Suffering and the Weight of Glory

cs-lewisI have been reflecting for the last few days on the issue of suffering. This is due in large part to a tragic, viral article about a young woman named Brittany Maynard. She is a beautiful young woman dying of cancer. In response to Brittany’s story, another young woman, Kara Tippetts, wrote a letter explaining her similarly tragic story of an impossible fight against a cancer that she will not win.

Both stories are heartbreaking. In reading both, I see the power of worldview at play. Both women see the battle with death looming in their future, but their responses could scarcely be more different.

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Living in Light of Eternity

fearlessMy life does not end at my death. That is the glorious reality of the Christian faith. Adam brought death into this world, and Jesus, the second Adam, absorbed death into himself, offering eternal life to all who find their hope in him. He is my only hope, and I therefore have the promise of life everlasting.

Eternal life is truth, and death stands as a small barrier over which we all climb into eternity.

Almost all people fear death, the great equalizer of all men, the fight no mere man can win, the great destroyer of hope, health, and happiness, the unspoken motivation for much of our world’s workings, the most certain end to the life which every man shares. Death. Death is the enemy of mankind. But he is an enemy on the long slow walk to his own death at the hands of the life of all men, Christ.

If this is true, what then should I fear in this world?

I think the only logical answer is that I should fear God. And my fear should be empowering. It should empower me to live a life marked by fearlessness of all lesser things than God. Which equals everything.

Should I fear failure? No, fear God.

Should I fear ridicule? No, fear God.

Should I fear disappointing those around me? No, fear God.

Putting fear in its rightful place propels me to try something new. I can let go of my fear, and when I let go, I am free to grasp tightly onto God. I am free to try things others deem risky. I am free to follow wherever my shepherd leads. I am free to run as fast as I can into the darkness of uncertainty with confidence in my stride.

Christian, Christ has taken your greatest danger and has made it into a door to your greatest good. Run towards that door with abandon. Cover as much ground as you possibly can, and try something great for God.

What is the worst that could happen?

Thinking It Through: Death by Living, Chapter 1

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In this series of Thinking It Through, we will be thinking through the book Death By Living, by N.D. Wilson. This series is meant to share what has shaped me and influence your future shape as well.

One Sentence Theme of Chapter 1: Life is a story, but the story is bigger than you think, which makes God both bigger and smaller than you’d expect.

Explanation: One of Wilson’s most consistent themes throughout Death By Living is reading your story in context with the stories which led to your story. Wilson traces this theme through the narratives of his grandparents and the crucial points at which various people and events radically altered their fate (and his, by extension). In the opening chapter, it seems Wilson’s aims to shake the dust off of Story, our banner-worthy buzzword, and examine it with fresh eyes.

“Story, story, my life is a story,” says the hipster to his Twitter feed.

Right. Narrative. Story. Boy, it sounds nice and groovy, but it’s coming from someone who barely has enough of an attention span to get through a Web clip of over four minutes, and may the postmodern gods show their mercy if the atmospheric WiFi wanes or his little browser starts buffering.

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Thinking It Through: N.D. Wilson’s book, Death by Living

downloadI read a lot of books. I am almost embarrassed to buy new books for the incredulous tone I will hear in my wife’s voice as she exclaims “more books!?!”

Almost.

Not quite. So, I go on with my buying. Now I have encountered many great books throughout my life. Here is a brief list of the ones that stand out in my mind.

  • A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken for the beauty of his writing and the profundity both of his life experience and his correspondence with C.S. Lewis.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis for the joy of discovering allegory as a little child.
  • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis for introducing me to the intellectual rigor supporting the Christian faith.
  • 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey for helping me learn to handle responsibilities as a leader.
  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand for exposing my 15 year old self to the power of story in promoting philosophy.
  • The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis and Anthem by Ayn Rand for showing how perspective and language can engage a reader.
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card for giving me my first grasp of pluralism, long before pluralism was cool.
  • The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling for awakening me to the incredible, world building power of imagination.
  • John Grisham for thrilling me, and Dean Koontz for scaring me.
  • Desiring God by John Piper for redirecting my perception of God, and forever changing my pursuit of him (this one is a must read if you have not).
  • The myriad of classics and all the virtues, counter-virtues, and character traits they teach: 1984, Lord of the Flies, Dracula, The Odyssey, Edith Hamilton’s Greek Mythology, Pilgrim’s Progress, and more.

These are just the ones that popped into my mind as I wrote. The list could go on and on and on. The books we read become part of our lives, and I want my life to be as big as I can make it! So I read.

A number of years ago, I stumbled upon a Christian writer by the name of G.K. Chesterton who introduced me to something I had not experienced before – the power of artful prose. Chesterton was a master of blending humor with profound insight through witty and winsome turns of phrase. His writing was artful. It was delightful. Chesterton gave me an appreciation for the unique voice of a truly gifted writer. It was a step that led me to appreciate the book I will be writing about for the next few posts: Death By Living.

N.D. Wilson, the author of Death By Living, has the most unique voice I have ever read. I am no literary critic, so I don’t even know how to categorize his writing style other than to say it is a precisely directed stream of conscious poem written in prose. His flow of thought shifts from the present to the past, from philosophy to storytelling, from somber reflection to hilarious irony. It is one of the truly unique books I have ever read.

Aside from his writing, which is worth reading regardless of the content, the content is dumbfounding. What I mean is that Wilson walks you through the story of his life and invites you to consider your own. He sets his story firmly in the squishy middle of a much bigger story involving illiterate farm boys, WWII bomber raids, and children engrossed in Lego wars. His story also includes death, as all of ours will. He invites you to join him in considering the implications of living a life worth dying for.

In short, this book made me feel inspiration, wonder, and whimsy unlike any other book I have read. As such, I want to go back and think my way through it, which is to say, I want to write my way through it. If you have not read it, I hope my thoughts can inspire you to buy it and put it on your list.

I will leave you with an exhortation/warning of Wilson’s from his introduction to Death By Living:

Grab a rented raft, hop in the rinkiest-dinkiest sea kayak you can find. Pull on a puffy orange life vest and buckle it (rather awkwardly) between your legs. Brandish your paddle. Ignore all sunscreen. By the time we’re done, you’ll be chafed in such new and innovative ways that the familiarity of a sunburn just might be a comfort, a little tingling reassurance that you are still you.

 

 

Focus as You Fast

fastingToday, the youth ministry at my church is fasting all day in preparation for an event tonight that involves 6 hours of INTENSE bible study known as Secret Church, led by Birmingham pastor David Platt. A number of adults in our church have also committed to fast today, praying for our students. It is a beautiful thing to see students denying themselves in pursuit of God, and even more beautiful to hear of others who are denying themselves on the behalf of those students. I am praying for both the students and those joining them today, and I thought of a passage from C.S. Lewis that applies to the spiritual practice of fasting. I want to share it with you to keep you focused as you fast.

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Leadership Issues: Delegation

missileI am not a big military buff. It just isn’t an interest of mine. But I remember hearing a few years ago about some missiles our military uses that have the accuracy to be fired one after the other, hitting successive targets within a building. Meaning, the first missile hits the outer door and the second enters the door and hits the next target. I don’t know much about weaponry, but that is cool.

It must make warfare much easier to be able to push a button and have your enemy blown up.

As a leader, I have a tendency to treat my coworkers and direct reports like those missiles. I point you in the right direction, push you off, and never look back. It is a fire and forget strategy.

It is definitely the easiest way to delegate, but there is one problem. Fire and forget delegation works a lot like fire and forget missiles: both of them blow stuff up.

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Manhood Issues: Countering Apathy

lazy menLast week, I moved. I am sincerely grateful that small portion of my life is over. I am convinced that Hell physically manifests itself in the form of boxes, trucks, furniture, narrow doorways and stairs. And it’s hot.

One day last week, in order to take a break from moving, I took my car to get the oil changed. I know, I am writing a post about declining manhood and I don’t even change my own oil. Pathetic, I know. But give me a minute here. I took my car to get the oil changed, and I noticed something really interesting. As I watched three different couples deal with mechanics, explain car problems, fill out papers, and pay there was a consistent pattern of movement displayed by each of the three couples I saw. The men stood slightly behind the women and spoke only when spoken to.

It was fascinating to watch once I picked up on this pattern. Women would approach the counter first. Women would talk with the mechanic. Women would lead the way to the waiting area. Women would step up to pay. Men followed behind like children, waiting for mom to make the next decision.

Now, let me throw out a few qualifiers to explain my reason for surprise and the noteworthiness of this pattern.

  1. Car stuff is not man stuff. I do not think women to be unfit or incapable of handling car issues. I do not consider it unmanly to be unfamiliar with cars. That is not the source of my surprise.
  2. Standing behind is not a sign of weakness, lower status, or lessened capability. There are many areas in our life where my wife takes the lead for me, and I stay out of the way. I do not find that to be a mark against me as a man.
  3. There is nothing wrong with strong willed, independent women that can take care of business. On the contrary, I think an industrious, capable spirit is one of the most attractive qualities a woman can display. Solomon thought so as well, seeing that Proverbs 31 devotes more time to the hard work of a woman than any other attribute.

Those qualifiers out of the way, the pattern of movement displayed by the people in my local garage displayed something attested to in study after of study of the modern man: men are disengaged.

Please understand the limit to what I am saying: I do not define masculinity and femininity by particular tasks or tastes. Masculinity and femininity are best defined by attitudes and dispositions of the heart. This post is not about defining masculinity, but I will happily point you towards a few that are: here, here, and here.

So finally, after dancing with the lions of outraged feminism, the problem I want to address is one of creating some proactive momentum. When I started cleaning out my home office for the move last week, I sat in my chair and surveyed the state of my stuff for about 30 minutes before I moved a muscle. Why? Because I had no clue where to begin making sense of my own mess. I want to provide some insight for men who similarly look at their own passivity and have no idea where to start making changes.

  1. Admit you have a problem, and then admit the problem is bigger than you just admitted. Tell you roommate. Tell your spouse. Tell your parents. Tell someone in your life that you want to make a change. The reason is simple; you have likely grown numb to letting yourself down, so bring someone else’s expectations into the equation to provide some accountability.
  2. Give yourself some goals. Make goals according to two criteria: Small and SMART. Make your goals small, because the goal here is to create some proactive momentum, not conquer the world. Also, make sure they are SMART goals. Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Relevant. Time-sensitive. Read this – and start making plans!
  3. If you are married and struggle with passivity, then you need to follow John Piper’s advice and bring two little words into your vocabulary that will revolutionize your relationship: “Let us”. Train yourself to be the first one in the house to say “Let’s” you will have become the de facto initiator and leader of your household. Be the one thinking ahead for your household’s needs, and be the one who addresses them first. “Honey, let’s…” Those two little words can change everything.

So, if you struggle with passivity, try making those 3 little changes in your daily life. Most importantly though, recognize that unhealthy passivity is a result of brokenness in your heart. You can try to change your actions, but the most important factor in lasting change comes when you allow God to change your heart. Phenom rapper, Lecrae, has an excellent message and testimony about how God challenges and changes your understanding of manhood. Well worth your 42 minutes.

 

 

Militant Atheism and Ravi Zacharias’ response

Ravi is a hero of mine, and his response to this video is classic. “I will buy the ticket for him. One way.”

Is Christianity Exclusive? Yes and no.

midcentury-modern-doorsOne of the most common critiques of Christianity in Western culture comes from an accusation of its inherent exclusivity. The cultural, social, and political elites of our age have judged the values of our time, and have thus decided to exclude exclusion from polite society. As such, a religion marked by one way, one truth and one light fails to open enough doors to include everyone. This anti-exclusive dogma is the most dangerous type of nonsense imaginable – nonsense turned common sense.

Therefore, I would like to explore two functional definitions of exclusivity followed by a response to the charge of Christian exclusivity as evil. Hopefully, what is common sense will be displayed as nonsense.

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A Deadly Need in the Church

imagesThis post has a pretty limited audience. I am writing to pastors. I am calling you to work through some tough issues for the sake of the Millennials in your church. In case you do not know, Millennials are the young adults born between 1980 and 2000. Here are a few articles for those interested in learning about our habits in the workplace, our good points, our bad points, and our beliefs. We are an 80 million strong nightmare for most authority figures from the Baby Boomer Generation.

Those authority figures include pastors.

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