Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Book Review: Death By Living

We've been having the conversation again, I and my wife. You know the conversation and even if you haven't been part of the conversation (yet), you've surely been the subject of it. I'm talking, of course, about deciding what traits a child got from what parent or side of the family. You know, like, "He has his mom's eyes" or "She has her grandpa's smile" or "He gets his hair from his dad's side of the family".

Well, me and my girls are on vacation this week, visiting my wife's internet friends in the woods of Wisconsin (it's not as creepy or life-threatening as it sounds—though I still like joking about it). And it's been a landmark trip for my daughter. Last night she started swimming for the first time in our hotel pool (with the assistance of water-wings, of course). And—prompting the previously mentioned conversation—we found she's inherited one of her father's least-enviable traits: talking in her sleep. She woke us up at 3:45 in the morning chatting from dream land about seats, and turns, and other unintelligible things that are important to four year-olds. 

Why do I tell you all this in a book review? Because I have appreciated all of this more having recently read N.D. Wilson's latest book, Death By Living. His first book, Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl, was written to help you see (you can read my review of that book here). Help you see the world in all it's minute intricacies and all it's magnificent galaxies. Help you see the beauty, the grace, the fierce power, and—most importantly—the fingerprints all over everything. His second book, Death By Living, was written to help you live. And he does it primarily in showing that you're in a story, that your life is being written, and that it's a story worth the telling.

To put it simply, N.D. Wilson's first book will help you see the world as a work of art—and see the fingerprints in it, while his second book will help you live your life as part of a story—and see the pen-strokes in it.

N.D. Wilson continues to establish himself as one of my favorite
Christian authors and, while I have enjoyed his fiction, I hope his non-fiction library will be growing for years to come. Eric Metaxas has referred to Wilson as "a young Chesterton", but I for one am thankful that he is not nearly so challenging a read as the Chesterton I have occasionally ventured into.

His writing style is a refreshing departure from the standard "If A and B, therefore C" type of linear and argument-dependent Christian non-fiction. No, while he doesn't leave logic at the door with the coat-check, he is compelling while being conversational. He's is spinning, selling, and soliloquizing and most of the time he is storying. And because this book isn't an argument that can be boiled down into bare logical form, I don't feel compelled to do the usual book reviewer's dance saying things like "I agreed with this" or "his argument was weak here" or such other self-aggrandizing things.

Instead, I feel compelled only to say that, just as you could not read his first book and see the world the same way, you cannot read this book and live your life the same way.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Everyone. Christian and skeptic alike, pastor and plumber alike.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Meet a man who’s found his sweet spot

Arnold Farlow has run or ridden a lot of miles and worn a lot of hats in his career. He and his wife, Beth, rode their bicycles across the United States early in their marriage. He has ridden in 26 of the 50 states, and most of the counties in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. He has also completed four marathons, including the Boston.

Arnold’s career has included recruiting and teaching for the Adult Basic Education program at Alamance Community College. He has worked in real estate, at a carpet store, in college ministry, at Allied Churches of Burlington and has pastored two Methodist churches in the mountains. But since 2005, Arnold has served as the executive director of the rescue mission in Frederick, Md., and I believe he has found his sweet spot there. I recently had the opportunity to visit Arnold and see how he spends his days working toward the goal of the mission: to show Christ’s love and rescue the least, the last and the lost from poverty, homelessness and addiction.

“We focus on two objectives here at the mission,” Arnold said. “To change lives now. And to change lives for eternity.” In pursuit of the first goal, the mission served over 148,000 meals last year. They also gave away literally tons of clothing and groceries to those in need. In pursuit of the second, and more important, goal, Arnold said they open their doors every day to men who are wanting a life change, and who are willing to join the one-year residential program at the mission.

“The mission works to see eight changes in the men who live here,” Arnold said. “1 — Be passionate for Jesus. 2 — Be victorious over addiction. 3 — Be connected to a local church. 4 — Have a mentor or accountability partner. 5 — Be reconciled to his family as much as possible. 6 — Have a GED or appropriate level of education. 7 — Have a financially sustaining job. 8 — Have a safe and suitable place to live.”

It occurs to me that these are worthy goals for every man, whether he is homeless or not. What kind of changes would take place if every church were intentional about helping each of its members reach these goals?

I asked Arnold to tell me about the men who show up at the mission. He said, “There are basically three types of homeless people. There are the ‘chronically homeless.’ You could give them an apartment and groceries, and they’d be right back out there in that tent, or pushing that grocery cart. Many suffer from mental illnesses; others simply choose to remain homeless. Then there are what I call the ‘crisis homeless.’ These people have lost a job or a spouse or their health and have ended up on the street. They don’t know what to do so they come here. The final group is the crooks. They are gaming the system, dealing drugs, ripping people off.” Arnold smiled and said, “The problem is, all three of these can look the same. They don’t wear a nametag, telling us which group they’re in. So, we fish with a net, not a rod and reel. We love each one and try to help them. Jesus said, ‘As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you do it to Me.’”

As I met the staff at the mission and talked to some of the residents, one thing stood out to me. They love Arnold Farlow. Maybe that’s the key to the success he has found at the mission. He loves them with the love of Jesus. They love him back. Many of them stay around, get the help they need, and end up living healthy and productive lives.

Arnold came to know Jesus years ago after he ran his Datsun 240-Z into a telephone pole at 110 mph and walked away from it. “I knew there was somebody bigger than me who wanted me alive,” Arnold said. “A few months later, I came to know the Lord. Since then there’s always been this thought that what he’s done for me, everybody needs to know about it. That’s always driven me.”

If you drive through the hills and around the Civil War battlegrounds that dot the Frederick landscape, you may see Arnold riding his bike. He loves it. If you visit the mission in downtown Frederick, you will see Arnold helping the least, the last and the lost. He loves that even more.

He’s found his sweet spot.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Student Ministry and Literacy

Kyle Worley is the author of Pitfalls: Along the Path to Young and Reformed. He blogs at The Strife and is an assistant editor for Manual, the men's blog at CBMW (Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood).  He serves on staff at The Village Church Dallas and tweets at @kyleworley.
I was recently counseling a new student in my office and after we closed out our time together, as he was looking around my office, he said, “Why do you have so many books?”  After explaining to him that I loved to read, found books to be a helpful resource for my ministry, and that I believed Christians should develop a passion for good books since we are really a “people of The Book,” he looked at me and said, “You know…I have never read an entire book.”

In student ministry, I often hear small group leaders and parents bemoan the apathy that students have towards studying God’s word.  Students will often say, “I don’t like to read,” or, “I’m just not much of a reader.”  While I readily admit that it is not necessary that every young Christian share a passion for the written word, I believe that there is a deeper issue at play than personality differences and leisure time preferences.

I believe that there are three reasons that we should encourage literacy among our students and two opportunities we will miss if we don’t cultivate a deep passion for the life of the mind among young Christians. I don’t simply mean that we should teach our students “how” to read words on pages, but we should teach them how to weigh, evaluate, and entertain ideas.   When we do this, we will help cultivate a desire to know God’s word (the greatest Book) and at the same time, prepare them to be released as ministers of reconciliation into a world that is a flurry of competing narratives, worldviews, and ideas.

We should encourage literacy among our students because:

1.)  We are soaked with Word. 

In the beginning God created by speaking creation into being. In Genesis 1 we see God created the world by His Word.  Hebrews 1:3 says Christ “upholds the universe by the word of His power.” John 1:1 tells us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Apostle John uses “the Word” to designate the person of Christ Jesus.  Jesus is the incarnate Word.  He is the Word of God in flesh. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be compete, equipped for every good work.”

Christians are a people who are soaked with “word.”  We were created by the word of God, saved by the person and work of the incarnate Word of God, and we are equipped for the work of God by the word of scripture that God “breathed out.” God has not left His people in silence. He has spoken, saved, and sustained His people by the power of His word.

We see a beautiful picture of this in Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, in which the world is created from the song of the Iluvatar and Ainur.  The world is fashioned by the songs and words of the “heavenly host.”  The rest of Tolkien’s word rests easily in this world in which songs and stories of lore are not merely fanciful depictions, but communicate the deepest cosmic truth.

2.)  All truth, beauty, and goodness belong to the Lord.

As Abraham Kuyper once said, ““There is not one square inch in all of our human existence over which God does not cry, ‘Mine!’”

Romans 11:36 says, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”  Doesn’t that say it all? God is not merely the source of all truth, beauty, and goodness, but the standard by which every claim to truth, goodness, and beauty should be judged.  If we are going to send our students out into the world as “ministers of reconciliation,” than we must send them out knowing how to assess the truth, goodness, and beauty present in the stories they will encounter in the world.

The Gospel is a story, a true story that consists of a setting, conflict, and hero. Yet, there are countless aberrations and perversions of the true Gospel story, both within the Church (legalism, consumerism, and antinomianism) and outside of the Church (syncretism, nihilism, and materialism).  The way that we train our students to unmask “stories” that make false claims to truth, goodness, and beauty is by training them to read and love God’s word.

3.)  We are to love the Lord with our mind.

Christians should view literacy as doxological. God created us to love the Lord with our mind.  The life of the mind, in student ministries, is often devalued by a false dichotomy between the heart and the mind that is either implicit or explicit in our preaching and discipleship.

If we do not cultivate the life of the mind by encouraging literacy in our students we will miss:

A Unique Opportunity for Evangelism

We find ourselves in the midst of a culture that seems allergic of meaningful dialogue.  Sure, there are thousands of monologues broadcasted everyday on news stations and talk shows, but very little conversation is happening.  If we train up young Christians to critically engage the world around them, then we will be preparing them to have meaningful dialogue with people of various worldviews.

A Way to foster a Persuasive and Winsome Christian Witness

Francis Bacon famously said, “Reading makes a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.” If we are going to winsomely and persuasively engage the lost world around us, we must have something to say, be articulate enough to say it, and precise in saying exactly what we mean.  Encouraging literacy among our students will go a long way to developing young Christian minds in order that they can hold various narratives, worldviews, and ideas up to the measure of truth, goodness, and beauty contained in God’s Word.

This is a repost of an article Kyle wrote for Rooted: Grace-Driven Youth Ministry.

Monday, August 19, 2013

This is the best trade ever

If you take a college course and fail it, there is a wonderful mechanism in place. It’s called “taking the class over.” Whatever grade you get replaces the F you received the first time. Amazing! The F is no longer on your transcript. Now there is a nice shiny D there. For some, that’s enough. Others will take the course a third time, hoping the upward trend continues. The old goes away and there is something better in its place. That’s a good trade.

In his book “Love Does,” Bob Goff tells the story of his son Richard playing the game “Bigger and Better” with friends. You start out with a dime and the winning team at the end of the day is the one who has come back with the biggest and the best thing. So, Richard went to the first door and said, “Hi, we’re playing Bigger and Better. I’ve got a dime and I’m hoping to trade it for something bigger and better. Do you have anything you can trade me?” The guy at the door had never heard of the game, but he got excited about it and yelled to his wife, “Hey, Marge, there’s a kid here and we’re playing bigger and better. What do we have that’s bigger and better than a dime?” Richard walked away with a mattress. He and his buddies went to the next door and traded the mattress for a ping-pong table. They wheeled the table to the next house and traded it for an elk head. Bob said, “How cool is that? I would have stopped there, but Rich didn’t.” He kept trading up and that night, when Rich came home, he didn’t have a dime or a mattress, a ping-pong table or an elk head, or the other five things he had traded up for. Richard drove home in a pickup truck. No lie. He started with a dime and ended up with a Dodge. Now, that’s a really good trade.

What was the best trade ever? Not the $24 Peter Minuit gave in trinkets to buy Manhattan from the local Indians in 1626, though that was a steal. Not even the two cents per acre we paid for Alaska in 1867, though that was a pretty good trade as well. No, the greatest exchange in the history of the world still takes place every single day, when someone trades his sin for Christ’s righteousness. Shame and guilt and eternal condemnation are traded in for freedom and peace and eternal joy. That’s what Peter meant when he said, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out.” You come to Christ with nothing and walk away with everything that is his.

Let’s go back to the classroom again. It occurs to me that there is one case in which an F cannot be replaced even if you take the class over. It is called an “honor code F,” an F received because of cheating. That grade cannot be expunged, no matter how hard you plead or how many times you take the class over. No amount of effort on your part will undo the stain. It is blotted out only by the blood of Jesus.

We have committed the ultimate honor code violation because we have broken the first commandment repeatedly: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” The only way that honor code violation can be removed is for the one who was dishonored to take the penalty himself.

He did. This is the best trade ever.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Eternal Hope

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.  (Romans 8:24)

Two Types of Hope

We have plenty of things that we hope for in life, and there are two types of hope. The first is a hope that may or may not happen. For example: I hope to get married one day, I’m pretty sure I will, but I don’t know for sure. The other type of hope is one that wre know will happen. For me right now, one of the hopes that I have but haven’t yet experienced is that I will finish school on the 30th of October. I know that will happen (unless I die before then), but it hasn’t happened yet. It is a hope because it is coming, but isn’t here yet.

The hope that Paul is referring to is found in verse 23 – that we will be adopted as God’s children and our bodies will be redeemed. Though as Christians we know that we have been saved and forgiven through Jesus, we haven’t seen the complete fulfillment of that. We know that God has promised that we are adopted as his children, we know that he has promised that we will go to heaven when we die, but these things are still just hopes. We know they are true, but we haven’t received them in full yet.

How do we know God will keep these promises?
God is faithful. He has kept all of his promises in the past and he will continue to do so because it is in line with his character. In fact for God to not act faithfully would be sinful, because sin is the opposite to God’s character. God cannot sin, and therefore we know he will keep his promises. He also tells us that he will:
For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. (Psalm 33:4)
God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19)

God is always the same, he does not lie and our hopes are secure.

How does this apply to our daily lives?
  • We can trust God and rejoice no matter what situation we are in because we know that through Jesus, if we are truly Christians, our sins are entirely forgiven and we are God's children. We can be patient in sufferings because we know that it will all be worth it in the end (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
  • We can rejoice in trials (Philippians 4:4, James 1:2-4) because we know that when we die we will be in heaven where there will be no more suffering.
  • We don't need to stress. This is a big one for me at the moment with all of that assessments and exams that I have to complete before I finish school. We can pray and trust God that he will provide for our every need.
  • We need to keep an eternal perspective. Don't look at life now, look forward to heaven and serve God now because of that. Don't get caught up with loving the world or being stressed about this life, trust God and rest in the certain hope that if you're a Christian then you are going to heaven eternally.
  • If we have this hope, we should be eager to share it with others. We need to share the gospel. This is another thing that I struggle with - it;s easy to make excuses or chicken out, but if this is truly what we believe then we need to love other people enough to tell them.
We, Christians, have a hope worth waiting for. Are you waiting for it?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Keep your marriage fresh; date your wife

Cindy and I celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary this summer, which means I have been married to my best friend now for more than half of my life. She stole my heart the minute I laid eyes on her in Chapel Hill in 1981. I asked her to marry me on our second date; I was that sure that she was the one. She was, ahem, not as sure as I.

We got married in the summer of 1982 and lived on love for the first few years. As an advertising sales representative for the Times-News married to a stay-at-home wife, I wasn’t exactly known for my financial prowess.

As the years rolled on, seven children came into the picture and life got busier and crazier, Cindy and I have maintained one simple practice that has made all the difference in our marriage: We have kept the weekly date alive.

Every week, usually on a Friday night, you will find us out together for a few hours. In the days when our oldest child was younger than 12, it was difficult sometimes to find, or to afford, a babysitter. But God supplied. One year there were two teenage girls who offered to come every Friday afternoon and watch our children and even do some housework while Cindy and I went on a date. The Lord knew just what we needed in that season of our life, and he provided. Since our oldest turned 12 more than 16 years ago, we have not needed babysitters. The children looked forward to when Mom and Dad were going on a date; they would put together a simple meal for themselves and watch a good movie together.

Our dates have not always required money. I remember many times when we just went to Elon and walked on the campus and talked, or we played tennis somewhere or just prepared a special meal and had a date at home.

One thing I have learned over the years is that what my wife needs more than anything on our dates is communication, and to know that I love her and that she is my No. 1 priority. If our dates end up being a problem-solving session with something that’s going on with me at the church, then one or both of us come away feeling like we didn’t really have a date at all. One thing my wife has learned is that, most of the time, the last thing I want to do on our dates is shop. My idea of a good time does not have Wal-Mart anywhere in it.

Solomon called marriage “a fountain of gardens, a well of living waters.” Amen! I am thankful for the beauty and the refreshment that comes from a happy marriage. There is nothing so satisfying on this side of heaven.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Why Seminaries Should Require a Course on Civil Dialogue

Kyle Worley is the author of Pitfalls: Along the Path to Young and Reformed. He blogs at The Strife and is an assistant editor for Manual, the men's blog at CBMW (Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood).  He serves on staff at The Village Church Dallas and tweets at @kyleworley.
As I have been reading Ian Murray’s wonderful biography of Martyn-Lloyd Jones, I have been surprised to see MLJ’s civility in the midst of theological, philosophical, and political dialogue within the context of a Welsh debating and literary society. He was able to hold unswervingly to his convictions without naively dismissing those who questioned and prodded him.

http://thestrife.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/images-2.jpeg?w=538In the bygone eras of our forefathers, there appears to have been a civility and tact that was considered to be intrinsic to public dialogue. Sadly, very little of what we observe today in the media, on our blogs, and in our Twitter feeds, resembles civil discourse. Yet, many of our predecessors (heroes of our respective traditions) were excellent examples of how Christians should agree AND disagree with others.

A great example from my tradition (Baptist) is found in James Boyce’s interaction and disagreement with Crawford H. Toy. Toy, who had joined Southern Seminary in 1969 committed to the truthfulness of Scripture, had moved away from his position and had adopted Darwinistic philosophy and had begun to drink from the deeply liberal wells of Germanic scholarship. Boyce requested Toy to refrain from teaching his views regarding these matters, considering they undermined the school’s theological confession. Toy found this impossible to do, acknowledging, “my views of inspiration differ considerably from those of the body of my brethren,” and so he resigned. Boyce, a close friend of Toy’s, while standing with Toy at the railway station where Toy was to depart from, embraced Toy and exclaimed, “Oh, Toy, I would freely give my arm to be cut off if you could be where you were five years ago, and stay there.”

In this disagreement, both Toy and Boyce demonstrated a remarkable restraint from slander and an effort to honor one another in their disagreement. Powerful minds, unswerving convictions, beautiful humility…blended together to create a genuinely civil and charitable disagreement.

Countless seminary students and (sadly) far too many of our seminary professors and administrators display a remarkable unwillingness to behave like gentleman towards those with whom they disagree. Think I am making a mountain out of a molehill? A cursory view at the digital warehouse of bloggers and tweeters, be they Calvinists, Traditionalists, Moderates, Evangelicals, or YRR’s, will demonstrate the appalling lack of civility when it comes to the exchanging, testing, and debating of ideas. Surely it can be argued that the internet and its variety of mediums by which we can choose to communicate has displaced the person with whom we are agreeing or disagreeing, thereby, creating a displaced dialogue where it is easier to disparage and disgrace screens rather than souls. But for the Christian, pointing the finger at the existential dilemma of debate in the internet age, is simply evading the real issue.

Why are we not offering courses on civility in our seminaries? Sure, we teach that Christian humility should flow from Christian worship, but why not require a class on debate? Why not teach Robert’s Rules? Why not teach a class on conversational ethics? Where is our class on the Socratic method? Or, rhetoric?

We can no longer assume that students have witnessed a theological, philosophical, or political disagreement that ended with a warm embrace. If we are going to be winsome, charitable, and convictional leaders, than we need the patience to listen, the willingness to understand, the levity to laugh at ourselves, and the charity to disagree well.

(All quotes in this blog are from Timothy George’s chapter “James Petigru Boyce” in the excellent book Theologians of the Baptist Tradition.)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

When a lame beggar leapt for joy

The man had never walked before, and he was more than 40 years old. We don’t know anything about the pain of his childhood that surely brought scars as he watched other children run and play while he sat and watched and wondered what it would be like. We don’t know anything about his young adulthood, when he had to watch the merchants and farmers and carpenters and fisherman hurry past him on good strong legs, rushing off to work that he knew nothing about. As was the Jewish custom, this man was forced to beg in order to survive. Every day he was carried to the gate of the temple where he asked devoted passersby for help. He was set down in front of the “Beautiful Gate,” the affectionate name of the eastern entrance to the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, so named because it was covered with Corinthian brass. The rising sun shimmered on this magnificent edifice that stood 75 feet high and required 20 men to open. It was beautiful. And it was powerful. The contrast could not have been more striking — the beautiful gate and the broken man.

We read in the third chapter of Acts that Peter and John went up to pray in the temple, as was their custom, and they passed by the lame man being carried to his normal spot. The man did not even look at the two apostles, but repeated the words he had spoken thousands of times. Something about this story intrigues me. We know that Peter and John went to pray daily in the temple, and went through this particular gate often. They had surely seen this man before, many times. But this was the day that they really saw him. This was the day that God chose to give Peter faith to ask for this man’s healing.

The apostle gave the man two commands. First, Peter said, “Look at us.” The man looked up, not expecting a miracle, but hoping for money. Second, Peter said, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” How do I know Peter was given faith to ask for healing? Well, when was the last time you walked up to someone desperately ill and not able to get up and said, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk?” I am guessing never. But if you have said that to someone, you were either outside your mind, or you were given the gift of faith by God at that moment because he had a miracle in mind. The proof would be in the pudding, or in the healing. That is what we see happen in this account.

Peter reached out his right hand and raised the man up, and an amazing miracle took place. There was no rehab needed for ankles and calves and hamstrings and quads that had never worked. Think of it. How many of you have children who just jumped up one day and started running, having never scooted, crawled, pulled up or walked? One minute your 5-month-old was lying on the floor, and the next he was chasing the dog out the door. Anybody? No, it takes months for a child to learn to walk. Not this man. Jesus healed him instantly and thoroughly. And for the first time, he got to enter the temple, where he was seen “walking and leaping and praising God.”

You want to know more about how God did it, and what happened next? Read Acts 3 and find out the rest of the story.