My part-time Fall job, coaching a very large cross country running team (high-school; girls) puts me in touch, every year, with a range of pathologies all too often hidden behind the glossy exterior of this exceedingly affluent community.

Last year, three teen suicides rocked the local headlines, at least one by a “good kid,” amply successful in every dimension our city prizes. Another was by a more troubled individual who was best friends with two kids on our team, one a former bulimic. Every year, I attempt to coax out of hiding the inevitable cases of eating disorder into the light of the gospel. One clear success there, so far — with that kid, the ex-bulimic — dozens of others gone by.)

In that context, three recent articles have caught my eye. I commend them to your reflection.

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Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League: The nation’s top colleges are turning our kids into zombies. This piece, by Alan Deresiewicz, in The New Republic, went viral not long after it came out, in late July. I shared it with one of our team captains, a national-class athlete, perhaps an Olympic hopeful, as she prepares to apply early-decision to one of the schools at the very pinnacle of the hierarchy the author describes. (Her dad has already expressed his displeasure at my having done so.)

Here’s one of the most potent bits from the article:

Elite schools like to boast that they teach their students how to think, but all they mean is that they train them in the analytic and rhetorical skills that are necessary for success in business and the professions. Everything is technocratic—the development of expertise—and everything is ultimately justified in technocratic terms.

Religious colleges—even obscure, regional schools that no one has ever heard of on the coasts—often do a much better job in that respect. What an indictment of the Ivy League and its peers: that colleges four levels down on the academic totem pole, enrolling students whose SAT scores are hundreds of points lower than theirs, deliver a better education, in the highest sense of the word.

PROVERBS 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

PROVERBS 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

PSALM 111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.

When something is repeated in scripture, especially verbatim, it means, ‘pay extra-special attention to this’. I find it sadly ironic (though not surprising) therefore, that an entire industry (higher education) has chosen to build its house on sand, seeking wisdom anywhere but God, thereby eschewing insight and good understanding, while self-selecting as “fools” (Biblically speaking, those who say, “No, God!”, denying His existence and with it, His Creatorial claim on their lives.)

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EZEKIEL 28:12 You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty… 15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you.

ISAIAH 14:13 You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ 15 But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.

Harvard, Schmarvard: Why Getting Your Kids Into College Should Be the Least of Your Concerns, by Michelle Rose Gilman. I like how the author describes and calls-out what is ultimately a diabolical process that I know all too well (and see all the time): parents seeking both to justify and glorify themselves through their kids.

For some parents, college acceptance approaches the culmination of every single parenting choice ever made. It can seem the ultimate goal, the ROI of parenthood, the final gold award and the epitome of a parenting job well done. It feels like the end game for every AP class, honors class, volunteer opportunity, and sports involvement that you required of your child. This college acceptance looms as the justification for the hours upon hours of helping with homework, rewriting their essays, doing most of their science fair projects since sixth grade, hiring the most expensive college counselor, and pushing, pushing, pushing your kids to get the A at any cost. “My child got into his first choice university” will be worn proudly and loudly as a testament to how well you have done as mom and dad.

…as parents we are almost forced into this artificial race upon birthing our children. We start with our best intentions, of course. We want the best preschool, the best teachers, the best summer camps. Slowly, without our being aware of it, we are competing with our neighbors, our friends, our families. What started out as just wanting the best for our children, suddenly morphs into my child needs to be the best.

As the author points out, this kind of thing (‘push-push-push… any cost) is often done in the name of “good” parenting and “self-sacrifice,” yet of a most perverse kind. Many of these kids are left bereft of the one thing that, ultimately, they cannot live without: God-glorifying, Christ-centered love, wholly independent of ‘performance’.

(A few weeks ago, I could barely restrain myself when, at the track, early on a Saturday morning, I witnessed a chubby, stopwatch-clutching father shouting at his grimacing, near-crying, emaciated sons — ages ~8 and 10 — to ‘keep the pace’ and ‘not let up’ as he put them through a workout which would give pause to most collegiate coaches for its unrelenting rigor. Had he struck them outright, any one of us witnessing the spectacle would have called DSS. Because he was ‘hitting’ them in a subtle and more socially acceptable manner however, it was harder to speak up. The time-splits the kids were keeping helped me to see the scene in the context of the ‘sacrifice’ our culture lauds in the realm of professional and Olympic sport, yet which it cannot stand to look upon when the sacrifice is the Son of God on our behalf.)

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LUKE 14:26 If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

MATTHEW 19:29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.

In the Name of the Child: How American Parenting is Killing the American Marriage I very much like how the author, Danielle Teller, MD, identifies and shows evidence for how parenting has become a de facto religion in much of our society, even as she overlooks the rest of the Created order of submission (all to Christ, the Word of God, through whom all things were made and without whom was not any thing made that was made).

To understand the frightening power of the parenthood religion, one need look no further than the 2005 essay in The New York Times by Ayelet Waldman, where the author explained that she loved her husband more than her four children. On “Oprah Where Are They Now,” the author recently reaffirmed the sentiments reflected in her New York Times article, and she added that her outlook has had a positive impact on her children by giving them a sense of security in their parents’ relationship. Following the publication of her essay, Waldman was not only shouted down by America for being a bad mother; strangers threatened her physically and told her that they would report her to child protective services. This is not how a civil society conducts open-minded discourse. This is how a religion persecutes a heretic.

The origins of the parenthood religion are obscure, but one of its first manifestations may have been the “baby on board” placards that became popular in the mid-1980s. Nobody would have placed such a sign on a car if it were not already understood by society that the life of a human achieves its peak value at birth and declines thereafter.

The unstated implication to her last statement is that it is widely accepted in our culture that the value of human life is substantially less (if not zero) prior to birth.

ISAIAH 49:1 Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. 2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away. 3 And he said to me, “You* are my servant, Israel*, in whom I will be glorified.”

*For a host of reasons, it should be clear from the text that the individual in view here is the “seed royal,” the Christ: Jesus the Son of God.

Posted by: Art | September 29, 2014

Time, Times and… Just Enough Time

Almost simultaneously, the following three items came on my radar earlier today on the theme of time and its preciousness in our finite and fleeting lives:

1) NYTimes Sunday Magazine article on a new start-up shipping service:

How do we judge whether technology is making us more productive, or just lazy and impatient? Economists think about outsourcing chores in terms of opportunity costs. If you can work during the hour you would have spent mailing a package, it would probably be a better use of your time — as, perhaps, would taking a nap, going for a run or spending time with your child.

[Or perhaps reading your Bible or reaching out with the gospel to someone who does not yet know Christ. Opportunity ‘cost’ looks very different within the Christian worldview vs. the world’s system.]

“People underestimate the value of time,” said Susan Athey, an economics of technology professor at Stanford University’s business school.. The trade-off between time and money is particularly crucial for those with less of each.

2) Charles Spurgeon (from Morning devotional for July 30th):

“When we think of what we vowed we would be, and of what we have been, we may weep whole showers of grief.”

3) Tim Challies reflects on time:

…doing takes time, and time is a fleeting resource. It is a finite resource. When I use time in one way, I cannot use it in another. When I give time to one thing, I take away from something else. To prioritize one area of life is to de-prioritize all the rest… Life is a vapor, too short, too fleeting. But I believe this: I may not have time to do everything I would like to do, but I have all the time I need for those things that God expects me to do… The call, then, is to find the best things I can do with the time allotted to me, while waiting for the great day when time will no longer be finite… It is to obey the words of God: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).

Which made me think of this one also:

PSALM 90:10 The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. 11 Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? 12 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. 13 Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants! 14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. 15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.

Posted by: Art | September 25, 2014

Good Works, Dead Works, Mighty Works

TITUS 2:13 …our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 …gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for GOOD works.

Our good works, as Christians, must exist in the context of:

  • Redemption. We were bought at a price. We are not our own anymore. (1st Cor 6:20, 7:23)
  • Repentance. We are to turn away from all lawlessness. We are not to dabble, mix in, or otherwise toy around with a little lawlessness on the side. (Matt 4:17, e.g.)
  • Purity. We are to seek the holiness of Christ. We must be active participants in our own sanctification, even as it is ultimately God’s work in us even to want to. (Phil 2:12-13, e.g.)
  • Obedience and Loyalty. We are His possession. Divided loyalty is no loyalty at all. (Matt 6:24, e.g.)
  • Zeal. Doing the will of God is a 24/7 life-devotion springing from the new birth. It is not a course to take once and pass or a ritual obligation to endure periodically. (John 3:3, Deut 6:5, Rom 12:2, e.g.)
  • Reverence/Fear. Only God is truly good. Our ideas of ‘good’ are marred by sin, especially pride. (Mark 10:18, e.g.)
  • Gratitude. Christ took our place on the cross. Works which are truly good (that is, good in God’s eyes) must necessarily spring from a heart filled with thanks and joy for that unfathomably amazing love–a love no one could never possibly earn. (1st Thess 5:18, e.g.)

Christian good works may not be regarded as such by the world. In similar fashion, what the world regards as objectively ‘good’ works may or may not be so in God’s eyes, depending upon the heart which gave rise to them.

HEBREWS 9:13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from DEAD works to serve the living God.

Because of Christ’s self-sacrifice on our behalf, we are freed from the nagging but ultimately futile impulse of all fallen mankind to try and earn our own salvation–an impossible task (and conceit). Our works in that vein are ‘dead’ because they proceed from death (a sinful denial of Christ’s sufficiency, however subtle such denial may be) and to death (pride in our own self-righteousness, digging the hole even deeper, as it were).

Only by serving the living God (following Him wholeheartedly–something we could not do without His Holy Spirit in re-birth) can our works be made good, conforming to His will, springing from a humble and thankful heart, keeping the cross and our need in full view.

All of which helps to explain/unlock…

MATTHEW 7:21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many MIGHTY works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

The emphasis, in the plea of the many who say, ‘Lord, Lord’ (literally, taking His name in vain, i.e., without cross-justification, or new-birth effect) is first on self-justification (‘did we not…’), and second on power (the ‘mightiness’ of the works being of foremost concern to these individuals; see Gen 6:4, 10:8-9 & Psalm 52:1, e.g.).

The goodness of the works–their conformance with God’s will–may be on the list of concerns for these vain pleaders… a bit further down. We can’t say. All we do know is that Jesus chose to emphasize, regarding these many, that obedience to God’s definition of goodness (i.e., trust in the Word Who became flesh) is not at the top of their list.

Posted by: Art | September 9, 2014

Pluck it out and cast it from thee…

Genesis 3:4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.

Tim Challies weighs-in on a particular incident that highlights the spirit of porn, and the utter impossibility of setting gradations within the spectrum of what is, at its core, evil:

The very fact that these women took these photographs in the first place is proof that they are victims of the world, the flesh, and the devil. I assume they were all willing participants in these photo shoots, but they were victims even in their willingness—victims of those forces that makes them believe they are nothing more than their beauty, their sexiness, or their sexual desirability. They are victims of the lust that drove them to inappropriate sexual relationships outside of marriage. When we understand sin, we understand that a person can be a willing participant and victim at the same time and in the same act.

His comment is just as applicable, IMHO, to a constellation of other eye-pleasing but dead and rotting things in which our culture routinely invests its time, money and attention, presuming upon God’s grace, pridefully imagining that human beings are capable of handling just a little evil by our own power.

Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Matthew 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

John 8:3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

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RELATED: Marxist Feminism’s Ruined Lives: The horror I witnessed inside the women’s ‘liberation’ movement, by Mallory Millett, sister of uber-feminist leader Kate Millett.

Thus, the females, who are fundamentally the arbiters of society go on to harden their young men with such pillow-talk in the same way they’ve been hardened because, “Wow, man, I’ve gotta get laid and she won’t do it if I don’t agree to let her kill the kid if she gets knocked-up!” Oppressed? Woman has always had power. Consider the eternal paradigm: only after Eve convinced Adam to eat the fruit did mankind fall. I.e., man does anything to make woman happy, even if it’s in defiance of God. There’s power for ya! Without a decent womankind, mankind is lost. As Mae West said, “When women go wrong men go right after them!”

I’ve known women who fell for this creed in their youth who now, in their fifties and sixties, cry themselves to sleep decades of countless nights grieving for the children they’ll never have and the ones they coldly murdered because they were protecting the empty loveless futures they now live with no way of going back. “Where are my children? Where are my grandchildren?” they cry to me.

Posted by: Art | August 13, 2014

Why We Hate God

John 15:18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates Me hates My Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well. 25 But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, ‘THEY HATED ME WITHOUT A CAUSE.'”

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Note this remarkable insight within a remarkable, classic book (‘Standing on the Rock: Upholding Biblical Authority in a Secular Age,’ by the late James Montgomery Boice). Quoting from page 117 of the paperback edition:

“Crucifixion is the response of the unsaved human heart to God’s sovereignty: I want to do things the way I want to do them, and I will not acknowledge God’s right to interfere. Yet, sovereignty is one of the first things we are taught in Scripture concerning God’s character. He is the sovereign God, and he is sovereign whether we acknowledge it or not.

We must also be taught about God’s holiness and omniscience because we do not like those either. If God is holy, it means we are not holy. If God is the standard for measuring our morality, our morality looks very dirty. Since nobody wants to look morally dirty, we hate God for his holiness. We hate God for his omniscience, too. Omniscience means God knows everything, but we do not want to be known. We want people to know us a little, but we resist letting ourselves be known in a deep way”

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Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'”

 

Posted by: Art | April 20, 2014

The True Church

Saved by a Community for Community, by David Lookabill

We live in a world that’s becoming more and more connected. From Facebook to Twitter to texting, we are “closer” to each other than ever before. Smartphones and social networking provide instantaneous access… But the dangerous irony is that this connectedness has also made us more isolated than ever before…

(After years of immersing myself in this world, and making many good friends here, I would add blogs and comment threads to his list of useful-but-dangerous substitutes for the true, the local body of Christ.)

This troubling reality has infiltrated the church, too. But like fish who have been swimming in the waters of individualism for too long, we barely even notice it. It’s so easy to treat the church like a club where we show up once a week, get what we want, and then leave for lunch without reaching out to anyone.

We need other believers to draw us back into the fold when we’ve gone astray. Other believers need us to encourage and spur them on (Heb. 10:24). If we examine all the orders we’re given in the New Testament, “one another” commands dominate the pages (Gal. 6:2; Rom. 12:10; 1 Thess. 5:11). Living in the community of the local church, then, is necessary—not optional—for your growth in grace. We simply cannot obey “one another” commands if we’re not around, well, one another.

The outside world needs to see this, too—a community of people living out Jesus’ commands despite their vastly different personalities, music preferences, backgrounds, skin colors, economic statuses, and even football allegiances.

For all we hear about the need for unity in diversity in our culture, the world divides over all sorts of issues…

Yet in the Trinity we see immaculate unity in diversity. God exists as one being in three persons, each with a distinct role in redemption. And his church, too, ought to reflect this glorious unity in diversity: red, yellow, black, and white; rich, poor, and middle class; old and young, cool and uncool—all united under the blood-bought banner of our common King.

The world around us longs for community, and the false sense of connectedness created by Twitter and Facebook [AND BLOGS and e-mails and comment threads] won’t fill the void. We need robust, life-on-life, in-the-trenches community. God didn’t merely “text us,” after all. He came. He walked with us, wept with us, rejoiced with us, and loved us in spite of ourselves. If we’re embodying this self-giving posture in our churches, then, it’ll draw the lonely world to us like a magnet. If this isn’t the reality you experience at church, though, you’re not alone.

The local church is messy. We’ve all experienced hurt and disappointment in it. And the head of the church understands, for he knows better than anyone the costliness of living in community. He entered this messy and broken world, and it killed him.

For us to embrace real community will entail crucifixion, too. It’ll mean dying to our desires, our preferences, our expectations. But on the other side of crucifixion, there’s resurrection. We die to self now in order to enjoy true life forever (Matt. 16:25).

So let’s radically love the brother in Sunday school who drives us crazy. Let’s invite into our homes the awkward sister no one else approaches. Let’s walk into the sanctuary seeking to engage the visitor in conversation. Let’s go beyond sports and weather and politics to discuss how the gospel intersects with our lives, our marriages, our families. The more this interaction happens in our churches, the more we will be drawn into the lavish love of the triune God.

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