Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Counting Down: The Best of 2013

In looking back on 2013, I wanted to add a slight twist to the typical “Top Ten” idea. What I’ll do this time around is count out my ten favorite happenings—not necessarily blog posts—at Happier Far, beginning with number 10 and working my way up to the biggest highlight of the year. To a limited degree, the order of these items is influenced on reader popularity, but I’ve also arbitrarily bumped a few of them up or down as seemed best to me.

10. Paradise Lost. To be honest, this is on the list simply because I love the book so much. Frankly, I was surprised (and somewhat disappointed) by how little interest the Paradise Lost series initially generated here on the blog, although the last couple entries have enjoyed a larger readership. We’ve made it through eight of the twelve books in the poem, so we’ll finish things up in 2014. And since I’m a glutton for punishment, I may eventually delve into the four books of Paradise Regained sometime in the future. (To those wondering if that’s a threat or a promise, it’s both.)

9. The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. I have reaped countless spiritual benefits from “translating” Thomas Chalmers’ nineteenth century sermon into modern English. It was a pleasure and a privilege to share the results of my efforts on the blog as well. Here’s the final lineup of the entries: “When You Can’t Give Up the Sins You Love” (here), “‘Just Say No’ Doesn’t Work” (here), “Why Those in the World Cannot Love God” (here), “How to Avoid the World’s Seduction” (here), and “Finding an Attraction to True Beauty” (here).

8. Changing Views of the Bible. The Lutheran distinction between law and gospel has forever altered my perspective on the Christian faith. I spent several weeks explaining what this distinction is and why it so radically matters to our Christian walk. Here is the final lineup of the series: “Lutherans Know Something We Don’t Know” (here), “What’s Law Got to Do with It?” (here), “Using the Law Unlawfully” (here), “The Gospel We (Don’t) Believe” (here), “Does Jesus Have a Double Standard?” (here), and “Accidentally Hating what God Loves” (here).

7. When Big Names Pat Little Backs. God condescends to show His face to the undeserving. I have been the recipient of His unmerited favor in a myriad of ways, one of which is the encouragement from some popular and influential Christian figures. I’m constantly blown away by how approachable Gene Veith is, and by his gracious endorsement of my blog writing—particularly the Law vs. Gospel series. Football legend Inky Johnson has not only encouraged me in my writing, but he also granted me an interview for a blog post earlier this year, then reposted it on his own website. His humility and graciousness are a blessing to me. And one of the main reasons for my increased blog presence is the encouragement of my friend (and soon to be published author) Trillia Newbell. Because of her advocacy for me, I also had the privilege of writing an article for the Gospel Coalition earlier in the year. Through their interactions with me, these individuals illustrate the graciousness of God in the gospel to undeserving sinners.

6. You. Yes, you are on the list. Friends, family, acquaintances, and other visitors: so many of you have provided me with positive, instructive, and even corrective feedback. Bloggers like Chip Gruver and Steve Martin have been enormously kind with their repeated encouragements. The responses I have received from you all have encouraged me in God’s use of the talents He has given me. I am further encouraged that others have found Happier Far to be a means of grace in their own lives. Thank you for walking on life’s journey with me.

5. Fatherhood. If we were talking strictly about my personal life, this would be higher on the list. Becoming a father has been one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. It also afforded me the opportunity to write what has become one of this year’s most popular posts: “Confessions of a New Father: I Wasn’t Prepared for This.”

4. Telling My Own Story. As an amateur theologian, it’s easy for me to intellectually dissect doctrines and dogmas from afar, keeping them at arm’s length. But theology was meant to have real life implications, and God has made sure to make the wheels of my theology leave some tire marks on the road of real life. Rather than study the Bible as a specimen under a microscope, I have had to face God’s truth in my own experience, making my study both more painful and incredibly more beneficial. It has been a privilege to blog about a few key incidents from the last year or so. “How One Hebrew Word Changed My Heart” (here), “What I Learned from Wetting My Pants” (here), and “One Thing About Christianity that Still Bothers Me” (here) are the three highlights. Intensely personal, these stories help show how God’s grace splashes down into our experiences. I hope they have benefited you in at least some small way.

3. Sex and Nudity in the Movies. My evolving views on cinematic sexuality have been heavily influenced by Scripture and the progressive insights of author and pastor Wayne A. Wilson. This year, I wrote two posts on the topic. The first, “Sex, Lies, and Star Trek” (here) may very well be the most popular post of 2013. True, a few other posts received more hits, but this piece had no help from famous outside sources (except for possibly pastor Wilson himself, with whom I directly corresponded about this post). The follow-up piece was equally controversial, and equally necessary: “When Is Public Decency Acceptable?” (here). We will definitely revisit this issue in 2014.

2. Shannon’s Wordsmithing. Yes, God has gifted me in the area of writing, but I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge that God has also gifted me with the superb language, rhetoric, and editing gifts of my wife Shannon. Brainstorming ideas, generating blog titles, writing effective attention grabbers, selecting pictures—everything I’ve done this past year has been affected by Shannon’s expertise. Her involvement has dramatically improved the quality of my blogging. As in our family life, Shannon’s influence here at Happier Far has been invaluable.

1. Learning to Love. Too often, I’ve used truth as a weapon of mass destruction rather than an agent of healing. God has really done a number on me this year, helping me to grow in my desire and ability to let His love more effectively color my thoughts, words, and actions. It’s hard to pinpoint a definite starting point for this process, but a milestone took place in early February when I wrote “Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A, and the Love of Jesus” (here). During that time, I experienced a growing desire to demonstrate the character of Christ while interacting with others—especially those with whom I disagree. As the year progressed, I often returned to the topic of loving others: “I Love Jesus, but I Hate the Church” (here), “Treating Fellow Christians Like Enemies” (here), “Blog First, Ask Questions Later” (here), “Being Offensive and Charitable” (here), and “Loving Someone Who is Trying to Kill You” (here), as well as the sex and nudity articles discussed already. This doesn’t mean I will shy away from hard topics (like I did here in “The 3 Habits of Highly Effective Heretics”), but it hopefully means that my treatment of others will better mirror the grace and truth Christ displayed in His relationships.

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