Christian Living

The Neglected Power of Christian Joy

We are into the thick of the baseball season; teams compete in their divisions. Some will meet expectations, some will exceed them, while others will disappoint. We are used to competition in sports, business, and even regarding military preparedness.

We rarely think of virtues as competing with one another; instead, we prefer to think of them as complementing one another. Paul lists the three great virtues, “faith, hope and love” in 1 Corinthians 13:13, yet he informs us that “love” is the greatest of the three. This does not mean that faith, hope, and love are mutually exclusive. They work together.

Two books of the Bible are devoted to the virtue of wisdom: Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. How can anyone underestimate the importance of wisdom in light of this? The fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:22-23) and the armor of God (Eph. 6:14-18) are two more examples of the many “virtue lists” found in God’s Word.

With all these virtue lists floating around, we can end up dizzy. What do I pursue: love, faith, holiness, graciousness, zeal, knowledge, joy, peace, goodness, gentleness, or self-control? The answer is “yes.” These attributes are complementary, but they can be examined individually. After examining them, we need to integrate them into the whole package of who we are. In a sense, being a balanced Christian means being a complete Christian; we attain balance by including all these virtues and excluding none. None of us attains this perfect balance; indeed, we probably cannot even agree as to what that perfect balance should be.

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Should We Suffer Fools Gladly?

Holbein - Folly

Just about everybody complains about the quality of discourse on the Internet. In my experience, it isn’t much worse than the quality of discourse most other places—with one important exception. Foolishness of the verbal variety has always required cheap and easy forms of communication in order to really thrive. The talk of fools is not merely ignorant but impulsive, spontaneous. So, for centuries, the cost of publishing has been a mitigating factor, filtering much of the worst sort of foolishness out of the world of the written word. Printed error tended to at least be thoughtful error.

But decades of steadily-improving Internet technology have changed all that. Now any idiot who can click a mouse can publish his insights for the eyes of millions at the cost of pocket change. And since the Web also facilitates rapid interaction (of the sort previously limited to conversation), fools can now speak or write their minds (Prov.18:2) at each other at a rate, and with a passion (Prov. 12:16), previously undreamt of.1

So it’s probably fair to say: there’s no foolishness like Internet foolishness.

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You Can't Quit! It's a Marathon!

heart issuesAppeared originally at SI on June 18, 2005 (archived version, with comments).

I admire the speed displayed by Asafa Powell. He’s 22 and runs like lightning. Possessing the fastest feet in the world for the 100 meters, he clocked an amazing 9.77 seconds in the Super Grand Prix in Athens. That’s fast.

Revved-up speedsters are fun to watch, but I wonder, can they go for the long distance? Can a sprinter endure prolonged tribulation? It might be easy to make a mad sprint in the full sun, but how does one look when the wind is tearing at the clothes and half-dime sized hail is pelting the scalp.

Personally, I don’t like hard testings. I would rather be sitting by the fire in a mountain cabin reading a good book or floating with exotic fish in the Sea of Eilat. But that is not how life usually works. It pounds and grinds; just look at the countenances of people as they drive home in rush hour traffic (yes, we even have this in Idaho, too many spud trucks).

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Shortcut Christianity

Duty binds me to inform my readers of some astonishing news. If you’re not sitting down, you may want to do so. We received a fax at our church office recently announcing—and I quote—“A Genuine College Degree in 2 weeks! Have you ever thought that the only thing stopping you from a great job and better pay was a few letters behind your name? Well now you can get them! BA, BSc, MA, MSc, MBA, PhD. Within 2 weeks! No Study Required! 100% Verifiable! These are real, genuine degrees…Order yours today! Just call the number below.”

There you have it: a PhD without study! You’re but one phone call and two short weeks away from unlocking the door of unprecedented opportunity and taking a quantum leap in societal status. Cheers!

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Book Review - Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality

Homosexuality. The word stirs many reactions today. Many Christians who don’t know homosexuals personally remain puzzled and scared by this term. Many suspect the word does not picture a reality, only an intentional perversion of God’s created order. Pat answers are easy, and when it comes to homosexuality a simple Bible-based condemnation seems all that is in order. It is easier and more convenient for us to file the word, and whatever reality it represents, away into a tidy corner—far away from our experience.

But in today’s world, we can no longer afford to ignore homosexuality. It is all around us, and if we open our eyes, we’ll see it is affecting people we rub shoulders with at work, it’s in our children’s schools, and has even entered our churches. The debate is here—and more. It’s not just a debate, there is a secret battle being waged in countless hearts around us. A battle to believe in Jesus despite personal homosexual attractions.

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Taking Advantage or Caring?

Aesop told the tale of the Peasant and the Apple Tree.

A peasant had an apple tree growing in his garden, which bore no fruit, but merely served to provide a shelter from the heat for the sparrows and grasshoppers which sat and chirped in its branches. Disappointed at its barrenness, he determined to cut it down, and went and fetched his axe for the purpose. But when the sparrows and the grasshoppers saw what he was about to do, they begged him to spare it, and said to him, “If you destroy the tree we shall have to seek shelter elsewhere, and you will no longer have our merry chirping to enliven your work in the garden.” He, however, refused to listen to them, and set to work with a will to cut through the trunk. A few strokes showed that it was hollow inside and contained a swarm of bees and a large store of honey. Delighted with his find he threw down his axe, saying, “The old tree is worth keeping after all.”

The moral of the story: Utility is most men’s test of worth.

As I thought about Aesop’s fable, I thought how often utility is the rule. Some people are involved in church primarily to receive, not to give. Others view their spouses as servants or keep points as to who owes whom. Countless Christians serve God only for personal benefit. Utility is most folks’ test of worth. But—Praise the Lord—there are many exceptions to this rule.

The Bible speaks against our attempts to take advantage of others

The Bible warns us against utilitarian thinking, but urges us to think in terms of reciprocity, giving, receiving, submitting to one another, etc. Scripture also warns us about abusing our authority or exalting ourselves at the cost of another.

The Bible warns us frequently about taking advantage of others.

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Defeating Boredom

The boredom problem

American Christians and Americans in general are suffering from a plague of boredom. This boredom epidemic is a factor in our moral, social, and spiritual downturn. It contributes toward wasted lives, fractured families, and what seems to me to be a rise in depressed persons. We live in a nation where people work, do what they are constrained to do, and then view DVD after DVD or spend hours with video games.

Evangelical and fundamental Christianity is also suffering from a plague of boredom. It seems that more and more people are bored in our services, tired of the Bible, and cannot focus their attention upon spiritual things for very long.

Decades ago, most Americans belonged to clubs, had people over for dinner, read, and developed a variety of hobbies and interests. Then came the TV, and the more technology we add, the worse it gets. Robert Putnam in his book, Bowling Alone, documents that baby boomers are half as likely as previous generations to read the paper, vote, belong to a club, or have people over for dinner. And Generation X is purported to participate half as much as the boomers (or one-fourth as much as previous generations).

According to Richard Winter in his book, Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment, the more we entertain ourselves with movies or the Internet, the more bored Americans become. Most people have no strategy to reduce boredom from life.

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