Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Manute Bol: A Fool for Christ

This is a selection from Jon Shields recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled Manute Bol's Radical Christianity:
Manute Bol, who died last week at the age of 47, is one player who never achieved redemption in the eyes of sports journalists. His life embodied an older, Christian conception of redemption that has been badly obscured by its current usage.

Bol, a Christian Sudanese immigrant, believed his life was a gift from God to be used in the service of others. As he put it to Sports Illustrated in 2004: "God guided me to America and gave me a good job. But he also gave me a heart so I would look back."

He was not blessed, however, with great athletic gifts. As a center for the Washington Bullets, Bol was more spectacle than superstar. At 7 feet, 7 inches tall and 225 pounds, he was both the tallest and thinnest player in the league. He averaged a mere 2.6 points per game over the course of his career, though he was a successful shot blocker given that he towered over most NBA players.

Bol reportedly gave most of his fortune, estimated at $6 million, to aid Sudanese refugees. As one twitter feed aptly put it: 'Most NBA cats go broke on cars, jewelry & groupies. Manute Bol went broke building hospitals.'

When his fortune dried up, Bol raised more money for charity by doing what most athletes would find humiliating: He turned himself into a humorous spectacle. Bol was hired, for example, as a horse jockey, hockey player and celebrity boxer. Some Americans simply found amusement in the absurdity of him on a horse or skates. And who could deny the comic potential of Bol boxing William "the Refrigerator" Perry, the 335-pound former defensive linemen of the Chicago Bears?

Bol agreed to be a clown. But he was not willing to be mocked for his own personal gain as so many reality-television stars are. Bol let himself be ridiculed on behalf of suffering strangers in the Sudan; he was a fool for Christ.

During his final years, Bol suffered more than mere mockery in the service of others. While he was doing relief work in the Sudan, he contracted a painful skin disease that ultimately contributed to his death.

Bol's life and death throws into sharp relief the trivialized manner in which sports journalists employ the concept of redemption. In the world of sports media players are redeemed when they overcome some prior "humiliation" by playing well. Redemption then is deeply connected to personal gain and celebrity. It leads to fatter contracts, shoe endorsements, and adoring women.

Yet as Bol reminds us, the Christian understanding of redemption has always involved lowering and humbling oneself. It leads to suffering and even death."

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I Never Wanted To Follow Jesus

There is a song that I remember hearing as a kid called "I have decided to follow Jesus." It's a slower song that is supposed to be worshipful. In the first verse, the phrase "I have decided to follow Jesus" is repeated a few times, followed by "no turning back, no turning back." This video might jog your memory.

I was reminded about the song a couple of years ago when I heard the tune again from Red Mountain Church. The melody was the same, but the lyrics were changed. In her incredible voice, Ashley Spurling simply says "I never wanted to follow Jesus...He rescued me."

I'm very glad Red Mountain redid the song and corrected the lyrics. I'm not sure how the original lyrics were ever meant to be a worship song. The truth is no one desires to follow Christ. We were enemies of God and hated Him until He gave us new hearts to accept the free offer of redemption. The response to this glorious truth is not "I have decided to follow Jesus", a statement of self-determination. That isn't worship.

This is:

Update: My friend Evan relayed the back story behind the writing of the original song. It can be found here. In the context that the song was written, I now see the justification for the use of the line "I have decided to follow Jesus." So, I apologize for posting without knowing the context.

The truth is we do make decisions daily to follow Christ rather than the world. And a newly converted person can declare "I have decided to follow Jesus." But this post is still a plea for these declarations to be rooted in the knowledge of the sovereign decision of God to allow us to make these choices. Dead heart => made alive => respond with repentance and faith => worship God for His grace.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Paste's Best Albums of 2010 So Far

Six of the staff at Paste Magazine recently listed their top ten albums of 2010 so far. Combining their lists, here is their top eight:

1. LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
2. Sleigh Bells - Treats
3. Janelle Monae - The Archandroid
4. Phosphorescent - Here's To Taking It Easy
5. Titus Andronicus - Monitor
6. Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More
7. Suckers - Wild Smile
8. Frightened Rabbit - The Winter of Mixed Drinks

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mumford & Sons

I've been listening to a lot of Mumford & Sons lately. Their album Sigh No More is really, really good. They are a London based band that has an Americana/Folk sound. Their songs almost all start softly and then become really intense, in a very captivating way. And their lyrics are incredibly thoughtful. For instance, here are a few lines from the first song and title track Sigh No More:
Love that will not betray you, dismay or enslave you,
It will set you free.
Be more like the man you were made to be.

There is a design, an alignment to cry,
At my heart you see,
The beauty of love as it was made to be.
And here's the video for one of my favorite songs, The Cave:

Finally, here are some lyrics from the final song on the album, a song called After the Storm (video here):
I will die alone and be left there.
Well I guess I'll just go home,
Oh God knows where.
Because death is just so full and mine so small.
Well I'm scared of what's behind and what's before.

And there will come a time, you'll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Random Musical Creativity

I'm not sure why, but this is one of the most fascinating things I have ever seen (thanks to Abraham for the link). I think I could spend days creating different beats and sounds on it.

Side note: It reminds me a lot of the amazing kaossilator. Thankfully the Bailey's own one of these and let me mess with it from time to time.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Harem of Imaginary Brides

As someone who struggled with it a lot of his life, C.S. Lewis once wrote that the real evil of masturbation is that it:
"sends the man back into the person of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman....Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover; no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself." (George Sayer, Jack p. 208)

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Decline of Christian America is a Good Thing

Dan Harris with ABC sits down with five young American evangelicals, in this ten minute interview, to discuss how they view the future of Christianity in America (thanks Roy). It is in response to this Newsweek article in April 2009. Here's the opening question/statement:
DH: You have said that the death of Christian America is a good thing.

Gabe Lyons: Yeah, what I mean by that is this moving on from where people just assume that Christian ideas govern everything in our world, and Christians rely on that almost as a basis for their ideas and their thoughts and no longer have to qualify them to just an average person who might be skeptical or cynical. That new environment is challenging for Christians and that's a good thing for the faith. Christianity historically has grown when it's been under pressure, when it's not been under this dominant power position...It's not a bad thing for us to be in a place where it's not just assumed that everyone is a Christian. It forces us to go deeper. It forces us to go back to our roots. And I think that's a good thing for the movement of Jesus.
I also came across this post from a year ago as the author responds to the Newsweek article. He says some things that I believe are dead on:
"There never was such a thing as 'Christian America.' And the Christians in America shouldn't worry about that.

There cannot be such a 'Christian America,' in fact, because citizenship and discipleship can never be synonymous terms. Christians owe an allegiance to Jesus Christ above the allegiance to the nation. And that means that a Christian's primary frame of social reference is not society at large but rather the church.

If we, as Christians, are really worried about declining numbers of the faithful in this land, we should practice a more robust form of discipleship. Ultimately, it is not by baptizing secular institutions or passing 'Christian' laws that we practice fidelity to God. It is rather by preaching the word of God, celebrating the sacraments, forming disciples of Jesus Christ, and witnessing to the love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit through our works of piety and mercy in the world.

It is good when Christians exert an influence on the society in which they live. Their participation in the larger world can lead to greater civility in social life and more compassion in the legislation and execution of laws. But the telos of the practice of Christian faith is not to make the world Christian. That makes no Scriptural sense. It is instead to spread the gospel and build up the church. And yes, there is a real difference.

So we shouldn't worry about trying to Christianize America. We should just be concerned with Christianizing the church."

Friday, June 11, 2010

Misdirecting twenty-something men in the church

This is a good, brief article discussing twenty-something men in the church today. It looks at how spiritually mature men are often misdirected by their church community to seminary or vocational ministry when they have passions and gifting for other things. The reason this is happening is because "spiritually interested young men are the exception rather than the expectation." Here's the conclusion:
When a younger brother says to me that “he feels called to ministry,” I usually understand that to mean that he craves and needs validation and would like to use the church to make him feel good about himself. Or even worse, as Leon Podles explains in his book The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity, many young men feel called to the church because uninitiated men find the church to be “a safe place, a refuge from the challenges of life and therefore attracts men who are fearful of making a break with the secure world of childhood dominated by women.”

Whatever the reason, it would be great to see local churches so healthy and full of twentysomethings that the presence of spiritually vibrant twentysomething men would be so normal that we would have better criteria for sending men into ministry beyond being “on fire for Christ” and having a desire to teach and serve. That should be simply normal for any man following Jesus.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Your Brain on Gadgets

Coupled with my post from a week ago, this NY Times article almost makes me want to give up technological gadgets all together, for fear that this is happening to me:
"Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.

These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored."

Monday, June 07, 2010

Your Inner Lawyer

Paul Tripp:
“When confronted, how active is your ‘inner lawyer,’ arguing in your defense? Or can you listen because Christ is your only defense?”
(HT:Of First Importance)

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Godly Grief Produces True Repentance

Kevin DeYoung has some good thoughts on godly grief over sin from 2 Corinthains 7:
Godly grief sees the vertical dimension of our sin. I have a growing concern that some Christians are describing sin in categories that mask its true nature. Sin is not simply a sad thing because it can wreck our lives. It is not just the ruining of shalom. Sin does more than make God sad that his world is not the way it’s supposed to be. Sin makes God angry. It is offensive to God. His wrath is aroused not simply because we’re missing out on his best, but because we have violated his law, rejected his Lordship, and made ourselves gods in his place.


There is an eternal difference between regret and repentance. Regret feels bad about past sins. Repentance turns away from past sins. Most of us are content with regret. We just want to feel bad for awhile, have a good cry, enjoy the cathartic experience, bewail our sin and how selfish/stupid/sorry we are. But we don’t really want to change. We don’t really want to live different than we have been.

Godly grief produces true repentance, which leads to salvation (v. 10). Instead of obsessing over regrets and feeling bad due to the opinions of others, godly grief mourns for sin, turns from sin, and finds forgiveness for sin in Christ.
Read the whole thing

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Science Cannot Account For Everything

William Lane Craig explains how science cannot account for everything:
  1. Logic and Mathematical Truths (Science presupposes logic and math)
  2. Metaphysical truths
  3. Ethical beliefs about statement of value
  4. Aesthetic judgments
  5. Science itself

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Being Truly Reformed

Ray Ortlund has a great post about what it means to be Reformed. He does this by comparing much of what (wrongly) goes on in the Reformed church today to the error held by the many in the Galatian church. Like circumcision back then, Reformed theology today can become for many a form of divisiveness in the church, functioning as an addition to Jesus.

I am a proponent of Reformed theology because I believe this is what the Bible teaches. As I've come to understand Reformed theology I have been less than gracious with others who hold other views. However, I have been challenged the last couple of years (mainly through my Ecclesiology and the Sacraments course at RTS this past spring) to be more ecumenical. And this article by Ortlund is another encouragement towards this kind of unity.

Here is his conclusion:
...Let Jesus alone stand forth in my theology, in my emotional well-being and in my relationships with other Christians!” This settledness in Paul’s heart made him a life-giving man for other people. He was a free man, setting others free (Galatians 5:1). This is the acid test of a truly Reformed ministry – that other believers need not be Reformed in order to be respected and included in our hearts.

Whatever divides us emotionally from other Bible-believing, Christ-honoring Christians is a “plus” we’re adding to the gospel. It is the Galatian impulse of self-exaltation. It can even become a club with which we bash other Christians, at least in our thoughts, to punish, to exclude and to force into line with us.

What unifies the church is the gospel. What defines the gospel is the Bible. What interprets the Bible correctly is a hermeneutic centered on Jesus Christ crucified, the all-sufficient Savior of sinners, who gives himself away on terms of radical grace to all alike. What proves that that gospel hermeneutic has captured our hearts is that we are not looking down on other believers but lifting them up, not seeing ourselves as better but grateful for their contribution to the cause, not standing aloof but embracing them freely, not wishing they would become like us but serving them in love (Galatians 5:13).

My Reformed friend, can you move among other Christian groups and really enjoy them? Do you admire them? Even if you disagree with them in some ways, do you learn from them? What is the emotional tilt of your heart – toward them or away from them? If your Reformed theology has morphed functionally into Galatian sociology, the remedy is not to abandon your Reformed theology. The remedy is to take your Reformed theology to a deeper level. Let it reduce you to Jesus only. Let it humble you. Let this gracious doctrine make you a fun person to be around. The proof that we are Reformed will be all the wonderful Christians we discover around us who are not Reformed. Amazing people. Heroic people. Blood-bought people. People with whom we are eternally one – in Christ alone.
Read the whole thing

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Guinness Is Good For You

I recently read the book The Search for God and Guinness by Stephen Mansfield. My roommate Roy read it several months ago and I was intrigued by the things he learned from the book. It's the story of how the Guinness beer company was founded and what set the Guinness family and company apart.

Mansfield begins by explaining a little bit about the history of beer. One of the things that I found most interesting about this chapter is that one of the first things built when the Pilgrims landed in America was a brewery, mainly because beer was much safer than water to drink at the time. Mansfield goes on to show how integrated beer was with the church. It was seen as a gift from God and many drank it as a way to honor Him.

The rest of the book tells the story of how Arthur Guinness founded the company in 1759 and how this company impacted the world. The culture created at Guinness was unlike any other. Workers received far better pay than other companies and received benefits that were unheard of. One of the maxims around the company at one point was "You cannot make money from people unless you are willing for people to make money from you."

The other thing that made Guinness stand out from other companies was its investment into the community. It was a large help in turning the city of Dublin around during many years of poverty, famine, and sickness. The faith of many in the Guinness family caused them to put millions of dollars back into the community in the form of education, housing, and medical help.

Company leaders have also had a very large impact in the missionary movement. Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, was good friends with the Guinness family and his ministry was helped by missionary training facilities funded by the company.

I love this book because it looks at a extraordinary company behind an excellent beer and shows the impact that Guinness has had around the world. I also love the way it points us to appreciate beer instead of getting drunk off of it or putting pressure on others to abstain from it completely. Somehow, the latter of these two extremes has been embraced by many churches (in error), causing a very unhealthy view of what alcohol is.

In the 19th century, liquor was often associated with drunkenness and the dilapidation of society while beer on the other hand was associated with a flourishing community. Partly due to this observation, the slogan "Guinness is good for you" was created. I would have to agree...mainly because it is delicious! If you drink (and you're over 21), I'd encourage you to go enjoy one with a friend and appreciate its history.

You can also click here for a video introduction of the book from the author.