Archive for January, 2009

Just a Guy?

Posted: January 26, 2009 in Uncategorized
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You’ve probably heard of the new movie called The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I haven’t seen the movie myself yet, but the basic plot is that a man is born old and ages backwards until I presume he dies as an infant. Well, a few days ago I heard a little Jay Leno joke based on the movie, something to the effect of: “A guy that becomes more and more like a child every day, huh? Women watching this movie are going, ‘Where’s the originality?'” Funny, but sad. In our culture today, there are very little expectations for the American “guy.” Comedians like Jeff Foxworthy and Bill Engvall regularly chime in with their guy-deprecating jokes. They joke about their immaturity, and blame their lack of sexual restraint or respect for women on the fact that they’re “just a guy.” Laying around on the weekends is the norm, and there’s nothing wrong with watching hours of TV. The wife’s a nag, kids are a burden. Every request to look beyond oneself is a drag, an inhibitor to the “guy’s” happily self-constructed world.

O, what a demoralizing model we have in America today. As a young man, surely this self-pleasing, apathetic, complacent lifestyle is not the only thing I have to look forward to, is it? Should I really be satisfied to follow the trend of confinement, only to die with my miserable last words being those John Piper describes: “I’ve wasted it!” I don’t want my life as a “guy” to be a wreckless reckless pursuit of girls, leisure, gadgets and toys.

What’s happened to the respectable model of a man who works hard to provide for and protect his family, who cherishes his wife so dearly the thought of another woman is disgraceful, who loves spending time playing with and teaching his kids, who serves those around him, who seeks to gain wisdom from his elders and share it with the younger? What about the man who longs to learn and loves to teach? The man who is confident and strong, but self-controlled; courageous, selfless. Where is real manhood?

I’m so appreciative of the masculine role models I’ve had in my life. These are men who can repeat 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” First and foremost, my own father has been an inspiration to me by his powerful work ethic, by working hard even under intense stress to provide for us. I only hope I can develop a work ethic partially as strong as his. He’s self-controlled, not given to his emotions because he puts Scriptural truths above fluctuating feelings. I have other examples, such as pastors and teachers. Pastor Arie is a man who I look up to as one who loves his wife and children. He is humble, quick to encourage and quick to apologize. I remember him once becoming mildly frustrated during worship practice with his son, and minutes later confessing his sin in front of the whole band and asking his forgiveness right there. That is a real man. My high school principal and teacher, Mr. Clancy is likewise a strong man of God. Mr. Clancy rises early works hard as a principal at our church school (the CDS), guiding students day in and day out in serving God in school, investing deeply into the school not for personal gain. He then works side jobs as a contractor.

These are men who I look at to see what true manhood is. While our media and culture continue to obscure the image of masculinity, men like these who conform their lives to a Biblical standard blaze paths for me to follow. “Follow me as I follow Christ,” I hear their lives proclaiming. As a man, I am created in the image of God. How incredible! And yet how incredibly easy to forget. In the image of God, shall I continue in childish things? By God’s grace, I hope not.

This Brian Regan bit is fairly loosely related to my post, but I’ll take any excuse to post a Regan clip :).

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Outliers

Posted: January 16, 2009 in Uncategorized

I recently finished reading the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. I hadn’t originally intended to read it, but my dad had it out from the library and suggested I take a look at it. It wasn’t an incredible or outstanding book, but throughout I saw God’s sovereign creativity and design implicitly showing through.

First off, an outlier is basically something that lies outside the norm in its field or class. Gladwell tells several stories of successful human outliers who have overcome significant struggles (e.g. poor backgrounds) to become financially successful. He takes a different perspective, however, on these rags-to-riches stories. Most journalists or authors narrate them in a manner so as to impress you with the sheer hard work and determination which caused these pitifully poor folks to climb the socio-financial ladder. Gladwell, while acknowledging the importance of will-power and work, instead focuses on the external factors leading to worldly success.

Bill Gates, for example, is known for using his smarts and intellect to work his way to the top. But Gladwell points out how when Gates was in the eighth grade, the Mothers’ Club his mom was a part of pitched in to give their kids access to a new computer (at that time, “time sharing” computers were a brand new technology. One giant central computer would be shared by multiple people, and you had to pay a fee for access for, say, an hour block of time). Later on, one of Gate’s friends found that a local business had a 3 hour slot open between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. in which nobody used the computer. Bill would sneak out every morning and do programming through the night for fun. He did this for years. As technology advanced, Bill spent more time programming and increased his knowledge and expertise which led to his eventual success. In the end, we see that Bill was certainly a genius and a nerd. But it was the exclusive opportunities that Bill was given, based on when he was born (he was born at just about the perfect time to get on the cutting edge of computing and gain important skills as the computer revolution took off), and that early shot at programming given from the Mother’s Club set him off before most others could afford to or even had the chance to (these computers still only existed in a few places). In other words, Bill was blessed with many chances at success because they were presented, intentionally or unintentionally, by other people. Again, this is not to downplay Bill Gate’s role in his success, but he had a lot of help.

As I read a number of stories like his, I started seeing how events were being orchestrated and set up behind the scenes at the time. People would get scholarships from kind friends, live in a certain place at a certain time, or even just be born in a specific time frame. Everything seemed to “fall into place,” so to speak. When I thought about this, it gave me a picture of God’s sovereign creativity. Nobody, not even the most successful, can lay claim to their blessings purely on the basis of their own efforts. They are gifts. God has planned our paths to be affected and impacted by others, and no one is “self-made.” Anyone who claims to be a self-made success is like Mr. Bounderby from Charles Dicken’s Hard Times, who constantly bragged about how his work ethic and perseverance took him from an atrocious upbringing to thriving millionaire. Yet, we find out later in the book that his mother was extremely caring and helped him all his life.

Another point in this: God created humans as relational beings. Nobody is a self-made “success” because nobody was designed to flourish on their own. We all need help from one another and are truly happier when we try to aid others’ interests and acknowledge our interdependence. It’s an amazing and humbling truth, as we read stories in magazines and newspapers of CEOs and billionaires who seem to defy the odds, to see that every one of them is where he is because of other people’s help (Side note: each time I use the word successful, I mean by the world’s standards). Let’s modestly embrace that interdependence rather that futilely struggle against it.

God, thank you that you have planned my path and direction in life. Thank you that my success, whether defined in physical or spiritual terms, is dependent not on me but on your sovereign grace and will. Help me to grab onto this reality so that I may not be anxious or self-sufficient. May I keep my trust in you, the One who truly is self-sufficient and self-existing, all-wise and all-knowing, all-powerful and good, gracious and merciful. Father, help me to be more attuned to the interests of others, that I may have the privilege of playing some part in your plan for the redemption of souls through obedient service. Grant me the grace to see when I’ve been helped. Keep me humble, so I do not fall prey to self-praise and self-admiration, for these are despicable when examined under the lens of your good omniscience and omnipotence. You are worthy to be praised. Amen.

Last month, I posted a potential reading list. Thank you all for the suggestions. Here’s a quick update:

1. Read To Kill a Mockingbird. I now understand why this book has been held with such high esteem. I couldn’t put it down, and I think I read it in two days or so. Harper Lee’s ability to capture the playful imaginations of young kids, while also depicting human corruption skillfully and artistically is truly beautiful. If you read it only for Atticus’s speech before the jury, you will have invested your time well. Surpassed even the gushing reports I heard of it.

2. After To Kill a Mockingbird, I read The Quest for Meekness and Quietness of Spirit by Matthew Henry (a short title for a Puritan book!). I had mentioned looking for a book to help me deal with stress, and Pastor Joel lent me this one. Matthew Henry helped me to understand the importance of prioritizing God’s purposes and the desires/needs of others above my own. He effectively showed how such a frame of spirit leads to a quietness and rest of spirit, by making my source of delight not me, but in God and submission to him. I was shown that sinful stress and anxiety are signs of a lack of proper submission to God, and the symptoms of a struggle to make my own wants preeminent. Reading The Quest after reading To Kill a Mockingbird was fascinating because Atticus exemplified meekness (though he was not expressly a Christian) in his defending of justice despite ridicule and persecution.

3. I read Simplify Your Spiritual Life by Donald Whitney (author of Spiritual Disciplienes for the Spiritual Life) after these two. I mentioned in my earlier post I was “hoping to find a book on effective time-management, preferably from a Christian who will prioritize spending time on spiritual disciplines,” and I think this book nailed that perfectly (Thanks again, Pastor Joel!). Donald Whitney’s book was a tremendous help, with so many practical suggestions I’m looking forward to putting into practice (journaling, avoiding too many electronic “anesthetics,” asking others how to pray for them, and asking wise people lots of questions, to name a few). I highly recommend this book, it’s incredibly practical and helpful.

4. Lastly, I just finished up Time Management From the Inside Out. TMFTII gave an abundance of steps to take and ways to think to manage time efficiently. The author recommends thinking of time not as one long, unending line of mystery, as I tend to do. Instead, she suggests thinking of time spatially, assigning “containers” to each block of time, allocating specific activities to each time container. She suggested making Big Picture Goals, which allow you to filter out activities that do not fit that goal. Time Mapping, which is scheduling out plans for every day hour by hour, minute by minute, and calculating how long things realistically take were good pointers. I could go on, but I’ll leave it by saying that if you have trouble managing your time well, find yourself procastinating a lot like me, always arrive late everywhere, or just feel unproductive all the time, grab a copy of this book.

Currently, I’m in the middle of Holiness by J.C. Ryle, which I’ve been off and on with for a couple months now, and The Glory of Christ by John Owen. The Glory of Christ is only 120 pages or so, but I’m thinking it may take me at least a month to get through. It’s an excellent book so far (all 12 pages. Oh yes.), but it’s pretty heavy. I’ve been highlighting and writing in the small margins as I go along to keep up with Owen, but at the rate I’m going it’s taking literally about an hour for 8 or 9 pages.

Still Looking forward to even more recommendations. I may not get to them for a little while, but I’m always adding books to my queue, so feel free to send more suggestions! Looking forward to possibly reading Count of Monte Cristo and Trusting God. Thanks, all. What a gift we have in reading. Praise be to God for such an outlet for exchanging thoughts.

Taboo, Anyone?

Posted: January 1, 2009 in Uncategorized
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A couple nights ago, I went to a singles’ group social. We hung out for awhile, played some pool and Round Robin (a fun game to play with a large group and a ping pong table), and then we played Taboo for awhile. If you’ve never heard of Taboo, it’s a game in which one person has to try to get his team to guess the word at the top of the card by describing it, sort of like Catch Phrase. The hard part: there are 5 words below it that cannot be used to describe the word. For example, if the top word is Kangaroo, some words below it might include Pouch, Hop, Animal, Australia, and Captain. Accidentally use one of the words, and the point goes to the other team. It’s a great game that requires quick thinking, wit, and articulation. Taboo is possibly my favorite game because it challenges you to construct your language thoughtfully and carefully, while being extremely fun (especially with a large group).

I got to thinking later about a sort of Christian Taboo. What if we took the Taboo concept and applied it to some Christian jargon or cliche phrases? Would we be able to describe the words or phrases we often thoughtlessly use by using original ones? For examples, suppose my phrase was “evidence of grace” (a cliche phrase at least in part of my church circle, including me). How would I get my team to guess it without using, let’s say, Proof, Encourage, Point Out, Identify, or Timothy. Thinking in such a way would push me to actually evaluate the meaning of the phrase in order to convey the message to another.

Perhaps we could benefit from challenging our thoughts in a similar way in small group conversations or our prayers. One of the suggestions I read yesterday in Simplify Your Spiritual Life by Donald Whitney (excellent book, by the way) was, “Don’t pray the same prayer over and over.” He didn’t mean you shouldn’t pray about the same things repeatedly, but rather that we shouldn’t use the same wording and phrasing all the time. In doing so, he says, you lose most, if not all purpose and meaning behind the words you parrot out. For example, I tend to pray before each meal, “Dear Lord, thank you for this food. I pray that the rest of the day will go well and that you’ll be honored in everything I do. Amen.” Perhaps a good prayer in some respects, if thoughtfully spoken. So often, though, my thanks for food flows without any real gratitude. I don’t know what I mean by a day “going well,” and the part about God being honored is sometimes rushed through to get started with eating. Such prayers are called “vain repetitions” in the Bible.

After all this rambling, my main thought is this: I want to be more thoughtful and careful about the words and phrases I choose, not simply repeating phrases I’ve used or heard over and over to the point I’ve exhausted their power to provoke thought. That way, my thinking about God will be clearer, and my speech will be more uplifting in its expressiveness. May God be honored in this pursuit; it’s all meant solely to expand my perception and others’ perceptions of God.