Tuesday, November 28, 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.

Monday, November 27, 2006

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.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

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.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

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
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.

Monday, November 20, 2006

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.

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.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

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.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

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.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The New 9Marks Stuff

Good comments on normalcy and evangelism, dudes. I appreciate your words and agree that it is tough to strike a balance between being set apart and being a normal person. But it's in the tension that our faith is worked out, and we are grown and matured as believers. We'll always be wrestling with that tension, and we'll always be growing as we wrestle.

I don't have much time to post today, but I have enough time to let you know that the new monthly content is posted at the 9Marks website. If you do not go to this site, and if you do not read all the content therein, you are robbing one and only one person: yourself. No, that's actually not correct, because you'll be enriched by going there, and consequently you'll enrich others, so in fact, you're robbing lots of people, and that makes you a very, very bad person. With that helpful point established, I do want to encourage you to go and read about biblical theology, conversion, and manhood. Jonathan Leeman, the editor of the content, is doing a fantastic job with the site and the contributors are top-notch (well, most of them--some are medium-notch, like yours truly). It's like seminary online. So take a few minutes and head over to the site. You'll find stuff that edifies you, stuff that challenges you, and ideas to wrestle with--and we all know how good that is for us, don't we?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Using Normality For Evangelistic Ends

It is not necessary to be normal to be a faithful evangelist. It is, however, helpful. We are strangers and pilgrims as Christians. We are strange and alien, though, not because of our clothing style but because of our doctrine. This is the way it should be. We are called everywhere in Scripture to be awed. Nowhere in Scripture are we called to be odd.

I covered the importance of normality last week. I'm moving on, and now we're talking about how it's evangelistically expedient to be normal. Have you ever thought of it in those terms? If not, let me try to convince you of this matter. As I said last week, Christians are already weird to those who are not Christians. Our set of beliefs is downright wacky to the outside world. We could care less, of course--we have found Truth, and that is all that matters. We do not strive to conform to intellectual currents, to pander to pagan philosophizing. We take joy in the gospel, the message that is so simple a child can grasp it and so levelling that all have access to it. We don't want exclusivity (in the "cool" sense) or societal status; we want inclusivity and saintly status. With that established, though, we do very much want to connect with those who are not saved. We do so by doing what should and will come very easily if we just let it: being normal, breathing, exfoliating human beings.

It does you no good in your evangelism to have utterly no idea what sports team play where, and what books are famous, and what music is popular. Many Christians seem to take a sort of gleeful pride in being anti-culture and having no idea of what's going on in the world. This is a holdover from fundamentalism. It needs to go. Fundamentalism hung its hat on separation. It took pride in being separated from nearly everything it could. That was good on some points--defending the essentials of the faith, for instance--but really, really bad on the whole cultural tip. There is nothing inherently godly with not knowing where the Suns play or who their best player or what The Fray's big song is. Beyond this, when we're like this, we have basically no "bridges" to the culture. We have nothing to talk about with those we're trying to evangelize. This is a crying shame. Who said this was a good idea? It's a bad idea. We should share the gospel, yes, absolutely, we must, but that won't fill a whole afternoon or a car trip or even a backyard chat while we're grilling. When we evangelize in this way--we share the gospel and have nothing else to say--we portray the Christian faith as a shallow, disinterested, disconnected faith, and it is anything but. The Christian faith is robust and comprehensive. It asks and answers the deepest questions of life, it spots the beauty that speckles the landscape, and it directs us to matters of goodness and hope. When we evangelize, we should display this.

Then, we will not be the only ones who are awed. Or odd. Take your pick--they go hand in hand.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Finding Grace in Normality

I don't usually pull material from the comments section onto the main posting section, but I really liked what Brian had to say about finding grace in normality: "Even in normalcy, God teaches us and gives us grace. Tonight, God delivered to me a lesson in humility - a thorn in my flesh, named the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. He reminded me that our hope is not in wins and losses, but in Him."

Excellent point. I was reminded of this just a few minutes ago, when I attempted to start my aging Accord. Despite numerous attempts, and a failed jump, the car simply refused to start. It is in such moments, so infused with normality, that we desperately need grace. We don't need them only when bad news strikes, when someone falls terribly ill or loses a job. We need them, then, yes, absolutely. But we also need grace to help us string together a whole bunch of God-honoring moments that could otherwise be quite the opposite. We Christians are little glorification factories. We take the material that other people use to curse and dishonor God, and we--by the Spirit's power--remake it into a little glory package. This is what life is primarily about. Taking moments that could be used to curse, anger, and destroy and staving off such emotions and then actually turning to praise God for His goodness. This is a challenge. I certainly don't do it perfectly. But God willing, you and I can be "glorification factories" for the God we serve.

(We'll pick up the series on Monday.)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Imperfect Sainthood: Normality and its Evasion of Christians

Before I break into my half-baked discussion, let me just say that I have been given some of the most thoughtful "commenters" around. To all you who read this blog and write in with a comment, thank you. You often add a bit of brightness to my day, and you consistently make me and the other four people who read this blog think. Both of yesterday's comments--from the newcomer Brian, very insightful, and the original Consumed commenter, Al, always erudite and clear--alluded to the need for Christians to own their "of-heaven" nature. Today's topic is quite different. We Christians need to be normal. Somehow, normality often evades us.

Now, wait. Hold on. I am not talking here about any deep theological need to be normal. I'm not even talking about contextualization. I'm not talking about church services. I'm not trying to make some piercing, broad-level point by way of a harmless suggestion. Nope. I'm actually just talking about Christian living. In the everyday passing of the hours, we should be normal. Trust me, we're already weird enough. Let's think about this. We have staked every ounce and drop of our lives on a collection of documents from multiple authors and cultures written over thousands of years that includes the need to make blood sacrifices, dunk one another in water, and believe in a conception without the male's contribution. This is incredible stuff. Of course, one's incredulity is set off by the reality that this book is entirely true and somehow, inconceivably, makes coherent sense and teaches one common message, that of God's absolute rule over man and desire that He worship Him by a separated, Messiah-adoring life. But forget that--we are already voluntarily claiming wacko status by our belief in God's word. Why make ourselves any weirder than we are?

But what exactly am I calling for? Good question, perceptive and slightly prickly reader. I'm not calling us to anything outside of the Bible. No, no, no. We need to do everything the Bible says and do all we can to bring maximal glory to our Lord and Savior. With that foremost in our mind, then, we should set out to be normal people. We should do normal people things. We should play sports with non-Christians, listen to good music, and read interesting blogs (ahem). (Just kidding.) We should go to Starbucks, have hairstyles that roughly conform to normal societal patterns, and speak language that non-church people readily grasp. We should be able to talk about the weather, the Red Sox, the merits of sweet vs. sour barbecue, and the difficulty of raising children. We should always be ready to make a defense of the faith--but also always be quick to make people feel welcome and appreciated in our conversations with them. We should not smile blankly and blink when people talk about the local mall. Even if we don't like malls, car lots, and shopping centers, we should know what's in them, and be ready to make a bonding quip about them when conversationally necessary. "Yeah, you could hold the Winter Olympics in that Dick's Sporting Goods, eh?" Or something silly but normal like that. We should walk our dogs where other people do. We should be good teammates. We shouldn't get overly excited about normal things, like touchdowns or pizza. We should be excellent but grounded employees. Excepting our bold moral and verbal gospel witness, we shouldn't be known as "the Christian wacko" because we ask everybody in the office if they've seen "Omega Code 2" or eaten a "Bible Foods Granola Bar." When your Christian-culture synapses start firing like Gettysburg riflemen, take a few deep breaths, and sit in a darkened room for a few minutes. Then, emerge normal. Repeat as often as necessary.

In matters where we can advance, demonstrate, and stand up for the faith, we need to go all out. We need to boldly and clearly proclaim the awesome--and scandalously weird--gospel of Christ. It is the absolute, world-defining truth, and we must demonstrate its truth by our unrelenting willingness to speak it, live it, and defend it. However, we should not repeat this behavior for the ideosyncracies of cultural Christianity. If you find such a person, soothe them. Tell them it's okay to know who's leading the Pacific Division and what book is number one on the Times best-seller list. Assure them that foods not found in the Bible are not illegal to eat. Encourage them to name their children whatever they want, and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Bible names (my middle name is Daniel, and I love it, cause I love Daniel), but that Melchizedek may seem more promising in the glow of young parenthood than it will for the one-day junior high student. Take every opportunity to point such things out. You see, we are an of-heaven people, but we are also a this-world people, and while we have a mandate to be weird and strange and alien as far as our beliefs and our moral lives, we are not so called when it comes to our clothing styles, our hairdos, and our granola bar choices.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Imperfect Sainthood: A Spirituality for the Contemporary Church

How do we live out our faith? What does it look like when it is lived out faithfully? These are the questions that theologians of Christian spirituality attempt to answer.

I am not a theologian, though I do pretend to be when I am snugly perched in my burgundy leather armchair. Yet I would like to take a crack at sketching a verbal portrait of the Christian faith as it is lived out on a day to day basis. What are the key tenets of the Christian's daily walk? No, I'm not referring to the length of our quiet times. I'm thinking instead on the principial level (or trying to). What principles drive the daily Christian lives that we lead? Perhaps we'll come across something useful as we think through this together.

We need to start with the fact that we are heavenly. I'm playing fast and free with the English language here, but that's okay--such is the way you play on a blog. By saying we're a heavenly people I mean we are quite literally the "of-heaven" people. We're first and foremost geared toward heaven. It is our preeminent interest, because it is where our Father is, and it is where we will be one day. Unlike the people all around us, we consider heaven to be our true home, and the earth our temporary stomping grounds. Those who do not know Christ know nothing of this mindset, and there is no other alternative to heaven. People don't actually or legitimately think that their true home is Mars. They have no eyes to see spiritual realities, and they do see earth all around them, and so they logically (but tragically) conclude that earth is their true home. And thus it goes. Earth-mindedness directs their choices; informs their worldview; and constitutes both their hope and despair. Like those little Christmas balls with the fake snow that flies around when you shake them, earth is all there is, and life is just a process of calmness and shakings. One day, the ball drops from the sky, and all goes dark, and that's it. The earthly-minded become the earth itself.

Christians know the truth. We know that heaven, not earth, orders our existence. We don't live as the lost do and then punch a few buttons to go to heaven when we die. We don't live the way we desire here and then get kicked up to the clouds. No, we live in profoundly different rhythms than the lost do. We lose our jobs knowing that one day pink slips will disappear. We break our backs to earn money knowing that one day rest and relief will reign. We raise our children with a kingdom in mind, knowing that our responsibilities as parents far exceed the duty of raising responsible, productive citizens of the state. We train our minds in order to unearth the intellectual treasures planted in the soils of terrestrial philosophy. In all these ways and so many more, we reveal ourselves to be a heavenly people, an "of-heaven" people who live every day of our lives as tenants on the planet earth. This is the first tenet of our spirituality. We are just like everyone else--living lives, buying groceries, changing diapers, eating pies. And then, we are nothing like everyone else. We live for another world.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil 3:20)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Reflections on Ted Haggard

I guess I'm on a bit of a book kick right now. That can be a good thing, namely because it allows me to share with you a few books I've found insightful and noteworthy. I mentioned Fleeing Fundamentalism last Friday and want to comment today on recent events that tie in with it. How tragic is the news of Ted Haggard, a man enacting the terrible scenario of Fleeing before our very eyes. Ministerial infidelity and immorality claim another man and family.

One of my first thoughts was of his family. Haggard has five children with his wife. What does this do for their understanding of the faith? How many will walk with Christ? How many will walk away from Him? One is reminded to pray for this family in this dark time. How terribly wrenching it would be to have the man one most loves and looks up to in the world fail in such a monumental way. I know very little of Haggard, but I would assume based on the little I do know that he was a charismatic and involved father. He was well-loved by his congregation and I would assume the same about his family relationships. It would absolutely crush a child to go through this.

We take so many things for granted in this life, to our shame and loss. Those of us who have fathers who lived stoutly moral lives must avoid this mistake. We should give much thanks to God for giving us fathers who walked closely with the Savior, and who were kept from terrible sin by Him. In this moment, I am so thankful for a father who walked uprightly before the Lord, and who gave his son an example to follow. He was, and is, an inspiration to me.

For those who did not have a father of this type, either because of absence or sin, know that one can look to the heavenly father for one's inspiration. He is the perfect father. He never fails. By looking to Him, and studying the biblical picture of His fatherhood, you can break old and evil cycles and begin a line of godly fathers in your own family. Do not hide in the shadow of your father and allow his sin to dominate you and your legacy. Form a new legacy, and lead coming generations in the way of the heavenly Father. May it be so for the Haggard boys, and may it be so for you.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Fleeing Fundamentalism

Don't worry, I'm not. But Carlene Cross has. She wrote a book of the above title to tell the world of her exodus from the Christian faith. I picked up Fleeing Fundamentalism, published just this year, expecting to encounter all kinds of rants and raves about the evils of biblical Christianity. There's a little bit of that sort of thing in the book, but there is a much more disturbing issue at the book's core, one that cannot be written off with the use of labels, true as labels can be.

The issue is this: Cross's husband was a conservative Baptist minister who had a healthy church, a growing family, and every reason to be happy. There was just one problem with this man, named David. He had fallen into sexual sin early in his marriage. He habitually attended strip clubs in order to "relax" and ease the pressure he felt due to his burgeoning ministry and family. This terrible secret did not surface until the Crosses had been married for many years. When it hit, however, it blew the family apart.

Carlene Cross spiraled into pagan spirituality after this discovery and her eventual divorce. Though this is tragic, she will be held accountable for her sin when she dies. So I do not solely sympathize with her. However, this story, a true one, does show what happens what Christian men abdicate their responsibility to lead their families with virtue and moral courage. The results are especially terrible when a pastor, a leader of Christian husbands and fathers, slips into sexual sin. Children are disullisioned, families are destroyed, careers are ruined. Far from leading me to angry disgust, Fleeing Fundamentalism made me deeply sad as it shows the unraveling of one Christian family due to sexual sin. The stakes are so high for men of God. When we fail, we plunge ourselves into chaos and judgment. But more than this, we take our families, and even our churches, with us.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Gladwell Article

A few days ago I posted about a fascinating article by Malcolm Gladwell, a popular writer and pop culture analyst. Several of you pointed out that I got the article wrong. Here is the correct article. I'm glad that those who read this blog communicate with me and tell me when I've messed something up. This article focuses on Allen Iverson, a basketball player who has been the NBA's MVP and scoring champion. Yet Gladwell shows that numbers aren't everything and that Iverson may not have been as valuable to his team as some thought.

So there's that. While you go about your day, think about one other type of False Humilty: False Affirmation Hungry Humility. When you have this tendency, you present yourself as fundamentally humble and others-centered. Yet when someone compliments, or even gives a whiff of a positive statement about you, you jump. You perk up, you visibly brighten, your breathing gets faster, and you implore the person who just uttered the supposed compliment to repeat it. Or, in a variation of this tendency, you cast around for compliments, giving your conversational partners plenty of opportunity to notice that you're sad and humble and desperately unpraised. "Well, I really stunk out there tonight...I'm no good at anything." Such statements invite the affirmation of others.

Now there's clearly a place for needing and wanting encouragement. We all do. But it's better to train ourselves to not depend on it. It's better to be happy when it comes rather than relieved when it comes. We need encouragement, yes, of a personal kind. But we need it when it's given to us, if that makes sense. In other words, when it comes, you have received what you needed. When it does not come, find encouragement in other things--like the gospel of salvation. If it doesn't encourage you that Christ loved you enough to die for you, then I don't know what will. Besides that, be part of an encouraging environment. Encourage others and they will do the same for you. By focusing on them, you'll actually find you need less affirmation than before.

Then you'll truly be a valuable "team" member. Haha.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

False Providential Blessing Humility

With this one you have to be careful, because there is definitely a place for giving thanks to God for His work in our lives. In fact, we must do this. And we need not do it only when praying privately to God. God is richly glorified when we tell of His great works to others. We ought never to equate recounting His work with false humility.

That said, it is yet entirely possible to show false humility and to brag when purporting to tell others of God's work. That is to say, I can be telling you about how great I am when I am supposedly telling you how great God is. Where's the line here, you say? Well, this is tricky. I guess I would say that this is a matter of motive and common sense. Is your motive to tell someone you scored 20 points in the game to give praise to God or to puff yourself up? Is your motive to tell others that your wife is incredibly beautiful to give praise to God or to puff yourself up? Is your motive to tell others how your church's attendance has gone up 300% in the last year to give praise to God or to puff yourself up? In the end, only you and God know. It is important, then, that you ask yourself before telling such things to others, why am I sharing this? And who does this make look good--God or me?

I can honestly say that there are times when it is appropriate to share stories of God's providential blessing. In fact, such sharing is biblical--look at the Psalms. People are constantly recounting what God has done. And Paul often cites his apostleship to register his authority with others. But look closer at these examples. In the Psalms, speaking generally, the focus of the story is God, not man. And with Paul, he is often defending his apostleship to those who deride him. So we can take a couple principles from these examples. One, to avoid False Providential Blessing Humility, put the focus on what God has done, not on what you have done (or what you say He has done through you). Two, be careful to choose well when you sprinkle conversation with news of God's blessing. If you're constantly telling people how big your church has gotten, and citing impressive statistics, I'm going to go out on a limb and say you're probably praising yourself as much as God.

Giving thanks to God for your abilities and circumstances can certainly be authentic and genuine. However, it can also be a disguise for bragging, and I see this a fair amount in Christian circles. Remember the idea of the secular film crew--if they followed you around and filmed your life, would they catch you over and over recounting to others what great and amazing things God has done for you? Or would they catch you humbly and carefully citing His providence, showing joy for it but taking care to keep the focus on Him?

Again, only you--and God--knows.