…to all who receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gives the right to become children of God.
At this moment, few things are as confused or as contentious as our identity. Some think we earn it. Others think we discover it deep “inside.” Still others think we are free to make it up – or change it as we want. The truth is altogether more mysterious, freeing and wonderful. In Christ, God gifts us an identity as his children.
Asbury and Beyond: What are we to make of what’s happening at Asbury, where thousands of students are spending hours in worship, repentance, and prayer? I see no reason to be cynical. While the true nature of a revival is best judged over the long term – i.e., when we can see if people’s lives are changed, how society is impacted, etc. – what is going on in Wilmore, KY and beyond seems to be a God-thing. May it spread.
No Assurance of Pardon: One thousand years ago, Christians developed their own calendar. One season within it – called Lent – is a forty-day period during which we are to focus on the way our sin sent Christ to the cross. It’s not just that Jesus died for “the sins of the world.” It is that he died for my pride, my greed, my lust, my anger and my smallness. During this time, we are also to stare death in the face. That is, though we live in a culture that does everything it can to ignore death and mask the effects of aging, we not only acknowledge the realities of sin and death, but we also acknowledge that our soul is dark. To be sure, the forty days between now and Easter (Note: Sundays are not counted.) are not as dark as they could be, because we know how the story ends. But we do not go quickly to the Good News during Lent. There is no assurance of pardon in an Ash Wednesday service.
Looking for a Lenten Reading?: During Lent, some people give something up (e.g., meat, social media) and some people take something on (e.g., an act of service, an additional spiritual practice). Those who do are not to imagine they are earning God’s love or contributing to the work of Christ. Instead, they are to understand that they are changing their life in order to better understand how broken we are and how glorious Christ’s gift is. At a friend’s suggestion, during Lent I am re-reading the first 100 hundred pages of Les Misérables, Victor Hugo’s epic novel about grace and the law. Why reread the first 100 pages? Because they focus on the formation of the priest who rescues John Valjean by his gracious actions. The question guiding the Lenten rereading of the first section of Les Mis is, how can I become more like that priest?
BTW: In the first entry I mentioned identity. According to Barbara Walter – a professor at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy and an expert on “bargaining theory and political violence” – when our politics sort us “by our identity rather than our ideology, we are marching towards civil strife and perhaps civil war.”
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What’s Missing? Years ago, after a week in Ethiopia, I arranged an eight-hour layover in London so I could take my then twelve-year-old son on a quick tour of the city. That was a mistake. Piccadilly Square is a bit much when you’re ready for it. When you’ve just spent a week in a mostly ad-free, mostly Muslim country – one in which many women over the age of twelve are hidden behind burqas – Piccadilly Square overpowers. The quantity and salacious nature of the ads are shocking. I found myself thinking, “Bringing a twelve-year-old boy here suddenly feels like an act of bad parenting.” But that is not my most powerful recollection of our layover. Those honors are held by an observation I made late in the day. Looking around I suddenly realized there were two things not on display in Piccadilly Square -things I had seen a lot of in Addis Ababa that were almost totally lacking in London. What were these two things: children and pregnant women. As ironic as this is, it’s now quite clear that among the by-products of the sexual revolution are: less marriage, less children and less sex.
WOTW: Today more people vote D because they hate R than vote D because they love D. And the same is true in reverse. The term for this is negative partisanship, and it garners honorable mention in WOTW honors. This puts it ahead of one hundred percent, which I am hearing one hundred percent more than a month ago. Maybe two hundred percent. But the actual award goes to gobblefunk, which was coined by Roald Dahl – the late children’s author famous for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, etc., etc. Gobblefunk, which is taken from Dahl’s The BFG, means “to play around with words or to invent new ones or meanings.” Alas, it comes to prominence this week because Dahl’s publisher is gobblefunking with his books. According to a report in The Telegraph, his publisher has, “cut all references to fatness, craziness, ugliness, whiteness (even of bedsheets), blackness (even of tractors) and the great Rudyard Kipling, along with any allusion to acts lacking full and enthusiastic consent. Some male characters have been made female; female villains have been made less nasty; women in general have been socially elevated; while mothers and fathers, boys and girls have dwindled into sexless ‘parents’ and ‘children.’…” This is wrong. One hundred percent.
Quote Worth Requoting: By far the biggest medical surprise of the past decade has been the extraordinary number of studies showing that the single best predictor of health and wellbeing is simply the number and quality of close friendships you have. The Social Brain, Tracey Camilleri, Samantha Rockey and Robin Dunbar. (BTW, I one hundred percent love this quote.)
Lights Out: A book group I’m in recently discussed Lights Out, Thomas Gryta and Ted Mann’s overlong account of GE’s decline following Welch’s retirement. Among those in our book group is one man who reported to Jack Welch for several years. His reflections on “Neutron Jack” were far more favorable than those offered by Gryta and Mann. Among other things, he noted that, “Though Jack had a PhD in engineering, he was all about people” and that, “After most business speeches, people clap politely. That was not the response to a speech by Jack. Even though he was only 5’5” and had a stammer, after he spoke people were ready to march into battle.”
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Jesus was a Level Six Leader: My three major take aways from Lights Out were: 1) A successful succession is really hard to get right; 2) It’s not just NFP trustees who frequently fail to do their job; “world class” boards at some of the largest organizations in the world are often not doing their job; and 3) Jesus was a Level Six Leader. As you may know, according to Jim Collins – the author of Good to Great – there are five levels of leadership, with the highest being made up of those who – among other things – ensure the success of the organization after they are long gone. I am struck that Welch was tasked with picking from among the most competent business executives in the world and he got it wrong. GE today is a much-diminished entity. By Collins’ definition, Welch was not a Level Five Leader. Meanwhile, Jesus entrusted his movement to a group of misfits and also-rans, but after his investment in them, they managed to launch an organization that continues to grow 2,000 years later. On Collins’ five levels of leaders, Jesus was a Level Six. Maybe a Level Seven.
A Bad Day: BTW, the transition at GE took place one day before the 9/11 attacks, which sets up the best line in the book. It’s delivered by Jeff Immelt – the man who took over the company. After watching the second Twin Tower collapse, he said, “I realized that…a plane I lease, flying with engines I built, just crashed into a building that I insure, covered by a network I own.” And you thought you were having a bad day.
The Press On Podcast: In this week’s pod – available here – I interview Dr. John Dickson, an engaging author and the founding Director of the Centre for Public Christianity (2007-17). In addition to holding a PhD in Ancient History, John, who has published over 20 books, produced several television documentaries and taught at universities around the world, including Oxford – recently joined the faculty at Wheaton. In this conversation we focus on his book, Bullies and Saints, which explores the best and worst in church history – including the Crusades, Inquisition and child sexual abuse scandals.
Closing Prayer: Lord, I can see plainly that you are the only and the true source of wisdom, since you alone can restore faith and hope to a doubting and despairing soul. In your Son, Jesus, you have shown me that even the most terrible suffering can be beautiful, if it is in obedience to your will. And so the knowledge of your Son has enabled me to find joy in my own suffering. Lord, my dear Father, I kneel before you this day, and praise you fervently for my present sufferings, and give thanks for the measureless sufferings of the past. I now realize that all these sufferings are part of your paternal love, in which you chastise and purify me. And through that discipline I now look at you without shame and terror, because I know that you are preparing me for your eternal kingdom. Amen. (Henry Suso 1295-1366)