Posts Tagged ‘Life’

Mar
04
2014

When Christianity Becomes Uncomfortable

On Sunday, our small group began a study on discipleship, aided by the very good material from Multiply written by Francis Chan and David Platt. The first part of this study challenges us to count the cost of discipleship. I was struck afresh by Jesus’ words in Luke:

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.(Luke 14:25-33, ESV)

As an American Christian, I guess I’ve never had to fully weigh the impact of Jesus’ words here. We’ve lived in a bubble of acceptance, especially those, like me, who’ve mostly worked for Christian organizations. Sure, there is the occasional derogatory remark by a unbelieving family member or neighbor. Yet even among those who don’t profess faith, Christianity has been something considered worth commending. For much of the church’s history, this was not the norm. Christianity has been uncomfortable. It has involved cross-bearing.

Jesus wanted his followers to know this. I notice he said these very hard things when the crowds followed him. It’s as if he’s saying to them, “If you are following me for the benefits, for the goodies, for the anticipated health and wellness, well, you’ve got the wrong Messiah.” It’s not that Jesus was sadistic. But the spiritual battle between light and darkness involves hardship, suffering, and a willingness to be considered on the “wrong side of history.”

I think this is where we often get Jesus wrong. I think this is where we often get Christianity wrong. The New Testament knows nothing, really, of the Jesus-as-mascot paradigm. To claim to follow Jesus, but reject the radical new way of life He calls to us to is to reject Jesus altogether. The way of Jesus is better. But many don’t see that. Many of us don’t see that.

For American Christians, I think the coming years will force us to make difficult choices. We will have to choose between cultural acceptance and the way of Jesus. In other words, Christianity, truly bearing the name of Christ, will involve a cross. It will be rough and uncomfortable. Sometimes this discomfort is in the form of cultural rejection. Sometimes it’s the discomfort of forgiving someone we want desperately to despise. Sometimes it’s the self-sacrifice to give ourselves for those we are called to love and nurture: our spouses, our children, our neighbors. Sometimes it’s the discipline to speak the truth in type of love others don’t exhibit. Sometimes it involves making reasoned, winsome arguments in favor of truth that are unfairly dismissed as bigotry.

Are we ready for this? I think of the words of Peter to the first-century church in 1 Peter. He reminded the Church that while they were to assimilate into their contexts, they were to remember their status as strangers and foreigners. Christians follow another King and live out the values of another Kingdom. There would be cultural pressure to abandon Jesus or to synch Jesus with whatever is popular. As if Jesus is the clay and we are the potters. Peter urged the first century church to stand strong, to have courage, but also to do this with a kind of joyful anticipation of the world to come. I’m particularly arrested by Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:15:

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:14-17, ESV)

Having warmed himself by the fires of cultural acceptance and having also been the doomsday zealot, Peter argued for a third way. Followers of Jesus must be should not be gripped by fear (“nor be troubled”), but give a calm, rational, joyful defense of Christian faith, shaped by gentleness and respect. Being misunderstood, slandered, and disparaged by the culture and even fellow evangelicals is no fun. But our response should not only be courageously truthful, it should be otherworldly in terms of kindness. We not only communicate the values of another world. We speak with rhetorical tools from another world. We shouldn’t add to our suffering with fleshly responses.

As we anticipate life in a post-Christian world, we need to not only reacquaint ourselves with Christian identity (cross-bearing, suffering), but by faith live out this gospel fully before a watching world.

 

 

 

Feb
27
2014

Christians on Computers Talking Cakes

You probably don’t want to read one more article on the religious liberty, cake-baking, gay marriage controversy. But let me diverge from the important legal and spiritual implications of this discussion and talk about the actual discussion itself. How should the discussion among Christians be driven around the public water cooler of social media? Here are a few thoughts I have in the wake of this pitched battle:

  • We should always assume the very best about those with whom we disagree and we should argue against their best arguments, not caricatured straw men.
  • We should remember that there are actual people behind the avatars. And we should remember that we are people, not avatars. As followers of Jesus we are accountable for what we do and say.
  • We should not assume the headline, but understand and know the facts behind the headline. Tweeting in reaction to a headline may be fashionable, but it’s not worthy of a Christian whose goal is to pursue truth (Philippines 4:8)
  • As much as we can, we should not talk at people, but with people.
  • We should remember that if someone disagrees with us, they are not necessarily being mean to us, they are simply disagreeing with us. The surest way to shut down a productive discussion is to score cheap political points by hi-lighting how unreasonable our debate partner is. A reasoned argument against your position is not an attack. Know the difference.
  • Christians should, as much as they can, support fellow Christians. Paul reminded us to do good to those who are of “the household of faith.” Twisting the arguments, fanning the flames of public shame, and advancing the popular narrative of Christians as bigoted, uncaring, ideologues doesn’t exactly build unity in the body of Christ. If anything discouraged me in this entire discussion it’s the willingness of Christians to throw other Christians under the bus for fifteen seconds of cultural affirmation. Sad.
  • It’s helpful not to throw a rhetorical bomb out there and then say, “What?, What?” denying an obvious intention to stir things up (Proverbs 26:18-19)
  • It’s also not helpful to come in late to an important discussion with the pious, “I wish Christians would all stop arguing and get in a circle and sing Kumbaya.” Not every argument is worth having, yes. And sometimes Christians fight unworthy fights, yes. But not every discussion is unhealthy. Until we are fully sanctified in Heaven, we’ll not stop having discussions and disagreements.
  • We should discern between worthy arguments with reasonable opponents and folks who only want a prolonged Twitter battle. Or as a friend tells me all the time: Don’t feed the trolls. It’s also helpful to actually not be a troll. Twitter discipline is a hard thing to maintain and all of us have had moments where we have failed.
  • We should be joyful warriors. There are slippery slopes, troubling signs in our culture, and an increasing marginalizing of orthodox Christian beliefs. Still, Christ is coming. He is building His Church. He is triumphant. And He will renew all things. So onward with joy.
Feb
13
2014

A word to husbands on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that sneaks up on you. Well, at least it sneaks up on me. The winter is rich with holidays for the Darling Family: Angela and I were married the week before Thanksgiving, two of our four children have December birthdays, and my birthday is in late January. It gets busy and  . . . expensive.

And I’m guessing I’m like most men. We do the Valentine’s thing sort of reluctantly. It’s a bit of an eye-rolling holiday. We feel we’re getting hosed by Hallmark. Think about it: Mother’s Day, Sweetest Day, Valentine’s Day, Anniversary. I’ve even heard some (very unwise) husbands (who apparently have a regular cot in their garages) say they ignore it and just “love their wife the entire year.”

My advice is to . . . not do that. Don’t do that at all. For one thing, your wife doesn’t want to be nor does she deserve to be the only wife on the block, in her small group, and in the office who sheepishly tells her friends that her husband “doesn’t do this holiday.” Man up, buy a card and some flowers or chocolate or whatever she likes and do it. Secondly, we should use this cultural moment as a divinely appointed opportunity to show our wives some love. After all, we are supposed to, as Paul instructs, love our wives as Christ loves His Church (Ephesians 5:22-23). You don’t very well do that by leaving the Mrs in the cold on Valentine’s Day. We need these prompts, even if created by Hallmark, to be reminded to show our wives just how we feel about them, to renew our commitment to loving them as we love no other human being on the earth. Yes, it is true that love is more than show displays of flowers and chocolate and candy and balloons and teddy bears. But loves is not less than that either. Verbal expressions of love, tangible gifts are important to communicate what we say we feel in our hearts. So we need to do this. We need to make our wives feel every bit the treasure they are. I admittedly struggle with this, to show Angela just how much I love, cherish, and respect her. Valentine’s Day is like a cultural slap upside the head to do what I should be doing more often.

So guys, let’s get it together. I’ll see you in the Hallmark aisle at Walgreen’s tonight.

Nov
04
2013

The false gospel of cynicism

Today, at the ERLC blog, I talk about the mandate for joy in Philippines 4:8:

Yet Paul, without denying the misery of life in a fallen world, seems to say to followers of Jesus everywhere: “In light of what we have in Christ, let’s think on these things: truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, what is commendable and what is praiseworthy.”

In other words, let’s not focus solely on the evil in the world. Let’s not live as negative, apocalyptic reactionaries. There is time for lament, certainly. But given that we know the Man of Sorrows who has borne our grief, let’s train our minds to glimpse the beautiful, the unbroken, the rays of heaven’s sunshine upon the earth and the people Jesus is redeeming.

Paul could say this, not because he was a Pollyanna escaping reality, but because he had a greater grasp of reality than anyone who lived. A reality that says while yes, the world is broken, a man from Galilee lived, died, rose again and is now the rightful King. A new Kingdom has dawned, and light has broken in the darkness. There is a city coming whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10).

Paul’s words don’t simply give us permission to smile when things are upside-down. They are a mandate to rejoice in the often barely perceptible pinpricks of grace that penetrate our canvas of evil. So let’s, without guilt:

Rejoice in the stunning hues of a sunset.

Be enraptured by the beautiful laughter of our children.

Appreciate the best artistic expressions, regardless of their source.

Enjoy our favorite sporting events.

Pursue deep friendships.

Feel the grain a well-crafted piece of furniture.

Treasure every intimate moment with our spouses.

Laugh at good jokes.

Cry at the moments that catch our breath.

Allow the best music to flow through our ears into the deepest part of our hearts.

We can do these things, even in a world of suffering, heartache and toil. Not because we are ignorant of evil, but because we are part of his story of redemption, renewal and grace. We can do all these things to the glory of God. Why? Because anything beautiful or lovely or good can catapult our hearts into worship of the creator who made it.

Every time your child laughs and gives you joy, you can silently worship God, the giver of good gifts. And you can do this with a delicious meal, a glorious soundtrack, a delightful conversation, or anything that brings you wholesome pleasure. You can do this because every glimpse of beauty is a reflection of the one who is beautiful.

Read the whole thing here:

Oct
28
2013

Your Family is Not a Problem to Be Solved

 In a symposium published by The Guardian, novelist Richard Ford was asked to deliver his best advice to aspiring writers. Forgive me for quibbling with the wisdom of a celebrated muse, but I was offended by his first two pieces of advice: 1) Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer’s a good idea; 2) Don’t have children.

In Ford’s view, marriage is only useful insomuch as it furthers personal aims and children are optional nuisances to be avoided, if possible. Marriage is merely instrumental instead of aspirational. I’m not sure if Ford’s advice was meant as tongue-in-cheek, but it reflects the utilitarian and the flaccid attitude toward the family in our time. As if the rigors of family life are an impediment to selfish career aims.

It would be easy to dismiss this kind of logic as the liberal worldview of the elite—and in some measure it does reflect the sort of utopian, family planning ideology of many academic precincts—but the seeds are part of a larger conflict that dates back to the Garden of Eden.

After all, it was the wily serpent who convinced Eve that to live out her existence as God’s image-bearer was to lead a less-fulfilled, less noble life. It became all about her aims to know more, to be more, to carve out a self-directed life apart from God.

This lie that leads to death is at the heart of Satan’s long war against God. To consider children and family life a nuisance to be avoided rather than a gift to be stewarded is the seed that leads to modern evils like abortion, euthanasia, human trafficking and other violations of human decency. We take the inherent worth of the imago dei and subject it to material gain or personal fulfillment. We become individualists, viewing each other not as a unique soul created in God’s image, but a product to be consumed at our leisure. Darwinian convenience is a direct assault on God’s ordered creation and therefore an assault on God himself.

But lest followers of Christ think this kind of utilitarianism is restricted to the airy halls of Berkley or the Ivy Leagues, we must be careful to resist imbibing the idea that family life is somehow a lesser accomplishment than career.

I’ve had more than one conversation with a Christian parent whose greatest fear was not that their son would leave the faith while in college, but would find a girl and get married, thwarting his viability for graduate school and beyond. I’ve heard the drip of condescension of some who view with pity the stay at home mom, as if she’s given up the best of her life to do the lesser task of raising her children. And I’ve battled the temptation to consider my role as father less important than the title on my business card.

To be sure, family life is a sacrifice of blood, sweat, tears and treasure. There are many parts of parenthood that are less than glamorous. Homework assignments, late-night bouts of the flu, consistent discipline—these are not warm and fuzzy moments that make the photo album. And yet if we were to be honest, our lives would be less fulfilled and lack a certain, unquantifiable richness  without the deep well of family life. I can’t imagine my life and my career without the steadying influence of my wife and the gradual sanctification God has allowed in me through fatherhood. Frankly, my writing and speaking career ascended only after I got married and started having kids. You might say that this was just coincidental, a maturity that comes with age. But those who know me best would strenuously disagree. Marriage and fatherhood settles men by forcing their concentration toward their most immediate context: their family. Where the wellspring of manhood bends outward instead of inward toward his family, we produce a society that reaps what it sows—immature men whose sexual appetites are as untrained and unfocused.

When we diminish marriage and family life, whether with Richard Ford’s intentional swipes or by our subtle lifestyle choices, we err in two ways. First, we acquiesce to the enemy’s ruthless attack on God. To diminish human dignity, in any form, is to snuff out the image of God. Marriage is an illustration of the intimacy between Christ and His church and a window into the eternal fellowship of the Trinity.

And secondly, we, like Eve, accept the lie that what God has designed is inferior to what we could design on our own. We would do well to repeatedly remind ourselves that Jesus came to restore us to the fruitful joy stolen by the enemy in the Garden (John 10:10).

Sep
25
2013

Grace Makes the Medicine Go Down

One of the things that confounds me, as a parent, is the refusal of my kids to take their medicine, even as they are crying out in pain. It’s particularly annoying in the middle of the night (you know, those few nights when it’s actually me getting up instead of my long-suffering and faithful wife, Angela).

It’s quite illogical, really, for kids to refuse medicine that not only has the power to relieve their pain, but also can heal them of the sickness or injury that is making their little lives miserable. And yet, there a kid squirms, mouth closed, head shaking in refusal. As good parents, we practically have to hold them down and force the medicine down. Then we have to tell them that this medicine–the medicine we just forced down their mouths–is for their good. Trust me, we tell them.

But just when I begin to shake my head in disbelief at my kids’ lack of logic, of trust, of common sense in all of this, I’m reminded of my own attitude toward God’s good medicine. How often do I refuse what God designs for my good, because in my childishness I think I know better than He does what is best for me. It even may be at the same time I’m complaining to God about pain in my life. And so God, because He’s a good Father, often has to force the medicine into my soul.

Now to be sure, sometimes God’s medicine, like the medicine we get from the drug store, doesn’t taste very good. Even when the label assures you it is “cherry flavored,” the aftertaste reminds you it is still medicine. Even if you tell your kid it tastes like bubble gum, they know it really doesn’t. It’s like this with the hard medicine God asks us to drink. Yes, He gives us grace in trials. Yes, we have the body of Christ to help us endure the worst of life. And most importantly, yes, we have the hope of future resurrection, where faith will be sight, where these decaying bodies will be transformed into eternal ones, perfect and fit for heaven.

Still, pain hurts. The Fall continues to crush every area of life. Even Jesus wept at death. Paul longed to shake off the dying flesh and be with Jesus. Jeremiah lamented. David vented and wept and longed for renewal.

So Christian maturity is not so much the fiction that medicine tastes good, that trials really aren’t that bad after all, that to follow Jesus means unending prosperity and happiness in this life. Maturity is more about perspective, putting away the childishness that refuses the sovereign medicine of trials, allowed by the Father, ordained because of His loving desire to mold us to be more like His Son. It’s saying, with a wry smile, “I may not like what God is making me drink now, but I trust Him. I will accept it.”

We don’t always do this perfectly, which is why we need grace. The grace of One who did take that cup of suffering, not because it would make Him better, but because by accepting this cup, we might be renewed. He trusted the will of His Father so that we could taste the grace of forgiveness and experience resurrection.

Jun
14
2013

The Story Overtook Me

Today for my Leadership Journal interview, I spoke with Rebekah Lyons, cofounder of Q Ideas and the author of a new book, Freefall to Fly. In this book she shares her personal struggles with anxiety, depression, and tensions between motherhood and ministry. I asked her about the writing process and she told me this:

This story overtook me. I never intended to write a book, but it was an earnest effort to get it down, for my own healing and processing. The week I began writing, I realized this wasn’t a story of my anxiety or spiral, but God’s story of redemption and rescue. The best advice I received early on was, “Don’t hold back.”I didn’t unearth how much my story would resonate with others until I started hearing feedback in the early stages. It seemed everyone shared angst over someone they loved struggling with the same thing—especially within the church.

You can read the entire interview here:

Jun
13
2013

Celebrating Father’s Day

As we celebrate Father’s Day, I thought I’d link to some of my posts on fatherhood:

10 Things Nobody Tells You About Being a Dad

This is, by far, my most popular post. In this I share some serious and some not-so-serious reflections on the surprises of fatherhood.

5 Things Every Daughter Needs to Hear From Her Dad

There is something about having a daughter that softens a man, adds a certain tenderness to his soul. In that spirit, I share five things every daughter needs to hear from her father.

5 Things Every Son Needs to Hear From His Dad

Fathering your sons is a serious job, men. And so in that spirit, I offer five things every son needs to hear from his father:

 Dads Should Lead on Thanksgiving

I wrote this a few years ago, thinking about a Father’s role in establishing good holiday traditions.

Do This For Dad on Father’s Day

A short post on how wives and moms can help their men be all they should be.

Just Call Me “Dad”

I wrote this in 2010, back when I only had three children (we now have four). “something happened on December 31st, 2004. For the first time, I was no longer a kid, a guy, a newly-wed, a husband. I was . . . a Dad.”

“No, You’re Daddy”

I wrote this when my son was only three and couldn’t understand how I could have the same name as he. His response, “No You are Daddy” made me think that, of all my roles in life, to my children I’m simply their dad.