Friday, September 21, 2012

"But I'm Not A Reader"

If you are a Christian, you know that Bible reading, study, and meditation is not optional.

Now, it's not "required" in the sense that God gets ticked off if you don't tick off enough Bible reading boxes this week. It's not "mandatory" in the sense that a certain amount of Bible reading is necessary for entrance into God's good graces.

Bible reading is necessary in the way food is necessary to your body's survival; the way oxygen is necessary for breathing. It's "required" in the sense that you "do not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). Moses said, in Deuteronomy 32:47, "For it is no empty word for you, but your very life."

If you call yourself a Christian and want to survive spiritually and grow (rather than resembling tumbleweed or chaff - see Jeremiah 17:5-6 & Psalm 1:4), you must read and study and meditate on God's Word.

If that sounds like a burden, it ought to bother you. If that sounds like bad news, let me remind you that this is an invitation to chew on the sweet and savory good news of the gospel!

(Now for a little hypothetical dialogue)

“But I’m not really a reader.”

How many times have I heard that?! If I only had a dollar...

So what?! I’m not really a runner – but I need to exercise!
I’m not really a person who enjoys fasting – but I need it!

Let's be honest, you will read what you need to read. For school, for work, if your job depends on it, you will read. And, you will read what you want to read. There are things that come along that you want to read. Sports Illustrated? The newspaper? That cooking or decorating magazine? That NYTimes bestseller everyone is talking about?

“I don’t really have time to read.”

Rubbish. If you are watching more than 30 minutes of TV a week, you have time to read. If you have a commute, no matter how short, you can "read" by listening to the Bible on CD or mp3.

Do you know how many books you can read in 1 year if you read for 15 min a day? Check this math:
Suppose you read slowly like I do – maybe about the same speed that you speak - 200 words a minute. If you read fifteen minutes a day for one year (say just before supper, or just before bed), you will read 5,475 minutes in the year. Multiply that by 200 words a minute, and you get 1,095,000 words that you would read in a year. Now an average serious book might have about 360 words per page. So  you would have read 3,041 pages in one year. That’s ten very substantial books. All in fifteen minutes a day.
I'm all for lots of different kinds of reading, but let's just stick with Bible reading for now. Though it varies slightly depending on the translation, the Bible contains just under a million words. Look back at the math in the quote above. You could read the entire Bible in one year in just 15 minutes a day! Don't believe me? I dare you to test the theory.

Bottom line: If you're playing the "But I'm not a reader" card, I'm calling your bluff. Just be honest, you don’t want to’d rather watch TV. If you admit that, at least you’ve been humbly honest. And God gives grace to the humble…often through what they read!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Why Do You Go To Home Group?

From Growth Groups by Colin Marshall (pp 27-28):
The formation of community is often not rooted in the gospel of Jesus’ death for sinners. Small groups can draw together on a multitude of bases: personal needs, political agenda, stage of life, interests and so on. But groups of Christians are built on one distinct and unique foundation, being children of god through faith in his Son. If the gospel is not at the heart of the group, it may be a group of Christians but it is not a Christian group.
Groups preoccupied with community tend to become problem-centered. They become highly introverted, focusing on their own needs. If community is the aim, the ideal group is open, accepting and affirming—a haven for broken, alienated lives. It is very attractive, because we all have times of hurt, grief and disappointment living in this sinful world. A group that will put its collective arm around us and give a reassuring hug is not a bad idea. But such a group becomes problem-centered. The energy of the group is directed toward those with problems, and we all have problems all the time!
Christian groups are not primarily about helping people with their problems. You probably can’t believe you just read that! It sounds positively unchristian. But it is true. The focus of Christian groups is growth, not problems.
Take the case of someone in your group who is unemployed. In a problem-centered group, she will feel free to talk about this, the group will listen and empathize. They will ask at appropriate times how the job hunt is going and even join in searching out employment for her. They will be aware of associated problems such as self-esteem, and try to talk this through. When her cash flow gets really tight, they discreetly pass round the hat and but a week’s groceries. Others who have [lost a job] in the past become particularly helpful.
What a great group to be in! Who could ask for more? You could. Such a group, although made up of Christian people, is not distinctly Christian. There are many support groups in the community which would do the same things—some better, some worse.
In a growth-centered group, all of this will be done, and more! The distinctly Christian element is to pursue growth in the knowledge of God and obedience to him. So prayers will be offered, not only for a job, but for faith in Christ, patience, endurance, avoidance of self-pity and so on. Through group and private discussion, the unemployed woman will be strengthened in the great truths of God’s providence and taught to see her situation through God’s eyes. In other words, she will be helped to grow as a Christian.
If community is the goal, the small group has become the end rather than the means. Instead of meeting to hear and respond to God in his word, the functioning of the group is central. True Christian ministry will see small groups as a means to an end, in the best sense of the phrase. In relationship with each other, we teach the gospel and pray and spur each other on toward godliness of mind and action.
To summarize, our primary reason for joining a Growth Group must not be to get closer to each other, but to grow in Christ.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Default Position on Abortion

Justin Taylor posted this video of Peter Kreeft (professor of philosopher at Boston College and The Kings College) articulating a pro-life argument I had never heard. Though it may be a little hard to follow at first, it's actually quite simple and compelling. In order to make it easier to follow (and share) his argument, I've summarized it below.

Is an unborn human fetus fully human?

There are only four possibilities. Two objective possibilities. Two possibilities in your mind.

Two objective possibilities: That which is aborted is either 1) a human person or 2) it is not. These are the objective options. There is a reality outside of your mind, regardless of what you believe or know, and it is either the reality that the fetus is a human person or the reality that it is not.

Two in-your-mind possibilities: You either 1) know for sure what the fetus is or 2) you do not know for sure. These are the subjective options related to your own knowledge and beliefs.

When you put this together, it looks like this:

What is the fetus?
What do you know?
It is a human person.
You know it.
You kill it.

It is a human person.
You don’t know it.
You kill it.
Equivalent to intentionally driving over a man-shaped overcoat in the road, or shooting at the movement in the bushes when you do not know if it is a deer or a fellow hunter.
It is not a human person.
You don’t know it.
You kill it.
Criminal negligence.
Equivalent to fumigating a room with chemicals that would kill small children. The janitor is asked if there are any small children and he responds, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”
It is not a human person.
You know it.
You kill it.
No moral issue.

Conclusion: Even if you are unconvinced of the pro-life position, any lack of certainty should lead you to adopt the pro-life position as the default position. 

The Bible is transparently clear on the evil of abortion. It is murder of a human being made in the image of God. But we will often interact with those who do not embrace the worldview of the Bible.

Kreeft's argument is worth sharing in interactions of that sort, so that, even among those who do not share our faith commitments, the tide of popular opinion on abortion could be turned.

[Updated 9/20/12]


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Time Management Wisdom From Doug Wilson

I first read this shot of time management wisdom awhile ago, but ran across it again yesterday when I was cleaning off my desk a bit. I find (again) these seven points to be extremely helpful. So, I'm sharing. Emphasis is added.

1.The point is fruitfulness, not efficiency. You should want to be fruitful like a tree, not efficient like a machine.
But this fruitfulness is a function of God's blessing, and it is surrendered work that is blessed work. Seek that blessing, and seek it through concrete surrender. Such surrenders are not abstract. Put your Isaacs on the altar. Every interruption is a chance to surrender your work to the only one who can bless your work, particularly when the interruptions come from your kid wanting to play catch.
We can see the principle with the sabbath and the tithe. Less blessed is more than more unblessed. 90% blessed goes farther than 100% unblessed. 6 days blessed are far more fruitful than 7 days unblessed.
2. Build a fence around your life, and keep that fence tended. You should have a life outside your work, and your family should be enjoying that life together with you. Go to work at a reasonable, predictable time, and come home at a reasonable, predictable time. Keep your work on a regular schedule, not an absolute schedule. If the barn catches fire, allow that to interrupt your schedule. But if the barn catches fire three times a week, then perhaps some preventative thinking is in order. When you are driven by the tyranny of the urgent, most of the urgencies aren't. Let the fence hold.
3. Perfectionism paralyzes. Chesterton once wonderfully observed that anything worth doing is worth doing badly. The sign of a fruitful worker is that he understands the critical difference between "that won't cut it" and "that is just fine."
4. Fill in the corners. I typed the outline for this with my thumbs while sitting in a comfy chair at the mall while my wife was being a merchant ship that brings goods from afar. This was far more productive than staring vacantly at a neon Tito Macaroni's sign would have been. If you have a commute, use the time to listen to books instead of inane DJ chatter. If the books get too serious, or if you do, go back to the DJs.
Do not despise how much can be packed into small corners. I live in a small town, and so my commute is four minutes, more or less. There have been times when I have arrived at the office with the same song playing as when I pulled out of the garage. And yet I listened to David McCullough's John Adams like that. It was a great steak, and cutting it into little tiny pieces did not diminish the flavor at all.
5. Plod. Keep at it. Slow and steady wins the race. Truisms are true. Work adds up, provided you are doing it.
6. Take in more than you give out. If you give out more than you take in, you will . . . give out. Your lake should have snowmelt streams running into it. Every vocation requires constant learning, constant development.
7. Use and reuse. State and restate. Learn and relearn. Develop what you know. Cultivate what you have. Your garden plot is the same as it always was, so plow deeper. Envying the garden that others have cultivated plows nothing, and brings forth a harvest of nothing.
Strive for deep conviction more than superficial originality, and deep originality will come. Your tomatoes will take the ribbon at the fair, provided you learned how to grow them in your own dirt.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Joy: The Serious Business of Heaven

(A shorter version of this, sans pictures, originally appeared in the February 2010 installment of the now defunct "Bethel Bit" church newsletter.)

C.S. Lewis: 
I do not think that the life of Heaven bears any analogy to play or dance in respect of frivolity. I do think that while we are in this “valley of tears,” cursed with labour, hemmed round with necessities, tripped up with frustrations, doomed to perpetual plannings, puzzling, and anxieties, certain qualities that must belong to the celestial condition have no chance to get through, can project no image of themselves, except in activities which, for us here and now, are frivolous. For surely we must suppose the life of the blessed to be an end in itself, indeed The End: to be utterly spontaneous; to be the complete reconciliation of boundless freedom with order—with the most delicately adjusted, supple, intricate, and beautiful order? How can you find any image of this in the “serious” activities either of our natural or of our (present) spiritual life? Either in our precarious and heartbroken affections or in the Way which is always, in some degree, a via crucis? No, Malcolm. It is only in our “hours off,” only in our moments of permitted festivity, that we find an analogy. Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for “down here” is not their natural place. Here, they are a moment’s rest from the life we were placed here to live. But in this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of heaven.”
 -- Letters To Malcolm Chiefly On Prayer, 92-93

I used to view this quote as interesting and entertaining – I smiled when I read it – but I didn’t take it very seriously. It was a rare instance with Lewis as teacher, when I patronizingly patted him on the head and thanked him for his “interesting” thoughts.  Then I watched my children play one morning and I was rebuked. I returned to this quote with new humility, wanting to learn what he knew when he penned these words. I realized he was on to something much truer and deeper than I first gave him credit.

It was MLK Jr. Day, 2010, and the older kids were in school. The church office was closed and I took the morning off.

I sent Beth off to have some time alone and then walked with the little ones to Dunkin Donuts for a special breakfast.

On the way back from DD, we stopped in the field by the church and I watched as Lily and Jonathan climbed on the rocks and played hide-and-seek. It was so simple. Most of the time they knew before “seeking” where the other was hiding. Once or twice, Jonny even wanted to tell Lily where to hide before he went off to count. And yet they were perfectly satisfied. I wanted to offer advice on how to make it more exciting or less predictable, but it was altogether unnecessary for their enjoyment of the game. 

We later went to Rockford Manor with our backpack full of books and snacks and drinks. (Of course, I was the one who was bored and antsy in the hide-and-seek field and wanted to get on to the next thing!) I walked them in the stroller along the Rockwood paths to a little stone shelter that sits by the stream. As we unpacked our lunch, both Jonny and Lily were delighted to see the stream and wanted immediately to go down by the water. 

After we finished eating, we went to explore the stream. There were lots of rocks strewn about and they started throwing them into the water – little rocks plopping in and splashing little splashes, fistfuls of little rocks making shotgun spray splashes, bigger rocks making bigger splashes. It was all delightful to them and, if not for my need to get to work and Jonny’s naptime “need,” they could have stayed there happily throwing rocks, presumably, for hours. They were happy simply to be with me and to have me watch them. They wanted me to observe their joy and their play. “Daddy, watch this one!” “Daddy, look at this!” “Daddy, how about this?!” Later that night, as Beth was tucking Jonny into bed and asking him about his time by the stream, he said, “And I wanted to keep throwing rocks, but Daddy said we had to go home.”

All of this got me thinking about Lewis’s quote. I started thinking about it during hide-and-seek in the field and the truth of Lewis’ words were only further confirmed as our time together went on. Little children are usually the ones most blissfully ignorant of the effects of the Fall. They are the ones who are least aware of or affected by “this “valley of tears,” cursed with labour, hemmed round with necessities, tripped up with frustrations, doomed to perpetual plannings, puzzling, and anxieties.” And so they are free and satisfied simply to play. So content. So happy.  Their simple play yields such simple (in the old sense of ‘pure’) and full delight. We are the ones who foolishly try to (over)stimulate them with variety and change, most often because we ourselves have gotten bored or grown weary. It is usually the busy and harried parent who ends the game because “we have things we need to do.” Getting bored of simple fun seems to be the plague of growing up. Young children seem to be obliviously free from this malady. They can be wonderfully satisfied and repeatedly amused by the same simple fun. 

Now I do believe that the New Heavens and New Earth will be filled with industry and creativity and mind-blowing newness and variety and excitement, but it just might be more “simple” than my over-stimulated recreational taste buds anticipate. Have you ever eaten – no savored – a carrot after fasting for a few days? The carrot didn’t change. Your palate was cleansed and awakened to the true tastiness that was always there. 

When all the spiritual and personal and physical and emotional and interpersonal and vocational and political and national and international wars have been fought and peace becomes our overseer (Isa. 60:17), when “this “valley of tears” cursed with labour, hemmed round with necessities, tripped up with frustrations, doomed to perpetual plannings, puzzling, and anxieties” is turned to a garden of free and peaceful delight, how perfectly pure and intense will be the “simple” pleasures on our eternal Playground?! Or, to look at it the other way around, I think we can pretty well guarantee that Heaven will not be a Cosmic Chucky Cheese or Celestial Disneyland.

Matthew 18:3: 
Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Come, Lord Jesus, and give us childlike faith! Not childish faith that blindly ignores the ruin and pain of life in this Fallen world; not childish faith that shrinks back from the trouble and sadness, trying to fake an ignorant bliss; but childlike faith that is humbly satisfied with God himself as chief (or should I say, “simple”) Joy and End.

Come, Lord Jesus, and bring us home to our Eternal Playground! How long, Oh Lord, must we walk through this valley of tears? Help us wait in hope, believing that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Help us wait with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God, believing that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Rom. 8:18-21).

Oh, how happy we will be to simply be with Him, and to have him watch and smile on our “serious business” of playful joy. We need this joy en route to heaven. We need this joy in preparation for heaven. Lord, make us childlike pilgrims-in-progress that can’t wait to “enter into the joy of their master” (Mt. 25:21).

If "joy is the serious business of heaven," then “Come, Lord Jesus!" so we can get down to business!

I love the way G.K. Chesterton makes a similar point:
A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life.
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.
But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.
It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun: and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon.
It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.
It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.
—”The Ethics of Elfland,” chapter 4 in Orthodoxy.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Prodigal

We're going to be savoring Luke 15:11-32 this Sunday morning. Though the focus is not solely, or even primarily on the younger son, his part is a powerful one in Jesus' parable. If you've never heard it, you've got to go and listen to Keith Green's rendition entitled, "The Prodigal Son Suite" (it's a long song, but worth it - hang in there at the beginning, the instrumental prelude is a little long).