Piper: Dignified Men Don’t Run

pleasuresOne of the amazing things about the Christian faith is that it presents a God who is almost embarrassingly extravagant in his love for his people. This, despite the far-from-lovely character of his people, who’ve exchanged his glory for lesser things, including ourselves, and scorned his patient mercies and entreaties to repentance. Yet this – the gospel – is at the heart of the Christian faith: that God gave up his only Son, Jesus Christ, to not only forgive his enemies, but to adopt them as his own sons and lavish his riches upon them. And in all this, God is joyful and exultant. This is the wonderful truth that John Piper brings out in this passage from The Pleasures of God (Multnomah, 1991):

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“Jesus uses [the story of the Prodigal Son] to help us feel the force of what it means to have the Father rejoice over us with all his heart… He illustrates what happens in heaven by telling a story about a father who had a wayward son who left home and squandered all his inheritance. The son comes to his senses while feeding pigs in a far country, and decides to go home and seek mercy from his father. He heads home and, as he goes, prepares a speech something to this effect: ‘Father, I’m not worthy to be called your son; so maybe you would let me live in the servants’ quarters and work and eat with them?’

“As Jesus tells this story you can feel the energy of love building as he shows how the father rejoices ‘with all his heart’ over the boy’s arrival. While the boy is still a long way off the father sees him and his heart warms with compassion (v. 20). He doesn’t hold back and watch to see what the boy looks like; he bursts out the front door and starts running down the road. Now don’t miss the force of this scene. Well-to-do, dignified, aristocratic, aging men don’t run, they walk. They keep their composure. They show that they are on top of their emotions. But not in Jesus’ story about God’s joy over his people.

The father runs. Can you see them both running? Or maybe the boy was too stunned to run. Perhaps he couldn’t believe his eyes. Maybe the smell of pigs was still on him. Maybe the thought flashed through his mind to turn and escape this utterly unexpected demonstration of affection. But he does not turn. Jesus say the father embraced him and kissed him – pig smell and all. Can you see that embrace without feeling the emotion? I can’t. Maybe that’s because I have four sons…

…But I think the emotion goes deeper than that. I know I am that son in Jesus’ story. And I cannot comprehend that the Father in heaven – the great and glorious Creator of all the universe and Sovereign over all things – throws to the wind all dignified self-consciousness and runs to me and embraces me and kisses me, as though – no! it is no fiction – rather, because he is happy with me. He is glad with all his heart that I am part of the family. This is why I cannot see that embrace without pausing to let my eyes and throat recover.”

Clyde Kirby’s Resolutions for Cultivating Joy

pleasuresFor the last couple of months I’ve had the pleasure of reading through John Piper’s The Pleasures of God (Multnomah, 1991) with some friends from church. The main thrust behind the book is the idea that we don’t truly know someone until we know what makes them happy, and that it’s the same with God. Piper then takes readers on a deeply encouraging and edifying exploration of the pleasures of God, including his pleasure in creation, in doing good to those who hope in him, and in personal obedience and public justice.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the inclusion of Clyde Kirby’s “10 resolutions for mental health,” which Kirby, a former English professor at Wheaton College, first gave at a lecture in 1976. These resolutions aren’t so much about mental health, I think, as about developing a child-like sense of wonder and joy at the creation that surrounds us and this life that God has given to us. Are these the kinds of thoughts and activities that could help someone with depression? Absolutely. But ultimately, this is about the kind of joy that anyone can experience given the right balance of self-forgetfulness and God-pleasing awe at the world around us.

Below is first, Piper’s reflection on the heart behind these resolutions, and then the resolutions themselves. Enjoy!

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“One of the tragedies of growing up is that we get used to things. It has its good side of course, since irritations may cease to be irritations. But there is immense loss when we get used to the redness of the rising sun, and the roundness of the moon, and the whiteness of the snow, the wetness of the rain, the blueness of the sky, the buzzing of bumble bees, the stitching of crickets, the invisibility of the wind, the unconscious constancy of hearth and diaphragm, the weirdness of noses and ears, the number of the grains of sand on a thousand beaches, the never-ceasing crash crash crash of countless waves, and ten million kingly-clad flowers flourishing and withering in woods and mountain valleys where no one sees but God” (80).

1. At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.

2. Instead of the accustomed idea of a mindless and endless evolutionary change to which we can neither add nor subtract, I shall suppose the universe guided by an Intelligence which, as Aristotle said of Greek drama, requires a beginning, a middle, and an end. I think this will save me from the cynicism expressed by Bertrand Russell before his death when he said: “There is darkness without, and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendor, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.”

3. I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but rather a unique event, filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities. I shall not be fool enough to suppose that trouble and pain are wholly evil parentheses in my existence, but just as likely ladders to be climbed toward moral and spiritual manhood.

4. I shall not turn my life into a thin, straight line which prefers abstractions to reality. I shall know what I am doing when I abstract, which of course I shall often have to do.

5. I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social categories I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself and do my work.

6. I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.

7. I shall sometimes look back at the freshness of vision I had in childhood and try, at least for a little while, to be, in the words of Lewis Carroll, the “child of the pure unclouded brow, and dreaming eyes of wonder.”

8. I shall follow Darwin’s advice and turn frequently to imaginative things such as good literature and good music, preferably, as Lewis suggests, an old book and timeless music.

9. I shall not allow the devilish onrush of this century to usurp all my energies but will instead, as Charles Williams suggested, “fulfill the moment as the moment.” I shall try to live well just now because the only time that exists is now.

10. Even if I turn out to be wrong, I shall bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls himself Alpha and Omega.

Are you a Lovecat?

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I loved Tim Sanders’s Love is the Killer App (Three Rivers, 2002).

Though I haven’t read many books in business and marketing, this is a book that, though it deals heavily in these fields, transcends those genres: It’s a book which, at a fundamental level, can help you to grow as a person and then teach you how to help others grow as well. What Sanders calls a “lovecat” is essentially a nice, smart person who is generous with his knowledge and network and who is committed to the growth of others.

Sanders says you become a “lovecat” by attending to three things: 1) Knowledge, 2) Network, and 3) Compassion. By “knowledge,” he means you must read a lot, and books above all, so that you are at the top of your field and are equipped to share this knowledge with others. By “network,” he means that not only should you diligently cultivate a professional network, but you should then be diligent about helping people those in your network by sharing your knowledge with them and get busy connecting them with others who can help them. Finally, by “compassion,” he means something that is so simple but which we often neglect in at the workplace, and especially in the world business: Be human. This he defines well, I thought, as fundamentally “being committed to the growth of the other.”

This is one of my favorite things about Sanders’s book: Everything he commends is consistent with biblical principles, and primarily, as the title suggests, the biblical command to love. This is all about putting others first, seeking their good above your own, and then finding your own happiness and success because of that.

I loved how he puts it at the end of his book (meaning these pages are all kinds of dog-eared!):

“If you are a genuine lovecat, you show compassion for people because you like them. You tell others you are committed to their success because you want your contacts to be smarter, more informed, more capable. You arrange meetings between your contacts because you genuinely believe they will like each other, even if you gain nothing from the introduction… When there is no love, there should be no expression of love. Never fake it.”

“… Perhaps the greatest advantage of being compassionate is that… you help your bizmates grow, in both their outward success and their inner lives. And they sense your compassion, they start to develop in the most basic sense… In other words, we love people in order to help them grow in their own ability to love. We want them to enjoy the warmth of love and become more human… So when I engage in bizlove, I’m motivated by the impact it has on others, not just the attitude they will have about me (and whatever gain or popularity that affords me) I’m not a needy lover. I don’t hug you or tell you how much I care about you because I’m lonely. I say and do those things because I want you to experience the same humanity, freedom, and joy that I do. When lovecats help others do that, our job is done” (192-193).

Hitchens: If You Can Talk, You Can Write

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The late Christopher Hitchens was a devastatingly brilliant man of letters who wrote widely, and fiercely, on myriad topics, becoming more widely known in recent years as one of the “New Atheists,” along with Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, for his no-holds-barred attacks on religion, even claiming that religion “poisons everything.”

I recently picked up his last book, Mortality (Twelve, 2012), which was published posthumously after his death in 2011. I did this not because I wanted to read his thoughts on death – there aren’t many for a virulent atheist like him – but because he was a great writer. Hitchens was also a gifted speaker and debater, always ready to employ his voice in debate and lively conversation. This writing advice he offers combines these two things, voice and writing, as he so impressively did throughout his life:

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“To my writing classes I used later to open by saying that anybody who could talk could also write. Having cheered them up with this easy-to-grasp ladder, I then replaced it with a huge and loathsome snake: ‘How many people in this class, would you say, can talk? I mean really talk?’ That had its duly woeful effect. I told them to read every composition out loud, preferably to a trusted friend. The rules are much the same: Avoid stock expressions (like the plague, as William Safire used to say) and repetitions. Don’t say that as a boy your grandmother used to read to you, unless at that stage of her life she really was a boy, in which case you have probably thrown away a better into. If something is worth hearing or listening to it’s very probably worth reading. So, above all: Find your own voice” (50).

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So whether you want to become a professional writer or simply write better and more effective e-mails, have you ever thought much about developing your “voice”? And how often do you have others read your work, not to mention reading it yourself?

A Christian Call to Fight for Justice

WBN“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27)

“Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” (Galatians 2:10)

Christ’s call of love and restoration encompasses our humanity in all its totality, and therefore it absolutely is concerned for the physical and material suffering of people. But is this concern evident in your Christian life? Does your budget or calendar show you care about those who are most in need among us? I don’t put forth these questions from a place of having “gotten” this; this is an area I want to grow in and which I want to partner in with my wife and eventually my family. I love how Matt Perman puts it in his excellent book, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Zondervan, 2014):

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“Christianity teaches that we are to be concerned for the whole person, not just the spiritual dimension. As agents of the kingdom, we are to bring healing to all realms of life, not just the spiritual realm.

“Further, God’s call is that we make a large dent, not a small dent, in helping the poor, because the needs are large, not small. We live in a world where 26 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty. In addition to malnutrition and hunger, other giant problems like disease, lack of access to clean water, illiteracy, poor education, and corrupt leadership affect billions. As Christians, we are to attack these problems head-on. God’s call is that we bring the gospel to all nations and engage in the fight against large global problems. Anything else misrepresents the pervasive concern of God, who cares about all suffering and distortions of his handiwork” (313, emphasis mine).

Good news: Facebook can make you more productive

wbnCompanies that restrict or limit employees’ ability to use social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter during work hours are understandably trying to reduce distraction that results in waste and inefficiency. As studies have shown, however, such policies turn out to be counterproductive, because workers who surf the Internet or use social media for reasonable amounts of time while at work are generally more productive and effective.

Now let me be honest: This is a finding which I’ve enthusiastically pounced on as a way of justifying my social media habits while at work. The fact is that there are still many days when I would be more productive if I spent less time on these sites and more time in focused, extended stretches of work. But this is something I’m conscious of and getting better at, so with that admission aside, I’d like to share below how Matt Perman puts this in his excellent and wonderfully practical What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Zondervan, 2014). I especially like what he says about how having and using online networks can help workers in today’s “knowledge economy.”

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“For self-motivated people, time spent on Facebook is actually productive. It is productive for building networks and spreading truth. Both of these build people up, and thus increase productive capacity.

“Research bears this out by showing that employees with extensive online networks (such as through Facebook, LinkedIn, and so forth) are actually more productive than those without them.

“Facebook and other online networks and interaction help us refine, spread, and gain ideas. These are three core competencies in the era of knowledge work” (249-250).

The President’s Schedule and the Value of Routine

ScheduleMatt Perman’s new book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Zondervan, 2014), which grew out of his excellent blog, is a must read not only for Christians (he skillfully takes a God-centered, gospel-driven approach to the subject of productivity) but for all who want to make the best use of their time to maximize their effectiveness and better serve others. I’ll write more posts on some of the helpful principles and tips Matt shares in his book, but for now, I wanted to share a fascinating excerpt from his interview with Bradley Blakeman, one of the schedulers of President George W. Bush, showing the value of having a routine that creates a basic framework while allowing flexibility. When Matt asked him how he did this job, Blakeman replied:

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“What I tried to do is craft a schedule by which the president didn’t have to rely on a piece of paper – it became innate in his head. I said to myself, ‘How can I make the president comfortable so only pockets of time change every day?’

“So the president got a briefing at the same time every day – FBI at 7:00 am, for example. Then recurring meetings happened at the same time same day, such as the Secretary of State every Thursday at 10:00 a.m. There was also ‘use it or lose it’ time, meaning that if someone didn’t need a recurring meeting that week, they could give it back so it could be used for something else.

“Lunch was every day at the same time, and so was exercise. Thus, the president knew that only a few hours in the day changed, without even having to look at his schedule. The majority of his time he could therefore keep in his head, without relaying on paper. The result is that the president is involved in a routine that he gets used to, and the presidency then becomes more normal. We tried to make an abnormal experience a normal experience.”

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