Consumerism

Our Secular Age edited by Collin Hansen

Our Secular Age edited by Collin Hansen

The premise of Our Secular Age doesn’t have strong curb appeal: evangelical Christians grappling with the contribution of a contemporary philosopher’s nearly 900 page tome. Despite the fact that one of my favorite authors, James KA Smith has been significantly influenced by Charles Taylor, I still have yet to pick up Taylor’s A Secular Age.

Despite the less-than-enticing premise, Our Secular Age is a book that should be broadly read by Christian leaders. Even for the reader (like myself) who has no first-hand experience with Taylor, his theses are laid out clearly and the wide-ranging impact of his thought is explored and at times critiqued.

Taylor’s central thesis is that the secular world is a world that has turned its focus on the self and lost its sense of the transcendent. Collin Hansen says that Taylor traces the beginnings of this age to Martin Luther: “Taylor faults the Protestant Reformation and modern evangelical Christianity for disenchanting the world and turning the focus on the self rather than on God through and turning the focus on the self rather than on God through shared religious rituals.”

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      New Study Reveals That Millennials Prioritize Owning a Home over Marriage: In fact, it's worse than that. For Millennials, owning a home and travel both are more important priorities than getting married or having children. 

2.      Ancient People Lived Longer Than You Might Think: This is an interesting article that concludes that, for those who made it to adulthood, the average lifespan was about what it is today. Pretty surprising read.

3.      The Chocolate-ness of Chocolate and the Coffee-ness of Coffee: Jared Wilson reflects on the power of the gospel to enjoy things in the fullness of what they are, and not ask them to be something else, " If I don’t believe the gospel, I will miss out on the joy of the it-ness of things. I will be looking to these things as drugs, as appetite-fillers, as fulfillers, as powers, as gods, as worshipers of the god of myself."

4.      3 People Harmed by Misplaced Compassion: Eric Geiger reminds us that, " Under the banner of “kindness” or “patience,” leaders can fail to care for the overall health of their ministries or organizations."

5.      National Geographic Photography Contest: Scroll through all of the categories. You won't be disappointed.

The Villains of Christmas: the Gifts of the Magi

The Villains of Christmas: the Gifts of the Magi

The Magi are an iconic part of the Christmas story. Unbelievably, a group of philosopher-astronomers from the East (probably Persia) had knowledge that only a handful in all of Israel had: a Savior-King has been born in Bethlehem. Following the prophecies, they made their trek to Bethlehem to meet this Savior-King. When they arrived, “they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.”[ii]

And they do not come empty handed. They come bearing three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Each of these gifts has meaningful symbolism befitting the child-King. Items of great value, they proclaimed that Jesus was the King who would restore Israel.[iii]

Those gifts, according to many, were the impetus for the tradition of gift giving at Christmas time.[iv] The tradition began with humble origins and remained that way for a long time. Two popular books show just how much gift giving has changed in just this past century. If you pick up O’Henry’s The Gift of the Magi (1905) you find a husband buying his wife one present, a set of combs, and the woman buying her husband one present, a chain for his pocket watch. Or turn over to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Little House on the Prairie (1935) and you find that the kids’ haul on Christmas consisted of tin cups, peppermint candy, small cakes, and a penny.

Fast forward a hundred years to today and I chuckle to think of how my children would respond if the zenith of their Christmas presents was a shiny new cup.

Thanksgiving Recommendations

Thanksgiving Recommendations

1.      How Much Money Do You Save by Cooking at Home? Priceonomics analyzes the cost of buying groceries and cooking at home compared to restaurants and meal kits. The old fashioned way wins by a landslide.

2.  When You Don’t Feel Like Giving Thanks: An Thanksgiving reflection from Sabrina MacDonald, full of grace and wisdom, “Even when you don’t feel like giving thanks, God is honored by what the Bible calls a “sacrifice of praise.” Hebrews 13:15 (NASB) says, “Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” A sacrifice is an offering that hurts to give. Thanksgiving in good times is simply a response to the goodness of God, not a sacrifice. But to honor God in times of suffering, that is an offering far more valuable.”

3. A Time of Reckoning for the Sexual Revolution: Mary Eberstadt suggests that the #MeToo Movement has made the emptiness of the sexual revolution undeniable: "What the MeToo moment proves above all is that the time for magical thinking about the sexual revolution is over. Until now, many people simply accepted the realities of the post-Pill world as non-negotiable facts. It’s time to challenge that worldview as one that lacks moral and intellectual maturity."

4.      What the 40 Year Old Famous Christian Leader Would Tell His 20 Year Old Self: I so appreciate David Platt's wisdom, "My encouragement to my twentysomething self, or other twentysomethings — or anybody, for that matter — is to surrender to the Lord, abide in him, and rest. Trust him as he leads and guides and directs. And Lord willing, our lives will be spent for his purposes."

5.       3 Ways Porn Injures Us: Among those ways, Jesse Mason tells us is how porn punishes, "The person who does awaken from the degradation of porn will inevitably be crippled from running away. The brain will insist that in order to cope with distress or “low” feelings, it must have more porn to “boost” the good hormones. If someone can move beyond that and somehow wrestle those demons (via accountability or a recovery program), the biggest hindrance still awaits at the door: shame." 

6. The Grind of School DebtThis long-form first-person article by MH Miller may not seem like it's worth the investment of time, but Miller does a great job of helping you to feel the weight of the impact of educational debt to an average middle class American. In the midst of his struggles, Miller asks, "I’ve spent a great deal of time in the last decade shifting the blame for my debt. Whose fault was it? My devoted parents, for encouraging me to attend a school they couldn’t afford? The banks, which should have never lent money to people who clearly couldn’t pay it back to begin with, continuously exploiting the hope of families like mine, and quick to exploit us further once that hope disappeared? Or was it my fault for not having the foresight to realize it was a mistake to spend roughly $200,000 on a school..."

Shining Idols: Uncovering and Uprooting Them

Shining Idols: Uncovering and Uprooting Them

What are the idols of your heart? What are the ways in which you have allowed your heart which is intended to worship God, to worship the golden calves that surround us?[i] There are several ways to diagnose our hearts. Ask yourself the question: what keeps me up when I’m trying to sleep? What do I fear? What do I think about? What do I daydream about? What gets me most excited in life? What do I give myself to? What do you use your time for?[ii]

Often what we will first uncover are the superficial idols. Maybe it’s pornography or adultery, or maybe it’s alcohol, television, or shopping. Or maybe it’s fitness, sports, work, patriotism, or family. Everything can be turned into an idol. And these gods are rarely solitary.[iii] Gods open doors for gods. Culturally, we are often taught therapeutic methods to deal with these idols, often exchanging one idol with another seemingly “good” idol. We exchange pornography for patriotism, alcohol for fitness, television for family and think that we’ve fixed ourselves, but we haven’t. We are still worshiping a god. There are many churches out there who preach the good news of these better gods: family and patriotism and financial security. But these are still gods, and while they are good gifts from the Giver, they are still just gifts.

But there are deeper idols that lurk behind these superficial idols. The enemy is quite content to have us replace these superficial idols with "better" idols that serve the same function in our lives. What lies deeper? What are you trying to get when you crave coming home and collapsing on the couch and watching TV? What need are you filling when you shop?

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      "Nones" are Pursuing Spirituality but Not CommunityStephen Asma at the LA Times with a surprisingly critical take, "Many spiritual nones see themselves as authentic and liberated from the empty formalism of age-old ritual. There is some obvious good in this. But this strain of spirituality is largely detached from religious responsibilities and inconveniences, and it signals a generational shift toward isolation and short-term comfort."

2.      The False Gospel of Expressive Individualism: David Qaoud captures this pervasive phenomena well, "To say it another way, expressive individualism believes that each and every single person has the right to feel, believe, and think about themselves however they so choose. But even more, after you discover yourself (if you like the phrase), you’re free to express yourself. In fact, you must express yourself. Forget about what everyone else thinks. Forgot about any moral compass of right and wrong. Life is about you and your fulfillment. The goal of expressive individualism is to find yourself and express the desires you find."

3.      The Beautifully Tragic Backstories to Three Beloved Hymns: Mike Harland shares three powerful stories behind hymns you have probably sung before. It's amazing how connected creativity and suffering are in our relationship with God. 

4.      Whatever Happened to the Gifts of Language, Prophecy, and Healing? Andrew Wilson with a reflection on the early centuries of the church and the presence of charismatic gifts.

5.      Will These Audio Illusions Fool You? These are pretty fun... and weird!

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      5 Ways Your Personality Changes in the First Year of MarriageCari Romm reports on a recent study in Developmental Psychology, "Overall, it’s kind of a mixed bag — the very beginning stage of a marriage can change people for the worse, but also for the better. A better takeaway, then, might be the fact that they change at all."

2.      How to Make a MarriageGary Thomas with wise advice on the long process of making a healthy marriage, "In fact, one study suggests that it takes from nine to 14 years—at least a decade, and sometimes a decade and a half—for two individuals to stop thinking of themselves as individuals and to start thinking of themselves as a couple. That’s right—the journey from “me” to “we” takes years to achieve."

3.      What is Wrong? Americans' List is ShrinkingAaron Earls reports on a new Gallup poll that reports that across the board, Americans approve more of extramarital sex, divorce, cloning, suicide, gambling, same sex relationships, etc than they did ten to fifteen years ago.

4.      Simplicity for the Sake of the GospelI found Jen Oshman's article very convicting. She shares, "We feel glutted—overstuffed on overabundance. We are sick of our calendars and Amazon shopping carts being jammed full with far more than we need. Maybe less is more, we think. A decluttered entryway. Leisurely evenings. A reduced pace of life. We’re searching for the simple life. But to what end? What is it we’re after? What will fill the void created by our new, simple lives? When my husband and I sensed God calling us to plant a church in our new neighborhood, the man we consider our spiritual father had some wise words for us. 'Do not get busy,' he said. 'If you want to minister to your neighbors and your community, you need to be home. Don’t make a bunch of commitments. Just be there. They will come.' I didn’t believe him." 

5.      Safari Botswana: I dare you to not want to go on a safari after this up-close-and-personal video.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Comparing Take-Home Pay Around the WorldSwitzerland tops this list by a substantial margin while Mexico comes in dead last. The US comes in at the edge of the top third. And goodness gracious, if you think American income taxes are bad, don't move to Denmark!

2.      God's Grace for Foster ParentsI resonate with James Williams's post, "Fostering is hard. A child comes into our home, alters the norm of our everyday lives for a number of weeks or months, and then by government order leaves as quickly as he or she came. Many find it difficult that we regularly let children we’ve grown attached to go back home, usually never to see them again. People often say to us, “I just don’t know how you do it.” That bewildered statement implies that we have some special gift or ability that others don’t have, but the truth is, we don’t."

3.      7 Things to Never Say at a FuneralIt's hard to comfort those who are have experienced a death. Aaron Earls tells us not to mess it up. Top on his list are, "They're an angel now," and "I know how you feel."

4.      What Generation Z Wants to Do Before Hitting 30Aaron Earls reports on Barna's recent findings: "Fewer Gen Zers say they want to enjoy life before having responsibilities of being an adult (38 percent), find out who they really are (31 percent), or travel to other countries (21 percent)."

5.  How Involved Should Your Church Be During Elections? Kevin DeYoung with sober and timely advice.

6.     Why Are Self-Driving Cars Taking So Long? Really interesting video by SciShow that considers why it has been so hard to put self-driving cars on the road.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Why Winning the Lottery is So DangerousJ. Warner Wallace reflects, "Most of us recognize the relationship between satisfaction and duration. The longer something lasts (and the longer we enjoy it), the more satisfying we typically find it to be. In seeking the next big lottery jackpot, most players hope to win enough money to last the rest of their lives. Why? Because they are seeking satisfaction that will last a lifetime. But if the Christian worldview is true, each of us are eternal beings, created in the image of God, and destined to live forever – well beyond the temporal lives in which we could spend our lottery winnings... That’s why winning the lottery can be so dangerous. It takes our eyes off the goal. Not the physicalemotional or behavior goal, but the spiritual goal: to seek and find the true source of eternal satisfaction."

2.      The Math Language of RevelationBarry York talks about how we ought to make sense of all the numbers in Revelation, "When it comes to the book of Revelation, you quickly find the presence of many numbers. These numbers add (no pun intended) to the mystery of the book. Yet, similar to the example above, remembering the Bible has a "math language" of its own can help in understanding the passages containing the use of numbers. Here are five of Revelation's math language rules to follow."

3.      The Crisis of PornTony Perkins sounds the alarm, "What our kids are stumbling on isn’t your grandfather’s pornography... These are raw, violent, and nauseating videos that they don’t have to sneak into a store for. Every child has a world full of porn at their fingertips... Porn is everywhere, and the research is grim... Americans on both sides of the aisle are realizing: this is an actual catastrophe...These sites, the same ones teaching kids a distorted and twisted version of sex, get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined." 

4.      4 Myths About Responding to Spousal Abuse: Three pastors team up to debunk some hurtful pastoral responses to abusive situations. They put their finger on the pastor's tension: "Pastors who wish to support, protect, and counsel survivors of abuse are often left wondering how best to minister to them. They know abuse is a multi-faceted evil. They want to provide the best counsel possible. But several misconceptions around the issue can cloud the thoughts and guide the actions of well-intentioned church leaders."

5.      11 Common Phrases You Didn't Know Were From the BibleThis is fun. Some phrases you might be surprised by: "by the skin of your teeth," "a drop in the bucket," "a leopard can't change his spots," and "bit the dust."

Photo by dylan nolte on Unsplash

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      What Kind of Home Can You Get for $200K? Property Shark breaks down just how much home you can get, from Cleveland to Manhattan. Tucson is tucked right in the middle at just shy of 2,000 square feet.

2.      Are You in an Abusive Relationship? An important post for those who are asking themselves this question. Justin and Lindsey Holcombe say, "[B]ecause he is so good at deceptively wielding control, it can often be difficult to discern if you are being abused. From the perspective of outside observers, these signs of abuse may be cut-and-dry. But for those trapped in the cycles of abuse, making sense of these complicated relational dynamics—especially when the relationship is intimate—can be suffocating and confusing."

3.      Considering Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for LifeThomas Brewer weighs in with a thoughtful response to the meteoric Jordan Peterson's book. Brewer reflects that, "Much of [Peterson's approach] can be helpful, admittedly. The way he describes the benefits of not lying, of taking on risk, and of doing good in the world are broadly applicable and relevant to daily life. But for all of the insights, fascinating stories, and general helpful advice for encountering suffering in this world, Peterson’s advice falls short. All he can say is, “We know evil exists, because suffering is evil. Therefore, choose to stop needless suffering.” A powerful moral vision, to be sure, but a vision that’s incapable of saving us."

4.      When You Just Can't Pray Anymore: Brianna Barrier Wetherbee promises us that when we pray real prayers to our Daddy, there is transformation: "But here’s the deal. Straight up. I truly believe that there is always a purpose in our pain. That swell of “sacred sorrow,” that deep, gut-wrenching suffering that goes beyond words? It changes me. Every time. God allows us to hurt to make us more like Jesus."  

5.      You Must Disappoint SomeoneThere's so much wisdom in what Jon Bloom says here, "Why do you spend your time doing what you do? Why do you say yes to doing some things and no to doing other things? Are you saying yes and no to the right things? These are unnerving, exposing questions to ask... How other people perceive us — or how we think they’ll perceive us — has an extraordinary influence on how we choose to use our time. Coming to terms with ways we seek people’s approval or fear their disapproval will force us to face humbling truths about ourselves and may require repentance and uncomfortable change."