Goodness From the Interwebs for 12/8

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A handful of links that interested, amused or informed me from around the interwebs:
  • Every coach at every level, but especially the little league level, would like to not only hang this sign up, but mail it to every parent.
  • Garth Brooks is a mega super music star, but apparently he just recently got on Facebook. Given the creepiness of his intro video, I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

  • Bill Burr loves Thanksgiving, but hates Black Friday. As he puts it, “Nothing in Walmart is worth getting trampled for.”

Photo Credit: ted craig via Compfight cc

What Should We “Do” With Bill Cosby? Probably Nothing.

by Ted Kluck

One of the funnest things about the Happy Rant Podcast is verbally sparring with Stephen. Stephen is opinionated and a little socially awkward which makes him really fun to do this with. He also occasionally helps me to care about things that I’m naturally a little too jaded to care about.

In his Bill Cosby piece, which was very good, Stephen engaged in the time-tested Reformed tradition of helping you know “what to do” with something or someone. We all (writers of a Reformed persuasion) do it. I’ve done it a bunch, and it’s not necessarily wrong though it can sometimes be annoying because it presupposes that we know what to “do” (meaning, in reality, think/blog about) and are telling you. We somehow know how you should think about everything from Ferguson to whether or not Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame (he should…see, I can’t help it).

What’s important is that Stephen said all of the right, hopeful things about the Gospel as it pertains to Cosby, and I really mean that. That’s the best and most important thing about Stephen’s piece. I’ve written many of the same sorts of things about Mike Tyson over the years and have meant every one of them. Stephen did an especially good job of describing the heart-hardening slide of sin and presenting Christ as the only answer to that slide.

But a headline suggesting that we have to “do something” with the Cosby situation, and the implication that we in fact know what to do is probably one reason why Reformed people come off as a little smug, condescending and know-it-all-ish. Unless we’re Cosby’s pastor, we’re not actually going to do anything. We may say that we’ll pray for Cosby and the women (and we should), but we probably won’t (truth be told). Specifically, I don’t think Stephen has to avoid showing The Cosby Show to his kids because it wasn’t Cliff Huxtable who did those things to those women – rather, it was the guy portraying the fictional, loveable, semi-perfect writer’s-room creation that was Cliff Huxtable, whose only vice was trying to sneak junk food past Claire and occasionally getting caught.

By the “can’t watch Cosby” line of logic I wouldn’t be able to watch Jerry Maguire because Tom Cruise is in a wacky God-hating cult, wouldn’t be able to appreciate an Adrian Peterson highlight, and wouldn’t be able to enjoy watching a Tyson fight because of what he did. To be clear, all of these men did or do things are truly sad. However, I also acknowledge that these men have talent that I appreciate in a way that is (right or wrong) compartmentalized from their personal lives. In the same way, I don’t have to see a police record or theological white paper from my plumber before he fixes my toilet.

What makes the Cosby thing slightly more complicated is the fact that he made is living doing the “good, wholesome guy” schtick for so many years…and because of this we feel betrayed or let down by him. He literally made his living by playing a perfect father. He was the comedian about whom we said things like, “I just appreciate him because he so clean and he doesn’t have to swear to be funny!” (see also: Regan, Brian) Because of this, and because of the Cliff charm, we may have just assumed he was a Christian.

Our kids don’t need us to “do anything” with Cosby, because they have no idea, really, who he is. Nor do they care. And unless we know Cosby personally, Cosby doesn’t need us to “do anything” with Cosby. And God certainly doesn’t need us to “do anything” with Bill Cosby…because God IS the perfect father that not even Cliff Huxtable could be.

NOTE:

If anything, Stephen should avoid watching The Cosby Show because it creates a completely unrealistic and unattainable picture of family that makes it look too perfect and easy.  A family where dad works like three hours a week from a doctor’s office in his basement, and the only vestige of mom being a lawyer is the abundance of money and sweet 80s pantsuits.  The big Cosby Show “conflicts” included Rudy learning how to make her bed and Theo finding out he was dyslexic, which is to say that nobody really got hurt in The Cosby Show making it completely unlike a real family.

Fresh Friday Quote

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Each Friday I will share a quote I appreciate. It might be long or short. It might be funny or thought provoking.

A Conversation between Meg Murry and her mother:

“And you think all this has something to do with Father?”

“I think it must have.”

“But what?”

“That I don’t know. But it seems the only explanation”

“Do you think things always have an explanation?”

“Yes. I believe that they do . But I think that with our human limitations we’re not always able to understand the explanations. But you see, Meg, just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean that the explanation doesn’t exist.”

“I like to understand things,” Meg said.

“We all do. But it isn’t always possible”

- Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle In Time, pages 42-43

The Young Earth/Old Earth Debate, the Black Friday Phenomenon, and the Onslaught of Christmas

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It’s time for a new episode of The Happy Rant. As usual, we manage to be slightly funny, slightly annoying, partially offensive, and mostly uninformed. In this episode, we cheerfully rant about:

  • The young earth / old earth debate. Is this argument really a hill we want to die on? How do we talk to our kids about evolution versus creation?
  • The Black Friday phenomenon. Why the heck do all these crazy people fight to get $50 off a television?
  • The onslaught of the Christmas season. I get particularly cranky during this section.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Download the podcast on iTunes.
  • Leave us a five star rating (it would really help if you did this).
  • If you don’t use iTunes, listen with the player below.

The Best Talk on Race I Have Ever Heard

In 2005 Carl Ellis gave a talk at the Desiring God National Conference called “The Sovereignty of God and Ethnic-Based Suffering.” At the time and to this day it is the most helpful, formative talk on race and Christianity I have ever heard. As a young white man I needed Dr. Ellis to open my eyes to the effects of the fall on people’s hearts and on cultural structures as it pertains to race and the abuse of power. His talk changed my perspective and made a significant difference in my life.

If you care about the events in Ferguson, MO, in New York, and the surrounding conflict, Ellis’s talk is so important. It will help you, especially those who are white, to have a deeper understanding of oppression, suffering, and their effects on individuals and society. Please watch this, and if you don’t have time please bookmark it to watch it later. It is a bit long at just over an hour, but it is worth it. It is not the impassioned plea some will want. It is not an excoriation. But is excellent. Dr. Ellis is engaging and brilliant and you will, without question, benefit.

 

The Sovereignty of God and Ethnic-Based Suffering – Carl Ellis from Barnabas Piper on Vimeo.

 

Used with permission from Desiring God

3 Posts To Help White Christians Understand Ferguson and the Eric Garner Conflict

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One of the most difficult things for most white American Christians (or really any white American) right now, as racial controversy sweeps over us, is understanding the dynamics of it. We see the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. We have opinions of how to interpret the facts surrounding them. We see the respective grand juries decline to indict. Some feel that is gross injustice. Others trust the justice system to be fair. And we are met with an entirely different response from the black community. We cannot fully grasp the feelings and experience of our black brothers and sisters. We have lived a different existence than they have even as we shared schools, shopping centers, and workplaces. Our lives are markedly different and that has shaped how we view the events in Ferguson and New York.

As a young white man, I am not the best one to explain what this means, so I will let other wiser and more qualified people do it for me. Here are three excerpts from articles, two from Thabiti Anyabwile and one from Tim Wise. They have decidedly different tones, and Wise might strike you as aggressive or abrasive. But I plead with you to humbly read and absorb what is said not just be put off by how it is said. Put yourself in the shoes of the authors and immerse yourself in the experiences they describe. You and I need to do so if we want to contribute anything to stopping injustice and closing the racial gap that exists. As people who believe all of mankind bears God’s image and who believe in justice as a reflection of God’s character this is vital

4 Common But Misleading Themes in Ferguson-Like Times

by Thabiti Anyabwile

Finally, many people meet Ferguson-like situations with questions about whether such events are racially-motivated or simply unfortunate. Frankly, that’s a good and necessary question that in some sense has to be weighed on a case-by-case basis where the specific incidents are in view. People of good faith and conscience can look at individual cases and arrive at differing conclusions. After all, none of us can peer with omniscience into the hearts and minds of other people and conclude infallibly what they were feeling or thinking. We must leave that to God—unless the persons themselves confess such a motivation.

But does this mean we cannot suspect our systems of having systemic and systematic biases? After all, all of our systems were shaped and forged during long stretches of history where systematic bias was the stated acceptable norm and not the exception. Do we imagine that such systems change overnight or in a generation, or that they don’t bequeath to us a legacy of learned practice that still today sometimes carry unintended bias?

We are just plain wrong if we think such systemic bias is not possible and does not happen.

Further, to say the root problem is sin is absolutely correct. But to suggest sin does not manifest itself in systemic and systematic bias is absolutely false.

Most White People In America Are Completely Oblivious

by Tim Wise (If a “donate” box pops up and leads you to a separate page, just close it and then hit back on your browser to get to the article.)

To white America, in the main, police are the folks who help get our cats out of the tree, or who take us on ride-arounds to show us how gosh-darned exciting it is to be a cop. We experience police most often as helpful, as protectors of our lives and property. But that is not the black experience by and large; and black people know this, however much we don’t. The history of law enforcement in America, with regard to black folks, has been one of unremitting oppression. That is neither hyperbole nor opinion, but incontrovertible fact. From slave patrols to overseers to the Black Codes to lynching, it is a fact. From dozens of white-on-black riots that marked the first half of the 20th century (in which cops participated actively) to Watts to Rodney King to Abner Louima to Amadou Diallo to the railroading of the Central Park 5, it is a fact. From the New Orleans Police Department’s killings of Adolph Archie to Henry Glover to the Danziger Bridge shootings there in the wake of Katrina to stop-and-frisk in places like New York, it’s a fact. And the fact that white people don’t know this history, have never been required to learn it, and can be considered even remotely informed citizens without knowing it, explains a lot about what’s wrong with America. Black people have to learn everything about white people just to stay alive. They especially and quite obviously have to know what scares us, what triggers the reptilian part of our brains and convinces us that they intend to do us harm. Meanwhile, we need know nothing whatsoever about them. We don’t have to know their history, their experiences, their hopes and dreams, or their fears. And we can go right on being oblivious to all that without consequence. It won’t be on the test, so to speak.

 

One Man’s Justice Another Man’s Nightmare: It Really Could Have Been Me

by Thabiti Anyabwile

I am Mike Brown in so many ways. Our lives are not that different.

And, like Brown, I’ve had my encounters with the police. Many of them were fine. But they were always tense. Even the way an officer at a high school basketball game would afterward speak with us players, hand sometimes casually resting atop his holstered weapon, felt as if it could go terribly wrong in a second. I never mouthed off at an officer that I recall. But I wanted to–especially when I knew I was being unfairly treated, when I felt my dignity was being trampled and my humanity swallowed each time I had to reply, “Yes, sir” or “No, sir.” Like the time campus police shoved me in the back of a patrol car so a female student–hidden from my view–could take a look at me as the possible suspect that assaulted her. It didn’t matter that there were twenty university faculty who could testify that I’d just spent the last hour playing basketball in the gym with them. My life could have been very different at any point during any encounter with officers.

And here’s the kicker: The headlines would have focused on the bullet points above. They would likely have covered my “checkered past” and family life while leaving out my grades. The benefit of the doubt likely would have been given to the officers while I was vilified. And far too many people would have concluded based on the media profile that “justice” had been served. They would have repeated the notions as easily as greetings pass between friends. They would say, “I got my due.”

 

Please think on these articles. Share them. Book mark them and come back to them. We must work to understand. We must go out of our way to do so, to acknowledge that there is an experience far outside our own and that it has oppressed and hurt many. Starting there we can begin t engage better, love better, and act more fruitfully. It is just the starting point, but without it we will go nowhere.

An article I wrote previously that might help ease readers into this sensitive topic is called “Why White People Don’t Like To Talk About Race.” 

10 Great Biographies Worth Reading

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One of the best ways to grow, both as a person and as a Christian, is to learn from the lives of other men and women. What follows is a list of some of the best biographies out there. Some of the biographies are about Christians, others are not. God’s common grace sparkles throughout the entire world, and we would be wise to learn from Christians and non-Christians alike.

The biographies on this list are either ones that I have read personally or have been highly recommended by people I trust. Get reading!

John Adams –  by David McCullough – A brilliant look into one of America’s Founding Father. Pretty long, but well worth the read.

Washington: A Life - by Ron Chernow – Few men shaped American history like George Washington. This is the go-to biography on the man.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy  - by Eric Metaxas – Bonhoeffer was an influential pastor during Hitler’s reign of terror. He even was involved in a plan to assassinate Hitler!

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther – by Roland Bainton – What can be said about Martin Luther? He was a Reformer, a fugitive, a writer, a preacher, a Bible translator, and a beer lover. You really should familiarize yourself with Martin Luther.

C.S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet – by Alistair McGrath – I know that some people would recommend Lewis’ autobiography or one of the older biographies, but I enjoyed this one the most.

John G. Paton – The Autobiography of the Pioneer Missionary To The New Hebrides – by John Paton – He was told he would be eaten by cannibals. He went anyway. Enough said.

Jonathan Edwards: A Life – by George Marsden – Jonathan Edwards was the greatest theologian produced by North America, and his influence

Steve Jobs – by Walter Isaacson – Few men have influenced the tech world like Steve Jobs. He was a fascinating man. Driven, obsessive, eccentric, abrasive. This biography is worth the read.

Churchill – by Paul Johnson – You could read a three volume, massive biography on Churchill, or you could read this concise, yet well written bio.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption – by Laura Hillenbrand – Not a biography in the traditional sense, but an incredible story nonetheless. This is absolutely one of my favorite books.

An Easy, Low-key, Non-threatening Way To Share The Gospel That Anyone Can Do

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I’m not an evangelist.

I’m not bold. I regularly pray for boldness, but I usually chicken out when I have an opportunity to say something. I especially don’t like “cold call” evangelism – going up to strangers and trying to engage them to share the gospel with them.  What’s a chicken-hearted weakling like me to do?

I was recently stirred when a brother shared at fellowship group how he got saved. He said that when he was in college a friend of his met with him weekly over coffee and they read through one of the Gospels together.  They met week after week, reading at a leisurely pace, stopping to discuss any questions my friend had. It was low-key, no pressure, and my friend believed in Jesus along the way.

Not only that but it involved coffee!  

I’ve also been stirred recently by reading the Gospel of John – in it the word “believe” is mentioned 100 times.  John tells us his purpose in writing his book in Chapter 20:30-31:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

The purpose of the book of John is to help people BELIEVE. When we BELIEVE in Jesus’ name – that Jesus is God the Son, the Christ who became man, died for our sins, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven – WE HAVE LIFE!  So when people read through the book of John they’ll see Jesus’ miracles and read his own words about his identity.  And many will believe.  So I prayed, worked up some nerve, and called a guy I met recently and asked him if he’d like to read through the Gospel of John together.  He said yes! So we’ve started meeting for coffee and reading through the book together.

What I love about reading through John with someone is that it’s low-key and nonthreatening. I don’t feel like I have to convince them by my brilliant arguments – John does all the talking for me. John is telling my friend about Jesus.  And John presents a full picture of Jesus, which you can’t do in a brief presentation.  The gospel is like a seed.  It takes time germinate, take root, and grow.  The more truth we have about Jesus, the more likely faith will grow in our hearts.  That’s the advantage of slowly going through John.

Maybe you have a friend or family member that you are not able to meet with. But they might be willing to read through the Gospel of John. There are many booklet-sized versions of the Gospel of John.  Here is a link to the ESV version, which you can get at Crossway for $1.79. So if you can find someone who will go through it with you, it will cost you $3.58 for 2 copies, plus coffee.  (Treat your friend).

Is there someone you can think of that might be willing to meet with you and work through the Gospel of John together? Consider praying about it and giving them a call. The worst thing that could happen is they could say no. But they might say yes.

Is Your Phone Drowning Out The Voice of God?

+photo by Johan Larson

+photo by Johan Larson

It’s no secret that I’m a pretty big tech nerd. I love my iPhone, my iPad Air, and my Macbook Pro. I love the fact that all three of my devices seamlessly integrate, to the point where I can even take a phone call on my Macbook. I love using Twitter and Facebook to connect with people (although I’m starting to despise the “personality” tests that are beginning to dominate FB – no you would not be Luke Skywalker if you were a Star Wars character). I try to stay up on all the latest gadgets and apps and video game systems. I’d like to get a smart watch. I love the little tracking chip I had installed in my neck (just kidding). Needless to say, I spend quite a bit of time in front of a screen.

And while I’m certainly not opposed to spending time in front of a screen, I’m beginning to wonder if I my screen time is causing me to not hear God’s voice. You see, God is speaking to me all the time. He speaks to me a thousand times a day. The question is: am I listening?

Now before you scream, “Heretic!”, and burn me at the stake, let me explain. God is speaking to me all the time, but not audibly, not in the “still small voice” kind of way (“Wear the red socks, Stephen!”), and not by causing the clouds to form a cross, or something weird like that.

God is speaking to me all the time through creation.

Psalm 19:1-2 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”

Every day, the brilliant, blinding, healing, heating sun cries out, “I was created, and my Creator is glorious!” The stars sing a three billion part harmony, of which the main refrain is, “We were made by a creative, brilliant, overwhelming God!”

Matthew 6:26 says, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

My house is surrounded by trees, and those trees are full of birds. Every time a bird eats a nut or insect or worm, it is declaring, “Someone is taking care of me, and that same Someone will take care of you! If God takes care of me, don’t you think he’ll take care of you?”

Isaiah 40:8 says, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

The trees that surround my house are currently changing colors and dropping leaves. As a leaf falls to the ground, its dying cry is, “I perish quickly, but the Word of God lasts forever! Trust it!”

God has filled the world with reminders of his glory, splendor, love, affection, and fatherly care. God really does want to speak to us through the sunshine and the Milky Way and the sparrows and the flowers. Creation is constantly belting out the glory of God, if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Technology is a tremendous blessing. But I’m beginning to wonder if all my texting and Tweeting and Instagramming might be crowding out the song of creation. I’m wondering if the constant beeps and chimes and space sounds (my text message alert) are drowning out the glory of what is happening all around me. Maybe I would worry less if I spent less time on my phone and more time pondering the birds. Maybe I would have more joy if I spent less time “liking” things on Facebook and more time basking in the sunshine. Maybe I would treasure God’s word more if I spent more time kicking around in the leaves.

Sorry, gotta run. My text messages keep piling up.