How Costly is Your Sweet Tooth?

Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man;
    he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.

Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling,
    but a foolish man devours it.

(Proverbs 21: 17, 20)

My wife and I are living on a budget, so frivolous spending is completely off the table. That said, we have both agreed to a certain amount of “blow” money each month. This is money that we each get to do with what we want.

Wanna know where mine goes?  Into my belly, in the form of baked goods and sweet, sweet Dr. Pepper on Fridays. Not surprisingly, I run out of cash in less than a week.

Know where my wife’s money goes? Nowhere. It stays in her purse. It accumulates. Then she can buy things that cost more than a few dollars and have something to show for it. Why? Because she doesn’t eat her “blow” money like I do.

I read these verse in Proverbs last week, and it struck me how incredibly practical the word of God is. See here how clearly it explains (my) human nature: if you can’t say no to yourself (and especially your belly) when it comes to money, you won’t have any. The wise man has resources saved for the future, while the fool consumes everything he has and is left with nothing in the day of trouble.

I have had a really good job for the last decade, so there’s no reason why I should still be in debt or why I don’t have a bunch of investments and whatnot stored up for the future.

The problem was, I didn’t learn how to tell myself “no” enough. So I went into marriage with a very small bank account and a very large belly.

The way I’m learning how to reverse those two? The Teacher lays it out: Say “no” to myself more.

Your Turn: Do you have any simple pleasures that you’re spending too much money on? Have you learned to say “no” to some things in order to say “yes” to others? Please leave your confessions and/or encouragements in the comments below!

“What ARE they teaching in these Sunday Schools?”

Happy Tuesday, y’all!

I apologize for the delay. I meant to post yesterday, but I just had so much fun over the weekend, it was hard for me to buckle down and get some writing done. (More on that tomorrow!)

Today, I feel compelled to address some statistics. (No, no, don’t go!) Specifically, these statistics.  (Thanks to Patrick Mitchell for posting the link on Twitter.)

According to research done by LifeWay, on behalf of Ligonier Ministries, the following data were found in the responses of 557 self-proclaimed “evangelicals” who attend church at least once a month:

  • 31% agree or don’t know if God the Father is more divine than God the Son, and 27% agree or don’t know if Jesus was the first created being.
  • 58% agree or don’t know if the Holy Spirit is an impersonal Force instead of a personal being, and 18% agree or don’t know if the Holy Spirit is less divine than the Father or the Son.
  • 68% strongly or somewhat agree that a person must first seek out God before He responds with grace (38% strongly agree); 53% strongly or somewhat agree that a person must contribute their own effort to personal salvation; and 18% agree or don’t know whether or not God loves them because of the good they have done.
  • 43% strongly or somewhat agree that while everyone sins at least a little, people are basically good by nature.
  • 40% strongly or somewhat disagree with the statement that even the smallest sin deserves damnation.
  • 55% strongly or somewhat agree that God does not determine what happens, but He just knows it all in advance.

I just… I can’t even.

Okay. A few technical things:

  1. The first thing we should consider is the statistical value of the survey. It’s admittedly a small sample size of respondents. The article notes that these 557 were taken from the initial 3000 respondents in the survey. However, just because it’s not a huge sample size doesn’t mean that there aren’t some trends we can observe.
  2. As far as “agree or don’t know,” you may be inclined to think that the “don’t know” is a large category. It’s not. The infographics in the CT article bear this out, OR you can peruse the actual data in the other link above. Bottom-line: the “don’t know” camp is very small by comparison.
  3. Just because someone calls themselves a churchgoing evangelical doesn’t mean they actually are one. That’s the basic weakness of self-report survey–you have to trust the answers. But since there aren’t really alternatives, well, uh, there it is.

SO. What do we do with this?

Well, I think we have to first sit back and really take a look at the whole picture. Evangelical church people are woefully ignorant on the tenets of their own faith. Almost all of the issues above were addressed in the first 5 centuries of the church, or were shorn up in the Protestant Reformation.  Of course, if you said “Athanasius” to the typical church member, they’d respond “Bless you.”

Does this mean that pastors must train their congregations to be church historians? Maybe. Okay, no. But these issues, they aren’t just minor doctrines of the faith.

Too often I’ve heard it said. “Let’s not fight over lesser issues.” “Doctrine divides.” “We’re all followers of Jesus, right?” Wrong. These issues do matter, in practical life and in personal faith. These are issues that men and women suffered and died to defend. We owe it to our brothers and sisters in the faith to take theology more seriously.

Since I’m in a bit of a rush today, this will have to be Part 1. I want to go through each of these ideas and address them at some point in the near future. In the meantime, chew on this: If what you know or believe about your spouse or your best friend doesn’t really matter to you, would it affect your relationship with that person? Would it affect how you treat them, or how you speak of them to others? If we’re careful to think and speak rightly about the people in our lives about whom we care so deeply, how much more important is it to think and speak carefully about the God of the universe? How much greater the offense if we don’t?

Got my Hemingways in Paris, and they goin’ guerrillas.

(Apologies to Kanye… Okay, maybe not.)

One of the new-to-me podcasts in heavy rotation on my iPod is Jeff Goins’ “The Portfolio Life.” I just listened to Episode #014: “Is Content Really King?”  In this episode, Goins talks about Hemingway’s transition to Paris in his twenties. Why? He wanted to be where the action was, creatively speaking. He wanted to connect to the other writers of his day, share a coffee or meal with them, and get to know their secrets, what made them unique in their craft.

Goins says that creatives today need to not only make great content–that’s a given. But we also need to make great connections; we should spend time investing in a network of contacts, mentors, colleagues. People we can not only learn from but also pour into. Seth Godin calls this your “tribe.”

Andy Traub, Jeff’s co-host on the podcast, asked if Goins thought that there were other “Hemingways” who didn’t go to Paris (didn’t build a network of relationships) and thus didn’t get noticed. Goins suggested that not only were there likely other “Hemingways” who didn’t go to Paris, there may well have been Hemingways in Paris (hence the post title) who didn’t connect with the network of creative people that were around them, in their own city!

This idea gave me pause. Are there creative people around me, both in-person and online, with whom I should be building relationships right now? People who can help me grow as a writer, and whom I can help flourish creatively as well?

As I’m trying to get some momentum on this blogging thing again, and as i’m starting to write creatively again on my own, this is a question I need to wrestle with: how much energy am I putting into making connections, instead of just content?  Obviously, content is vital, and I should be more consistent with that.

But let’s be real, y’all.  Outside of the “Webster-Hunt-bump” in page-views that this blog enjoyed every Wednesday or so, there are only like 4 of y’all who actually read this thing.

For the record, I am grateful for every one of you.

Now go tell your friends. (Just kidding. Somewhat.)

But seriously, what can I do for you? What kind of content would you like to see? How can I help you along the way?

Please feel free to let me know in the comments below.  I promise, the comment box isn’t a bear-trap. It’s an invitation. If you comment, I’ll comment back! It’ll be fun.

So here’s my invitation: Come be part of my tribe. Let me be part of yours. Let’s share some ideas.

A Quick Programming Note.

Hey folks! We apologize for the brief interruption in posting.

Just wanted to give you a quick heads up about what’s coming up in the next couple weeks:

  • We have some great content from Webster Hunt–this time, a short film that I bet you’ll enjoy!
  • Book reviews!
  • Some mildly controversial comments about Christian celebrity!
  • More thoughts about marriage, including how a glass of milk almost ended a 4-month run of perfect marital harmony! (Though, on second-thought, I may keep that to myself…)
  • Maybe even a few fiction pieces!

Expect something new tomorrow morning. And thank you for reading.

(Re)Discovering A Childhood Favorite

I’m fully-engrossed in a re-reading of C.S. Lewis’ brilliant “Space Trilogy” (“Out of the Silent Planet,” “Perelandra,” and “That Hideous Strength”).  I say “re-reading” because I “read” them the first time in high school (or at least, I read the first two and a chapter or two of the third one).

What I’ve discovered, however, is that I only had the vaguest memory of these books. I honestly could not have recalled any detail but for a skeletal summary of the plot/conflict in the second book, “Perelandra.”

This time through, I’m blown away by the depth of Lewis’ writing. I mean, I grew up reading The Chronicles of Narnia (though reading through that series again in my mid-twenties was a totally new experience). I knew Lewis was good. But I didn’t realize when I encountered the Space Trilogy in my teens just how perceptive, how rich, how hilariously subtle Lewis’ narrative style could be.

I’ve always been what you’d call an “advanced” reader. Taught myself to read when I was four through a sheer force of will. Skipped kindergarten and was reading ahead of grade level throughout my entire preteen and teenage years.

But I’m seeing now that when I read the Space Trilogy as a sophomore in high school, the whole thing pretty much flew over my head–and understandably so, in some cases. In “That Hideous Strength,” I would have had no context for understanding the bureaucratic wranglings and backroom backstabbing of academia or business. The intervening years have afforded me a few glimpses of both. And when Lewis describes the complex dynamic of individuality within marriage, it would have been far over my head. (To be fair, it would be another 7 years after the publication of THS that Lewis, a confirmed bachelor, would even meet his future wife, Joy Davidman. It’s a testament to his powers of observation and imagination that he has any idea about the matter.)

It feels a little like driving by your childhood home, which seemed so big and comfortable and warm when you padded around on bare feet within its walls, and now appears to grown-up eyes to be tiny, dreary, and run-down. Or maybe it’s like the reverse of that. What before was small and easy to grasp seems now larger and more intricate and exciting.

Maybe I’m the only one who’s experienced this. But I don’t think so.

Your Turn: Have you ever re-read a book that you read in your younger days and realized that you missed something the first time through?  Or, if not, which book from your past would you be curious about revisiting?

[And let’s rule out the Bible as a possible answer, since (in my experience) the Bible is the one book in which a Christian will always find new facets and intricacies, if they have eyes to see.]

An Unnecessary Comment

Big news afoot today in the American evangelical church. And while the Top Men (TM) are surely going to weigh in appropriately with expected levels of nuance, I just want to point out an odd disconnect in the proceedings. I’ll do so in the form of two quotes:

Quote 1–from a review board of similarly Top Men (TM), concerning a notable pastor:

“We concluded that [Notable Pastor] has, at times, been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner. While we believe [N.P.] needs to continue to address these areas in his life and leadership, we do not believe him to be disqualified from pastoral ministry.”

Quote 2–from a somewhat-more-notable Turkish-Jew tent-maker:

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.  Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable,hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

One of these things doesn’t fit with the other. So which one is right? Depends on whose word has the most authority, I suppose.

Better let the Top Men sort that one out, too.

A Moment of Gratitude.

The living room is lit by sunlight coasting in through half-open windows. The breeze keeps the room cool. This is the first (or perhaps second) day of perfect weather in more than half a year, and what a blessing that such weather arrives on this day.

Through open blinds, I watch as my wife prunes and waters the potted plants on the low brick wall surrounding our porch. Next to her, the old border collie sleeps on the first step, half in sun, half in shadow. From the bedroom down the hall, the sound of Corrine Bailey Rae’s ballads trickle around the edges of this perfect moment.

My belly is full of homemade french toast, *real* bacon, and coffee. After a good night’s sleep, I visited the doctor for my yearly physical. He’s very pleased at my progress toward health. So am I.

Today’s schedule is unusually light, even for a day off work. One meeting this afternoon. A few household chores. And a book. Maybe two. Dinner tonight with my parents. Homemade red velvet cake. Ice cream.

I’m thirty-four years old today. The number feels foreign to me. It sounds strange in my ear and on my tongue. I am fully and resolutely entering my middle-thirties. And I can tell you, friends, that this past year was my favorite thus far. I completed a few more courses of seminary, with good (or at least satisfactory) grades. I taught Sunday School and had the joy of ministering to a great group of young adults. I am still employed with a good group of coworkers at a good job that meets my financial needs. I lost 55 pounds, and am on track for continued success and health. I’m slowly but surely getting out of debt–and I’m living on a budget. And the best of all life events–I married a woman of whom I am not worthy, a woman who is my joy and crown, a Proverbs 31 woman who is in large part responsible and vital for the previously listed successes. The virtuous and lovely lady who is at this moment on the porch, in a lawn chair, Bible and notebook in hand.

My 33rd year was the best of my life, up to now. This next year is poised to be even better.

I am full to the brim. So much joy. So much gratitude.

=====

I praise you, Father, for your manifold graces. For calling me out of darkness and rescuing me from bondage to sin and death. For adopting me as your son, through the sacrificial death of Jesus the Christ, my brother, my King, my Savior, my God, who died my death and bore the reproach I rightly deserved for my rebellion. For giving me your Holy Spirit as my Comforter, my Guide, my ever-present Intercessor. Lord, I praise you for giving me a new heart, a new mind, a new spirit, and life everlasting in You.

Thank you for an abundance of earthly blessings, these Your gifts to me as well. For home and health, for beloved wife and loving family and friends, for Your church and my place in ministry within it and with it and to it. You have made me rich in all of these ways. Yet I pray that I would be willing to release them all as long as I have You, for You alone satisfy me.

Father, I give you this next year of my life, or as many days of it that you allow me. Help me grow in faith, in love, in truth, in holiness. Guard my speech, my thoughts, my steps. May my heart be bent in obedience to Your will. May those who meet me and interact with me know fully that I am Yours, and that You live in me. May all of my days under the sun bring Your honor and glory and praise.

Father, thank You. Jesus, thank You. Holy Spirit, thank You.  Three-times-holy God, I praise Your name.

In the Dust of This (Silent) Planet: Nihilsm, C.S. Lewis, and the End of the World

On a recent episode of NPR’s Radiolab podcast, the topic was nihilism. The host’s brother-in-law, Eugene Thacker, wrote an academic treatise (that, by his own admission, no one would read) on the idea of nihilism–a philosophy that argues “there might not be a purpose to existence, or to your life, or to the cosmos; there might not be an order to things; we might not be here for a reason; this all might be purely arbitrary, an accident,” according to Thacker.  The premise of the book was that we are foolish to think of the existence of the world in terms of humanity, because the world itself doesn’t care about the human species. Thacker traces this idea through culture and art.

Here’s the funny thing the show revealed: this little book (or at least its title, “In the Dust of This Planet”) has popped up in a few different places in pop culture over the last year or so (including a Jay-Z video).

This kicked off a discussion on pop culture’s flirtation with nihilism.  One of the key ideas of this discussion was that “nihilism” is the key element of cool–a repudiation of all that came before, all social structures or closely-held ideals.  Generations of young people throughout the last 150+ years have used this concept as a means of pushing out and away from their parents’ era. The show connects the dots to Dadaism, punk rock, and postmodern thought.

So, why is nihilism cool? One of the ideas the host suggests is that nihilism is a way to not be afraid of facing the end. (Though some of his guests suggest this is just a posture–a way to avoid really dealing with mortality.)

So what’s that got to do with C.S. Lewis?

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure at first. Here’s what really happened: I considered blogging about this fascinating podcast episode, and my mind immediately made a connection between the title of Thacker’s book and the title of Lewis’ first “Space Trilogy” book, “Out of the Silent Planet.” I hadn’t read that one in years, so I thought, why not check it out again?  And here’s what I discovered:

The briefest synopsis of OOTSP–a linguist named Ransom is kidnapped by an old schoolmate named Devine and his business partner, a cruel scholarly fellow named Weston.  Ransom is drugged and smuggled aboard a spaceship built by these two men and flown to another planet called Malacandra, that is incredibly inhabited by three races of rational creatures–the otter-like Hrossa, the frog-like Pfiffltriggi, and the tall and thin and vaguely-birdlike Sorns.  Ransom escapes his captors and becomes acquainted and then friends with these creatures, who all serve Maleldil (their creater/god) and his servant, the Oyarsa, who rules over their planet. Ransom is summoned by Oyarsa, and when he gets there, very shortly sees that his former captors have been captured and brought before Oyarsa to stand trial.

Here’s where I found a connection: while Devine is a greedy scoundrel who just wanted to mine the planet for gold, Weston was more interested in conquest. He reveals that he wants to eventually colonize this planet and subjugate its inhabitants, so that humanity can survive and propogate the universe. He uses grand language about the survival of his species, at any cost. He professes love for humanity, even as he demonstrates he’s willing to give up Ransom as a blood sacrifice to satisfy any god or monster on this planet.

Two vastly different books–two different approaches to the end of the world.  

On the one hand, the nihilist accepts his supposed destruction (and some of this mind even laugh in the face of it).  On the other hand, this character Weston is engaged in a desperate and self-destructive mission to save the human race, no matter what or who gets annihilated in the process.

The beauty of Lewis’s book is that he implicitly and explicitly repudiates the ideas of Weston.  The Oyarsa (think of it as a kind of angel or spirit) who rules Malacandra explains to Ransom that it’s natural for races of creatures to come and go, and that this is part of the Creator’s plan. When they die, their spirits go to be with their god. This life is not the ultimate; it’s merely the antechamber to the better life that is coming.

Lewis here illustrates the Christian view of life and death–something he also does especially well in his Narnia books.  As believers in Jesus, we recognize that life in this broken world is not the ultimate; it’s merely the beginning of life.

Jesus our King, in order to save the broken men and women made from the dust of this sin-stained planet, became one of us, in order to bear the penalty for our rebellion and provide the means of our redemption. The resurrection of Christ is our hope of renewal. We don’t have to be afraid of what comes next.

When we die, we who are in Christ will be taken to a better life, an eternal home. This is the very reason we don’t fear death. This is the reason we can accept Jesus’ words that we shouldn’t fear the one who can merely kill the body. This is why we believe that anyone who loses his life for the sake of Jesus and His Kingdom will find true life again.

This is why we believe that when our King returns, those who have died will be raised again, with transformed bodies–not mere spirits, but incarnate beings who have been freed from the shackles of death, disease, and decay, rescued from the curse of sin forever.

Nihilists sneer at the end of the world. Humanists rage against it.  But those who follow Jesus know that the end of this world is only the doorway to its rebirth and renewal into a beautiful eternity.

If you are in Christ, take heart.  He has overcome the world.

Web’s Wednesday Wisdom: “Everything God Doesn’t Owe Me”

[Web’s Wednesday Wit and Wisdom is a regular feature at the 4thDaveBlog. You can follow Webster Hunt on Facebook, or on Twitter as @livingheart.]

There is a man who, right now, is experiencing the grief of the shadow of death in the illness of his wife. I’d like to call him my friend, but I don’t know him well enough – and if I did it would be I who would have the honor, and he who would be taking the risk to his own reputation. But he is my brother in Christ, and he is suffering. And it’s what he’s focused on in the midst of his suffering that has be blogging today, because I was otherwise going to go another silent week with nothing of value to say.

I read an update he gave concerning his wife, and although the grief was evident over the disheartening information that he had to give, what were shadows gave way to lovely light as he began to give thanks to His God, His Father in Christ Jesus, His Lord that he would be given such a wonderful gift as his wife. The mournings over the close touch of death were drowned out by the overflowing love and thanksgiving he wrote concerning God’s right to the gifts He gives His people, and how if in His goodness He would give the gift, what complaint have we if, in His goodness, He receives that gift to Himself again, from us (to paraphrase my brother’s own words). Because that’s the only way God does anything He does – in the goodness that He is, for the goodness that he has IS the goodness that He is, to quote another brother.

So today, for my blog, I want to think aloud about the good things that God doesn’t owe to a sinner like me.

  1. Freedom from the wages of sin in Jesus Christ.
  2. Being able to pray on account of Jesus Christ.
  3. The Holy Spirit helping me to pray, because I don’t know how to pray as I ought.
  4. Repentance that has been perfected by Jesus Christ on my account.
  5. Good works to glorify God in His Son through a sinner like me.
  6. Baptism into and communion with a body that I am not worthy of because of Jesus Christ.
  7. Fellowship with a body of believers that I am not worthy of.
  8. Being able to read, discern, learn from, and live the truth of the Scriptures because of Him.
  9. Being counted among God’s own people that He chose and completes.
  10.  My wife, a good woman, a good gift, given to me to glorify the Name of Jesus Christ.
  11. My daughters, lovely children, that, though not with me now, were given nonetheless to glorify the Name of Jesus Christ.
  12. A job by which I can work and proclaim the Name of Jesus Christ and live the truth of His Scripture before my co-workers and friends.
  13. A body of Christians at a local assembly who love my wife and I, pray for us, strive to help us when we’re in need, rebuke us when we’re wrong, encourage us when we’re right, and are dedicated to us despite us, in all the Biblical ways that is meant by that.
  14. A pastor who prays for us, calls the body to pray for us, calls on us when Sheena is sick, works diligently to prepare the sermons he preaches by which we grow and are made more perfect, loves his own family, and serves Christ faithfully in the office that he took as pastor.
  15. A home to lay my head, where my food is stored, where my clothes are stored, with neighbors who aren’t seeking to kill, maim, steal from, or otherwise bring harm to us.
  16. Friends who love my wife and I, of whom we are not worthy.

And the list goes on. There are so many things to mention in the day-to-day of life that, if God treated me skin for skin, I would have none of.

I’m writing this because, until I read that man’s letter tonight, all I could think of is all that I lost. As I’ve briefly glossed over before, two years ago this month, my wife and I decided it in our daughters’ best interests that they be adopted by the best parents a child could ever have, in my opinion. My wife’s illness in unpredictable, and we still have no way of knowing when she’ll go down again (because right now, praise our Lord, she is doing spectacularly well as I write this!), and we didn’t want that kind of life for our daughters. The details can be sticky, so I’ll leave it at that.

In fact, the reason I haven’t written anything in the last two weeks is because that was all I was thinking about, and I sure didn’t want that to become a kind of blog fodder and clickbait, solely for the purpose of venting my feelings and sorrows and getting some kind of imagined resolution by you reading and responding – I’m of the opinion that writing in detail about those things would be a kind of manipulation and would cheapen all the sacrifices people have made to our good. But reading that, I remember all the way back to Adam and the garden, remember the sins of Israel, remember the life of Jesus Christ – lived on my behalf as he fulfilled the Law I could never bear – remember His death on my account – the invaluable for the worthless – remember His resurrection and ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and His return for His people, and His perfecting His people – all of these things exploded from my memory in an instant as I read that brother of mine giving praise to the God who ordained the suffering of his wife, and even her coming death, because everything God does He does in the goodness that He is, He does it for the good of His people, and He does it to glorify the Name of His Son Jesus – and it is a sin to call evil, good and to call good, evil; but when God ordains that an evil thing should occur, it is good that it occurs, to quote a brother. And I praised and gave thanks to Christ because Christ was being glorified in them.

And before I close, I forgot something, a very important something: God has given us Himself. He loves His people with the love He has for the Son – very God, the radiance of His own Glory, the second person of the Godhead, the only Begotten Son. God’s own perfect, holy love is the very love with which He loves us. It’s authoritative, binding, and to quote a good brother, He will get the object of His love – nothing will sway Him.

My Lord! Help my unbelief!


PS: Not to mention the love that He shows His enemies in providing food, shelter, families, love, air, life, and even sends His own servants to preach to them, to love them, to rebuke them in love, to proclaim the Name of Jesus Christ to them that they might turn and be saved if they will (yes, even a Calvinist can say this, because it’s Biblical), although they use all of those things to profane, to blaspheme, to add evil to evil against the one who gives and takes away life at His own pleasure. 

What love. What patience. Again, my Lord! Help my unbelief!