The Gallery (Second Quarter, 2017)

art gallery

 

In an effort to slow down, think, and let the best of the internet sharpen and edify me, I’m starting an infrequent (but regular!) blog series. I’m calling it The Gallery because that’s the image that best fits my idea.

I’m trying to find a happy middle between a daily roundup and The Best of The Year. I want to call attention to some of the best articles, videos (not this time), and podcasts I’ve noticed that might still have relevance. For now, I’ve settled on posting this roundup once a quarter.

These are the best things I’ve run across over the last three months. They deserve multiple readings or listens. Their quality demands thoughtful consideration (or reconsideration).

This isn’t the best of the internet, because I have no desire to cast my net as wide as possible. This is the best of what I encountered, taking all my preferences and oddities into account. Enjoy.

Articles

  1. The Gift of Lack: Infertility, Miscarriage, Singleness, and the Long Wait, by Lore Ferguson Wilbert (personal blog — I enjoy Lore’s writing, even when I’m not the target audience. She writes here about longing and God’s work within that void we so long to be filled. “He’s doing something with this void. He’s showing himself to be better than a spouse, better than children, better than security, and better than what our culture perceives as normal. He is the gift within the gift of lack.”
  2. U2’s ‘The Joshua Tree’ Turns 30, by Mike Cosper (The Gospel Coalition) — A great piece here in which Mike provides context to one of U2’s best and most enduring albums.

Podcasts

  1. Pass the Mic (Reformed African American Network) — I linked to this podcast last time around, but I can’t help but repeat myself. Two top-notch episodes from this quarter: Racism and Christian Education, and The N-Word’s Radioactiveness.
  2. The Calling (Christianity Today) — I learned a lot from the episode with Barnabas Piper. Among other topics, Piper and host Richard Clark talked about divorce within the church, and I heard a perspective I hadn’t taken care to listen to before. Helpful.
  3. The Longform Podcast — This is an interview-style podcast which features writers, film makers, and other journalists. The episode with Brian Reed, host of the S-Town podcast, was fascinating.
  4. This American Life — It feels a bit cliche to mention this podcast, since it’s on every top podcast list ever. But that’s for a good reason: it’s great. Take a listen to the episode from May entitled Fermi’s Paradox. It’s ultimately about being alone—in the universe, in a marriage, and as a pre-teen girl. There is much for parents (and fathers specifically) to learn in Act 3 of this episode.

Album

  • Crooked (Propaganda) — Propaganda is a poet, spoken word artist, and rapper. He is incredibly skilled and he speaks prophetically to the church and culture of 2017. His latest album (Crooked) just dropped at the end of June, and I’m still absorbing it. It is wise, catchy, and uncomfortable (in a good way). You’ll need to listen multiple times. Propaganda is with a great ministry called Humble Beast, and they give their music away! So, follow this link, download, and listen away. (And then support Propaganda by buying the album!)

Photo Credit: Ryan McGuire (2014), public domain

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The Gallery (First Quarter, 2017)

art gallery

Over the past year I’ve felt like a pedestrian beside a busy interstate. Cars whiz past incessantly. I can’t think with all the noise.

It’s the internet, guys. I don’t use it so good. I’ve sought out what’s new-new-new, and it’s left me malnourished and unsatisfied.

In an effort to slow down, think, and let the best of the internet sharpen and edify me, I’m starting an infrequent (but regular!) blog series. I’m calling it The Gallery because that’s the image that best fits my idea.

I’m trying to find a happy middle between a daily roundup and The Best of The Year. I want to call attention to some of the best articles, videos (not this time), and podcasts I’ve noticed that might still have relevance. For now, I’ve settled on posting this roundup once a quarter.

These are the best things I’ve run across in the first three months of 2017. They deserve multiple readings or listens. Their quality demands thoughtful consideration (or reconsideration).

This isn’t the best of the internet, because I have no desire to cast my net as wide as possible. This is the best of what I encountered, taking all my preferences and oddities into account. Enjoy.

Articles

  1. Mathematics for Human Flourishing, by Francis Su (personal blog) — As the outgoing president of the Mathematical Association of America, Francis Su gave a plenary talk at the big, national math conference in January. Francis Su is a Christian and you can hear it in the way he talks about mathematics and opportunity. This is one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard, and it’s the only one at a math conference I’ve ever seen get a standing ovation. I was in the room and I could tell something special was happening. At this link you’ll have the chance to read, listen to, or watch the speech. (For the math-squeamish, don’t worry—there’s no math in the talk at all!)
  2. “But I didn’t mean to be racist”, by Jemar Tisby (Fathom Magazine) — I’ve been thinking a lot about race and the church over the past 6–12 months. Jemar Tisby has been a consistently helpful voice. In this article he writes about the difference between intent and impact, and he calls white evangelicals to empathy. This is worth reading prayerfully.
  3. The Mad Truth of La La Land, by Jennifer Trafton (The Rabbit Room) — La La Land was the best movie I saw this quarter, and it’s made me think a lot. This article helped me process the movie, the characters, and the ending. And Jennifer Trafton showed me what the movie teaches about love. Top notch.
  4. Confessing the Sin of Platforming, by J.A. Medders (personal blog) — What an honest, revealing, God-glorifying personal essay this is! J.A. Medders writes about rejection and his desire to be known. I suspect everyone who writes online struggles with this. (I do.) I needed to read this.

Podcasts

  1. Cultivated (Harbor Media) — Mike Cosper hosts a great interview podcast with Christians about faith and work. Cosper asks his guests about their sense of calling and listeners are treated to some great stories. This podcast launched in the fall of 2016, but there were some great episodes released in January and February.
  2. Pass the Mic (Reformed African American Network) — The tagline for this podcast is “Dynamic Voices for a Diverse Church.” Tyler Burns and Jemar Tisby host this podcast which aims to “address the core concerns of African Americans biblically.” I have learned so much from this podcast. The hosts and guests have helped me to grow a bit in understanding what minority citizens experience in the United States and in the church. I love that the hosts, even while acknowledging the difficulty and frustration that goes with racial reconciliation, proclaim the power of the gospel in every episode. All the episodes are tremendous, but I especially enjoyed the interview with Andy Crouch.

Photo Credit: Ryan McGuire (2014), public domain

Attending Small Group Bible Studies

I continue to write every other week at the Knowable Word blog. I just finished up a series on attending a small group Bible study.

My thinking behind the series was this—there are a lot of guides to leading a small group (including a very good one over at Knowable Word). But I hadn’t seen quite as much about attending a small group. I wrote a total of nine articles in this series; I’ve linked to each of them below with a brief description.

3 Benefits of Small Group Bible Study
Most of your Bible study will likely happen in private. But studying the Bible with a group of friends gives you an opportunity to bless others and be blessed yourself.

Ask These Questions When Joining a Small Group
Many Christians in the U.S. have a multitude of options when choosing a Bible study group to join. Here I discuss three important questions to ponder as you weigh your options.

Sharpen Your Axe: Prepare for Your Small Group
In life, we prepare for the events and opportunities that are important. Studying the Bible in a small group can be transformational, so should we really just show up at the meeting without any foresight? In this article I suggest some physical preparations and spiritual preparations to consider.

How to Ruin a Small Group Discussion in 4 Easy Steps
Here’s a tongue-in-cheek article written to highlight some unhelpful small group behaviors. My advice is to flip over the coin and aim accordingly.

Let Down Your Guard to Keep Up the Fight
A measure of vulnerability and honesty is essential to growing as a Christian. I suggest that you can grow in this by considering both how you ask your small group friends to pray for you as well as how you engage with Bible application.

Ten Characteristics of a Great Small Group Member
From the article: “Here are ten traits found in a great small group member. If you are attending a small group, make these qualities your target and the subject of your prayers.”

Help! I Have a Bad Bible Study Leader
What should you do if your Bible study goals seem at odds with your leader? In a nutshell: have a conversation.

When to Leave Your Small Group
How do you know when you’ve reached the point of no return with your small group? I suggest revisiting the same questions you should ask before joining a group to gain some clarity.

Pray for the End of Your Small Group
You can multiply the influence of your small group for God’s glory by dividing. (Like what I did there? Oh, math.) See how the end of your small group (as you know it) can be a really good thing.

My 8 Favorite Posts of 2014

I wrote a total of 19 new blog posts this year. There were 14 posts here and five on the Knowable Word blog. (I’m a “co-contributor” there now. Lord willing, I’ll be posting on KW every other Monday. Click here to find all of my posts on KW.) Those 19 new posts this year compare to 18 new posts in 2013. So while the numerical improvement is slight, I hope and suspect that my writing has gotten substantially better.

Some of the posts I wrote this year ended up just the way I intended. Some did not. I’m bypassing a list of the top ___ viewed articles on the blog this year, because that’s not an entirely useful exercise when you have the size readership I have. But what follows are my eight favorite posts of the year. These are the ones I’m fondest of even after some time has passed.

Idolatry is Embarrassing
The idols of the modern man (including modern Christians) are legion: money, sex, reputation, peace, family, job, friendship, and a thousand others. We might define an idol like this: an idol is anything from which we seek significance or in which we place trust aside from God. Consider the following sentence: “If I lost _____, I don’t know how I could go on.” If you can complete that sentence with a word aside from “God,” you have identified an idol. Congratulations! You’ve won the prize: a life-long battle with a rascal that can strangle your soul!

But we read in the Bible that idolatry is not just morally wrong. Worshiping something other than God is not only offensive to his holiness. It is downright embarrassing.

Sports, Men, and the Glory of God
Why is it that men love sports so much? If we love sports but acknowledge they can too easily become all-consuming, should we just pitch our fandom out the window? Or does our love for sports point to something deeper? Does it perhaps tell us something about the way God has made us?

Maybe there is something about man that desires contest, struggle, and competition. Maybe God made us with the ability and inclination to test ourselves and join a conflict. Maybe the desire to emerge victorious, in a like-minded community, after a hard-fought battle, isn’t just a silly sports trope. Maybe, in fact, this part of the image of God in us is kindled by athletic competitions but wasted if it remains in the realm of mascots, jerseys, and earthly trophies.

Broken Light, Broken World, Broken Me
I am not a handy person. Though I would like to be the type of man who can pound any household problem into submission, I am the nail more frequently than I am the hammer. When I take on a household maintenance or repair project, conditions usually get far worse before they improve. And sometimes improvement only happens by dragging a friend or a professional into the house. Sadly, when it comes to home improvement I more closely resemble Bob Denver than Bob Vila.

Gather with All Ages
We soon learned that this church had segmented their Sunday school offerings to the extreme. Please report to room 205 if you are young, single, born in the midwest, and have at least two older siblings. Maybe it wasn’t quite this bad, but the number of categories and subcategories on display was something to behold.

I understand the impulse for Christian groups to gather according to age and life situation. Especially when children are involved, it is comfortable and refreshing to compare notes, walk familiar paths, and share common experiences.

But this segmentation is not all good. We miss out when we only spend time with people of our age and exact life situation. Two sand crabs can’t give each other any wisdom about life on the other side of the dunes.

What My Daughter Taught Me About Heaven
One of my daughters has an affectionate streak, and she often expresses this by spending time with people she loves. She doesn’t need to play a game or focus on a task, she just wants to be nearby. The other day she wanted to “be with me” but I needed to cut the grass. So she spent about 20 minutes happily trailing six feet behind me as I pushed the mower.

I don’t have an exclusive claim on my daughter’s affections. She loves to be with her mother, her sister, and even some other friends (adults and children) in her life. What’s surprising to me is how frankly and starkly she expresses this desire. She simply wants to be with the people she loves. Boy, do I have a lot to learn from her.

Pride in the Parking Lot
AAA assured me a tow truck would be there within the hour. That seemed reasonable. I read a book with the car windows down, enjoying the parking lot bouquet of carbon monoxide and warming asphalt. Soon one hour turned into three. A tow truck driver finally arrived and I offered my expert opinion about the faulty starter. He proposed we try to jump the car anyway. Given his profession (not to mention his muscles and tattoos), this was no proposal—it was the plan. But I was sure this attempt would fail.

Immediately, powerfully, triumphantly, the car started. Like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber. I could not have been more wrong.

What To Do With Copycat Siblings
My younger daughter wants to do everything like her sister. Clothes, activities, books, ice cream flavors—all the same. At the same time. And though older daughter loves her sister dearly, she yearns for a bit more individuality than a copycat allows. Daddy, can sister have something different than what I’m having today? She chafes.

I’m the oldest of three brothers, so I sympathize. I felt confined having a younger brother that imitated me. Get your own sport/toy/cereal/shoes! God made us and knows us as individuals, and when we are copied in every small action and preference, we feel we’ve lost our identity.

Immanuel: the Story of the Bible
Immanuel. This is not just a title or name for Jesus, it is the story of the entire Bible.

Encountering the word “Immanuel” (meaning “God with us”) at this time of year falls into our expected rhythms. We read Matthew 1:23 or Isaiah 7:14 during the Advent season. We sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” But the new year arrives and we typically pack away consideration of “Immanuel” like so many wreaths and candles.

But Immanuel is too important to occupy your mind for a mere four weeks of the year! In fact, if I had to summarize God’s redemptive plan in one word, I could make a good case for Immanuel.

Ask Good Questions in Your Small Group

Are you in a small group Bible study? What are the most important parts of your group meetings? What helps you the most as you dig into the Bible? What is the difference between being taught the Bible and studying the Bible in your small group?

Questions! The key to a good small group Bible study (and any human interaction, frankly) is the willingness to ask and answer good questions.

Over the past three weeks I’ve written three articles over at the Knowable Word blog on how to ask good questions in a small group. That blog is focused on the Observation-Interpretation-Application (OIA) method of Bible study (which I heartily endorse), so my posts each covered one of those areas. If you have a chance, check them out!