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I’m putting this up not because it’s original or new, but to get it off my brain.
On Truth and Helpfulness
A. The Basics
A1. There are statements that are always true.
A2. There are statements that are sometimes true, depending on definitions and points of view.
A3. There are statements that are always (or almost always) true, but often are unhelpful or even harmful.
A4. There are statements that are a spinning of the truth, but are nevertheless helpful.
A5. There are statements that are always false.
It is wisdom to be able to differentiate between these five kinds of statements. A wise person will put some thought (particularly when speaking to a grieving person) as to which category his words will land in.
B. To that end …
B1. It is not the case that all true statements are helpful. Many can harm.
B2. If you’re talking to a person in crisis, it’s quite possible that a statement that is usually true is not true for them. People in crisis are often exceptions. (Example: You should obey people in authority)
B3. Not all seemingly helpful statements are true.
B4. Saying a false statement is almost always unhelpful in the long run.
C. Considering helpful and unhelpful statements, there are two kinds of people:
1. Those who need to be pushed forward or spurred on (i.e. people who can be best helped by encouraging them to move forward and do more)
2. Those who need to be shown grace, rest, peace (i.e. people who would be best helped by encouragement that they are okay where they stand, at least with respect to the life issue at hand).
C1. This is why there is danger in giving blanket statements of encouragement to large groups of people.
C1B. (So discernment and grace should be employed by the listener)
C2. This is why definitions and disclaimers are often necessary.
C3. This is why seeking first to understand is often necessary. “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”
So – two examples (I’ve recently seen on Facebook):
Example 1. “God will never give you more than you can handle”
The truth or falsehood of this statement is almost entirely determined by your definition of the phrase “what you can handle”. I assume, for example, that when people say this, they imply the phrase, “with His help” on the end. Or, “If you’re a Christian” at the beginning. Given these additions, this statement is generally true.
But it is also often unhelpful and sometime harmful. I wouldn’t recommend it from a person whose life is fairly easy to a person who is in crisis.
Example 2. “Everything happens for a reason”
In the worldview of Calvinists (and many Arminians), this statement is generally true. But I’d be hesitant to say it to someone who is going through a divorce or the loss of a child.
D. Regarding the response of the listener (even a listener who is in crisis)
D1. When the person talking to you says something unhelpful, consider his/her intent.
D2. Does she mean well?
D3. Is there truth in what he said?
D4. If you’re listening to someone speaking to a large group with advice that doesn’t apply to you, are you an exception? Is what he’s saying generally applicable?
D5. God calls for grace from the speaker as well as the receiver.
E. Now with a mind towards the more spiritual and eternal, consider:
E1. The Gospel, told correctly, is always helpful.
E2. Nevertheless, it’s possible to share the Gospel unhelpfully.
E3. While a person’s primary reason for sharing the Gospel is to help another person move towards salvation by glorifying God, there are other good reasons.
E4. Among them are encouragement and exhortation (I leave the others as an exercise for the reader).
E5. There are also bad motivations for sharing the Gospel.
E6. Among these are brow-beating and pride (I leave the others as a second exercise for the reader).
E7. If your motivations for sharing the Gospel are bad, don’t stop sharing the Gospel. Rather, find better motivations. You can do this by being “transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Included in “the will of God” is what you should say to your friend.
And included in “testing” is giving a few second thought before saying it.
“I might be doing it for the wrong reason,” is a bad excuse for not doing the right thing.
Yesterday my seven year old did what Donald Trump couldn’t: Say “2 Corinthians” correctly on his first try.
If you’re giving a presentation to a large group of people and, at the end, ask if there are any questions, don’t assume it’s a good sign if you don’t get any.
Head on over to the Fighter Verse Songs website to find out about this new resource!
After yesterday’s post, a friend (notable wise carpenter PhilTheCarl) made an astute comment regarding it’s likely overly simplistic view of reality.
His thoughts made me look at the chart in a new light. I’ve added a row into the chart that I think makes it more reasonable.
What do you think?
I think we all might be inclined to answer ‘I don’t know’ more often than is completely honest.
I also added ‘in the relatively near term’ to Question 2. I think this increased the truth of the chart a little.
… or not simple.
Other versions of Question One: Will it glorify God? If Jesus were here right now, would he give you the okay?
Other versions of Question Two: Will it be pain-free? Will it be easy? Will it not be horribly unpleasant?
When answering Question Two, you should consider what the results have been when you’ve done similar things in the past.
Answering Question One is often very difficult.
Answering Question Two is often more difficult than we’d like.
I think it likely that too often, people answer question one incorrectly.
You should not feel guilty if God makes your path easy.
You should not necessarily feel guilty if God makes your path hard.
The answer to Question One is more important. It is, in fact, the primary question to ask when determining your steps.
But the answer to Question Two can be clarifying, informative and in some cases, motivating.
If it’s God’s will for you, it will give you joy in the long term.
If you typically leave your church within five minutes of the benediction, you are walking away from a significant portion of the blessing (fellowship, support) that God has for you and your family. You are leaving His gifts on the table.
If you see someone using a Bible verse to show that what they’re saying is correct and you agree with them, it’s called, “Developing a Biblical foundation”.
If you see someone using a Bible verse to show that what they’re saying is correct and you don’t agree with them, it’s called, “Prooftexting”.
For every* good piece of advice, there is a subset of people for whom the advice is not applicable.
If you’re in that subset, you shouldn’t offended by the advice.
*even biblical guidance
Help My Unbelief – Why Doubt Is Not The Enemy Of Faith
By Barnabas Piper
This marks the second time that Barnabas has written a book and given it a title that made my nervous. And just like the last time, my nervousness was unnecessary.
And now having finished it, I find myself wondering: How is it that no one has thought to name a book “Help My Unbelief” before? Because it certainly is a topic that many people need help with.
To wit: Before reading this book, I certainly would have thought that doubt was the enemy of faith. I’m glad to have read it to learn otherwise. I recommend this book.
As I made my way through it, I found myself thinking that its content are shaped like this image:
The book starts on the topic of doubt.
And then the author loops out and talks about his testimony and the hollow faith of his adolescence.
And back to the subject of doubt and out in another direction – the gospel story of the father with the demon possessed child, and then how that man handled his doubt.
And then out from the center and a strong explanation of the gospel and back to how understanding the gospel is informed by the questions raised by doubt.
And then outward to the problem of pain and inward to how that issue causes doubt, but faith in God’s goodness can diffuse the doubt.
And so on.
And throughout, Piper’s goal is to encourage faith to those whose doubt is causing them to falter, and challenge those who think they have everything figured out and settled.
A few other notable items:
– Mr. Piper very helpfully splits up personal doubt into two types – unbelieving doubt and believing doubt. One is seeking to discredit belief in God and His goodness, the other is searching for understanding of God and eventually strengthens our ability to see His goodness.
– Other themes in the book is that of the tension between “already” and “not yet” and the tension between mystery and certainty. It’s always helpful to focus on those aspects of Christian Reality.
– In this book we are reminded that disobedience against God is really unbelief in his wisdom and love.
– There is a good mix of warning and encouragement. You’ll probably read about yourself in these pages.
– I probably will never get a tattoo, but I have to be honest – “I believe, help my unbelief” is an excellent choice.
– I really thought the discussion of how to handle hard times was helpful:
To be true believers we must come to the place of uncomfortable comfort. In this life we will never be settled. Every time a tragedy happens, we will ask why and an answer likely won’t be readily available … we might be greeted with silence. This the uncomfortable part. The comfort comes from drawing close to God, through his Word, and seeing the parts of Himself He has chosen to reveal. In those parts, those glimpses He has given through scripture, we have enough to be comforted as we live lives surrounded by mystery.
Amen. I pray this book will help many and that God will use it to draw people closer to him.
A Book Review: Tear Down This Wall Of Silence
Dealing with Sexual Abuse in Our Churches
Dale Ingraham (with Rebecca Davis)
Spread throughout this book is a story – the story of how the author learned that his future wife had been the victim of sexual abuse (he was the first person she told), how they dealt with the many repercussions of this abuse (legally, spiritually, personally and with their family) and how they’ve helped others work through these hard issues. The story, like this book, deals with very hard and disturbing issues, but ultimately ends in redemption, healing and love.
This is an important book.
In it, Ingraham and Davis develop two major themes. The first is that the church has failed many people with respect to this issue.
– Too many churches have covered up abuse that has happened to their members, or the abuse that been perpetrated by their members or their pastors.
– Too many times, victims have been advised not to report their abusers to the police.
– Too many times, victims haven’t been believed, sometimes because the abuser is so well respected.
– Too many times, victims have been blamed for the abuse that happened or for calling for justice.
– Too many times, no justice has happened.
– Too many times, church leaders have acted as enablers for the abusers, allowing the abuse to continue and more children are victimized.
The book devotes an entire chapter to these enablers – their motivations and they damage they do.
The second theme in the book is that our church must do better. And then it explains, in very helpful detail, what we must do:
– The victims must be trusted, and told that God hates what has happened to them.
– The abusers must be called to repentance.
– The victims must be loved, encouraged and counseled, for years.
– The abusers must be brought to justice (in the church, and where it is warranted, in the legal system).
– The victims must be aware that the church is a safe place to talk about what has been done to them.
– The victims must be shown and told that God loves them.
If I had a complaint about this book, it’s that I feel it’s overzealous in its negativity about specific ministries and organizations with which it disagrees. Vision Forum’s messages had significant flaws (or so I’m told), but it wasn’t unwise of them to discourage gossiping. Nancy Leigh DeMoss shouldn’t be chastised for encouraging women to not use “my rights” as a primary motivation. If a generally wise principle is unhelpful, or even wrong, in extreme situations (and sexual abuse is certainly an extreme situation), that doesn’t necessarily we should throw it away.
As I said, this book deals with many dark issues, and it’s not a light read. But there is much joy, peace and redemption in the later chapters. Here, it explains the Gospel and how it is true for the abuser and especially how it is true for the victims. The second to last chapter is “The Abuse Survivor’s Shepherd” – a message to people who have been abused – and it’s filled with good news, peace-giving truths and wisdom. For example:
The truth is that every Christian, no matter how wounded or scarred, has not only been adopted into God’s family but also bears His beautiful image … God is in the process of transforming His children into His own image, and this includes you. He loves you.
It would be force for good if every church in America got a copy of this book and made sure at least one of their leaders read it and followed through with what it teaches. And if you know someone who has been sexually abused, this would be a helpful book for you to read.
When we landed at the Twin Cities Airport (at 12:20), we were happy for two reasons: (1) The US Embassy had told us that she would be a US citizen the moment she was on American soil, (2) Eight hours is a long time for a three year old to be in a chair on a plane.
My dad came and picked us up and then there were many happy meetings. Many of the kids gave her hugs, and her grandma held her and I was pleased with how easily she fell into playing in the back yard with her new brothers and sisters.
After we got all of the kids to bed, I wrote this in my journal: Boy, oh boy, does it feel good to be home again and it was so nice to see our kids again … I am very pleased with how well Anna is handling this. She seems to be taking it in stride and calmly and without odd behavior. Good, good. So Anna, maybe now its time, and maybe when you wake, we’ll be there calling you “Baby”, Anna.
Here are the other posts in this series:
June eleventh was the day we took the first part of our flight home, but it didn’t leave until the afternoon, so we had some time to spend. So we walked to the nearby train station. It’s a major one. It was impressive.
And we walked around the Monument To European Countries. A few years later, in one of the first poems I posted on this blog, I described this setting (you can skip down to the bottom if you want to read about some of the emotions having to do with adoption).
So later that afternoon we flew to Amsterdam and had the unique experience of staying there overnight. It was a hotel in the airport (the room had no window) and we never went through customs, so according to border law, we were never actually in Amsterdam. It was for Anna, I can only assume, another weird and incomprehensible event in a whole series of weird and incomprehensible events that were happening to her in rapid succession. But she handled it fairly well.
We called home from the hotel room and my mom (who was taking care of our other kids) was very relieved that we were in Amsterdam. She’d just heard a story of another adopting family who, because of legal issues, got stuck in Russia for two extra weeks and she didn’t relish the thoughts of two more weeks of childcare, no matter how nice our kids were.
I must say, we were relieved to be on the way home, as well.
Here are some pictures of that day.
Ten years ago today we went to the US Embassy (again with the other adopting families) and took the steps necessary for us to make Anna a US Citizen. A fairly serious business, but we got the idea that they did many of them a month, so it went quickly.
We said goodbye to the other adopting families and after stopping back at our hotel we took the metro (Moscow subway) for a tour of the Kremlin. Here are some pictures.
Ten Years ago today was another busy day. We’d only had Anna for one day and now she was having to get used to being with us.
We’d gone with the other adopting families to a doctor for a check up for all of the adoptive kids and my journal indicates that the doctor said two things: that she should eat and exercise better and that our only problem would be that “her chief danger would be Boys Fighting Over Her” (it sounded a bit canned).
So we did a little touring and then met the adopting families at the Pushkin Square Mcdonalds – the site of the first McDonalds in Russia (opened in 1990).
We decided that since she hadn’t been too fond of the burger we’d try something else. So we went up to the longest McDonald’s counter I’ve ever seen and tried to order.
Going back a little, on the first night of our first trip to Moscow a month earlier we’d walked into the Mcdonalds near our hotel. It was very crowded. As we were standing trying to figure out the menu, an employee with a notepad walked up and said something to us in Russian. I tentatively said, “English?” and without blinking, he said, “Ah. May I take your order?” I was extremely impressed.
So now that we were in the famous first Mcdonalds, I assumed that they’d certainly know English. But when I walked up to the counter and ordered MacNuggets, the employee behind the counter said something which I didn’t understand and then indicated that he didn’t, in fact, know English. We were standing there unsure of what to do, when the customer next to me said, “Six or nine?”
Oh, sure, that makes sense. “Nine.”
We were a bit relieved. Unfortunately Anna didn’t really like the McNuggets either. Ah well.
Ten years ago today, Debbie and I were driving down a highway and we stopped at an intersection where a car was waiting. It was raining slightly. A cute, short-haired three-year-old girl got out of the car, escorted by some adults who brought her to us, and she got into our car. We drove away with her.
The highway was the E105 – the main highway between St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia. The girl was Anna. Our forever daughter Anna.
That morning she had woken up at the baby home where she’d lived her entire life. Her care-givers had taken off her baby-home clothes, dressed her in a dress and jacket that we’d left for her and they had driven her to meet us.
She accepted us (and her new situation) very quickly. While our driver took us to Moscow, she sat between us in the back seat of the car and it felt like she was at peace and content. She was also hungry and quickly ate the banana and other snacks her care-givers had given for her.
We were driven to our hotel and she was very interested in looking out the window of our room at the Moscow River.
And then what was the first meal we ate with her? McDonalds, of course – a ten minute walk from our hotel. My journal says, “Anna ate her cheeseburger tentatively, but she ate most of it.” She still isn’t a big eater.
We brought her back to the hotel room and we looked at books.
Also from my journal: “Anna looked at a grandfather clock in one of our books and said something very similar to ‘Tick Tock Tick Tock.’”
When we put her to bed for the night, she laid very still. I’m guessing she learned to do that in the baby home.
Our family was starting an adventure and it was (and has been) weird, exciting, frightening, happy, challenging and rewarding. We believed God was calling us to this adventure.
I know this won’t work for many, but can we recommend that you’d consider adopting a child? And if so, (and this will work for fewer) would you consider adopting a child that isn’t a new healthy infant, but an older child whose current situation is not good and whose most-likely future is less than ideal?
What adventure is God calling your family to?
Update: In case you’re interested – last night I found the location of our Anna pick up on google maps.
In the mind of Americans, there are two kinds of wealthy people: Those who are blessed and a blessing, and those who are cursed. For every story of the healthy-minded wealthy person, you hear two about rich people who have great wealth that does not give them joy–those who are in fact being destroyed by their own actions as a result of their wealth.
“But I”, you say to yourself optimistically, “I will not be like that if I ever come into money. I will enjoy it and share it and not let it morph me into a greedy, angry, depressed, or destructive person”.
That’s our hope, anyway. Some of us live for that hope. And some of us despair of ever enjoying those kinds of benefits. And for others, it is an idol.
But what if you could have the blessings of this blessed (i.e. non-destructive) kind of wealthiness where you are, with the income you have* right now? You can. There are ways you can experience the goodness without using your financial resources. Here’s how:
Four Ways To Feel Rich (Without Spending Money)
When you think about the happy rich people, those who are enjoying the blessings of financial resources, what are they doing? Are they frantic? Are they overly busy? No, you picture them experiencing leisure time. Relaxing. Enjoying life. You see them feeling the blessing of substantial margins.
Do you know that you could enjoy this right now? You could turn off the computer and close your eyes and rest. Or read a good book. Or take a bath. Or talk to a friend or a family member that you like. And these are all activities that cost no (or almost no) money.
Now certainly you can do all of these things to excess, but I bet there are some of these that you haven’t done in too long of a time.
As you consider the wealthy and their home, there is one thing that might jump to your mind: Space. Mansions have open areas. They are not cramped.
Now think of where you spend most of your time at home. For no cost at all, you can make your life more like theirs by getting rid of stuff. By clearing away items on the floor and on any flat surface. Put it away, throw it away, sell it.
You may be thinking, “If I don’t have a knickknack on that decorative shelf, it’s a waste of that resource.” No. The best use for that for that decorative shelf (or coffee table, or counter) is to show that you have space.
And this one might actually save you money; the next time you’re at a shop and see something you think is cute–something that you’re tempted to buy and bring home and find the perfect place for–say to yourself: No, I don’t have a perfect place for this.
- Pray Before Meals
One thing the rich have: Easy meals. As you watch the upstairs people on Downton Abbey, it’s clear; they don’t have to shop for food, they don’t have to cook, they don’t have to do dishes. They just sit down, and the servants do it all for them. The modern-day rich go out to eat, and the restaurant staff brings their meals to them.
But you…you don’t have servants and you don’t have the resources to go out to eat as often as you’d like.
But every meal you ever eat, there is a moment – a moment where everything is prepared and on the table and you’re sitting down (maybe with your family) to eat it. At that moment, you’re just like the wealthy who have their food made for them and presented at the big dining table. Your food is ready to for you to enjoy it. And if you don’t stop to think about it, you miss this glorious moment. So stop. Pray. Give thanks. You have food. It’s ready for eat. Enjoy the moment.
- Seek to See Grace
I get the feeling that the wealthy people who are happy are the ones who feel lucky.
There’s a scene in “That Thing You Do”, the Tom Hanks movie about a 60’s pop band that goes from nothing to being famous over the course of the summer. Just as they are about the play their big song on the big nationally-broadcast television show, one of the band members asks another, “How did we get here?”
I’m pretty sure that’s how many of the healthy and joy-filled wealthy feel: How did I get here? I don’t feel like I’ve done much to merit this. The fact that I’m getting this is a gift that I have been given to enjoy and not take for granted. So I should enjoy it and not take it for granted!
And you can experience this. Some of you who are reading this experience chronic daily pain, but most of you do not. If you don’t, do you think about that and feel blessed?
Some of you are currently experiencing family crises, but many of you aren’t. If you aren’t, do you thank God that you have peace with your family right now?
Some of you are unemployed (or underemployed), but most of you are not. Do you think about that? Do you remember the day you got the job – the feeling of relief and joy? Feel that now.
There are people in the world who don’t even have a bed to sleep in. But you probably do. It’s probably as comfortable as what the rich sleep in. Neither the rich, nor you, deserve a bed more than those who don’t have one.
As I say, these (and many, many other things) are gifts from your Maker. They are works of grace on your behalf. Consider them, enjoy them, be thankful for them.
You could do that for hours; it might give you a lot of joy and peace and feelings of thankfulness for what you’ve been given, and it wouldn’t cost a penny.
Non-rich person, live in that spirit, and you won’t be troubled that you don’t have a mansion, a yacht or a limo.
* I believe that while almost all Americans are not poor by worldly standards, there is a non-zero set of authentically poor people in the US, and there are many who don’t have a good idea where the resources to pay for next month’s food or lodging is going to come from. I do not mean to belittle their experience in this essay.
When my dad married into my family when I was 12, he married into a family of musicians and singers. He was neither. Some might have described him as a bad singer, but he used to joke, more accurately, that he was a fine singer, he just had a very small range. In any case, his lack of vocal ability didn’t stop him from singing “Happy Birthday” in a non-timid way at my kids’ birthday parties. I really miss that, despite his inability to sing the song in tune. It added to the joy.
There are two kinds of bad singers: Those who know they sing poorly and those who don’t. This second kind are highlighted in comedy shows and the beginning of each season of American Idol. People chuckling knowingly as they watch: “He actually thinks he’s good!”
They are easily mockable, those ignorant of their out-of-tune-ness. But here’s the thing: I’ve worshiped at several churches, and I’ve never met one (a bad singer who didn’t know he was a bad singer) at any of them. The bad singers generally know they aren’t vocalists. Believe me, they know. Some of them would like to sing on the worship team or in the church choir, but they know that this isn’t their gift. God is not calling them to that ministry.
I further split this group of bad singers (those who know they are bad singers) into two more categories:
There are those who keep quiet. Muting oneself is understandable – no one wants to draw attention to one’s lesser gifts, and one might fear that he’ll ruin worship for those around him.
But then there are those who want to sing out. They don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to glorify God. They want to avail themselves of the opportunity to join into corporate worship. Let me go on record: I find this commendable.
Recently I found myself standing near one of these people, singing out strongly, and I felt honored. I thought, this man doesn’t sing perfectly, he knows it and still he’s willing to sing with strength. And he knows I’m within earshot. He doesn’t want to keep his love of his Heavenly Father a secret. He wants to worship. May God encourage him and those like him.
I have a video of one of my children being presented with a birthday cake, and you can hear our whole family singing to him. This video was filmed just before my Dad died and on it, you can hear him say, as the candles were being blown out, “This particular grandfather can’t sing worth a hill of beans.”
Maybe. But he still sang. He was still a part of the celebration. To his benefit and ours.
This Sunday, if you find yourself standing next to someone who is not a perfect singer but is still entering into worship, do this: Smile, sing with him or her, and thank God for that person’s courage and love of their Creator. And if you’re a less than ideal singer, sing loud, do your best to glorify God and thank him for the way He accepts imperfect gifts.