Archive for December 26, 2012

Imperishable Beauty

Some time ago a reader of this site asked if I could address a concern in his life. He had been pursuing a young lady and beginning to think about marriage, but rather suddenly found that he was no longer attracted to her. She was a godly person and just the kind of woman he could see himself settling down with. But then he looked at her and saw that the physical attracted had just plain disappeared. What could he do? What had gone wrong? Michael McKinley recently addressed a question much like this over at the 9Marks blog, so I will begin with his thoughts and add my own.

I want to encourage this young man to do three things:

Look in the Mirror. Start by taking a look in the mirror. “It’s unlikely that the paunch hanging over the waistband of your cargo shorts represents her idea of masculine perfection. And even if women are less hung up on physical appearances, you’re probably not the romantic and emotional connection she’s been dreaming of her whole life either.” Exactly so. It smacks of pride to look at this woman, created by God in his image, and to determine that she is not up to your standards. Men are often looking for an ideal of physical perfection even though they are far from the male equivalent. Why begin with a mirror? Because, as Michael points out, we’re all making compromises. That complete package who is perfect in every way—from the physical to the spiritual to the realm of character—that person doesn’t exist; and if she did, you’d drag her down in no time.

Look at Your Character. I have written regularly and as forthrightly as I know about young men and their dedication to pornography. Porn is giving young men a completely unrealistic view of women, elevating the physical and completely ignoring all matters of character. Have you ever watched a pornographic video that emphasized beautiful character? Exactly. It’s ridiculous to even imagine it. Five or ten or twenty years of dedication to pornography will go a long way to convincing you that only beauty and sexiness will maintain your interest in the long run. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth. Need proof? Just look to Hollywood and these ugly old men who marry the beautiful starlets, only to grow tired of them a few months later. No amount of beauty can overcome sour character.

Look at the Bible. Best of all, look to the Bible. Read the book of Proverbs three or four times. Here is a whole book dedicated to young men, so read it and see what it says about choosing a wife. From beginning to end it will contrast the wise woman with the foolish woman, showing how the ideal wife is marked not by physical perfection but by the unfading beauty of godly character. Eventually you’ll find your way to Proverbs 31:30 and read “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Our God is a God of beauty and he rates physical attractiveness far, far below what Peter refers to as “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4). If you choose beauty over character, you are a fool.

The reality is that physical beauty is attractive and wonderful and a reflection of God’s character, but in this world it is also fleeting and fading. You may marry a woman who is physically perfect in every way, be she is only ever one illness or disease or accident away from disfigurement. Then only character will remain—character that may be sweet and joyful, or character that may grow bitter and resentful.

Does physical attractiveness have any function in marriage? Sure it does. It matters. But it matters very, very little in comparison to character. Here’s the rub: If you cannot be attracted to beautiful character, you won’t remain attracted to physical beauty. So should you keep pursuing that godly young woman who just isn’t attractive enough for you? My concern isn’t for you, it’s for her. I wouldn’t advise you to stop pursuing her, but I might advise her to run away from you!

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A La Carte (12/26)

The Lightkeepers is Irene Howat’s excellent series of short biographies for kids. The whole series is down to $2.99 on Kindle: Ten Boys Who Didn’t Give In; Ten Girls Who Used Their Talents; Ten Girls Who Made a Difference; Ten Girls Who Changed the World; Ten Girls Who Didn’t Give In; Ten Girls Who Made History; Ten Boys Who Made History; Ten Boys Who Changed the World; Ten Boys Who Made a Difference; Ten Boys Who Used Their Talents.

The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast - The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast, which she writes herself, is often profoundly biblical, and this year is no exception. You can click the link to watch the video, or click here to read the transcript.

My Daughter’s Beauty - “How do I raise my daughter to know the true definition of beauty in a culture such as ours? How do I cultivate an image in her that is rooted in the beauty of Jesus and not the allure of a distorted sexuality?” Brandon Barker of The Village Church offers three helps.

The Pastor’s Wife - This is a dilemma every pastor faces: How much information does he share with his wife? Brian Croft takes a stab at an answer.

Good News/Bad News - Gene Veith: “An appeals courts has given a victory to Christian colleges suing over Obamacare’s requirement that they provide free contraceptives and morning-after pills.  But another appeals court has upheld the requirement for Christian-owned businesses.”

Monergism Books Sale - Monergism Books is having a post-Christmas inventory reduction sale, which means there are lots of great books heavily discounted.

Amazon’s Disruption - An article at Forbes suggests that Amazon’s book dominance is ripe for a big disruption. 

Revival only come when He sends it.  He only sends it when His people need it.  Surely we His people need it now. —Richard Owen Roberts

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The offended brother

“A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.” Proverbs 18:19

Take pains to have a clear conscience

Years ago I heard a message that changed the way I view most of my relationships. I was being trained to be a counselor in a Billy Graham crusade and listened as Lorne Sanny, then president of the Navigators, was teaching. He made this comment: “Why does God use Billy Graham the way he does? I believe it is because Billy, more than any other leader I know of, consistently practices Acts 24:16.” Immediately you heard the rustling of Bible pages (in the era before the smartphone) and turning to that verse, which says, “So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” It left a deep and lasting impression on me and affects me to this day. Good leadership is about maintaining healthy relationships in all directions. Here are a few examples of my own experience with people who have been offended.

Ignored offenses can destroy churches

Once someone is offended and it is not quickly and appropriately dealt with, lots of things can go south, and probably will.

A church I know of is experiencing some difficulties with a former member. He is on the warpath. Talking with current members, writing accusatory emails to the leadership, and the beat goes on. At a meeting the idea surfaced that he was offended months ago and it has never been resolved. Plans are in progress to sit down with this “offended brother” to make amends and ask for forgiveness where it is called for. I have seen one person destroy a church or organization due to an offense that was ignored or not sufficiently resolved. Others take up one person’s offense and the rift continues to grow.

Elapsed time causes more problems than it resolves.

I could continue to give you one story after the other from my own life or in the life of groups and organizations I am acquainted with that have experienced splits, people leaving, and pastors resigning due to people who have been offended (sometimes years ago). Some call it “keeping short accounts.” Dealing with issues between people as quickly as possible is so crucial. Hebrews 12:15 speak about bitterness springing up and defiling many people.

It doesn’t help a leader to ignore offenses and conflicts and sweep them under the proverbial carpet. Sooner or later they will return in one form or the other and cripple your leadership effectiveness.

Time does not heal all offenses

Matthew 5:23–26 and Matthew 18:15–17 contain clear guidelines regarding the responsibility to make things right if an offense is suspected. Both passages of Scripture state that it is my move whether I have offended (sinned against) somebody or they have offended (sinned against) me. Too much is at stake to leave it alone and hope that time will take care of it. It has been my experience that elapsed time causes more problems than it resolves.

The longer I wait, the more unyielding and barred they become.

“Come to terms quickly with your accuser.”

As I look back over my life, one of my regrets is that I didn’t take more initiative to go to people to make things right when I suspected that they had been offended. When I ask myself why I didn’t, pride, fear, and stubbornness come to mind. I play the blame game, like a kid who says, “Johnny hit me first.” Which is to say, it’s Johnny’s responsibility to make it right and not mine. The problem, of course, is that Johnny is saying the same thing about me: that I hit him first and it is my responsibility. So nobody makes a move and the wound remains and grows, eventually affecting many others that soon line up to take sides on the issue.

Deal with it–now

OK, let’s get up close and personal here: Can you think of a person whom you may have offended or has offended you? Is the relationship at a standstill? Are you on talking terms? Is it colder than the North Pole between you? Is there a good chance others will soon be affected? Let me encourage you with Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:25: “Come to terms quickly with your accuser.” Don’t concern yourself with who started it or whose fault it may be. Just do it and do it now!

 


 

Dave is the author of two Re:lit books, Leaders Who Last and Mistakes Leaders Make. If you would like him to come to your church or area to speak on leadership, you can contact him here. You can also find more leadership resources on his site

Learning from the Largest Mass Execution in U.S. History

Original

It was the day after Christmas, 1862, in the town square of Mankato, Minnesota, that 38 Dakota warriors were hanged at the order of president Abraham Lincoln. After 150 years, it is still the largest mass execution in American history.

Mankato is about 80 miles southwest of the Twin Cities. In 1862, it was a frontier town in the thick of growing tensions between the quickly multiplying white settlers and the increasingly marginalized Dakota natives. The mass execution was essentially the memorable conclusion to what is now known as the U.S.-Dakota War (also known as the Sioux Uprising of 1862, as the settlers called the natives Sioux Indians).

How War Erupted

In the summer of 1862, the new state of Minnesota — only four years old — was a powder keg on the prairie. Relations between the settlers and natives were strained by land-stealing, lies, insults, and deception.

On August 17, four Dakota warriors murdered five white settlers in Acton, about 90 miles north of Mankato. At least a dozen versions of why and how this happened have come down to us over the years. This one incident alone is terribly complex and messy, not to mention the whole conflict that ensued. Both sides were guilty of greed and hatred and more.

The four natives fled 40 miles south to their village in the Minnesota River and reported what they had done. One chief consulted with others. They knew the white man would take retributive action. Some saw an opportunity and wanted the Dakota to strike first. Others wanted peace and knew defeat would be inevitable. The Dakota were split.

38 to the Scaffold

The war party prevailed, and Little Crow was the name of the chief they selected as their leader, even though he initially did not want to war against the whites. The Dakota struck first and took the early advantage — killing an estimated 600 settlers, traders, and soldiers in all — but soon the tide turned. Even with many Minnesota settlers away fighting the Civil War, the Dakota were no match for the numbers and technology of the U.S. Army. The Dakota would be driven from their land, some to what is now South Dakota, others to Nebraska, others still to Canada. Some 1,600 would be marched 150 miles in horrible conditions, a veritable trail of tears, to Fort Snelling, for a winter internment.

The army tried and condemned to death over 300 Dakota warriors. But an Episcopal bishop named Henry Whipple went to Washington and petitioned Lincoln on behalf of the Dakota. Lincoln gave his ear, and two White House lawyers reviewed the trial transcripts. Lincoln exonerated all but the 39 deemed most malicious. One was pardoned at the last minute, and the final count came to 38.

On the day after Christmas, 1862, the convicted Dakota warriors

walked from a makeshift jail to a scaffold in the center of Mankato. They sang death songs on the way. . . . As their heads were covered, the men reached out to take each other’s hand. The floor dropped from beneath them all at once. Hundreds of people . . . watched them fall to their deaths. (Annette Atkins, Creating Minnesota, page 56)

Awakened to an Ugly Past

I’ve lived in Minnesota now for nearly a decade. Granted, I didn’t grow up here — I learned South Carolina’s history in middle school, not Minnesota’s — but it wasn’t until this past August, at the anniversary of the Acton incident, that I’d heard anything about the U.S.-Dakota War and how much the Minnesota of today is shaped by that conflict. (Thanks in large part to the excellent articles by StarTribune reporter Curt Brown that now appear in the ebook exclusive In the Footsteps of Little Crow; also the November 23, 2012, episode of This American Life told of this “Little War on the Prairie.”)

It’s been a convenient thing for Minnesotans to forget, especially when trying to lure more settlers to the new state in the late nineteenth century. “This is a history that was rarely taught in Minnesota schools, and didn’t even start appearing regularly in school history books until the 1990s,” says StarTribune editor Nancy Barnes in the foreword to Brown’s book. “Yet, one cannot understand how Minnesota and the Dakota states were settled without understanding what happened here in 1862.”

The Uglier Sin Gets

The more digging I did, the uglier it got. In trying to give a fair read to both the old prevailing histories (that tell the settlers’ side of the story) and the new versions (that are particularly sympathetic to the Dakota), I found both accounts to be lacking. Like so much of world history, there is simply too much sin to make it simple.

“This is a story of very complex people on all sides,” says Kate Perry, the assistant managing editor for Brown’s project (quoted by Barnes in the foreword). “There are few simple heroes or villains. Breathtaking atrocities and cruelty were done by the U.S. Army, local leaders, the Dakota, and the settlers. . . . whether it was the Dakota slaughtering settler families or the settlers exacting horrific revenge on Dakota families.”

The more accounts I read, the more the picture points not to settler justification or Dakota victimization, or vice versa, but profound human depravity. I ache for the Dakota who were deceived and taken advantage of and unjustly lost their lives and land, and I ache for the settlers who were unrighteously attacked and tortured and raped and killed. Dig 150 years below the surface of Minnesota Nice and there’s the muck and stench of deep human wickedness, white and native.

A Reminder from the Ruin

It is a sobering thought that the land today on which we have the Mall of America and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is less than a mile from where 1,600 Dakota were concentrated in a camp at Fort Snelling during the winter of 1862–1863 following the war.

It’s strange to remember that Target Field and the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul and our land of 10,000 lakes once, not very long ago, had no European settlers or their descendants. Even today, tensions between the natives and the rest of us johnny-come-latelies is pronounced at times.

Here on the 150th anniversary of the Dakota hangings, one lesson, among many, for the Christian is how easy it can be to idealize the past and downplay the sins of our ancestors. Perhaps even especially we Christians are prone to have a woe-is-our-day nostalgia about the past that sentimentalizes our reformers or puritans, or the 1950s, and presumes things were much more golden in days gone by.

But when we start digging beneath the surface — if we read enough that’s honest enough to get some dirt underneath our fingernails — we find again and again how fallen they were “back then.,” We see how much world histories turn on one act of unrighteousness after another. We see how deep human depravity runs, and how profound is our need for a Savior from the outside. The human race, with all its nations, cannot produce the Help we need.

Red and Yellow, Black and White

It is not only our human dignity that levels the ground between peoples, but also our depravity. Here is how John Piper puts it in a sermon called “The Reformed Faith and Racial Harmony.”

Most often Christians celebrate the great positive common denominator among races, namely, that we are all created equally in the image of God (Genesis 1:27; 5:1; 9:6; James 3:9). That is true and powerful and relevant. But there is a problem if we treat that doctrine in isolation. . . . What is desperately needed is another conviction — no less strong, but shattering to pride — namely, the conviction that all human beings, including me, are corrupt, depraved, guilty, condemned, and under the just sentence of hell where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth: red and yellow, black and white.

Whatever racial sins and civic unrighteousnesses formed the city or state or nation in which we live, we all share one final recourse, and only one true hope: a Jewish carpenter, with no place to lay his head, treated more unjustly than any settler or native. The Lord of the universe made himself a slave that we might one day emerge with him from the muck and mire of this depraved first creation. This is why Christmas is so precious, and why there is hope even for the day after.


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