God has given us and use them with great effort in service of the kingdom of Christ.  Until Christ returns, yes, we will feel some tension at times over whether we’re putting ourselves forward, whether we’re acting in a given moment out of godly ambition or what James calls “selfish ambition” (James 3:16).  It is right as sinful yet redeemed people that we feel this inner conflict.  We must not make the mistake of thinking that our conversion naturally ennobles our every motive, every action, every word.

But in our sphere of productivity assigned us by God, we should work with alacrity and without slavish fear or worry for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).  That’s true of the woman who wants to be the best mother and homemaker she can, the stockbroker who wants to make a great deal of money to bless his family and church, the church planter who believes that he is called of God to preach the gospel in a place that frankly doesn’t want it, the family that runs the best homeless shelter they can to care for the needy, and the athlete who plays, ultimately, for an audience of one.

 

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Why Guys and Girls Can’t Be Friends (Hilarious)

I think there’s truth here.  I don’t agree with the comments about “hooking up” and don’t endorse that line of thinking, but I do think this very funny video shows something about the essential–and eternal!–differences between men and women.

My favorite moment comes at about the 0:48 mark when a tall guy eating a sandwich responds to the question by going “NNAAAAAAHHHH.”  I think that kind of sums it up for many men.  A second very funny moment hits around the 2:00 mark when the interviewer parries a girl who insists that men and women can be “just friends.”

This isn’t the most serious thing I’ve ever posted, but not everything should be.  The spirit of this video is quite funny, and it’s done as it only could be by a couple of puckish young men.  It is of course possible for single men and women to be “just friends” in Christ.  But things in this world are often complex, and so the best solution for most of us is to lose the war and get married to someone.  Of course, even after marrying, the gender differences don’t go away.  But that is a topic for another day.

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Doing Ministry with a Shelby Cobra Mustang Engine (Like Piper & Carson)

I just did an interview with Christ the Center, a podcast produced by the Reformed Forum, which is associated with Westminster Theological Seminary.  This is a high-powered theological podcast that has hosted such important discussions as the recent debate among Presbyterian theologians over justification and union with Christ (with Michael Horton and Lane Tipton) and the ongoing conversation about the gospel and sanctification (with Rick Phillips and Kevin DeYoung).

Camden Bucey, Jared Oliphint, and Nick Batzig hosted the conversation.  The topic was pastor-theologians and the book The Pastor as Scholar, the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry (Crossway, 2011), which John Piper and D. A. Carson wrote and David Mathis and I edited.

I had a fun and extensive conversation with the CTC guys, who are great guys with keen theological minds.  The topic in question related directly to the Reformed tradition, which has produced so many fantastic pastor-scholars (Calvin) and scholar-pastors (Warfield).  J. Gresham Machen is of course one of the five most important Christian figures of the twentieth century and fits nicely into the scholar-pastor mold.  He was a brilliant theologian who was nevertheless keenly focused on the church.  Much of his writing is deep but directly accessible to the thoughtful layperson.

Head over to the Reformed Forum and give this podcast a listen if you’re so inclined.  During the course of this hourlong conversation, we covered all kinds of things: why Piper and Dever might be wary of the term “pastor-scholar,” how pastors can own this role as theologian, and how church history relates to the present discussion.

About 15 minutes in, we cover the idea that being a pastor-theologian isn’t about escaping the hard work of pastoral ministry–counseling, evangelism, discipleship.  Instead, it’s about infusing all of that valuable pastoral labor with a 500-horsepower theological engine such that the work of the pastor is transformed and Christ is richly displayed in churchly ministry.

That’s what I’m after.  I think that’s what the CTC guys are after.  Can’t you hear the roar of that Christocentric engine?

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