Consumerism

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Sunday Regulars are Happier and Healthier: Kate Shellnut shares the findings of a recent Pew Research Center report, " Whatever the explanation may be, more than one-third describe themselves as very happy, compared with just a quarter of both inactive and unaffiliated Americans."

2.      Move Over Sex and Drugs, Ease is the New Vice: Jen Pollock Michel with a sharp insight, "The decline in sexual activity and cereal sales hardly seem correlated, but both seem to point to one of the most seductive promises of a technological age: that ours should be an unbothered life. As our lives (at least in the developed world) get easier, we are increasingly formed by the desire for ease."

3.      Why Are you Hiding? This is written specifically for pastors, but it applies to many of us. Chuck DeGroat asks us why we keep our real selves hidden and why that might be our destruction: "The 17th-century Presbyterian clergyman John Flavel wrote in Keeping the Heart, 'There are some men and women who have lived forty or fifty years in the world and have had scarcely one hour’s discourse with their hearts all the while.' I’ve found this to be true of many people in ministry... They’re lost pastors, lonely and busy and empty and radically disconnected from any kind of inner conversation with their hearts and with the God who is more near to them than their very breath."

4.      They Really Did Come From Nothing: Lucia Tai, the daughter of immigrants reports on her journey back to her parents' birth home in Vietnam and how that reshaped her perception of them and undermined her ingratitude. She says, " I’ve come to see that my parents have spent the majority of their lives trying to assimilate into a new culture and to fit a mould that they were not born into...The experience also helped me to further reject internalised racism and to appreciate my heritage more. After experiencing my family’s truth, all the values that had been drilled into me from young started to make sense: the undying work ethic, the need to save every penny, the call to be grateful and to make sacrifices for the family."

5.      4 Traits of a Good Small Group Question: Lynn Pryor with great advice for leading any discussion group. Her four traits of a good question are:"1. They don’t call for a single right answer; 2. They don’t have an obvious answer; 3. They don’t call for a short answer; 4. They call for a personal response or answer."

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      How America Grew Bored with Love: This is a damning indictment by David Masciotra: " It has become the stuff of cliché to read “cutting edge” cultural critics deconstruct popular love stories like Pretty Woman and Say Anything, reimagining them as predatory tales of women surrendering to sexual harassment. Never mind that the largest audiences for these films were always and will likely remain women."

2.      Are you Middle Class? Helpful little chart.

3.      Confessions of a Glory Hoarder: Cassi Crowley talks about the painful sanctification of motherhood: " Not surprisingly, motherhood threw a wrench into my self-glorification. I haven’t received nearly as much glory as I’ve been accustomed to in previous seasons. In the academic world, you get grades and diplomas. In the professional world, you get performance reviews and promotions. In the social world, you get friends and influence. In motherhood, you get dirty diapers and sleep deprivation."

4.      A Hundred Year-Old Reflection on Self-Forgetfulness: BB Warfield concludes, "Only, when, like Christ, and in loving obedience to His call and example, we take no account of ourselves, but freely give ourselves to others, we shall find, each in his measure, the saying true of himself also: “Wherefore also God hath highly exalted him.” The path of self-sacrifice is the path to glory."

5.      The Earth Below: Beautiful time lapse. Makes you want to pick up Genesis 1, doesn't it?

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.