I’m sure that very few readers actually save words like “awesome” for God. But I’m equally sure that many readers will be surprised at the title of this article, maybe even offended. I have heard it said from time to time that we ought to reserve words like “awesome” for God. God is awesome. Nothing else can compare. Is it really appropriate to describe both God and the new Taylor Swift album as awesome? If we use the word awesome to describe our weekend plans, then we devalue the word and weaken it in reference to God. We ought to reserve some of these terms for God alone.

So the argument goes, and there is wisdom in it. I appreciate the concern with upholding God’s uniqueness, with insisting that God is beyond compare. However, I find this argument misguided for a few reasons.

On a very basic level, we would probably have a hard time deciding which words to reserve for God. “Awesome” seems a strong candidate. But what about “great”? Or “beautiful”? Or “glorious”? I think you could make a strong case for reserving each of these words for God. So which words do we reserve, and how do we settle on standard usage? Maybe someone can create an English to Christianese dictionary app.

Another problem is that we live in a world that inspires superlatives. I defy anyone to stand on the brim of the Grand Canyon and withhold the word “awesome.” After all, awesome means “extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.” Is that not a perfect description of the Grand Canyon? Or the ocean? Or a thunderstorm? This is a world of superlatives (a word expressing “the highest quality or degree” of something). I could go along with an argument that we should use the word “awesome” for the Grand Canyon but not breakfast cereal. To me, that is being consistent with the meaning of the word (which, alas, is always subject to usage and therefore change). But this world is full of reasons to cry out in shock, in ecstasy, in astonishment, in fear. When something inspires awe, call it awesome.

Grand Canyon

Rather than diminishing God, I believe that references to the Grand Canyon as awesome actually give God greater praise. God is awe-inspiring. How so? He formed this canyon, which leaves me speechless and makes me feel wonder, fear, and an aching recognition of beauty. God inspires awe in part because he creates things that inspire awe. I do not honor God by sidestepping the awe-inspiring nature of the world he formed, the people he created, or the experiences he makes possible.

On one occasion, Jesus stated, “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). So maybe we could set aside the word “good,” insisting that it applies only to God. Yet Jesus himself used the word “good” in reference to people (Matt 5:45), gifts (Matt 7:11), fruit (both physical and spiritual, Matt 7:17), soil (Matt 13:8), seed (Matt 13:24), fish (Matt 13:48), salt (Mark 9:50), and wine (Luke 5:39).

This seems to be a good model for the way we use language in reference to God. We don’t need to hesitate in saying that God alone is good, or beautiful, or powerful, or awesome. But that doesn’t mean these words can’t be applied to other people, things, or experiences in this world. There is a sense in which only God is good. God is good in a way that nothing else is good. But there are good things in this world: God himself judged his creation “very good.” There is a sense in which only God is awesome. God inspires awe in a way that nothing else possibly could. But we find ourselves in awe of other things, like the Grand Canyon, and we need not hesitate to apply the appropriate term.

The root issue here is whether or not we need a separate language for talking about God. There is a sense in which everything about God is beyond compare. People can be compassionate. But God’s compassion in forgiving sinners and offering eternal life is in a distinct category. We might be tempted to call it something entirely unique: supercompassion, perhaps. But God refers to it simply as compassion.

God is okay with analogy. He insists that nothing can compare with him (e.g., Is. 40:18), but he also describes himself as a shepherd, a father, a king, a husband, a vine and vinedresser, etc. Language works through commonalities, through analogies. And God is gracious to speak to us in ways that we can understand. He doesn’t speak to us in a heavenly language that is incomprehensible to our silly little human minds. Throughout the Bible God speaks so that people can understand. When he came to earth, he came as one of us—that is the beauty of the incarnation.

So use words like awesome according to their definitions. Acknowledge the awe-inspiring nature of things that truly inspire awe. And when you use the word in reference to God, acknowledge that God inspires awe as nothing else in his awesome world ever could.

One day, during my sophomore year in high school, a friend introduced me to MxPx. From that moment, I listened to virtually nothing but punk rock music for five years. I’m hardly exaggerating. Punk is not my favorite style of music anymore, but I keep coming back to it. And every time I listen to one of these albums from my teenage years, I remember the appeal. It goes beyond nostalgia—I truly enjoy listening to punk.

The draw of punk music is its simplicity. You typically have electric guitars, a bass, and drums. In most punk music, the guitars are distorted in every song, with the possible exception of a song intro here or there that begins with clean tones. You also have a lead singer who typically is not a “good” singer. They can get the job done, and often on key, but you’ll find few vocal flourishes.

That’s a very limited palette, but with that simple arrangement punk bands explore all of life.

MxPx

The whole approach is very raw. Most punk songs consist of only four chords (that’s true of most pop music, actually), and most punk bands use what are known as “power chords.” Instead of forming the full chord using five or six strings, the guitarist holds down the first three notes of the chord and mutes the rest. This is a very basic form of the chord. There’s no embellishment, nothing to make it sound more interesting or unique. Punk rock hits you with driving distorted guitars, steady bass lines, and aggressive drum beats.

You might be struck by the simplicity of punk music. Many think that every punk song sounds the same. This critique is raised against most genres, and it’s never as true as the casual listener assumes. Yet there is some truth to this critique of punk music. The genre functions within very narrow constraints. But that’s not necessary bad.

Jack White is an advocate for the beauty of constraints. If you give an artist all the options in the world and all the time in the world, he’s likely to be paralyzed. Jack White explains that in his band The White Stripes, he intentionally limited his options (only drums, guitars, and vocals; only red, white, and black; only rhythm, melody, and storytelling; and surprisingly, only two musicians). He’d intentionally give himself less time to record an album than he needed. He continued to play with old, worn out guitars that he had to fight to keep in tune. He made sure his organ and spare picks were a step further than he could reach in time in order to force himself to strain.

When most of us think of creativity, we think of doing something brand new, something far outside the box. For White, creativity comes when we restrict ourselves and then force ourselves to create something interesting within those constraints.

Consider punk music in this light. These musicians are very limited in “building materials.” They’ve got a few instruments, a few cords, a few variations in sound or tempo. That’s really it. And then they set out to create. And what they come up with when they work within these restrictions is often incredible.

You could argue that my teenage emotions were not well developed (and you’d be right). But I found a host of punk songs that spoke to my longings, my anger, my fears, my social insecurities, my feelings of love, even my relationship with God. Within the raw simplicity of unrefined vocals and unembellished power chords, these punk artists compellingly explored the human experience. I could relate to these simple songs. I still do.

In my opinion, punk is ideally suited to express or explore raw emotions: anger, love (whether reciprocated or not), excitement, etc. Most of the punk songs I love (typically from bands like MxPx, The Ataris, Slick Shoes, and New Found Glory) express a longing more than they provide an answer. And that’s what all great art does. It pushes us to wrestle with the human experience. Great art gives expression to our hopes and fears, it poses questions or presents us with a unique perspective on the familiar. That’s what punk did for me in my late teens, and that’s what it continues to do when I come back to these beloved albums from time to time.

Music is a gift from God, a means of enjoying him, his world, and the people he made. Music allows us to see more clearly, to grow more attuned to who we are, why we’re here, and what it means to be God’s image bearers. Though many dismiss punk rock as an impoverished form of music (or perhaps a perversion thereof), my generation found a lot of meaning in these simple songs. Perhaps you did, or do, or will (I’d start with those bands I listed above if you’re interested). And if you want to dive more into the power and importance of music, here’s a great place to begin.

Christians often disagree. That’s why we have so many denominations. That’s why we have so many Christian books about every subject imaginable. That’s why we have so many commentary series. That’s why we have so many blogs.

Disagreement amongst Christians is common. But it’s unsettling. Doesn’t it bother you that we can’t all agree on how or when to baptize a person? Or how the sovereignty of God relates to the human will? Or how the world will end? There are a host of issues that Christians have disagreed upon for centuries.

Don’t you sometimes wonder how a group of people who are supposed to be united can disagree on so many topics?

It’s startling that we can worship the same God and read the same Bible and still come to so many disagreements. But there is a strange beauty in the whole thing.

disagreement

What unites all Christians is our union with Christ. What we all have in common is our shared commitment to following Jesus. When we “give our lives to Christ,” we are pledging our allegiance to a Person. We let go of our own ambitions and agree to do whatever Jesus tells us to do. A person of faith is a person who believes the words that God says.

So when a Presbyterian baptizes his baby, he does so because he looks at God’s word, sees a connection between New Testament baptism and Old Testament circumcision, and firmly believes that baptizing his child is an act of obedience to Christ. And when a Baptist waits for his child to mature before baptizing her, he does so because he looks at God’s word, sees adults being baptized in the New Testament as a confession of their own faith, and firmly believes that being baptized as a conscious believer is an act of obedience to Christ.

A Calvinist reads her Bible carefully and sees passages about God moving the hearts of men, about God working all things according to the counsel of his will, and about God’s involvement in even the most trivial or tragic of human affairs. She wants to understand God’s truth, and she believes and teaches about God’s sovereignty out of obedience to Jesus. An Arminian reads her Bible carefully and sees passages commanding human beings to repent and believe, passages that show human decisions and their real consequences, and about the responsibility of human beings to respond to God and his truth. She wants to understand God’s truth, and she believes and teaches human responsibility out of obedience to Jesus.

So we don’t agree on every point of doctrine. But for Christians, that’s okay. It’s okay because we know where we need to go for the answers. We’ll disagree on what those answers are, but we all know that truth is found in the Bible.

Scripture is sufficiently simple to ensure that we all know God and his truth as we read. But Scripture is sufficiently complex to ensure that we will never exhaust the rich themes, nuances, paradoxes, and genres it contains. This second feature of Scripture, it’s beautiful complexity, also ensures that we’ll all disagree at some point. We will all see a certain theme or nuance so clearly that we will lose sight of another equally important theme. Our interpretations differ, but we’re all mining the same source, a source that will never relinquish all of its unified complexity.

All of us will mine this book forever. To borrow some terms from Francis Schaeffer, we will all know biblical truth TRULY, but we will not know it EXHAUSTIVELY. And the simple fact that no single person on earth can hold every Scriptural truth, theme, and emphasis in mind at any given moment ensures that we will all disagree. For this reason, only God knows his word completely, knows it exhaustively. And it’s our joy to continually seek the mind of God as he has revealed it in Scripture.

So Christians can respectfully, joyfully, graciously disagree because none of us is (or none of us should be) studying the Bible so that we can be right. We are studying the Bible to know God and obey his will. And because we know the Christians across the street are doing the same, we don’t need to be troubled by their disagreement. It simply drives us to pursue God all the more and seek to understand him increasingly more until the day we see him face to face.

I can disagree with you because I am not the source of truth, and neither are you. If we remember that, and if we continue pursuing the source as an act of loving worship, then our disagreements can only make us stronger followers of Jesus and thereby increase our unity with one another.

 

 

 

From time to time, articles will circulate on social media that illustrate the evils of social media. Get off of Facebook and start living. Step outdoors and look around. Talk to a stranger on a train. Play with your kids.

That’s a great message. Don’t allow social media to keep you indoors. Don’t let it steal the attention that your kids need. Don’t sit in a room full of real-life friends and stare at your phones. If your screens keep you from seeing the world around you, then you need to take immediate action.

However, these anti-social-media articles bug me. If you’re convicted by them, then you probably do need to make some adjustments. But I also believe these articles are missing the mark, at least with many of us. For one thing, there’s an irony in using social media to badmouth social media. With many of my friends, I would have no idea they were wrestling with appropriate technology usage were it not for technology.

Does social media take our eyes off of the real world?

There are other, bigger problems with the arguments against social media. It’s true that smart phones can keep us indoors and keep our eyes off of nature. But when I see photos of the sunsets my friends are witnessing, the hikes they’re taking, and the roads they’re travelling, I’m often inspired to look up and around. Social media gives me an opportunity to appreciate nature through the eyes of my friends. Rather than distracting me from the real world, social media often draws my attention to the real world.

Does social media make us anti-social?

It’s also true that if you’re standing in line at Starbucks (or anywhere), everyone in line is staring at their phones rather than chatting with each other. But how chatty were retail lines before smart phones anyway? I’m not the type to small talk with strangers just because we’re both waiting to order coffee. So I’m not upset that they’re all looking at their phones while we wait. Personally, I’m glad I can use those few minutes to see what my friends are up to, to read a quick article or blog post (are you reading this in line somewhere?), or to knock out an email or two during a few spare minutes that would otherwise be wasted. In some contexts, you need to put down your phone and be social. I’m not sure that sitting on a bus or standing in a line qualify.

Does social media take our attention off of our families?

Being distracted from your family is probably the most serious accusation against social media. I don’t want to minimize this. I sometimes have to fight the urge to pull the phone out of my pocket when I’m at home with my family. When God has given you an opportunity to be with friends and family, don’t choose that moment to nose around the internet. But many of my friends use social media in a family-centered way. They’re posting photos of their family doing fun things because (this will blow your mind) they’re doing fun things with their family! Social media allows them to preserve and share memories—real memories that they’re really making with their real family. In my opinion, there’s a valuable place for social media, even in family life.

Do we pretend to be happy and perfect on social media?

I’ve also heard social media attacked on the grounds that people try to make themselves look good. All of these superficial Facebook users post their happy times but conveniently pass over their embarrassing or tragic life events. I’m sure some of that goes on, but I think the critique is misguided on two counts. First, I see people posting unhappy content all the time. The loss of loved ones. Requests for prayers in the midst of trials. Stories about their failures in parenting. So I’m not sure that critique is even valid much of the time. But secondly, isn’t that more of a human issue than a social media issue? How many of us go around telling people about what makes us sad when we’re chatting after church on Sunday mornings? In my experience, not many people answer the casual “how are you?” by saying “depressed” or “angry” or something equally unflattering. We know there’s a time and a place to go deeper. And in my view, social media is not the place to work through deep, sad, tragic issues. Call me old fashioned, but I’d rather do that face to face. Maybe people aren’t pretending to live perfect lives; maybe they’re using social media appropriately.
 

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Here’s the thing. Social media doesn’t ruin lives. We ruin our own lives. Social media doesn’t force us to neglect our kids. It’s there when we want to stop interacting with our kids, but so are books, television, phone conversations, etc. Social media is not to blame; it always comes down to the heart.

Technology is an excellent tool if you use it well. But if you find yourself dehumanized through your use of social media, it’s time to check your heart. Deleting your Facebook app might help, but there are probably deeper issues in your heart that need to be addressed. If you’re not using your time sacrificially for good things, then the time you spent on social media will simply go towards some other non-essential pursuit.

We should be intent on living fully, and maybe social media can help us do it.

Three Things to Be Famous For

Mark Beuving —  November 19, 2014 — 2 Comments

Each holiday season, we send a dangerous type of person out into the world: Bible College students. You may think I’m trying to be funny, but honestly, this is a dangerous group. Think about the dynamics in play here.

A student leaves his church and comes to an environment where he spends the equivalent of a full-time job learning the ins and outs of the Bible, learning how people function and how we can best help them grow and change, and learning how we should function as the church. He has learned concepts he had never considered before, he sees treasures in Scripture he could never have dreamed of, and he has necessarily formed opinions about the best way to teach and practice these things.

Bible College tip: Use the word "exegesis" in every conversation.

Bible College tip: Use the word “exegesis” in every conversation.

And then Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around, and we are careless enough to send this young man back to his home church for a time. While there, his idealism is deeply offended. He finds that his church body is not perfect. His pastor is not wringing every ounce of insight out of the biblical text. His friends and family are not using the words “kingdom” and “worldview” enough. So this dear soul spends his holidays putting his ¾ of a semester of Bible College training to work in correcting his church family.

Having seen this scenario play itself out year after year, we have taken to gathering our students just prior to the holidays and giving them the “don’t be a jerk when you go home” talk.

The reality is, we can all benefit from this talk—on a regular basis. Just like the first year Bible College student, we all suffer from misguided passions. As a Christian, you may want to gain a reputation for knowing the Bible well, for being a strong leader, being a powerful speaker, being above reproach morally, being theologically precise or profound, or some other equally noble goal. Honestly, each of these is a worthwhile pursuit, each is modeled in Scripture, and each is commended in the Bible.

But I want to present you with three traits that may not be at the top of your list. Yet the Bible tells us to be famous for each of these things.

1. Be known for love.

Jesus told his disciples to love one another just as he had loved them. Then he said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). What should we be known for? What characteristic will set us apart as followers of Jesus?

It’s not good theology. It’s not impeccable moral standards. (Good though both of those things are.) It’s love. Love for God should lead to good theology and godliness. But love is the defining characteristic.

Be famous for loving people. Do it sacrificially, following the example of Jesus. Love even your enemies. Love the arrogant, the mistaken, the misguided, the uneducated, the overeducated, the immoral, the rude. Love because you have been loved. Until people see you and think immediately of love, you haven’t taken Jesus’ words seriously.

2. Be known for gentleness.

Paul says it clearly: “Let your gentleness be evident to all” (Phil. 4:5, NIV). Other translations say “reasonableness” (ESV), “gentle spirit” (NASB), “moderation” (KJV), or “forbearance” (ASV). Each of these translation choices gets at the meaning. Here’s the definition of the Greek word: “not insisting on every right of letter of law or custom, yielding, gentle, kind, courteous, tolerant” (BDAG).

Paul says that our gentleness should be obvious to everyone who looks at us. They should think: She has a lot of patience. She never insists on her way of doing or seeing things. She’s reasonable in dealing with other people; so courteous!

I don’t often hear gentleness or a willingness to yield being praised in Christian circles. We’re certainly not famous for it. But Paul says it should be immediately obvious to the people around us.

3. Be known for humility.

Peter makes this huge statement: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5). Being “clothed in humility” is rich imagery. Clothing covers us; its visibility hides our covered selves. What if we wore humility like that? What if every inch of our being were only accessible beneath a covering of humility?

Bible College Student

So whether you are a first-semester Bible College student, a graduating Bible student, a homemaker, a banker, a pastor, an elder, a retiree, or anything else, evaluate your reputation. What do you want to be known for? God wants you to be famous for love, gentleness, and humility. How are you doing with these things?

If your knowledge of God and his word leads you to apathy, a harsh or dogmatic spirit, or pride, then you are squandering your knowledge. But if your increased knowledge leads you to greater service and a decreased desire for accolades, then something is going right.

Picture yourself as that first-semester Bible College student travelling home for a few weeks over the holidays. How would you put your newly gained knowledge into practice? When you returned to school would your church be in awe of your knowledge? Would they be “humbled” by your theological precision and insistence that doctrine matters? Would they be scrambling to quickly put your hasty reforms into action? Or would they feel encouraged, supported, and loved as you headed back to school to study the Bible in greater depth?

It’s impossible to make a stronger statement about why these things matter than this: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

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