Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Typhoon Ketsana and Weakness

Neil Postman (among others) argue that the information we glean from the news (TV) is largely unhelpful. We see things that have no affect on our immediate lives, nor can we affect most of the the things we see. What is it's point? he asks. While there are some pieces of international information that are indeed extraneous, one can't help but praise God that he has made us aware (sometimes painfully so) of the world's sufferings and joys. Can we physically affect most of the things we see on TV? Of course not. But can we pray? Of course we can and should. And, perhaps more importantly, can we be transformed by the goings on of the world? Yes.

Such is the case with Typhoon Ketsana. Seeing these pictures (especially the one below of the drowned child) profoundly challeneges my American sensibilities. We have it so incredibly easy. And so, to some degree, I am made weak as I experience, in spirit, the sufferings of my brothers and sisters in the Philippines (see 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10). And for that, I am joyful.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Trunk Monkey

Only because I can, the best commercials ever:

New Tim Keller Book: Introduction

Here, for free.

We Worship God Because He is Delightfully Wonderful

I am going slowly through Don Carson's essay on the definition of worship in his edited volume Worship by the Book. It is really quite something. One section, in particular, knocked the wind out of me (pp. 30-31):
What ought to make worship delightful to us is not, in the first instance, its novelty or its aesthetic beauty, but its object: God himself is delightfully wonderful, and we learn to delight in him.

In an age increasingly suspicious of (linear) thought, there is much more respect for the "feeling" of things—whether a film or a church service. It is disturbingly easy to plot surveys of people, especially young people, drifting from a church of excellent preaching and teaching to one with excellent music because, it is alleged, there is "better worship" there. But we need to think carefully about this matter. Le us restrict ourselves for the moment to corporate worship. Although there are things that can be done to enhance corporate worship, there is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship. In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself. Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God. As a brother put it to me, it's a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset.

This point is acknowledged in a praise chorus like "Let's forget about ourselves, and magnify the Lord, and worship him." The trouble is that after you have sung this repetitious chorus three or four times, you are no farther ahead. The way you forget about yourself is by focusing on God—not by singing about doing it, but by doing it. There are far too few choruses and services and sermons that expand our vision of God—his attributes, his works, his character, his words. Some think that corporate worship is good because it is lively where it had been dull. But it may also be shallow where it is lively, leaving people dissatisfied and restless in a few months' time. Sheep lie down when they are well fed (cf. Ps 23:2); they are more likely to be restless when they are hungry. "Feed my sheep," Jesus commanded Peter (John 21); and many sheep are unfed. If you wish to deepen the worship of the people of God, above all deepen their grasp of his ineffable majesty in his person and in all his works.
He goes on to say that finding God most delightful is quite practical insofar as it determines who we are:
This is not an abstruse theological point divorced from our conduct and ethics. Nor is it an independent point, as if there were two independent mandates: first of all, worship God (because he deserves it), and then live rightly (because he says so). For worship, properly understood, shapes who we are. We become like whatever is our God.

Monday, September 28, 2009

I am Just Like Michael Moore

Russell Moore today on Michael Moore's new film:
But the more I think about it, Michael Moore isn’t all that different from me, and most of the Christians I know.

Michael Moore believes (I’ll take him and face value) that the market system is destructive and evil, and should be replaced with something else. He just doesn’t want to live in the “something else.”

I believe the market system is often destructive and evil, and everything it could be replaced with is even more dehumanizing, until it’s replaced with the kingdom of Christ.I don’t mind a limited, bounded market system (one that is people-centered; treats workers right, respects the creation, maintains local traditons and the social order).

But I also know what I’ve received from the prophets and apostles of Jesus. The issue, ultimately, isn’t the economic system itself (although that’s important). It’s the rebellion of money-worship and greed.

I know as a follower of Christ Jesus that one of the most dangerous forces in this age is the passion for money or, more often, the passion for things. I know what Jesus has taught us that Mammon is a god, and a jealous one at that.

And yet, I’m able to know this, believe this, think this, while having too many of my decisions made by “care for tomorrow,” even though I’m able to repeat back from memory what Jesus said about this.

Yes, Michael Moore is a hypocrite. But aren’t we all. And shouldn’t his hypocrisy remind us to take up the plank in our own eye, and start giving away some money, some stuff, from our homes and, more importantly, from our affections.

Black Magic Video

Why All the Denominations?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Windows 7, So Cool. Windows Marketing, So Lame

On the previously posted Windows 7 Party! video, Wired:
This one’s especially astounding because the Windows 7 operating system is surprisingly cool — so it was difficult to conceive that the product’s marketing team could be so utterly lame. You’d have to be a neutered space alien to identify with any of these soulless beings gathering for a “launch party” for Windows 7. Because, sure, sane human beings do that. The last time I saw a video with such an awkwardly eerie vibe was when I wrote a research paper on the Heaven’s Gate cult. Yeah, you know — that video they shot right before they committed mass suicide. Same feeling.
See the other 8 outrageously annoying tech vids here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Cosby Show Bloopers

The best.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Jesus Wouldn't Participiate in a Hedge Fund!

He wouldn't?! Crazy! I was sure "Render to Casear" meant "Get yourself into an aggressively managed portfolio of investments that uses advanced investment strategies such as leveraged, long, short and derivative positions in both domestic and international markets with the goal of generating high returns!" Back to seminary for me. Maybe MM can recommend one.

Throw a Windows 7 Download Party!

I can't wait to hold my multi-racial, multi-gender, multi-generational, mutil-nerdy Windows 7 download party!

Did Willow Creek make this video? I feel like I need to take a de-patronizing shower.


You Must Know That God Loves You

Richard Lovelace, quoted in Tim Keller's The Prodigal God, p. 54:
[People] who are no longer sure that God loves and accepts them in Jesus, apart from their present spiritual achievements, are subconsciously radically insecure persons.... Their insecurity shows itself in pride, a fierce, defensive assertion of their own righteousness, and defensive criticism of others. They come naturally to hate other cultural styles and other races in order to bolster their own security and discharge their suppressed anger.

Parenting in Weakness

I linked to this sermon earlier this week but decided to pull it out into its own post. It is that good. It's by Dave Harvey and is called "Parenting in Weakness." I am also in the middle of his great marriage book When Sinners Say I Do.

Download it here or listen to it below (there are two longish intros to forward through):

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

It is Our Highest Pleasure, to Love Him Beyond Measure

John Newton (italics mine):
Shall men pretend to pleasure,
Who never knew the Lord,
Can all the worldling's treasure
True peace of mind afford!
They shall obtain this jewel
In what their hearts desire,
When they by adding fuel
Can quench the flame of fire.

Till you can bid the ocean,
When furious tempests roar,'
Forget its wonted motion,
And rage and swell no more;
In vain your expectation
To find content in sin,
Or freedom from vexation,
While passions reign within.

Come turn your thoughts to Jesus,
If you would good possess
Tis he alone that frees us
From guilt and from distress:
When he by faith is present
The sinner's troubles cease;
His ways are truly pleasant,
And all his paths are peace

Our time in sin we wasted,
And fed upon the wind;
Until his love we tasted,
No comfort could we find:
But now we stand to witness
His power and grace to you;
May you perceive its fitness,
And call upon him too!

Our pleasure and our duty,
Though opposite before
Since we have seen his beauty,
Are join'd to part no more:
It is our highest pleasure,
No less than duty's call,
To love him beyond measure,
And serve him with our all.

The Sponge to Jesus' Lips

Driscoll recently went to Israel. He picked up a tidbit there that influenced drastically his understanding of one portion of scripture:

I can't know for certain that he's right. Cultural history like this can't be applied monolithically. But his point is well taken, nonetheless.

Mysticism Keeps Men Sane

G.K. Chesterton, in Orthodoxy, p. 23:
Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also. Thus he believed that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven, but nevertheless ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth. He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not. It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

So Many Links (22 Sept 2009)

Heh: We've had too little government.

Bon Iver, irrelevant.

Obligatory: 16 year-old girl bags 10 foot gator with crossbow.

Ah, Munich's Oktoberfest. I shall make it to this someday.

10 ways sports starts go bankrupt.

Interview with Derek Webb.

Brilliant kid wisely runs away on account of bacon being taken away:

New Calvinism: Its Pitfalls

Most people consider Mark Driscoll the MMA fighter of the Christian world. But in truth, he is Kimbo Slice compared to Carl Trueman. Armed only with a pen, Trueman consistently obliterates those in his path (with decidedly British flair). His corrective prose is always worth reading and usually is spot on.

Such is especially the case with his newest article, "The Nameless One," as he reflects on the pitfalls of the new resurgence of Calvinism, or the "Young, Restless and Reformed," as he refers to them (YYR). If you're interested in some inside-baseball, read away. Personally, his cautions cut out my heart several times as I am a guy who consistently desires fame (that will never come) more than faithfulness.

Here are a few blurbs that burned my fingers as I read:
One striking and worrying aspect of the movement is how personality oriented it is. It is identified with certain big names, rather than creeds, confessions, denominations, or even local congregations. Such has always been the way with Christianity to some extent. Luther was a hero, both in his own time and for subsequent generations, and he is hardly alone. The names of Owen, Edwards, and Spurgeon, to list but three, also have great cachet; and, if we are honest, there are things which we all find in their writing which are scarcely unique to them but which we are inclined to take more seriously because it is these men who wrote the words on the page....

The significance of the leaders of the YRR movement, however, seems less like that of ages past and at times more akin to the broader cultural phenomenon of the modern cult of celebrity, a kind of sanctified Christian equivalent of the secular values that surround us. The world has Brad, Anjelina, Tom, Barack, and so on; the Christian world has - well, I am sure the reader is quite capable of filling in the blanks. All too often we're a bit too much like the church in Corinth, with its Christian competitive equivalents to pagan Sophists.


The supply side economics of the YRR movement is also worrying here, as it can easily foster such idolatry by building up a leader's importance out of all proportion to his talent. Let's face it: no preacher is so good that his every sermon deserves to be printed or his every thought published; but some contemporary leaders are heading fast in that direction, and this can only fuel their cultic significance for those needing someone to follow. Come on, chaps, everyone preaches a disastrous clunker once in a while; and many actually preach them with remarkable and impressive regularity. The world therefore does not need to read every word you ever utter from a pulpit; and not every electrical impulse which sparks between the synapses in your grey matter needs to be written down, turned into yet another expository commentary, and sold for 15% net royalties at the local Christian bookshop.

If leader-as-celebrity-and-oracular-source-of-all-knowledge is one potential problem in the YRR culture, then another concern is the apparent non-exportability of the models of church on offer. Everyone knows the amazing works that have been done through the ministries of men like Tim Keller in Manhattan and Mark Driscoll in Seattle; but the track record of exporting the Redeemer or Mars Hill models elsewhere is patchy at best, raising the obvious question of whether these phenomena are the result less of their general validity and more of the singular talents of the remarkable individuals. To be clear, this is in no way to suggest that these churches are not faithful; but it is to ask whether they are not more unique and unrepeatable than is often acknowledged. If the secret lies in the gifts of the individual leader, then time spent trying to replicate the models elsewhere with less talented or differently gifted leaders is doomed to failure and a waste of time.


Ultimately, only the long term will show if the YRR movement has genuinely orthodox backbone and stamina, whether it is inextricably and inseparably linked to uniquely talented leaders, and whether `Calvinism is cool' is just one more sales pitch in the religious section of the cultural department store. If the movement is more marketing than reality, then ten to fifteen years should allow us to tell. If it is still orthodox by that point, we can be reasonably sure it is genuine. Indeed, when torn jeans, or nose rings, or ministers talking about their sex lives from the pulpit become passé or so commonplace that they cease to be distinctive, we will see if it is timeless truth or marketable trendiness which has really driven the movement; and, even it proves to have been the latter, we should not panic. We will still be left with the boring, mundane and nameless people and culturally irrelevant and marginal churches - the nameless ones -- upon whose anonymous contributions, past and present, most of us actually depend.

"We Want A Moment to Say Hello and Goodbye"

See the story below of a woman implanted with the wrong embryo. She decides to keep the baby.

Though the story is terribly sad, their decision to keep the baby shows that they have faith in a God who will bring about good from tragedy. It is the faithless who would heap tragedy upon tragedy, ending the life of the baby for supposed relief.

Gollum Plays Screwtape

AKA, Andy Serkis. So cool (and creepy):


Prayer: One of the Surest Marks of a True Christian

J.C. Ryle:
A habit of prayer is one of the surest marks of a true Christian. All the children of God on earth are alike in this respect. From the moment there is any life and reality about their religion, they pray. Just as the first sign of the life of an infant when born into the world is the act of breathing, so the first act of men and women when they are born again is praying.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dating Montage

Why the John Edwards Story Matters

A close relative of mine has been smoking for years, though she thinks no one knows. Of course everyone knows. And that's the case with John Edwards, former presidential candidate. So fascinated he is with himself that he continues to perpetuate the likely lie that he is not the father of Rielle Hunter's baby. Perhaps that will change soon.

But why does this story matter to us? Russell Moore, in an excellent post, tells us why:
It matters because it highlights, first of all, a key cause of the poverty Sen. Edwards once commendably made a central aspect of his presidential campaign. Numberless children wake up in grinding poverty because their fathers are “deadbeat dads” just like (if the story is true) Edwards, just without the means to secretly transfer funds for child support.

In admitting the affair, Edwards tells us he fell due to his narcissism. He started to see himself as “special,” and exempt from the boundaries of marriage and fatherhood. Of course he did. So does the impoverished teenage boy who skips town when his girlfriend sees two pink lines. So does the middle-aged mid-level success story who offers $300 to his paramour to “put it all behind us.”

Former Edwards aides are stunned by his recklessness. He was willing to put the Democratic Party’s entire electoral fortunes at risk. What, they ask, if he had won the nomination before this story broke? But every man drunk on the buzz of hormonal desire and ego-stroking is just as reckless, just relative to whatever he has.

Edwards risked more than his career or his party or even his country. He risked, if the stories are true, his little daughter’s very identity.

And that’s where it matters to us. Because no matter how many jokes are made about the “Brek Girl candidate,” we’re all vulnerable here.

Every Chapter Will Be Better than the One Before It

Randy Alcorn, on suffering and evil (see also his new book If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil):

One Sentence Movie Reviews

Twilight: I don't get it.

Knowing: Intriguing plot, some truly harrowing cinematography, lame conclusion.

Yes Man: A covenant that leads, ultimately, to new life? Nice (and funny).

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Whereas the previous films have inserted humanity in ways that have made them feel disjointed, this one blends all elements seamlessly; a great movie.

Do You Pray Before Sex?

No? Perhaps you just can't find the right words. A new Roman Catholic book, titled Prayer Book for Spouses, has you covered. They call it "Prayer before making love":
Father, send your Holy Spirit into our hearts. Place within us love that truly gives, tenderness that truly unites, self-offering that tells the truth and does not deceive, forgiveness that truly receives, loving physical union that welcomes. Open our hearts to you, to each other and to the goodness of your will,” it says. “Cover our poverty in the richness of your mercy and forgiveness. Clothe us in true dignity and take to yourself our shared aspirations, for your glory, forever and ever. Mary, our mother, intercede for us. Amen.”
Epic Fail? Gene Veith thinks not:
Would this be a mood killer? Or is it actually sexy? If the former, that would demonstrate Lauren Winner’s point in her book Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity, that sex has become so disordered that extramarital sex has become the model for marital sex. In this view, sex has to seem transgressive and illicit in order to be stimulating. Whereas, in reality, sex in marriage is a good work, a normal part of household life, and a true blessing of God. Married people have the authority to have sex by virtue of the office and the vocation that unmarried people do not. We need to recover sex as a family value.
Genius. Here's to discovering God-centered sex!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ninja Parade

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Abortion is Different

David Koyzis, on the specious notion that the issue of abortion is equal in significance with the issues of protecting the environment, minimum wage and health care:
[N]ot all issues necessarily have the same import or significance—something the language of morality may mask. In fact, there is a qualitative difference between abortion and the cluster of issues touched on above. In the case of the latter, no one disputes that the environment must be protected; the current debate revolves around how best to do so. Some favour a market-oriented approach, while others are convinced that government must play a central role. Again no one denies the desirability of furnishing the best health care to all citizens. Disagreement arises over whether this is best done through private or public insurance plans. . . .

[. . . ]

Abortion is different. Here the quarrel is not over the best way to protect the unborn; it is precisely over whether to do so at all. Those believing women should have the right to terminate a pregnancy hold this position despite the presence of the vulnerable child. Those who believe that the unborn deserve protection do so because of the child’s presence. This fundamental disagreement over what is at stake is what sets the abortion issue apart from most others. Proponents of the so-called consistent life ethic generally fail to comprehend this. Such bishops as Denver’s Charles Chaput are right to make a fuss over Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. Abortion is not merely a private opinion; it is a clear matter of justice that needs to be addressed head on.
On this topic, see also this post.

HT: Joe Carter

Five Word Acceptance Speeches


The Logocentric Child

Wonderful article over at Touchstone today on the education of children at the expense of their being "normal." Mark Mitchell, the author, writes:
Are we raising kids who won’t fit in? I have asked this of myself regularly over the past few years. My wife and I are educating our three boys at home. We don’t watch television (only an occasional video). We emphasize books. We read to the kids and make them memorize poetry. We pray together on our knees. In many ways, our kids are culturally ignorant. They don’t know about Disney World. The other day, my five-year-old asked, “Who is Mickey Mouse?”

So I guess the answer to the question has to be yes. But the “yes” is a qualified one, for when one considers the concept of “odd,” one should ask, “compared to what?” This moves us in a helpful direction, for if “normal” is merely what everyone else does, then what is normal changes with the times. What is odd in one time might not be odd in another. On the other hand, if “normal” refers to a proper way of being human, and if human nature is unchanging, then what is odd, in the sense of being opposed to the majority, may in fact be normal.

As we consider exactly what, in our culture, sets the odd kids apart, it seems to me that the clearest and brightest line can be drawn when we ask the following question: Will your kids be raised primarily on books or on television? To put it another way: Will your children be educated in a logocentric environment, where the written and spoken word is the primary conveyer of meaning, or will they ingest most of their information through electronically generated images?
The whole thing is worth your time and reflection.

The only caveat I would add--and I most surely do not say this with any undergirded fortitude--is that it seems there is a cost associated with education like this, and that cost is public involvement and evangelism. Perhaps this hasn't always been the case (classical education used to be the norm). But times have changed and education is drastically different (and probably deficient). So my question is, what do we value more? The education of our kids or unbelievers in public school? Or, said perhaps less inflammatorily, is there a balance we can strike between sequestering our kids for their proper education and their involvement with the public so that they may spread the good news?

I met a guy recently who is vehemently opposed to both private Christian school and home school for the simple reason that evangelism can't happen when you aren't around unbelievers. My guess is that Mitchell would say evangelism will be a natural outworking of the grounded and studious "moral imagination." I am not so sure. I have about three years before I have to decide.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Good News: Only 8% of NJ Residents Think Obama is the Anti-Christ

13% aren't sure, which clearly means they haven't read Revelation 20 yet. Had they, the choice would have been obvious.

David Powlison on Marital Intimacy

The three questions to deepen intimiacy:

1. What are your burdens? (Start with yourself)
2. What was today's greatest joy?
3. Where are you going? (What is your purpose in life? What is your mission?)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Breakup Record to God

Oh, I mean a breakup record about a "particular narrative about God." Brilliant.

David Bazan. So awesome, so weird. I came into Pedro the Lion's stuff way late, but I am glad I finally saw the light. Bazan's sound is always unique and his lyrics always insightful and provocative. I am still haunted by his tune "Rapture" about a cheating spouse.

Bazan used to be a fundy evangelical. But rather than be really weird and stay a Christian in da biz, he went the boring way and has allowed his faith to "evolve." Indy that is not. He consistently dips his toes in heretical sounding prose now (I heard him at a show talk about "Jebus"), but at least he's honest about his war against God.

Anyway, here's an interview with him on ABC:

On a side note, does anyone else get the feeling that that reporter might be a Christian? He's the one who has done the segments on Mars Hill and Driscoll. Just wondering.


So Many Links (15 Sept 2009)

Sex, Lies and Abortion.

Four of the top Five of the most read Christian blogs are "Reformed." Does that mean there really has been a resurgence of Reformed theology, or just a lot of white Calvinist dudes who live in their mom's basements with nothing better to do?

Really boring, but somewhat helpful posts on productivity tools.

Of course jellyfish are good weapons.

"When basketball wanted to celebrate Jordan as the greatest player ever, wanted to honor him for changing basketball everywhere, he was petty and punitive. Yes, there was some wink-wink teasing with his beloved Dean Smith, but make no mistake: Jordan revealed himself to be strangely bitter. You won, Michael. You won it all. Yet he keeps chasing something that he’ll never catch, and sometimes, well, it all seems so hollow for him."

The world's greatest unknown hero dies.

"Let me go on the record as saying I was disappointed to see the death of the TNIV. It was a magnificent and artfully crafted work that consistently held to its translation guidelines. And part of its beauty was that it was not colloquial," says the guy who led the ESV translation team.

Best word of the day ever? Crapulous.

Marriage analogy video of the day:

Dawkins Gets Theism Better Than Some

In a debate over at the WSJ, Dawkins writes on the silly notion that God need only exist in our heart, not that he needs to exist objectively:
Now, there is a certain class of sophisticated modern theologian who will say something like this: "Good heavens, of course we are not so naive or simplistic as to care whether God exists. Existence is such a 19th-century preoccupation! It doesn't matter whether God exists in a scientific sense. What matters is whether he exists for you or for me. If God is real for you, who cares whether science has made him redundant? Such arrogance! Such elitism."

Well, if that's what floats your canoe, you'll be paddling it up a very lonely creek. The mainstream belief of the world's peoples is very clear. They believe in God, and that means they believe he exists in objective reality, just as surely as the Rock of Gibraltar exists. If sophisticated theologians or postmodern relativists think they are rescuing God from the redundancy scrap-heap by downplaying the importance of existence, they should think again. Tell the congregation of a church or mosque that existence is too vulgar an attribute to fasten onto their God, and they will brand you an atheist. They'll be right.

Practicing the Presence of God

I don't do this well. Because I releagate God to my quiet times in the morning, I am much more prone to sin. If I were mindful of God always, would I not be more apt to live in holiness? John White writes well on this subject in The Fight: A Practical Handbook to Christian Living, p. 35-36:
It is good to have a set time to meet with God daily. But it becomes a bad thing if you feel that communion is confined to that brief period. Meister Eckhart, an old mystic, urged Christians to carry from their secret meeting with God "the same frame of mind" into the world around them. You see, you do not leave God when you go from the quiet place any more than he leaves you. A "quiet time" is a "tuning in" time. You should not switch off the radio once you have tuned in to God's wavelength. Thomas Kelly in his book Testament of Devotion talks about living on two planes at once. Impossible as it may seem, it is the unusual privilege of the Christian to be aware of God at all times. Brother Lawrence in the little book The Practice of the Presence of God speaks simply and straight-forwardly of the same thing.

You need not constantly be formulating verbal petitions, but like the psalmist you may enjoy the Lord "always before your face." It may be that such a practice is what Paul refers to when he urges us to "Pray constantly" (1 Thess. 5:17). You may leave the room where you pray, but you do not have to leave the inner sanctuary deep inside your being.

Still, old habits of mind may be hard to overcome. Most of the time, whether we are aware of it or not, our minds are occupied at the same time with the intellectual tasks on hand or the impression we think we are making on those around us or how much time we have or a hundred other things. "Pure concentration" on one task is almost impossible. Our minds function simultaneously on various levels even when we are concentrating hard on a mathematical problem. The capacity to carry out our tasks efficiently while we continue to praise God presents no difficulty as far as our brain function is concerned. Our difficulty is simply that old habits of thought want to reassert themselves and crowd out what is most needed.

The Holy Spirit wishes to make us more aware of God at all times. Just as we wander in thought when having devotions, we will constantly wander in thought all day long. And each time we become aware of doing so, it is because God is getting through to us again. Don't waste time kicking yourself when you wake up to the fact that your thoughts have been anywhere but where they should be. Immediately say, "Thank you, Lord. Thank you because you never cease to speak to me. Thank you that you are always near."

How Do You Take Compliments?

More from Tim Keller's lectures on self-esteem:

The way you take compliments says a lot about how you view yourself. People who do not take compliments well usually have a low view of the self. That is, people who have a hard time taking compliments are usually so desperate for compliments that when they finally receive them, they feel like their deep, secret desire for approval has been exposed. The resulting reaction is embarrassment, not thankfulness.

Keller says that compliments should be received not as evidences of how great you are but as evidences of God working in your life. Take compliments as though God is giving them to you. they are gifts. Practically, this would mean you be thankful to the one giving the compliment, but not saying pietistic things like "Praise the Lord!"

Monday, September 14, 2009

Write and Speak Clearly

Advice to children is foundational. Thus, this foundational advice is just as useful for us grown-ups. C.S. Lewis, writing to children, on clearness in writing and speaking:
  1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn't mean anything else.
  2. Always prefer the clean direct word to the long, vague one. Don't implement promises, but keep them.
  3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean "More people died" don't say "Mortality rose."
  4. In writing, don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the things you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us the thing is "terrible," describe it so that we'll be terrified. Don't say it was "delightful"; make us say "delightful" when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers "Please, will you do my job for me."
  5. Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say "infinitely" when you mean "very"; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

Self-Esteem: Three Kinds of People

I have been listening to Tim Keller's lectures on self-esteem, and his insight is helpful, especially as it is in contrast to the way the world views the subject.

In response to the question, "Why talk about self-esteem when the Bible seems to downplay that idea? That is, Paul consistently says to think lowly of oneself. How do you square that?" Keller says that there are three types of people.

The Self-Confident

The self-confident who are people who are preeminently successful. That is, they have succeeded in life in such a way that the things they think they need in life, they have gotten. Money, success, sex. But this produces arrogance, not humility, because they have attained these things on their own merit. And, in truth, they are living life on a bubble.

The Self-Conscious

These are people who are preeminently unsuccessful. They are low in spirit and esteem because they have set up for themselves idols in their lives--things they think they need--and have not gotten them. So this makes them not humble but self-loathing.

The Self-Forgetful

These are people who put their trust not in themselves, but in Christ. And this makes them preeminently humble, because (1) it doesn't matter where they have succeeded in life because everything is a gift from God anyway and it all could be taken away at any moment, and (2) it doesn't matter if you haven't succeeded in life because the God of the universe (the only person that matters) has accepted you as you are. And the outwork of this is that people who trust in Christ and his merit for everything think of themselves less. Or, as Keller wrote in The Reason for God, p. 181:
The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.

A Sweet Fragrance and Foul Stench

D.A. Carson, on 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, in For the Love of God (Sept. 13):
Before God Paul himself is an aroma, "the aroma of Christ among both those who are being saved and those who are perishing" (2:15). "To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life" (2:16). in other words, Paul insists that he does not himself change, depending on his audience. He is the same aroma; he proclaims the same Gospel, the same discipleship, the same Christ, the same way to live. Whether he is perceived to be a sweet fragrance or a foul stench does not depend on some change in him, but on the people who must deal with him. Implicitly, the Corinthians must recognize that some animus against the apostle is the animus of the unregenerate heart. "And who is equal to such a task?" (2:16).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Whatever You Read, Read That First

J.C. Ryle:
Do not let newspapers, novels, and romances be read, while the prophets and Apostles be despised. Do not let the exciting and sensual swallow up your attention, while the edifying and the sanctifying can find no place in your mind.

Young men, give the Bible the honor due to it every day you live. Whatever you read, read that first.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Keller, On Selecting Leaders

Tim Keller:
Most churches make the mistake of selecting as leaders the confident, the competent, and the successful. But what you most need in a leader is someone who has been broken by the knowledge of his or her sin, and even greater knowledge of Jesus' costly grace. The number one leaders in every church ought to be the people who repent the most fully without excuses, because you don't need any now; the most easily without bitterness; the most publicly and the most joyfully. They know their standing isn't based on their performance.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mute Math: Typical

I am sure the Indy-Rock Reaper is coming for me now, but I can't get enough of these guys:

We Have Not a Definition for Love, But an Example

It may be difficult to provide a perfect definition for Christian love. But it is not difficult to find its supreme example. Christ's love for us is not grounded in our loveliness, but in his own character. His love is not merely sentimental, yet it is charged with incalculable affection and warmth. It is resolute in its self-sacrifice, but never merely mechanical self-discipline. If we wish to come to terms with the apostolic depiction of Christian love as "the most excellent way"...that all believers must follow, we need only imitate Jesus Christ.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Obama is Boring. But Why?

Peggy Noonan:
Mr. Obama has grown boring. And it's not Solid Boring, which is fine in a president and may be good. It's sort of Faux Eloquent Boring, especially on health care. The president likely doesn't know this, and his people won't have told him because they don't know it either, but Mr. Obama always has the same sound, approach, logic, tone, modulation. He always has the same stance. There's no humor or humility in it. News is surprise, and he never makes news.
I don't disagree with her, that Obama is b-o-r-i-n-g. It's the why I might think differently about. She explains herself of course, and you can read away her diagnosis, but I can't help but think that the answer is just that we get bored very easily. We're a people "amusing ourselves to death" Postman said, exposing the dark side of the conjoining of picture and prose in our culture. It's not that we're unintelligent, it's that we're hyperactive. Images require serious engagement, but very little serious interaction. And so we get bored quite quickly and become increasingly irascible.

What is fascinating about all of this is that Obama ran on, and was elected based on, this very premise. New is good. It is the best. And boy was he new. But not anymore. He is so old (much less than a year, if you're counting). They say that Obama has spoken some half a million words in public since entering office. Of course they would think more Obama the better. But what they've missed is that too much of anything for contemporaneous Americans just won't do.

In my perfect world, politicians would be voted for based solely on their character and beliefs; that is, their substance. And this goes even for men and women I wouldn't vote for. By engaging with truth, ideas, it seems to me that the right kind of change would happen. As it stands, who knows what we have. Do any of our politicians actually believe anything resolutely?

I have heard that Obama's approval ratings have gone up since he sequestered himself at the Vineyard. If he's smart, he'll hide until Americans forget about him. In a year or so, his reappearance will be refreshingly new.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Mute Math: Chaos

Review of The Shack by Wax

Though I failed miserably at my attempt to get a review of The Shack done (I might pick it up again when things calm down), Trevin Wax does a decent job highlighting the good things and bad things about the book.
In the end, I found that The Shack wasn’t nearly as good as some had said, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as others had charged. It has everything positive about contemporary evangelicalism, and yet it has all the drawbacks of current evangelical expression too.

Mohler: Moralism is Not the Gospel

Al Mohler, on "Why Moralism is Not The Gospel":
Moralists can be categorized as both liberal and conservative. In each case, a specific set of moral concerns frames the moral expectation. As a generalization, it is often true that liberals focus on a set of moral expectations related to social ethics while conservatives tend to focus on personal ethics. The essence of moralism is apparent in both -- the belief that we can achieve righteousness by means of proper behavior.

The theological temptation of moralism is one many Christians and churches find it difficult to resist. The danger is that the church will communicate by both direct and indirect means that what God expects of fallen humanity is moral improvement. In so doing, the church subverts the Gospel and communicates a false gospel to a fallen world.


We sin against Christ and we misrepresent the Gospel when we suggest to sinners that what God demands of them is moral improvement in accordance with the Law. Moralism makes sense to sinners, for it is but an expansion of what we have been taught from our earliest days. But moralism is not the Gospel, and it will not save. The only gospel that saves is the Gospel of Christ. As Paul reminded the Galatians, "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons." [Gal. 4:4-5]

We are justified by faith alone, saved by grace alone, and redeemed from our sin by Christ alone. Moralism produces sinners who are (potentially) better behaved. The Gospel of Christ transforms sinners into the adopted sons and daughters of God.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

On the 7th Day the Lord...

Conan O'Brien--that's right, Conan O'Brien--last night on the announcement of the revision of the NIV Bible for 2011:
This is a weird story: The top-selling Bible in North America is being revised for the first time in 25 years to reflect changes in English usage. The language is changing so they're revising the Bible. For instance, the Book of Genesis now includes the line, "On the Seventh Day the Lord chillaxed."
HT: CT Liveblog (click over for the video, starting at 6:11)

Humility Agrees That All We Have is a Gift From God

1 Corinthians 4:6-7:
I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. 7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
John Piper comments:
Humility agrees and is glad that everything we have is a free gift of God, and that this severs the root of boasting in our distinctives. Whatever talents, whatever intelligence, what ever skills, whatever gifts, whatever looks, whatever pedigree, whatever possessions, whatever wit, whatever influence you have, put away all pride because it is a gift, and put away all despair because it is a gift from God.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

So Many Links (01 SEPT 2009)

Crazy: The TNIV is going off the market in 2011. Go buy as many as you can RB!

Word of the day: Fecund.

Of course running barefoot is better for you.

"The administration hasn’t been able to pull it off. From the stimulus to health care, it has joined itself at the hip to the liberal leadership in Congress. The White House has failed to veto measures, like the pork-laden omnibus spending bill, that would have demonstrated independence and fiscal restraint. By force of circumstances and by design, the president has promoted one policy after another that increases spending and centralizes power in Washington."

Good job: Brian McLaren takes part in Ramadan.

Doug Wilson responds.

Say it ain't so...Reading Rainbow cancelled? So long:

Churchless Christianity is the for the Immature

Kevin DeYoung (also in the post belwo this one) was interviewed by CT on his new book Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion. This was the standout quote:
You say people are disillusioned with the church for many reasons. Which is the hardest for people to get over?

I think the personal reasons are definitely the hardest and most frequent. There are enough sinners in all of our churches, and we need to be willing to listen to people when they are genuinely hurt. But I think a lot of this "church is lame" stuff is really immaturity.

Hopefully people will look back and say, "We were kind of like petulant children getting tired of our parents and thinking that they didn't know anything." Then you get married and have your own kids and realize, "Maybe I didn't always see everything as clearly as I thought I did."

Unfortunately, we have so many choices of churches that we don't have to work through those things (and the growth that God might want to give us through the painful process).

Mothers More Profoundly Affected By Childbirth Than Fathers

Interesting review this morn from Kevin DeYoung of Charles Murray's Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950. Though the whole thing is worth reading (Young talks about Murray's discovery that Christianity has had quite a lot to do with societies greatest accomplishments), one quote from the book stood out to me:
Exceptions exist, but, as a rule, the experience of pregnancy and birth appears to be a more profoundly life-altering experience for women than becoming a father is for men. So closely is giving birth linked to the fundamental human goal of giving meaning to one’s life that is had been argued that, ultimately, it is not so much that motherhood keeps women from doing great things outside the home as it is men’s inability to give birth that forces them to look for substitutes.

Ashmamed Not to Respond to Such Love

Bernard of Clairvaux:
On the contrary, the faithful know how utterly they stand in need of Jesus and him crucified. They wonder at and reach out to that supreme love of his, which passes all knowledge. They are shamed not to respond to such love and deserving with the little they have to give.