Worth Reading - 1/12

Here are some links worth reading this weekend:

1. An excellent post by Bekah Mason, who has recently become an adoptive mother. This is beautifully written, engaging, and thoughtful.

Twenty years ago, my parents gave a rightfully Brit lit obsessed teen a copy of The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh as a graduation gift. Having only recently rediscovered my love of reading, I was ecstatic to have it. And I flipped through it. And then I started two summer jobs followed by school and Rush, and suddenly I was much too cool and adult for Pooh.

But Pooh stayed with me, through a college transfer and back home again. To grad school and back home. Again. And through eight moves in the last decade. There was Pooh, always near my desk and heart, but with his binding never broken. Because that Pooh, the heavy one with the satin ribbon to mark your place and a small picture on each page, was meant to be shared with others. You read this Pooh aloud.

And while the first person who called me Aunt B will turn 17 this year, and my niece will be 8 next month, I never read that Pooh to any niece or nephew, whether they called me Aunt B by choice or by blood. Taking Pooh to another’s house just seemed strange.

So when the kids started staying with me for respite weekends, I thought about starting them with Pooh. But if you’ve ever tried holding a sprawling two-year-old and a 7 pound book, you know why that didn’t happen.

There was more than just a perpetual motion machine preventing the reading of Pooh by this time. To finally pull him off the shelf and read him would seem so final, and nothing has felt final these last two years.
For decades now, I’ve read books and articles that criticize the Christian entertainment industry for its tendency to mimic broader cultural trends instead of lead them, or for sacrificing artistic integrity in order to find financial success with less artistically minded Christians. The Christian subculture, they say, produced music and movies that were cheesy, subpar, and “subtle-as-a-hammer.”

On the rare occasion when something truly creative appeared (VeggieTales) or when an artist found appreciation outside the subculture (Amy Grant, Switchfoot, Lecrae), Christians complained of “watered-down content” or accused people of sacrificing the gospel’s integrity for mainstream success.

Talk about a no-win situation for Christian moviemakers and musicians! If the message has to always trump the medium, you’re pushed into sacrificing artistry. If you’re not super clear with the message, you alienate fans who want clarity, not subtlety (and probably aren’t looking to you for great artistry anyway).

3. This is not for the faint of heart, but it is an intriguing article from the BBC about the Tatooist of Auschwitz--a prisoner assigned to put identification marks on other incoming prisoners.

As the tetovierer, Lale lived a step further away from death than the other prisoners.

He ate in an administration building. He was given extra rations. He slept in a single room. When his work was done, or when there were no new prisoners to tattoo, he was allowed free time.

”He never, ever saw himself as being a collaborator,” Morris says.

It was a real concern after the war - many saw the prisoners who worked for the SS at the camps as having taken part in their brutality.

”He did what he did to survive. He said he wasn’t told he could have this job or that job,’’ says Morris.

”He said you took whatever was being offered. You took it and you were grateful because it meant that you might wake up the next morning.”

Despite his privileges, the threat of not waking up the next day was ever present.

4. Robert Miller explains the injustice of a Roman Catholic abduction of a child improperly baptized. This is a helpful discussion of the problems of the abuse of power by the state, even when someone likes the general outcome.

This is exactly what the statist always misses: that there are moral principles applicable to the state governing its conduct. The statist impulse is to ignore these principles and act as if the state should bring about whatever is good and right and suppress whatever is wrong and bad. To be fair to the statist, this impulse is often well-meaning, but in morals good intentions are not enough; the means chosen to effect those intentions must be good too. This applies to the state no less than to individuals.

The point is clear from examples, even ones from the order of purely natural morality. If I am rich and meet someone who is poor, I may have a moral obligation to give him some of my money, but this does not imply that the state is morally permitted to take my property and give it to him. Similarly, if my brother wrongs me and is truly sorry, I have a moral obligation to forgive him; if I fail to do so, however, the state has no right to compel me to do so by force. Examples from the order of supernatural morality (as understood in Catholic theology) are even clearer. Everyone has an obligation to seek baptism and to worship the Holy Trinity, but it is nevertheless wrong for the state to punish those who choose not to do these things. Nor are such conclusions at all surprising: we should all, of course, try to get others to do what morality (including supernatural morality) requires of them, but this does not imply that all means whatever are licit when pursuing this noble end. For private persons, the means of rational persuasion are always permissible, but force almost always is not (self-defense is an exception). Although the state may resort to force in many cases in which private persons may not (for instance, in punishing evildoers), even the state may not use force willy-nilly in pursuing good ends.

5. This podcast from NPR's Planet Money offered a really intriguing explanation of how money transfers work in the ACH system:

Worth Reading - 1/5

Here are some links worth reading this weekend:

1. This isn't new, but Jen Wilkin wrote a helpful article about raising expectations for students in youth ministry. If you have kids or go to a church where there are kids, this is worth considering:

Today’s high schoolers learn physics and calculus and foreign languages. They are expected to annotate literature and draw critical conclusions about its meaning. They complete hours of homework. They seek tutoring when a subject is difficult. They work hard to learn because learning points to definable future outcomes. They are disciples of their teachers, learning with great discipline the various disciplines those teachers instruct.

By contrast, when these same students show up at church to be discipled in their faith, what will be asked of them? Have a quiet time for ten minutes each day. Read a few verses and journal about them. Listen to a testimony. Read a devotional book. Discuss what you’re reading with some of your peers once a week.

2. In essay that cites Wilkin's article from above, Trevin Wax lists three reasons we shouldn't tell people that reading Scripture is easy:

In a valiant effort to get people into God’s Word, pastors and church leaders sometimes stress the simplicity and ease of Bible reading. We want to make the Bible seem more accessible than it is with the hope that more people will read it. This is the wrong approach.

It’s true that, at one level, it’s easy to pick up the Bible and read the words on the page. But at the deeper level of reading (the act of interpreting correctly and applying well), we face a number of challenges. When we minimize these challenges, we also minimize the great reward that comes from devoting ourselves to something difficult, a Book that demands something of us.

3. From the blog of the International Mission Board, a post with reasons The Lord of the Rings makes a good companion for missionaries:

My flight to South Asia took me farther away from home than I’d ever been in more ways than geographical. I stepped off that plane and deep into a land of shadow, a land where precious few had heard of the Light of the world. But Tolkien’s world was a familiar path through a strange forest. I could journey with Strider and his hobbits as they journeyed with me, and they gave me space to feel my homesickness while staying true to my quest. “I feel,” as Frodo does, “that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.” Middle-Earth was warm and familiar, even if it was fantasy, and I needed that breath of familiar air as home faded fast behind me.

Because, for many missionaries, even the flight back to the States is not truly a homecoming. We’ve changed. We no longer fit into the spaces we left. We’re surrounded by friends and family who love us deeply but who can’t really understand the world we’ve seen, any more than Sam’s Gaffer could understand the songs of Lórien or the dungeons of Moria.

4. For no reason other than it might interest the curious, here is a list from Smithsonian Magazine of ancient documents of significance that have been lost:

Sibylline Books
Roman leaders consulted these oracular sayings during political crises for perhaps 900 years. The originals burned in 83 B.C. Their replacements were allegedly destroyed by a 5th-century Roman general who feared that invading Visigoths would use them.

Sappho’s Poems
In the 6th century B.C. she composed 10,000 lines of poetry, filling nine volumes. Fewer than 70 complete lines exist. But those have made Lesbos’ most famous daughter (as classicist Daniel Mendelsohn has called her) a revered lyric poet of erotic love.

Aeschylus’ Achilleis
The famed Greek dramatist’s (c. 525-456 B.C.) tragic trilogy is thought to have reframed the Trojan War as a reckoning with contemporary Athenian democracy. An estimated total of more than 80 of his works are lost to history. Seven plays survive.

5. Christians need to balance the urge to go with the urge to stay and build into the lives of their community. This long-form essay from The Gospel Coalition gives a helpful perspective that may encourage some of those who stay behind.

“Do you want to move to New Zealand?”

We were only two years out of school, married three, when he said these words. Neither of us wanted to stay in the mid-sized Southern city where we’d attended university and seminary, but without a clear call somewhere else, we were beginning to feel directionless. Then one day, he found a short-term position with a church more than 8,000 miles away.

“Sure.” I shrugged and shifted my attention back to our 4-month-old daughter. “Why not?”

Growing up, we’d heard from those who had left family and country to follow Christ. They assured us that just as Christ is right here with you now, he will be present with you there. And we believed them. But we’d learned something else, something they didn’t necessarily say.

Somehow, we’d gotten the idea that spiritual maturity meant uncoupling ourselves from dependence on any one place. To be unfettered by geography—to be willing to go anywhere—seemed next to godliness. Because if God is everywhere, then he’s nowhere in particular, and if God is everywhere, then it doesn’t really matter where you go. The prevention for homesickness, it seemed, was simply to never need home in the first place.

But if God is everywhere, then how can you know for sure where you’re supposed to be?

The paradox of place is that while God may exist everywhere, human beings don’t. Made from the dust of the earth, we’re forever linked to it and can no more escape its boundaries than we can escape ourselves. In fact, we each owe our existence, at least in some small way, to geography. We can’t trace our heritage without simultaneously tracing the map, the places where our forebears lived and loved forever bound up in the strands of our DNA.

Worth Reading - 12/29

Here are some links worth reading this weekend:

1. Consider how you use your leisure time. Free time isn't free. Redeem the time:

Even though our society’s conceptions of free time don’t bring true rest, health, or flourishing, Christians often buy into them. To enjoy leisure well, then, we need to understand God’s reign over leisure and his purposes for it.

First, Christians must recognize that all of our time comes under the Lordship of Christ, whether we’re working or recreating. God doesn’t care just about our work; he cares about our time. Even in our free time, we’re responsible to God for our use of it. We don’t have a pass to do whatever we want.

2. Alastair Roberts put together a solid post about the nature of the gospel regarding some recent discussions in the Twitter-sphere. Even if you are blissfully unaware of the kerfuffle, the article is worth your time.

In our world, ‘gospel’ has become a heavily-charged floating signifier, which has become unmoored from its biblical particularity. Christians can treat the specificity of the biblical narrative as if it were a launch pad from which the rocket of a universal and deracinated ‘Gospel’ were propelled into the orbit of the earth. While the biblical narrative is one of a very particular people and God’s historical dealings with them, the ‘Gospel’ is a departicularized and dehistoricized declaration of justification by grace through faith alone for the individual in need of salvation. The word ‘gospel’ then becomes attached to all sorts of other terms in various forms, to give them an added oomph of piety (e.g. ‘gospel-centred’).

Yet this doesn’t work. The biblical gospel is a highly particular message. It is a message that comes at the fulness of time, to a particular people, and has a highly specific context and content. It isn’t about a timeless mode of salvation or a universal soteriology of grace, but about the particular declaration that God has visited his people in the Messiah, bringing forgiveness and judgment to Israel, that his kingdom has been inaugurated and that it will be established over the whole world. All of this is summed up in the gospel proclamation: ‘Jesus is Lord!’

3. An encouraging post by Aaron Earls at Facts and Trends about how the Word of God spread over 2017.

Globally, the most shared, bookmarked, and highlighted Bible verse on the app this year was Joshua 1:9: “Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

In the United States, the verse with the most interactions in the Bible App was Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

This year, YouVersion saw even more people turn to the Bible App to explore God’s Word, many in some unexpected places.

Downloads in India increased by 228 percent this year, while the number of downloads in Iraq grew by 155 percent. Mozambique saw downloads increase by 243 percent, and downloads in Angola jumped by 733 percent.

4. One man gets around the drive to work by swimming:

Benjamin David was fed up with the stress of commuting on busy city roads. So he now packs his laptop, suit and shoes into a waterproof bag, straps it to his back and swims 2km to work along the Isar River in Munich, Germany.

Depending on the season, he wears swimming trunks or a long wetsuit – as well as rubber sandals to protect his feet from glass or the occasional bicycle laying in the river.

5. Destin Sandlin explodes a tomato and his sound guy discusses sound for slow motion films. This one's interesting, but mostly just fun.

Worth Reading - 12/22

Here are some links worth reading this weekend:

1. Anne Kennedy gives thanks for a tea maker. The essay is fun, but the grander point behind it is more significant: we live in an amazing world and are too seldom grateful for it.

I trotted off to church last night for choir practice–three of my offspring are in the front row of the choir and are desperately trying to get ready for Lessons and Carols in a week–and there in the office was a big box and inside was this cunning Teasmade. I mean, what a delight! What a gift! (Literally) What an extraordinary device!

What you do is, you plug it in, uncork the little stopper at the top, pour water into the belly of the thing, screw the little lid back on, make sure the pot is mashed up against the sensor, and then program it to wake you up with the whoosh of water boiling and flinging itself into the pot. Then you just drink the tea. Two whole cups worth. It’s enthralling.

I mean, it didn’t make sense that over the last century that while one portion of the world was making coffee as instant and immediate an experience as possible–shaving off valuable soul crushing seconds from the moment you grasped your cup to the moment you felt the first swirl of life overtake your heart and brain–the other side of the world was not engaged in a similarly life saving quest. It’s just that I didn’t know about it. And the revelation is undoubtedly going to change mine.

2. Aside from having progressives up in arms over his assertion that material comfort was not the primary purpose of Christ's life, Tim Keller wrote an important and timely piece for the New Yorker on the state of Evangelicalism.

For centuries, renewal movements have emerged within Christianity and taken on different forms and names. Often, they have invoked the word “evangelical.” Followers of Martin Luther, who emphasized the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, described themselves in this way. The Cambridge clergyman Charles Simeon, who led the Low Church renewal movement within the Church of England, adopted the label. The trans-Atlantic eighteenth-century awakenings and revivals led by the Wesleys were also often called “evangelical.” In the nineteen-forties and fifties, Billy Graham and others promoted the word to describe themselves and the religious space they were seeking to create between the cultural withdrawal espoused by the fundamentalist movement, on the one hand, and mainline Protestantism’s departures from historic Christian doctrine, on the other. In each of these phases, the term has had a somewhat different meaning, and yet it keeps surfacing because it has described a set of basic historic beliefs and impulses.

When I became a Christian in college, in the early nineteen-seventies, the word “evangelical” still meant an alternative to the fortress mentality of fundamentalism. Shortly thereafter, I went to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, to prepare for the Presbyterian ministry. It was one of the many institutions that Graham, Harold Ockenga, and J. Howard Pew, and other neo-evangelicals, as they were sometimes called, established. In those years, there was such great energy in the movement that, by the mid-nineteen-nineties, it had eclipsed mainline Protestantism as the dominant branch of the Christian church in the U.S. When I moved to Manhattan to start a new church, in 1989, most people I met found the church and its ministry to be a curiosity in secular New York but not a threat. And, if they heard the word “evangelical” around the congregation, a name we seldom used, they usually asked what it meant.

3. An essay seeking understanding of the recent turn toward socialism at First Things. It is not necessary to agree with everything in this essay to see that the author makes some very good points about the shift of the magazine toward greater government and Roman Catholic authority over public life.

Having missed the big picture in economics, Reno blames capitalism for other things that get him down, like the transgender movement. How does capitalism cause transgenderism? According to Reno, because of the extreme degree of economic freedom (he imagines) people have, they get used to choosing things, and this leads them to want to choose their genders too.

By its terms, Reno’s claim is an assertion that a set of economic circumstances causally produces certain normative beliefs about sexuality in the people who live in those economic circumstances. It is thus a bit of dialectical materialism, a philosophy with a deservedly bad reputation. But leaving aside its dubious pedigree, the claim is still an empirical one that is testable in various ways. For example, if Reno is right, then as economic freedom increases, people should expect and demand more sexual freedom. Is that how history really works?

It’s easy to see that it is not. For, the period of greatest economic freedom in the modern era was the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries up to the time of the First World War, an era of almost entirely free flows of goods, labor, and capital across international borders. At the time, most countries didn’t even require travelers to show passports, and there was virtually no regulation of the private economy except for the prohibitions on force and fraud and the enforcement of contracts. By Reno’s lights, this era of laissez-faire capitalism should have been the heyday of sexual liberation. In reality, however, it was the Victorian age, a time of the most repressive sexual mores, both socially and legally.

4. Tim Keller sparked outrage among progressives who also identify as Christians by tweeting that Christ's earthly ministry was not primarily about bringing health, wealth, and happiness to the poor. This has led some progressives to call Evangelicals to redefine the gospel in social terms rather than soteriological ones. Jonathan Leeman has written a helpful response:

And, for my part, I think that all of us, whether on the Left or Right, whether majority or minority, could do a better job in our theology of explaining the corporate shape and implications of the gospel. For instance, our entire elder board read Divided by Faith and benefited tremendously from its descriptions of racialization and structural injustices. You should read it, too. I’d agree with its critique of many conservative statements of faith: they can be overly individualistic.

But don’t look there for a better articulation of the gospel. Please, please, do not do away with sola fide. It alone offers the right and biblical asymmetry. Yet we need to do a better job of explaining its covenantal, corporate, and political meaning, as I have tried to do in a long-winded fashion here.

Please, please, do not do away with the call to individual conversion as the most important decision a person will ever make. But let’s recognize how deeply corporate this doctrine is, as I’ve also tried to demonstrate here. God saves us into a people.

And then there is the church. Goodness, yes, it’s political, as I argue here

5. The U.S. has its first dark sky reserve, which would make star gazing absolutely amazing.


Worth Reading - 12/15

Here are some links worth reading this weekend:

1. In order to defend our goodness, we sometimes make bad people out as if they are wholly and irredeemably evil. Trevin Wax works through the question of evil with regard to a recent NYT article:

We deceive ourselves if we think evil is relegated to “monsters,” or that evil beliefs take root in people who belong to a different class of humanity than ourselves. The disturbing thing about evil is that it’s everywhere, and most of the time, is not extreme.

In a recent article on this topic, Jared Wilson mentioned Hannah Arendt, who at the close of her famous book on the Nazi war criminal, Adolf Eichmann, reiterated “the lesson that this long course in human wickedness had taught us—the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil.”

Eichmann was “the faceless bureaucrat of death.” She claimed that “he personified neither hatred or madness nor an insatiable thirst for blood, but something far worse, the faceless nature of Nazi evil itself . . .”

At the time, many faulted Arendt for humanizing the war criminal. Even today, some contend that Eichmann faked his self-presentation as a mindless bureaucrat, a mere shuffler of papers. How else can we make sense of the way normality and bottomless cruelty coexist?

But history shows that evil and normalcy coexist in ways that boggle the mind. Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts documents how German bystanders refused to intervene when foreigners or Jews were assaulted in broad daylight for failing to offer the Nazi salute. When Milton Mayer interviewed ordinary Germans after the war, he documented the slow progression of small acts of evil or cowardice that led eventually to evil on a massive scale.

2. Samuel James makes a good point, with the recent meteoric rise and fall of internet sensation, Keaton, that children and the internet really don't mix well:

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

A parent records their child doing/saying something moving/saddening/remarkable. The parent then posts the video of their child to social media. Social media reacts strongly to the video, and before you know it, the video—and the child—are “viral” digital sensations. They start trending on Buzzfeed, being re-shared by celebrities and athletes, and almost everyone seems to be talking about this child and what he or she said or did.

Unfortunately, the people of the internet start looking for some information about this child and his family. When they find some, it turns out that the family, and especially the parent who recorded the viral video, has some unsavory, even morally offensive social media posts on their account. Just as it did with the original video, the online “community” ensures that the new information about the family, including screenshots and pictures, goes viral.The same internet that was just a few days ago sharing the video with captions of admiration and appreciation is now outraged that any family or adult with such offensive ideas/posts could be given a platform.

This is precisely the story now of the video of Keaton, a young boy whose tears have been shared by many people in my social media feeds. Keaton is bullied at school, and his mother decided to record an emotional moment for her son and post it online. Oceans of sympathetic well-wishes poured in from millions of people who watched the video. But some Twitter users found the mother’s own Facebook account, where she posts pictures of her kids holding confederate battle flags and screeds against black NFL players who kneel during the national anthem. Just hours ago the online world wanted to support Keaton. Now they wish he and his family would go away.

Perhaps we need periodic reminders that children and the internet are not usually a good combination. I’m not trying to be holier-than-thou here. I’ve posted photos and videos of my son online, too. But this episode with Keaton and his family reminds me that I probably shouldn’t be comfortable about that fact. My concern is not that this family is being treated unfairly by an outraged online mob (though I think there might be a point to make about the inherently non-redemptive outrage of the internet). My concern is that Keaton’s vulnerable, emotionally fragile moment, a moment that thousands of other kids identify with every day, was broadcast to millions of strangers, the overwhelming majority of whom do not really care about him. The online fame paid off in one sense, and backfired horribly in another. Keaton’s grief over being bullied by people he knew in flesh and blood at the school is now compounded by the angry crowd that wants to hold him accountable for political and racial ideas likely far beyond his comprehension.

This just isn’t how it’s supposed to be. There are deeply troubling dynamics to online fame, and they only get worse when applied to children. Keaton’s anguish belonged off-camera. His very real heartbreak should never have been given to the masses. If Keaton’s mom thought online fame would balm her son’s wounds, she may have been right, but then what does that mean for Keaton going forward? Is the only suffering worth living through the suffering that can help us go viral?

The internet is a double-edged sword. Its greatest strength is that it can get anywhere. Its greatest threat is that it can get anywhere. Its pervasive presence in all aspects of public life is what gives the social media age its power for good, and its power for evil. When we stop thinking seriously about the costs of online life, we will start to sacrifice much, much more than our privacy.

3. A short article explaining why having more books than you've read is a good thing intellectually:

An antilibrary is a powerful reminder of your limitations - the vast quantity of things you don’t know, half know, or will one day realize you’re wrong about. By living with that reminder daily you can nudge yourself towards the kind of intellectual humility that improves decision-making and drives learning.

”People don’t walk around with anti-résumés telling you what they have not studied or experienced (it’s the job of their competitors to do that), but it would be nice if they did,” Taleb claims.

Why? Perhaps because it is a well known psychological fact that is the most incompetent who are the most confident of their abilities and the most intelligent who are full of doubt. (Really, it’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect). It’s equally well established that the more readily admit you don’t know things, the faster you learn.

So stop beating yourself up for buying too many books or for having a to-read list that you could never get through in three lifetimes. All those books you haven’t read are indeed a sign of your ignorance. But if you know how ignorant you are, you’re way ahead of the vast majority of other people.

4. A terrible bumper sticker went viral. What it reveals, however, is that "evangelicalism" is old, sick, and tired and lacks the theological vigor that should come from knowing the wonder of Christ. Russell Moore's post on this topic is helpful:

American evangelicalism is old and sick and weak, and doesn’t even know it. We are bored by what the Bible reveals as mysterious and glorious, and red-in-the-face about what hardly matters in the broad sweep of eternity. We clamor for the kind of power the world can recognize while ignoring the very power of God that comes through Christ and him crucified. We’ve traded in the Sermon on the Mount for slogans on our cars. We’ve exchanged Christ the King for Christ the meme. And through it all, we demonstrate what we care about—the same power and self-leverage this age already values.

Often our cultural and moral and political debates are important. Offering one’s opinion is fine and good, sometimes even necessary. But if our passions demonstrate that these things are most important to us, and to our identity, we have veered into a place we do not want to go. The most important word we have for the world around us, and for the soul within us, can indeed fit on a bumper sticker: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

5. Desiring God recently posted a 20-year-old sermon by John Piper on how to honor God with your money. It's worth your time.

The inner essence of worship is the treasuring of God as infinitely valuable above everything. The outer forms of worship are the acts that show how much we treasure God. Therefore, all of life is meant to be worship because God said whether you eat or drink or whatever you do — all of life — do it all to show how valuable the glory of God is to you (1 Corinthians 10:31). Money and things are a big part of life, and therefore God intends them to be a big part of worship — since all of life is to be worship. So the way you worship with your money and your possessions is to get them and use them and lose them in a way that shows how much you treasure God — not money. That’s what this text is about. And so it is really a text about worship.

Now there is a place for corporate worship — what we do here together on Sunday morning. And the same definitions hold here as everywhere else: the essence of worship here is the inner treasuring of God as infinitely valuable. And the forms of worship are the acts that express this inner treasuring of God (preaching and hearing the word of God, praying, singing, giving, sharing the Lord’s Supper, and so on). One of those acts of corporate worship here at Bethlehem is what we call “the offering” — a point near the middle of our corporate worship where we worship with our money, by putting it out of our hands and our banks, and into the mission and ministry of Christ.

Worth Reading - 12/8

1. One man got frustrated with being hounded by debt collectors for debts he never incurred, this long-form story is about his quest to bring a fraud to justice.

Therrien had been caught up in a fraud known as phantom debt, where millions of Americans are hassled to pay back money they don’t owe. The concept is centuries old: Inmates of a New York debtors’ prison joked about it as early as 1800, in a newspaper they published called Forlorn Hope. But systematic schemes to collect on fake debts started only about five years ago. It begins when someone scoops up troves of personal information that are available cheaply online—old loan applications, long-expired obligations, data from hacked accounts—and reformats it to look like a list of debts. Then they make deals with unscrupulous collectors who will demand repayment of the fictitious bills. Their targets are often poor and likely to already be getting confusing calls about other loans. The harassment usually doesn’t work, but some marks are convinced that because the collectors know so much, the debt must be real.

The problem is as simple as it is intractable. In 2012 a call center in India was busted for making 8 million calls in eight months to collect made-up bills. The Federal Trade Commission has since broken up at least 13 similar scams. In most cases, regulators weren’t able to identify the original perpetrators because the data files had been sold and repackaged so many times. Victims have essentially no recourse to do anything but take the abuse.

2. There is something between Randian individualism and the smothering statism of socialism. John Mark Reynolds writes about muddling through a middle path:

Instead, we must always remember: statism kills, radical individualism kills. We say no to Nimrod’s statism and Cain’s individualism. Why? Injustice can take place in systems, such as state sponsored segregation in the South of the USA, or from individuals as when the robber barons built factories that were unsafe and harmed workers. American Christians must reject radical individualism, we are part of a community, but also statism.

We refuse to say “I am Lord” or “Caesar is Lord.” If every man is Caesar, then we have simply multiplied tyrants. If we put all power in a state Caesar, then we have created anti-Christ.

Different eras have provoked different responses from Christians due to different needs. We have absolute moral principles (or should!), but can be flexible in applying them. American Christians have gotten this mostly right with the horrific exception of race.

3. Joe Carter wrestles with the major problem of the bi-partisan smuttiness of politics that is leading some people to attempt to justify the unjustifiable. He outlines a non-partisan solution to the Roy Moore problem:

If you want to see the future of Christian conservative politics you need to know about Wesley Goodman.

Goodman is a married, 33-year-old “family-values conservative” elected to the Ohio legislature last year. He had previously worked as an aide for a conservative congressman, and served as managing director for the Conservative Action Project and a member of the Council for National Policy, two organizations that serve as alliances of economic, social, and national-security conservatives.*

Earlier this month Goodman resigned from the legislature after he was caught engaging in “inappropriate behavior” (i.e., sexual behavior) with a man at his office. And it doesn’t seem to have been an isolated occurrence. Goodman had reportedly “exchanged salacious texts and emails with gay men he met on Capitol Hill, and sent sexually suggestive messages to young men he met through conservative circles who were too intimidated to publicly complain.”

One young man did complain, though. Two years ago Goodman allegedly invited an 18-year-old college student to his hotel room and attempted to sexually assault the teenager. The young man’s parents notified Goodman’s boss, the head of the Council for National Policy (CNP), who promised to take action. Goodman was dismissed from the CNP two months later, but when he ran for public office the pro-family Christian leaders never notified the people of Ohio they might be electing a sexual predator.

4. An informative post about the coming population problem because of a rapidly declining birthrate:

We are now in our 3rd-most-rapid period of fertility decline on record, after the 1920s drop and then the post-baby-boom decline. I expect that by 2018 or 2019, the U.S. will hit it’s lowest total fertility rate ever.

Guys this is dire stuff. But I want to zoom in on 2017 and elucidate just how crazy 2017 really is. Yes, the rate of decline was sharp, but it was also broad-based. Here’s a graph of every state’s 12-month lagged general fertility rate from 2007 to 2017. This metric makes some very basic controls for demographic composition, but is not as tightly-controlled as the total fertility rate, so is still somewhat impacted by age composition.

5. Michael Bird and Bruce Ashford had a discussion about the Benedict Option. It's worth the time if you have a while to digest it:

Worth Reading - 12/1

1. Articles about people memorizing Scripture are always worthwhile, since it is a hard and undervalued spiritual discipline. This one is especially enjoyable, since it is written by the subject's son:

One of the first areas where I encountered this different godliness was in his Bible knowledge. Every seminary professor or man in ministry knows his Bible, or at least would like to appear to know his Bible; so such a statement can seem a truism. Yet my exposure to this reality was more organic and thus made a stronger impression. We did morning and evening devotions as a family, and I knew my father read his Bible in the morning. But I also remember other occasions, such as Saturday afternoons, or evenings, or during vacation times, hearing—of all things—a sanctified hissing noise.

The noise would come from his bedroom, the door slightly ajar, and I discerned the cause of the hissing to be my father’s voice as he read the Bible to himself at a volume just above a whisper. The result, audible to someone outside the room, was a series of ‘s’ sounds echoing faintly in the hallway. When I peeked in, he would sometimes raise his eyes and offer the faintest smile before returning to the Scripture. He was always willing to be disturbed, but if left alone, he would proceed for long durations, reading large chunks in a sitting.

2. There is little question that Evangelicals have some theological and political house cleaning to do. However, the ambiguity of the term "evangelical" in the public square, particularly surrounding polling, makes the term almost useless. Thomas Kidd here examines some of the debate surrounding what constitutes and evangelical:

The most common definition of evangelicalism, one crafted by British historian David Bebbington, boils down to four key points. First is conversion, or the need to be born again. The second is Biblicism, or the need to base one’s faith fundamentally on the Bible. The third is the theological priority of the cross, where Jesus died and won forgiveness for sinners. The final attribute of evangelicals is activism, or acting on the mandates of one’s faith, through supporting your church, sharing the gospel, and engaging in charitable endeavors.

In today’s media, “evangelical” has shifted from the historic definition to become more of a rough political and ethnic signifier. What today’s “evangelicals” have in common is not so much Biblicism or action for the gospel, but a self-defined sense of religiosity and a dogged commitment to Republican politics. And being white.

Evangelical faith has always had political ramifications, of course. For example, many evangelicals fought in the era of the American Revolution to end the tax-supported denominations, which had often persecuted evangelicals. But evangelicals were not much on the political radar screen in modern America until 1976, with the candidacy of the “born again” Jimmy Carter.

3. Trevin Wax reminds us that technology is meant to serve humans, not be our masters. Don't pretend you can't control some of the influence of technology in your life:

So, enough with the silly idea that every technological advance is set in stone and that cultural changes are irresistible, especially if certain habits prove detrimental to the life we want for ourselves! We can make choices in line with the vision of what we want our world to be like, or at least, we can make choices in line with the vision of what we want to be like in our world.

If we don’t want our homes held hostage by glowing rectangles, we can limit our time on devices, or we can do away with smartphones altogether. What king or queen has invaded your house and demanded you hand your fifth grader a smartphone? Mom and Dad, you are the authority in your castle. You are responsible for the culture you create. If a phone helps accomplish the vision of what you want your home to be, then have at it! If it doesn’t, toss it out. But don’t abdicate your kingdom and fall helplessly before the throne of Apple or Samsung.

Readers, if you love to read on your phone or on Kindle, then thank God for the accessibility of today’s e-readers. But if you prefer the smell and feel of a printed book, then please, keep your library. Even more, why not add to it? Be part of the movement that continues to surprise the publishing world—the leveling off of ebook sales and the resurgence of print (hardcover even!). A Kindle can be a terrific aid to reading; don’t let it turn into a tyrant come to burn your books.

Workers, feel free to experiment with different environments and new ideas. But treat them like experiments. Don’t assume they can’t be reconsidered or revisited or revised.

4. Anne Kennedy has some thoughts on the Matt Lauer scandal. Basically, it all comes down to needing the gospel.

Let me speak slowly and distinctly. This Is The Moment For The Gospel. For the person who has sinned, who has broken faith, who has abused and manipulated, for the one who let himself down, who used women as objects, who hurt another and didn’t care, indeed for anyone who rebels against God’s divine and provident law–that’s everyone, in case you’re wondering–God Himself Came to provide a remedy. He took on our broken human deluded condition and carried the burden and ugliness of sin, even sexual sin, to the cross. There he died and was then buried and on the third day he rose again, and thereafter ascended into heaven where he sits at the right hand of the father interceding for all those who are so desperate for help and forgiveness.

What you have to do if you have behaved very badly is to fling yourself onto his mercy. Lie down on your single, empty, corrupted bed and cry out to him for help and mercy and forgiveness. Say, ‘I have sinned against heaven and against you and I am not worthy to be called a son.’ Admit that you aren’t who you thought you were, that you cannot do the right thing. In other words, repent of your sin.

5. This video is a humorous tribute to a healthy marriage and a significant sacrifice:

Worth Reading - 11/24

1. This opinion piece by David Brooks from the New York Times helps explain why liberalism (in its classical meaning) is failing in society. Certainly worth your time to read:

Freedom without covenant becomes selfishness. And that’s what we see at the top of society, in our politics and the financial crisis. Freedom without connection becomes alienation. And that’s what we see at the bottom of society — frayed communities, broken families, opiate addiction. Freedom without a unifying national narrative becomes distrust, polarization and permanent political war.

People can endure a lot if they have a secure base, but if you take away covenantal attachments they become fragile. Moreover, if you rob people of their good covenantal attachments, they will grab bad ones. First, they will identify themselves according to race. They will become the racial essentialists you see on left and right: The only people who can really know me are in my race. Life is a zero-sum contest between my race and your race, so get out.

Then they resort to tribalism. This is what Donald Trump provides. As Mark S. Weiner writes on the Niskanen Center’s blog, Trump is constantly making friend/enemy distinctions, exploiting liberalism’s thin conception of community and creating toxic communities based on in-group/out-group rivalry.

2. Restaurants may be playing mind games with your menu. This informative and interesting article from BBC tells you how:

The words used to describe a food, however, may do far more than make them sound enticing – they can make our mouths water. A study from the University of Cologne in Germany last year showed that by cleverly naming dishes with words that mimic the mouth movements when eating, restaurants could increase the palatability of the food. They found words that move from the front to the back of the mouth were more effective – such as the made up word “bodok”.
The effect seems to even work when reading silently, perhaps because the brain still stimulates the motor movements required to produce speech when reading. This masticatory effect, the authors suggest, gets our saliva glands working.

3. According to multiple outlets, including Christianity Today, Chinese Christians are being required to remove Christian symbols from their homes and replace them with pictures of their new president.

Thousands of Christian villagers in China have been told to take down displays of Jesus, crosses, and gospel passages from their homes as part of a government propaganda effort to “transform believers in religion into believers in the party.”

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports that Communist Party of China (CPC) officials visited believers’ homes in Yugan county of Jiangxi province—where about 10 percent of the population is Christian. They urged residents to replace personal religious displays with posters of President Xi Jinping; more than 600 removed Christian symbols from their living rooms, and 453 hung portraits of the Communist leader, according to SCMP.

The efforts were part of a government campaign to alleviate poverty in the region, since some CPC members believe families’ faith is to blame for their financial woes, according to SCMP. The poster swaps in villagers’ homes represent the party’s desire to have residents look to their leaders, rather than their Savior, for assistance.

4. A thoughtful piece by Scott Sauls at The Gospel Coalition making the case that Christians should work to become the loving minority.

If you’re a Christian leader, boss, or influencer, a time may come when your faith is costly to you and also to those you lead and serve. A time may come when certain organizations get put out of business because faithful Christianity becomes incompatible with the dogma, moral vision, and laws of the land. A time may come when religious freedom gives way to religious persecution for those who stand firm in their commitment to be disciples of Jesus versus disciples of prevailing culture.

Perhaps what was true of Christians in ancient Rome, and what is still true of Christians in other parts of the world today, will also become true of us—losing our livelihoods, our friends, our families, and even our own lives for Jesus’s sake.

Even if these things do occur in our lifetimes, it shouldn’t come as a shock. Jesus said that, in this world, we will have trouble and that people will hate his followers because of him. Jesus said that anyone who remains loyal to him will be persecuted and have false things said about them. He said that if we want to be his followers, we’ll have to deny ourselves daily, take up a cross, and follow him.

5. An engaging essay by Ben Myers of Oklahoma Baptist University on the basis for making a "Great Books" curriculum a focal point for higher education.

In short, the main reason Western civilization, with an emphasis on “Great Books,” deserves a prominent—indeed, the prominent—place in the curriculum of the Christian university is stewardship. We have inherited a garden full of wisdom—and a few thorns—and it is incumbent upon us to maintain and cultivate it for the wisdom, even if we must warn visitors to be careful of the thorns. Following in the footsteps of the ancients, medieval Christian philosophers identified three “transcendentals” that point us toward God: the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. We study the history and literature of Western civilization in order to see these transcendentals at play in our own cultural heritage; to appreciate the ways in which those who came before us have striven for the True, the Good, and the Beautiful; and to better understand how that quest for transcendence has been limited and impinged upon by sin and the reality of a fallen world. We study Western civilization because there is much in it that is edifying and because there is much in it that is tragic. This study is how we lay claim to our rightful inheritance of wisdom, nobility, and gracefulness. Through study, we become stewards of our culture.

Worth Reading - 11/10

1. In this significant anniversary year of the Protestant Reformation, critics are rising from many circles to argue the Reformation is the cause of everything they don't like. In this review, Carl Trueman takes Brad Gregory's popular-level book to task, instead arguing the Reformation was a response to an authority crisis, not the cause of it.

Perhaps the most significant problem with Gregory’s thesis is the concept of unintended consequence that undergirds his theory of the Reformation and secularization. This is a concept that is by its very nature extremely elastic.

For example, given the way in which Jews were transported to Auschwitz, one could make the case that the Holocaust was an unintended consequence of the invention of the steam locomotive. Does George Stephenson therefore bear responsibility for the Shoah? In a merely technical sense, yes. No means of mass transportation, no means of mass killing. But in a morally significant sense, not at all. Stephenson provided a necessary precondition, but not a sufficient one.

2. A succinct beginning to a theology of sleep from Desiring God. It's worth your time to read and consider this one.

So our mini-theology of sleep from the life of Christ cuts both ways: sanctify your sleep per normal and sacrifice your sleep when love calls. In Jesus, God means for us to walk in faith that rests in him, relinquishes control, closes our eyes, and goes to bed. And he means for us to walk in faith that rises to meet others’ needs, when loves beckons, and forgoes his good gift of sleep.

Sleeping to the glory of God is not simply maximizing it or minimizing it. Walking by faith in a fallen world requires us to read the situation and follow the leading of the Spirit. Typically that means “turning in” on time, turning off the TV, putting away the smartphone, and saying, “Father, now I give myself to you in sleep. You are sovereign. I am not. You don’t need me to run the universe. Now I rest in your care and ask for your gift of sleep.” How much better might we sleep if we consciously rolled our burdens onto Jesus’s broad shoulders before hitting the pillow?

3. A fun article from BBC about the rise in popularity of the boxed cake. It touches on consumer psychology and some other interesting topics.

The boxed cake mix has become a kitchen cupboard standby, relied upon for birthdays, special occasions, and even a lazy-day dessert in many homes.

In 2016, more than 60 million more Americans used mixes to make cakes than used cake flour. The homemade cake may be a bit of an endangered species. But cake mix was not an instant hit – as food companies found out when they first came upon the idea.

In the 1920s, fewer and fewer people were baking bread at home, says Laura Shapiro, a historian and author of Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America. Flour companies were feeling anxious about the trend, which came in part from the growing availability of commercial bakery goods. Also, surplus molasses was on the minds of the folks at the P Duff and Sons Company.

4. There is a popular myth that wealth is intrinsically evil. It continues to spread because people like David Bentley Hart continue to publish the myth based on an indefensible reading of Scripture. This article helps debunk the latest myths from Hart, though it was posed at Public Discourse last year.

As for what the desert fathers themselves taught, we may note the teaching of Abba Theodore, recorded in the Conferences of St. John Cassian: “Altogether there are three kinds of things in the world; viz., good, bad, and indifferent.” He identifies virtue as the only true good and sin as the only true evil. “But those things are indifferent,” he says, “which can be appropriated to either side according to the fancy or wish of their owner, as for instance riches…”

According to Hart, “it was … the Desert Fathers, who took the Gospel at its word.” Will he take Abba Theodore and St. John Cassian at their word? Or did they not understand the New Testament or ancient Christianity either?

There may be some important ways in which the first Christians were not like us, but we can say with certainty that they were not like Hart when it comes to material wealth. We should always be wary of the temptation to misuse it. And we must never let it distract us from the heavenly treasure of virtue, for which we ought to be prepared to abandon the world itself if necessary. However, for most of us, thank God, that is not necessary. After all, it was not the earliest Christians but some of the first Christian heretics, the Gnostics, who advocated Hart’s perspective. That the early Church rejected them should serve as a grave warning for those who would advocate their views in the name of Jesus Christ today.

5. I continue to enjoy the intellectual curiosity and boyish excitement of Smarter Every Day by Destin Sandlin. This video is worth some time, especially if you are trying to inspire an interest in learning in your children:

Worth Reading - 11/3

1. Lotteries are a tax on the poor. This means that they are often practically a means of redistributing wealth from those that lack it to those that have it. This essay by Joe Carter for the ERLC explains why state lotteries should disturb Christians.

That the individual states establish predatory gambling is disturbing. Yet they compound the evil by promoting the lottery as a way for those with limited resources to secure their financial future. Unfortunately, many of our poorest citizens believe this exploitative advertising. A study by the Opinion Research Corporation for the Consumer Federation of America and the Financial Planning Association found that 38 percent of those earning less than $25,000 annually believed the lottery is the solution to accumulating wealth.

“Normally government would outlaw a business that offered such outrageously bad odds to its customers and it would tax away such ‘obscene profits’ but in this case it advertises the lottery as a way that everyone can get rich,” says Thornton. “This is a good lesson about government for the many among us who feel that the government is suppose to protect us from such deceit and plundering.”

2. A teenager was killed in a bus accident while on a mission trip. Her friends and family gave generously in her honor for international missions, which funds were directed to the International Mission Board of the SBC. This essay reflects on the value of an eternal perspective.

The Alabama teen’s parents, Karen and Scott Harmening — along with their three other daughters, Katelyn, Kristen and Sophie — presented a check for $91,120 to the IMB on Oct. 25.
“This is what was donated and raised in honor of Sarah, her life and legacy. So we’re excited to bring the check for $91,120, all for Lottie Moon,” Scott said as he presented the check to David Platt, IMB president.
Sarah died in a bus accident this past June as she traveled as part of an International World Changers team from her home church, Mount Zion Baptist Church, Huntsville, on her way to her first international missions trip to Botswana.
In Sarah’s final journal entry, which was written on the bus, she wrote about reading 1 Peter 5 and 2 Peter 1, reflecting, “So mostly I was just reminded of why I’m here and that God has called me here and has done so for a reason. So I know He’s going to do incredible things.”

3. Architecture both shapes and reveals modern attitudes. This is an interesting essay (with good pictorial examples) of some of the ugliness of modern buildings.

This paranoid revulsion against classical aesthetics was not so much a school of thought as a command: from now on, the architect had to be concerned solely with the large-scale form of the structure, not with silly trivialities such as gargoyles and grillwork, no matter how much pleasure such things may have given viewers. It’s somewhat stunning just how uniform the rejection of “ornament” became. Since the eclipse of Art Deco at the end of the 1930s, the intricate designs that characterized centuries of building, across civilizations, from India to Persia to the Mayans, have vanished from architecture. With only a few exceptions, such as New Classical architecture’s mixed successes in reviving Greco-Roman forms, and Postmodern architecture’s irritating attempts to parody them, no modern buildings include the kind of highly complex painting, woodwork, ironwork, and sculpture that characterized the most strikingly beautiful structures of prior eras.

4. We've just celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. There has been a war of words on social media about schism and doctrine, etc. This essay by Michael Reeves, however, I think summarizes well what the Reformation was really about.

For some, the Protestant Reformation conjures up images of dusty old tomes and yawn-a-minute lectures from even dustier old men. We Christians talk about the past an awful lot, and this year many of us have been going on about Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the others even more than usual. Why so much fuss about all these dead guys? Aren’t we in danger of becoming outdated and irrelevant?

Actually, marking the anniversary of the Reformation isn’t about reveling in past glories or pining for an idyllic golden age. We’re celebrating this year because 500 years ago, when the church was deep in darkness, God shone the light of the his gospel afresh. Luther made a discovery that changed the world then, and continues to transform lives and cultures today. What the German monk uncovered in his Bible is as explosive and wonderful now as it ever was.

Here are three things every single Christian should know about the Reformation.

5. I wrote a piece for IFWE on the importance of building relationships with the poor in order to help alleviate poverty. It's not enough just to cut the poor a check to keep them out of your neighborhood.

The separation of people in different economic brackets may also keep poorer people from establishing the relationships they need to get jobs that will break cycles of poverty—some of which have existed for generations.

In his much-discussed book, Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance notes that one significant disadvantage of his poor, rural upbringing was that he did not understand the social expectations that were necessary to get him to Yale Law School and later to a high-paying law firm. Vance was able to break the cycle largely because of his experience in the Marine Corps and helpful professors that took him under their wing. In other words, he happened to gain the social capital needed to see a positive impact. Unfortunately, those opportunities are not readily available to everyone in similar situations.

Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer’s book, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, provides many other examples of material poverty being nearly inescapable because of a lack of social connections. In The Financial Diaries, Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider relate data that help show how social capital makes material poverty bearable in some robustly interconnected communities and how a lack of it can be detrimental to the isolated poor.