Friday, July 29, 2011

Lessons from a wise old man that I originally thought was bitter, cynical and just plain wrong (Part 3)

A former professor that I once dismissed as a bitter, cynical, and just plain wrong and angry old man actually turned into one of my favorite teachers.  What changed wasn’t him.  It was me.

This has taught me a few things about ministry: one thing is that If they are “bored” maybe they aren’t doing missions.  One other thing it has taught me is that Maybe missions should go before (or simultaneously with) training.

I was once of the opinion that people should very cautiously engage in missions/ministry until they have spent a good amount of time being “fed”.  (E.g. people should attend evangelism seminar’s and such to get a good grasp on the gospel before they go out and share it). 

My thinking in this was that the last thing we want is for our people to go out and “botch” the gospel message.  Furthermore, why would we want new believers to get “eaten up” by ministry to broken and sinful people?  Wouldn’t it be more wise to have them take about a year worth of training and classes before sending them out to the wolves?  Maybe we can let them hang out in the preschool department for awhile, or be a trustee, or run the sound…you know something they can’t screw up too majorly. 

I’ve changed my opinion. 

Instead of people sitting on the sidelines they should be actively engaged in missions/ministry the second they become followers of Jesus.  There are so many good reasons for this but here are my top 3:

1. Missions creates hunger

What drove me to Scripture early on in my walk with Jesus were teenagers that asked difficult questions.  The more I did missions/ministry the more I realized how vital prayer is to the Christian life.  As the pressure of being an example tended to increase in my life I became more desperate and hungry for Jesus. 

I was no longer bored in sermons, classes, or lectures because I was hungry for information that I could pass on to others.  Rather than sitting in a chair being “fed” to the point of being fat, I was engaged in the field and pouring out so much that I was making myself hungry.  THEN when I came to sit under the Word I was starving and needed fed.  Missions has a way of creating hunger.  Hunger creates desperate Bible students, prayer warriors, etc.

2. Web of Relationships

As believers grow more in their relationship with Jesus and other believers we have a tendency to know less and less lost people.  Our friendships begin to change.  And as our hearts change we find that some relationships are more difficult to sustain given our new found love for Jesus.  This is both a good thing and a bad thing.

It is good that our love for believers is increasing.  But it is bad that often we make ourselves into bubble communities that shield ourselves from sinners.  Though this is bad it seems to be a painful reality.  So, why not take advantage of this web of relationships early on—by encouraging new believers to engaged in ministry/missions with those in their web of relationships? 

3. Seminary

This is going to sound really arrogant and jerky of me, so I’ll warn you in advance.  Forgive me. 

I get really bothered sometimes in my seminary classes.  You can usually tell the guys that are actively engaged in missions/ministry and those that are using this as a time of being “fed”.  The guys that are using this as a season of getting fat on truth and knowledge tend to be the ones in class that see gray issues as only black and white. 

I sit in class many times and just shake my head; knowing that some of these guys are going to get chewed up once they get into a church.  They have various ideas or way that they say things that I know from experience will probably not work in a local church.  They may be doctrinally sound but they haven’t been seasoned.  (And I say this as a 30 year old that has only been doing ministry for about 10 years—I’m sure wiser people than me say the same thing about my ideas, etc.)

Seminary is a weird culture and if it is not tempered by missions/ministry then we spend a good amount of our time arguing about secondary issues.  I’m convinced that the church culture can sometimes be the exact same way.  A church that fights about carpet, clocks, and church signs is probably not actively involved in missions. 

Missions/Ministry has a way of displaying what is really important.  It also has a way of making the theoretical reality.  And those theories, doctrines, etc. either get blown up quickly or they are wisely and deeply embraced for a lifetime. 

Conclusion:

I am all for training people while they are doing missions.  But I’m beginning to think it may not be wise to have seasons where we are simply getting fat on knowledge. 

The fatter the people get at the beginning the harder it will be later to get them to move.

Your church should be hated…BUT for the right reasons

“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets”  (Luke 6:26)

“Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”  (1 Timothy 3:7)

These two verses are not in contradiction.  In fact they are meant to compliment one another.  A Luke 6:26 church (to the exclusion of 1 Timothy 3:7) is not healthy.  Neither is a 1 Timothy 3:7 church (to the exclusion of Luke 6:26) a healthy church. 

Some churches believe that being persecuted (no matter what reason) is the mark of a true church.  After all Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil”.  Westboro Baptist Church fits that bill.  So does this mean that they are “Blessed” according to Jesus?

Other churches believe that being thought of well by outsiders is the mark of a true church.  After all the world is watching us and we may be the only Jesus that some people ever see.  That means if they hate us then they also hate Jesus—and we certainly do not want them to hate Jesus.  This is why Paul wants the overseers to be thought of well by outsiders.  If they like the pastor then they probably will want to come to church.  But what do we do with what Jesus said in Luke 6:26?

Why did they love the false prophets?

In Luke 6:26 Jesus is contrasting the true prophets (Luke 6:22) that were hated, excluded, reviled, and spurned as evil.  Now after Christ true prophets are regarded in such a way “on account of Christ”.  But false prophets tell the people exactly what they want to hear. 

False prophets are described by Paul in 2 Timothy 4.  They are the ones that draw a crowd because they reject the truth and instead “teach to suit their own passions” and “wander off into myths”.  People will flock to a church that tells them everything they want to hear about themselves.

I’d be really cautious if everyone loved our church.  In fact I’d be a little wary if those that actively reject the gospel feel right at home in your church.  Jesus seems to be saying that true prophets will be hated, excluded, reviled, and spurned as evil.  And Paul said that godliness will be persecuted. 

So then it is good to have everyone hate you?

There is a little phrase that I have thus far left off of my quotation of Luke 6:26.  Yes, true prophets will be hated, excluded, reviled, and spurned as evil but they will be “on account of the Son of Man”. 

The folks at Westboro Baptist aren’t being persecuted because they are following Jesus.  They are being persecuted, reviled, hated, excluded, and spurned as evil because frankly they deserve it.  They are evil.  They twist Scripture to suit their own hateful impulses and they hide behind passages like this to make themselves think they are being persecuted for the sake of righteousness. 

This I believe is what Paul is saying in 1 Timothy 3.  An overseer (and I believe this would in many ways extend to the church as a whole) should be well thought of by outsiders; namely, they should not be able to rightly point a finger and say, “this man is a swindler, a liar, a cheat, a hatemonger, etc.” 

Conclusion:

I love what Ed Stetzer says, “The cross should be the only stumbling block any “outsider” would ever face when entering our churches.”  Of coure by “the cross” is a reference to Christ and everything upon which he stands.  And I believe Stetzer would agree that the cross should be so illuminated that those who hate Jesus also have a tendency towards hating those who are magnifying Christ. 

Your church should be hated…but only because of the offensiveness of Jesus (and our fidelity to Him), and not because you’re an idiot. 

One more thing to consider…

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Christmas in July Wishlist for a Browns Fan

The lockout was a sad time for Browns fans.  It was sad because our playoffs and Super Bowl were cut short and dampened by the impending lockout.  For us Browns fans the best part of the season is the off-season.  It is a time for delusional hope.  So here is a little more:

  1. Nnamdi Asomugha agrees to play for the Browns at league minimum just for the challenge of it
  2. A healthy Sidney Rice
  3. James Jones (seriously, if I were making a for real list he would be #1)
  4. A DL (defensive lineman) that doesn’t wind up on the DL (disabled list)
  5. The Steelers sign Matt Leinart to replace a retired Ben Roethlisberger (who hangs up his cleats shortly after his wedding)
  6. Hines Ward and Braylon Edwards get suspended for the season by Roger Goodell
  7. For the entire 2011 season everyone is required to wear a Holmgren- stache

Lessons from a wise old man that I originally thought was bitter, cynical, and just plain wrong (Part 2)

A former professor that I once dismissed as a bitter, cynical, and just plain wrong and angry old man actually turned into one of my favorite teachers.  What changed wasn’t him.  It was me. 

This has taught me a few things about ministry: one thing is that If they are “bored” maybe they aren’t doing missions

Soldiers may get bored during peace time.  But they certainly are not bored when they are on the front line of battle with bullets whizzing, rockets soaring, and bombs exploding around them. 

Christians may get bored reading their Bibles, listening to sermons, praying, fellowshipping with other believers, or doing any other necessary disciplines.  But these disciplines are not boring when they are on the front line of battle with persecution, pain, and the ever present reality of sin. 

When I think that Scripture (or hearing a sermon) is something that I do to check off a list then I get bored with it.  But if I see it as vital to my growth in Jesus, absolutely necessary to my effectiveness in ministry, and a shield from the enemies fiery darts, then I cannot afford to let it be a dust collector or a prop for my coffee table.  The same thing can be said of prayer and any other spiritual discipline.

It is possible that the congregation is plagued with narcolepsy at 10:30 every Sunday morning simply because of a boring preacher.  That is possible. 

But it is also possible that “boredom” in listeners may not be a preacher problem as much as it could be that the listeners are not actively listening because they are not being shaken up out in the field.  They aren’t hungry for the word.  And that hunger hasn’t been created because they aren’t being challenged by doing ministry amongst broken and sinful people. 

This leads to Part 3…

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

By Name

“The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out”. 

I was struck by this verse today.  It is not as if Jesus just says, “church” or “elect” and all those that are His come running.  No, he says, “Mike” and I come running. 

For someone that is a pastor and I still struggle to remember all the names of the people that attend our church, I’m humbled and impressed.  Jesus calls me by name and leads me out. 

We have a Good Shepherd.

Lessons from a wise old man that I originally thought was bitter, cynical, and just plain wrong (Part 1)

In my first “ministry” class at college I was bombarded by this extremely bitter man for a professor.  He presented ministry as if it was difficult, the people were often hurtful and unhelpful, and that life in the church may at times be more brutal than life in corporate America. 

I knew better. 

Of course I had never actually had a ministry position within a church.  But I had read a few books, and I knew that if I plugged in the right formula, knew my Bible, and did it with a smile and warm character that everything would be peachy.  I knew that for whatever reason, this guy was just a cynical old man that knew the Bible but probably not much about “how to do church” in the 21st century. 

So I shut my ears, my mind, and my heart to this professor.  Besides, his class was at 8:00am and provided a great opportunity for me to zone out, try to catch a nap, or work on other more important homework. 

Then summer hit and I got a position in a church. 

The next semester I had a class with this “bitter old man” but it was different.  Now, rather than rejecting his counsel and dismissing him as a lift over fossil from the 1950’s that the school was keeping around only because he was tenured, I now saw this man as a valuable help.  This bitter old man turned into a seasoned, wise, and even loving counselor. 

What changed?

Me.

Once I began actually engaging in ministry, (and might I add—getting swallowed up in ministry), I discovered that my view of ministry was the one that needed to change.  This wise professor had experienced ministry heartbreak first hand.  And, as he would later explain in a class, he has a heart for us students and wanted to prepare us for the reality of ministry among broken and sinful people. 

Deprivation has a tendency to create value. 

This has taught me at least two valuable lessons about ministry, and I will expound on these later today:

#1 If they are “bored” maybe they aren’t doing missions

#2 Maybe missions should go before (or simultaneously with) training

Monday, July 25, 2011

Counsel to a Friend with Cancer

The following is a modernized and de-Britainized version of John Newton’s letter to Mr. B in 1774.  I have tried to keep my changing of the words minimal but I have reformatted some to make it more readable for a blog entry as well.

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My Dearest Sir,

I see the necessity of having, if possible, my beliefs upon my fingertips, so that I may apply them as I need them every hour.  Certainly, if my ability matched my desire, I would remove your tumor with a word or a touch; I would instantly take away every pain and inconvenience forever. 

But you are in the hands of One who could do all this and more, and who loves you infinitely better than I can do, and yet He is pleased to permit you to suffer. 

What can we conclude from this? 

Certainly, that at this time, He, to whom all of the history is present in one view, sees better for you to have this tumor than to be without it; for I have no more idea of tumor rising (or any other incidental trial coming upon you), without a cause, without a need-be, without a designed advantage to result from it, than I have a mountain or pyramid rising up of its own accord in the middle of Salisbury Plain

The promise is clear, and literally true, that all things, universally and without exception, shall work together for good to them that love God.  But they work together: the smallest as well as the greatest events have their place and use, like several stones in the arch of a bridge, where no one would by itself be useful, but every one in its place is necessary to the structure and support of the arch. 

Or, rather, it is like the movement of a watch, where, though there obviously are some pieces more important than others, yet the smallest pieces have their place and use, and are so far equally important, that the watch could not work if they were not present. 

Some acts and turns of Divine Providence may be compared to the main spring or big wheels, which have a more visible, sensible, and determining influence upon the whole direction of our lives: but the more ordinary occurrences of every day are at least pins and pivots, adjusted, timed, and suited with equal accuracy, by the hand of the same great Artist who planned and executes the whole.

We are sometimes surprised to see how much more depends and turns upon these “lesser things” than we are aware of.  Then we admire his skill, and say “he has done all things well.”  Indeed, with respect to his works of providence, as well as of creation, he well deserves the title of “The Very Greatest in the Least”.

Such thoughts as these, when I am enabled to realize them, in some measure reconcile me to what he allots for myself or my friends, and convinces me of truthfulness of that statement, which speaks the language of love as well as authority, “Be still, and know that I am God.” 

I sympathize with you in your trial, and pray and trust that your Shepherd will be your Physician; will oversee and bless the use of means; will give you in his good time health and cure, and at all times reveal unto you abundance of peace.  His promises and power are necessary for our preservation in the better times, and they are likewise sufficient for the roughest. 

We are always equally in danger in ourselves, and always equally safe under the shadow of his wings.  No storms, assaults, sieges, or pestilences, can hurt us, till we have filled up his appointed measure of service; and when our work is done, and he has ripened us for glory, it is no great matter by what means he is pleased to call us home to himself. 

I have only room to present our join and sincerest respects.  The Lord bless you all. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Calvin, Calvinists, and Seeking God

It’s funny that Calvinists are often accused (and many times rightly so) of looking outside of Scripture and what God has revealed to find our theology.  A pretty common objection is that it is nothing more than a man-made system.  That’s probably true with every “ism”.  Nonetheless I found this from Calvin himself quite enlightening:

Consequently, we know the most perfect way of seeking God, and the most suitable order, is not for us to attempt with bold curiosity to penetrate to the investigation of his essence, which we ought more to adore than meticulously to search out, but for us to contemplate him in his works whereby he renders himself near and familiar to us, and in some manner communicates himself.  (Calvin, Institutes, 1.5.10)

In other words the way to seeking God is not by dissecting Him like you would a frog but adoring Him like you would a sunset. 

7 Questions with William Boekestein

A couple of months ago I had the pleasure to read and review an interesting children’s book written by William Boekestein: Faithfulness Under Fire.  I was intrigued by the concept and thought it would be fun and beneficial to interview William.  He graciously agreed to answer 7 Questions. 

1. I recently had the opportunity to review your children’s book on the life of Guido de Bres. I am a history nerd, but honestly until I picked up this children’s book I had never heard of him. So, I’m curious of all the historical figures that you could have picked why Guido de Bres?

The short answer to this is, I have young children, I love church history and our denomination (the URCNA) uses Guido de Bres’ Belgic Confession as a secondary standard of doctrine. From my vantage point the choice made a lot of sense. On the other hand, De Bres’ lived such a fascinating life that even without those three criterion he’d be worth writing about. In addition to this, it can be rewarding to “unearth,” so to speak, the history of an obscure personality from the past.

2. Some may consider the subject matter a little too intense for the books target audience. The cover is not one that you would typically see in a preschool section of the book store. Most parents shy away from books that have flames under a guy climbing up a ladder. Explain a little about your philosophy of not sheltering children from the realities of life and persecution.

De Bres’ story is a bit graphic. We did try to gear the language toward young children and modify some of the images so they wouldn’t be too scary. That said, some of the themes of the book might seem to be too mature for young children. I address that concern in a note to parents on the last page:

The life of Guido De Bres is not exactly a pleasant read. The story is sad, and, in our age of tolerance, at times it is uncomfortable. Yet we believe his story is important because it really happened. In fact, it happened a lot! In other words, De Bres was not all that extraordinary. He was one of countless Christians who spent their lives in devotion to the Lord and in commitment to His Word.

We should say a few things about the graphic details and references to historical religious conflict in this book. First, the reader should know that every reasonable attempt has been made to avoid gratuitous, unsavory detail. It would be impossible, however, to tell the story of De Bres apart from the theme of suffering. We have also tried carefully to avoid unnecessarily inflammatory religious rhetoric. However, the fact remains that right up to the present, strongly held convictions will produce conflict. Even young children experience this.

Second, we don’t believe it is necessary to shield even young children from the ugliness of life as long as we also provide a context in which this life can be lived victoriously. Guido de Bres thrived in tragedy because he was hoping in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel (or good news) of Jesus is this: because of His perfect life and sacrificial death, those who repent of their sins and trust in Him have God’s promise of forgiveness and eternal life (John 3:16). As this promise is realized in our lives, we too will approach life with the same hope that De Bres had. We will be equipped and motivated to spend our lives for God’s glory as we look to an eternal reward of grace.

This is the value we see in teaching our children about Guido de Bres—not to glorify him, but to be drawn by his example to live to the glory of God.

In addition to this, Christianity is rooted in one of most graphic stories ever told. I wonder how many Christian parents would disallow their children from hearing the passion narratives read? When we hold up the story of Guido de Bres with other stories in Scripture it doesn’t look that extreme.

3. You have written a bible study on the life of Jonah and you have also written a couple of children’s books now. Which do you prefer? What is a unique joy that you have in writing children’s books as opposed to books geared towards adults?

I do enjoy both. But children’s books are really fun. I think it has actually been helpful to do both. I used to think that books for adults don’t have to be interesting; especially theological books. I know that’s not true but it still isn’t easy to remember the rule of “show don’t tell.”

4. How many more of these children’s books from RHB can we expect?

That’s hard to say. “The Quest for Comfort: The Story of the Heidelberg Catechism” (see the FB page for this book) is due to be released in early Fall. I would love to see RHB publish the final book in this “series” on the story of the Canons of Dort. Who says that the story of a 400 year old theological deliberative assembly meeting can’t be engaging for young children?

5. I noticed that you recently had your third annual Life Reformation conference. Can you explain a little about the vision behind these conferences? Where are they located?

Our area (northeast Pennsylvania) has a very small evangelical population (it has been estimated at under ten percent. Our intention behind these conferences is to encourage those who do belong to evangelical churches and to offer robust, winsome theology in the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition. We would love to see more people attend these conferences but we are also aware that in the theological culture with which we are surrounded we need to be building for the future.

6. I can tell from much that you have written that you are passionate about families. How does your church minister to families?

We are still working on this one. One of the main ways we minister to families is through the preaching. One of the benefits of preaching in a small church is that you don’t lose sight of the “trees in the forest.” Each Sunday I’m preaching to 10-15 families. I need to communicate Scripture to them as fathers, mothers, children and siblings.

Our elders also have a commitment to visit every family in the congregation on an annual basis. This gives an opportunity to connect with, encourage, teach and if need be correct our families on a more personal level than is afforded during public worship.

7. Lets talk beards. I noticed that many of the books that clip_image002you have written have older Reformed guys with long and studly man-beards. Have you ever considered growing a beard like that of John Knox?

Is mine that much different than Knox’s? I guess I’ll keep working on it. I have a lot of respect for men with beards. If I lived in Scotland and my wife would go for it I would probably try to give Knox a run for his money.

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Thanks for taking the time on these questions and may the Lord cause great growth in your life…both spiritually and in regards to your aspirations to have a Knox beard. 

You can follow William’s blog here: Life Reformation and you can find more information on his church here: Covenant Reformed Church.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

happy and miserable

“What a wonder am I to myself!  Compared with what I deserve to be, how happy!  Compared with what I desire to be, how miserable!  -Andrew Fuller

One of the things that God often uses in my life to teach and strengthen me is to read the diaries of dear departed saints.  I have gotten much fruit from reading the diary of Robert M. McCheyne, Andrew Fuller, John Newton, and David Brainerd, to name a few. 

Often as you read through the diaries of these great men of God one is struck with how miserable they sometimes are.  It seems that many of these—those that seemed in public to have it all together—are wrestling with God from the depths of their souls.  I don’t think they are being dishonest or faking it in public.  I simply think that they have a tendency (like myself) toward introspection and as such they are prone to this pain. 

If you read through enough of these diaries you will see a pattern.  Usually after these bouts of misery God will heal with the balm of grace.  And hence we have the first part of Fuller’s quote—“compared with what I deserve to be, how happy”.  The gospel penetrates through the misery and the light and beauty of Christ is seen more clearly against the backdrop of personal sin and failure. 

I think Fuller is onto something here.  Believers are in a constant state of exceeding joy at who they are in Christ—but are not yet what we desire to be…and therein lies a deep seated misery. 

May this cause us to long for eternity—when our faith will become sight and our desire to see and savor Christ without the heart-numbing stain of sin will be finally realized. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

When Lady Wisdom is Mute (Part 3)

Lady Wisdom is mute. 

But Jesus isn’t. 

There in the midst of the wilderness Jesus is present.  We do not eat the rancid fruit of pride alone.  In fact Christ has already taken the sting out of that fruit.  It’s damning effects are no longer present.  This rancid fruit is for our good. 

Christ has transformed the wilderness. 

And here rather than receiving counsel from Lady Wisdom (which is needed and helpful) we are drawn into a relationship with Wisdom Himself.  He “gives generously to all without reproach”.  In Jesus the clouds begin to lift.  We may even have to walk through the wilderness for a little while longer.  But we won’t walk it alone and we are walking in a wilderness that is transformed by grace.  One where we are able to find even the bitter sweet.

This from Newton:

Bitter, indeed, the waters are.
Which in this desert flow;
Though to the eye they promise fair,
They taste of sin and woe.
Of pleasing draughts I once could dream,
But now, awake, l find,
That sin has poisoned every stream,
And left a curse behind.
But there's a wonder-working wood,
I've heard believers say,
Can make these bitter waters good,
And take the curse away.
The virtues of this healing tree
Are known and prized by few;
Reveal this secret, Lord, to me,
That I may prize it too.
The cross on which the Savior died,
And conquered for his saints;
This is the tree, by faith applied,
Which sweetens all complaints.
Thousands have found the blest effect,
Nor longer mourn their lot;
While on his sorrows they reflect,
Their own are all forgot.
When they, by faith, behold the cross,
Though many grief's they meet;
They draw again from every loss,
And find the bitter sweet.

When Lady Wisdom is Mute (Part 2)

I rejected Lady Wisdom’s counsel.  I find myself eating the rancid fruit of a prideful deafness to her pleas.  So I pray for wisdom.  But I am met with silence and even more confusion. 

Why isn’t God giving me wisdom? 

Probably because I have already shown that I do not value wisdom.  If comes and brings wisdom the second that I ask for it while I’m in the pit then I will not grow to value it.  I will make the same mistake next time.  What I need isn’t necessarily wisdom at this point.  I need rescue, I need redemption, I need repentance, I need discipline. 

And because God is a good and wise Father he doles out exactly the measure of discipline and grace that we need.  He lets us walk in the wilderness for awhile.  He makes us long for wisdom. 

A story is told of Socrates that goes like this:

One day a dispassionate young man approached the Greek philosopher and casually said, 'O great Socrates, I come to you for knowledge.'

The philosopher took the young man down to the sea, waded in with him, and then dunked him under the water for thirty seconds. When he let the young man up for air, Socrates asked him to repeat what he wanted. 'Knowledge, O great one,' he sputtered.

Socrates put him under the water again, only this time a little longer.

After repeated dunkings and responses, the philosopher asked, 'What do you want?' The young man finally gasped, 'Air. I want air!' 'Good,' answered Socrates. 'Now, when you want knowledge as much as you wanted air, you shall have it.'

Our hearts are so dull that until we are made desperate for wisdom—until we have eaten the sour fruit of rejecting wisdom—we will value our own dull-headed sensibilities above the pleas of Lady Wisdom. 

That is why after a season of rejecting counsel we often have to walk in the wilderness for awhile. 

Yet, Christ is deeper still…

When Lady Wisdom is Mute (Part 1)

Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; 21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks…

Lady Wisdom cries out, “Don’t walk next to the prostitutes house”.  I’ll be okay, I’m a believer—Jesus will protect me. 

Lady Wisdom cries out, “Don’t be unequally yoked to an unbeliever”.  I’ll be fine, I’ll share Jesus with him, we’ll be okay. 

Lady Wisdom cries out, “Don’t stay all night at her house”.  We’re strong.  We won’t mess up. 

Lady Wisdom cries out, “Don’t get involved with a girl that has that type of history.”  It will be different with me. 

Lady Wisdom cries out, “You’re going to drift, fade, and your affections will be dull unless you devote time to prayer, reading Scripture, and other disciplines”.  Not me.  I’ve got enough bible knowledge to get me through for awhile.  Besides I’m busy.  I’ll pick it back up later. 

Lady Wisdom cries out, “Don’t forsake meeting with other believers.”  I’m busy.  I have other pretty important things going on now.  I’ll be fine for awhile.  Besides church doesn’t save you—Jesus does. 

Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.  Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me.  Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices.   (Proverbs 1:24-31)

I didn’t listen to Lady Wisdom.  Now I find myself eating the rancid fruit of a prideful deafness to her pleas.  So I pray for wisdom. 

“Give me wisdom Lord everything is so confusing right now.  Why is this happening, Lord?  I’m so confused.  Give me clarity, help me to see truth.  I need wisdom for this situation.  What do I do?”

Silence.

 

Yet, Christ is deeper………

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Quick Review of Galileo by Mitch Stokes

Math.  Science.  Physics.  Three things that I did not do well at in school.  Or perhaps I could have said three things that bored the life out of me in high school.  (Actually sometimes physics was cool.  And occasionally science was tolerable.  But I’d rather endure tiny cuts to my body and take a bath in alcohol than to have to take another math class). 

It is with that background that I decided to review a book on Galileo.  I figured that there would be a good amount of math/science nerd speak that I would have to sift through but I would mostly get to hear the story of how the Catholic church messed over Galileo. 

But I did not have to “sift through nerd speak” because Mitch Stokes is one of those talented authors that can make something as mind-numbingly boring as ancient mathematics and make it seem as exciting as front row seats to battles between Athens and Sparta. 

Okay, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration—but Stokes really does help his readers understand the intellectual climate that Galileo found himself in.  He does an excellent job of not only helping us understand more about Galileo’s life but also the world in which he lived in.  For that I was grateful. 

Stokes also did much to fairly represent the Catholic church during this time.  He does a tremendous job of showing that Galileo is not the martyr that many make him out to be.  In fact he remained faithful to the Catholic church even up until his death.  I would have never known that from what I learned about him in school. 

I would have liked to have known a little more about the interaction of Galileo's faith and the trials that he endured.  There is some interaction with Galileo's beliefs but it is somewhat minimal.  In a Christian Encounters series it would have beneficial to have seen a little more of the influence that Jesus had on the life of the books subject.  But it is possible that such information is relatively scant. 

This was a good read.  And if you like biographies this is a good one.  It is fun to read about people that I would often not read about.  And for this reason I am grateful that Thomas Nelson provided a free copy in exchange for a review.

If you want to buy the book you can do so here.  I would also suggest checking out Thomas Nelson’s entire Christian Encounters series.  I plan on looking up a few more of these myself.   

visions and grace

Within the last few years there have been various “stories of heaven” types of books that have quickly climbed (and stayed) on the bestseller list in Christian books.  I have about 10-15 reasons why I am not a big fan of Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven, Bill Wiese’s 23 Minutes in Hell, and this new book Heaven is For Real.  But my biggest reason comes from 2 Corinthians 12. 

Here Paul speaks of a heavenly vision that “a guy he knows” once had.  Of course Paul is simply using the classic…”I need some advice about, a uhmmm friend…named…uhmm Mark…”  Paul isn’t doing it because of embarrassment but because of humility and to make a greater point.  And it is that greater point that gives me pause when consider books like 90 Minutes, 23 Minutes, Heaven is for Real, or various other “3 hour tour with Jesus” type of books. 

Consider 2 Corinthians 12:4-6

and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses—6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.

In other words Paul is not really permitted by the Lord to speak of this awesome heavenly vision that he has received.  And he explicitly spells out why he refrains from writing a bestseller about his experience—because the revelations/visions is not to the means by which Christ is exalted. 

Instead Paul is given a thorn in the flesh to keep him humble.  Paul is told by the Lord, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”.  This—weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities—will be the platform that shines a spotlight on the glory and majesty of Jesus through the apostle Paul.  And not visions and revelations. 

It is easy to point a finger at those writing, those purchasing, and those promoting these books.  But the finger also needs to be pointed back at me.  I too am also guilty of not finding sufficiency in grace but instead attempting to exalt things other than Jesus.  Sometimes I do this for shock value, novelty, or a vain desire for attention.  Other times I do it because of a lack of faith and trust in the all-consuming power of grace. 

And yet grace continues to pursue and transform my wayward heart.  Jesus is constantly drawing me to himself and teaching me—with every shattered idol—that His grace truly is sufficient. 

I am here reminded of two quotes that have meant much to my life and ministry.  The first from Samuel Rutherford:

…nay, whether God come to his children with a rod or a crown, if he come himself with it, it is well.  Welcome, welcome Jesus, what way soever thou come, if we can get a sight of thee.  And sure I am, it is better to be sick, providing Christ come to the bed-side, and draw aside the curtains, and say ‘Courage, I am thy salvation,’ than to enjoy health, being lusty and strong, and never to be visited by God. 

Jesus is enough and precious rather he come with a rod or crown!

Secondly, from (I think) James Denney:

“No man can bear witness to Christ and to himself at the same time. No man can give the impression that he himself is clever and that Christ is mighty to save.

It is through our weakness and lack of “cleverness” that they many will see that Christ is indeed mighty to save! 

So enough with these revelations/visions and all the other strong, powerful, and clever things that we trust in for security.  May his grace be sufficient! 

loving truth

One thing in particular I would pray for; namely, that I may not only be kept from erroneous principles, but may so love the truth as never to keep it back… O Lord, if thou wilt open mine eyes to behold the wonders of thy word, and give me to feel their transforming tendency, then shall the Lord be my God; then let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I shun to declare, to the best of my knowledge, the whole counsel of God.  (Andrew Fuller)

Would that every minister (myself included) frequently had this prayer overflowing from our hearts.  May we love truth so much as to “never keep it back”.  May God grant us the grace to behold the wonders of His word, to humbly tremble, and then to boldly proclaim the whole counsel of God.

Monday, July 18, 2011

content with questions

…in seeking God, miserable men do not rise above themselves as they should, but measure him by the yardstick of their own carnal stupidity, and neglect sound investigation; thus out of curiosity they fly off into empty speculations.  They do not therefore apprehend God as he offers himself, but imagine him as they have fashioned him in their own presumption.  When this gulf opens, in whatever direction they move their feet, they cannot but plunge headlong into ruin.  Indeed, whatever they afterward attempt by way of worship or service of God, they cannot bring as tribute to him, for they are worshipping not God but a figment and a dream of their own heart.”  (John Calvin)

One of the things that I have learned from Calvin is the absolute necessity of being satisfied and wholly dependent upon that which God has revealed of Himself.  It is not just the pagan that goes off into wild and empty speculations.  It is quite often the self-assured theologian that is “not content with sobriety but claiming for themselves more than is right, they wantonly bring darkness upon themselves”.  And they (we) do this because we have a “vain curiosity” and “an inordinate desire to know more than is fitting”. 

That “inordinate desire to know more than is fitting” has caused much trouble.  This is perhaps the breeding ground from whence every heretic is born.  This questioning and inordinate desire goes back as far as the garden.  “Did God really say…”?  And it finds itself in much of our speculation and in many of the books in our day and age. 

Am I content with what God has revealed?  Am I satisfied with making my sole passion being to enjoy God’s grace and extend His glory with a group of other Jesus fools?  Or do I need something flashy?  Do I need to figure stuff out and find new things, or am I content to rest and enjoy everything Jesus has already purchased and revealed? 

If I’m not, I pray the Lord change my heart to be content with His revelation.

hanging with some old friends

For the rest of the summer I am going to try to spend some time with a few old friends.  I miss these guys.  We haven’t hung out in awhile, because I have been busy hanging out with my new friends. 

But you cannot simply replace these old friends.  They mean too much to me.  So Mr. Calvin, Piper, Newton, Fuller, and various other dudes with long facial hair and funny hats (Puritans) we’ll be hanging out for the rest of the summer.  I hope you’re ready. 

This means that original writing may be a little slow here at Borrowed Light.  I am still going to be spending time reading Scripture in the mornings and interacting with the passages that correspond with doing The Radical Experiment, but I am not going to schedule blocks of time just for writing for the next few weeks.  I need to spend some time with these friends for awhile first. 

Drift

…the eagerness with which men engage in political disputes, take which side they may, is unfavorable to a zealous adherence to the gospel. Any mere worldly object, if it become the principal thing which occupies our thoughts and affections, will weaken our attachment to religion; and if once we become cool and indifferent to this, we are in the high road to infidelity. (Andrew Fuller)

Drift is easy.  All it takes is a mild distraction to one thing that is not the glory of God (or at least not looked at through the lens of the glory of God).  Here Fuller is mentioning political engagements.  He could have substituted anything.  Anything that isn’t Jesus that starts taking up our principal thoughts and affections will weaken our attachment to Jesus.  And when this happens we are well on the road to infidelity. 

Notice what the Apostle Paul says to the Corinthians:

For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.  But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 

Anything can quickly become our mistress. 

Jesus wants (deserves!) my highest thoughts and affections.  But there is a myriad of distractions clamoring for the attention of our minds eye.  Many times we turn our eyes to take a peek at lovers less wild.  And yet even in the midst of our harlotry Jesus still shines brighter—drawing, loving, forgiving, staying. 

But I desire to be more faithful.  I want that sincere and pure devotion of which Paul speaks.  I want to have my eyes fixed on Christ and His glory.  I truly do want all that I do to be for the purpose of making Christ the only boast of this generation.  (At least I want to want these things). 

So as to make this more than simply a neat little thought, I think it would be beneficial to come clean and confess those things that take my affections from Jesus. 

Lord, here are a few of the things (some are Your things, good things even) that have lured me away and stolen the heart that belongs to Jesus:

  • Theological questions—an attempt to figure You out instead of simply resting in Jesus and savoring that which You have clearly revealed
  • Life, worry, etc.—trying to put my life together and “serve you” neglecting that “I have nothing that you have not already given you”
  • Drive to be successful in the kingdom—this seems noble, but it is more for pride, selfish ambition, and a residual fear of man (or a need to prove myself worthy)
  • Ministry
  • Writing
  • Reading a ton of books
  • Trying to be palatable in writing, speech, etc. to the detriment of the gospel
  • Fear of Man

May You replace these that have been turned into idols with a firm and fixed devotion to Jesus.  I want the sincere and pure devotion that Paul speaks of.  Give me Jesus…let everything else be only a means to drive me to this greater end! 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Review of On the Verge by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson

If I understood the term a little better I may confess that I am what many call a neo-Calvinist. 

That means of course that I love T4G, I have a life-size poster of Mark Dever in my room, I refuse to read approvingly of books unless they have the acceptance of the “big-guns” of Reformed theology on the back, I name my children and pets things like Calvin, Piper, and Jon Jon the Edwards. 

I am also bigoted, closed-minded, and refuse to listen to other expressions of Christianity.  I like to burn things.  Like Servetus.  But I’ll defend “my boys” (the Reformed All-Star Militia otherwise known as RAM) even if I know they are wrong.  I exalt the Bible and the glory of God with my lips but truth be told I read more Piper, Packer, Platt, and the Puritans than I do my Bible. 

Guys like me don’t read books like Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson’s latest offering: On the Verge

That is, guys like me don’t read books like that unless God has convicted them deeply about the need to put people, books, ideas, etc. into their life that come from a different perspectives. 

One thing my homeboy J-Newt has taught me is that I should hold my theology with grace…knowing that it’s always possible that I am wrong, and also because chances are I held a faulty theology just three days ago myself.  So I know that I need to be challenged by those different than me—even those with a totally different paradigm and mindset than myself. 

So how did this 9-Marks lovin’, Piper hand-shakin, “neo-Calvinist” read On the Verge? 

Honestly, I read it with great joy.  I learned a ton.  At times I had a hard time putting the book down.  I took several notes.  It challenged my thinking in some areas and there are some aspects of the book that I will try to tweak and put into our local church. 

Difficulties

But I’m a bigot, though, remember?  So that means that I have to offer some critique before I get to the good stuff.  And there were a few things in this book that gave me pause. 

One of the difficulties that I had is that it does seem to follow the typical church growth formula.  If I do X then, of course with prayer and stuff, Y will inevitably happen…do this, get that.  We “neo-Calvinist” (again I’m not really sure who that is or what it means) follow that same formula too.  But ours is different.  We say preach the Word, be faithful in theology, expand peoples views of God and He will bring the results. 

Books like On the Verge tend to add a few things to that equation.  I am not saying they are necessarily wrong but it just causes a “neo-Calvinist” like me to pause.  We can sometimes get so distracted by attempts to “grow the kingdom” that we end up losing the King who promised He’d grow His kingdom. 

Another difficulty I had was the retelling of history.  It’s a somewhat popular retelling—but as Peter Leithart has shown it may not be the most accurate.  Hirsch and Ferguson repeat the common assumption that Christianity started going awry when it institutionalized under Constantine.  My gut wants to agree with them.  But I also felt that Leithart made pretty solid arguments in his book Rethinking Constantine.  The history of movements may not be as black and white as Hirsch/Ferguson would have us believe. 

In the hopes of being a good neo-Calvinist (what doest that mean again?) I have to tell you at least two more negative things.  The first is the language;  Not that they drop the F bomb or anything like that.  It’s more like entering into a conversation half way through.  You are a little lost about the context of some of the things they are discussing.  Oh, and the people in this imaginary conversation are also speaking Martian.  So you not only have to figure out the context of the discussion you have to try to understand what mDNA is, and apostolic genius, and verge-ination, and other words like that.

Perhaps the greatest critique that I would have is that it does not appear to be firmly rooted in Scripture.  There are biblical arguments in a few places.  Some mention is given to Ephesians 4, and there is a good amount of theology about Jesus but it does not seem to be backed up with Scripture.  Of course that’s a shallow critique because things do not have to site Bible verses to be deeply biblical—look at some of the Apostle Paul’s writing. 

Woohoo’s!

There are, then, a few important “pauses” that I have with this book.  But there is also much to consider.  I know that one critique that some other reviews had of this book is that it seemed like a formula to get your church bigger.  Actually that is the opposite of this books intention.  This book is a kingdom-focused book.  It is about growing the kingdom.  It’s fundamental idea is to combine a multiplication of church planting with putting people on mission in every sphere.  To do such a thing will create an “apostolic movement”. 

Given that fundamental point, I read this book with an attempt to an answer a key question: how do you lead people to embrace a more kingdom of Jesus mindset than a “let’s figure out how to make our church big” mindset. 

With that key question in mind I found this book very helpful.  Hirsch and Ferguson move the reader through 4 stages: Imagine, Shift, Innovate, and Move.  Essentially they hope to help leaders dream, put that dream into place, tweak that dream, then begin living it out.  But it’s not just some sort of get a vision statement and then have your people do it. 

Their vision is much broader than that.  Their vision is really that of following God on His mission of transforming the world through the gospel.  Everything that we dream must be tempered by that fundamental mission.  This is, in case you were curious, what mDNA is.  They are the fundamental these-don’t change type of values that every church must have in some way. 

I really hope that people like me do not dismiss this book out of hand.  Hirsch and Ferguson are passionate about thinking theologically.  I think my neo-Calvinist friends (whatever that means) will find quotes like this helpful and intriguing:

While it’s crucial to let the felt-needs and questions of our native culture inform our spirituality, if we aren’t deliberate about thinking theologically and systematically about beliefs, then we hand the systems story of the church over to pop culture, mere pragmatism, or the many other prevailing forces that simply co-opt our thinking and doing.  (152)

That gets a hearty “Amen” from the Piperites in the room! 

Furthermore, there are many practical ideas that real churches are doing to help their people plant churches and be on mission in every sphere.  These are helpful examples and things that many churches can begin to implement. 

Conclusion

For the most part this book is one to think through.  There are questions after every chapter—that could easily be used with a small group to begin visioning and thinking through some of their points.  The greatest benefit of this book will probably be in the conversations that it starts and seeing what the Spirit does through His people as they engage this book through the lens of Scripture. 

This book is probably not written to be New York Times best seller, but simply to get into the hands of a few key people and watch it trickle.  And that is probably okay.  After all there were probably only a few people that held to Copernicus’ theories when he died…and he turned the world on its head…or would you say he set the world in orbit? 

As for me I’m still trying to tweak some things in this book but mostly I’m allowing the many excellent things in this book to tweak me. 

----

I got this book free from Zondervan in exchange for my review. 

You’ll have to buy the book.  And if you want to do that you can do it here.  ($13.59 is a pretty inexpensive price for this book). 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I Don’t Mean to Alarm You, But…

If you aren’t already sitting down you may want to when you hear this.  Are you ready for it? 

I don’t mean to alarm you but you are moving really fast right now.  Probably something close to 1,000 miles per hour.  Seriously.  When combining all the factors this is probably a pretty good estimation of how fast you are spinning at the present time.  (And since I’m not good at science type stuff-it’s probably faster).

Why aren’t you freaking out? 

Better question…why don’t you dismiss me as a total loon?  Unless you are reading this blog post in an airplane, spaceship, formula-one race car, or riding on the back of a Pepsi drinking cheetah you probably don’t feel anything even close to 1,000 miles per hour.  So why don’t you simply laugh when those guys in white-coats tell us that we are spinning thousands of miles? 

Let’s face it we don’t feel like we are going thousands of miles but through a pretty solid amount of data we are pretty confident of this estimation…even though we do not feel it.  Even though we may not understand all the math, or don’t know the equations, or haven’t looked from the moon back at the Earth, we trust these white-coated wonders even though our sense perception tells us to believe the opposite. 

Feelings and Reality

I don’t mean to alarm you but you are absolutely secure in the arms of the Father.  The God of the universe knows every hair that is on your head.  (Which of course is an amazing feat for some people and not that impressive for the Homer Simpson’s among us). 

He knows what tomorrow is going to look like.  He knows about that day that is coming (not sure when), that is going to feel like everything is spinning out of control and your world is absolutely crushed.  He will be holding you then too.  His grace will be sufficient. 

Furthermore, if you are in Jesus there is now no condemnation for you.  All of your sin is covered.  Paid in full.  You, believer, will never drink an ounce of the wrath of God.  Why?  Jesus already drank it to the dregs.  You are reconciled to God.  You have peace with God. 

Therefore, God is cool with you.  In fact you are a treasure.  He is restoring the image of God in you.  He is ripping out idols and redeeming you.  You are constantly being changed into His image.  He is working all things together for your greatest good; namely, conformity to Christ. 

But you say.  I don’t feel loved.  I don’t feel like God is changing me.  I don’t feel like things are “under control”.  I don’t feel like everything is cool with God and me.  I don’t feel like I’m free and at peace with Jesus. 

You don’t feel like you are spinning a thousand miles an hour right now either do you? 

But if you are trusting in Jesus then these things are true whether you feel them or not.  They are true even if you aren’t consciously aware of them every second of the day.  (Don’t get me wrong part of the Christian life is living in grace and learning to be conscious of and to actively enjoy all that Christ has already purchased). 

But sometimes we need to tell our feelings to shut up.  We must believe the gospel and at the same time mourn the fact that our feelings are so jaded.  But at the same time we have to remember that the gospel is still true even for those with jaded feelings.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Calvinistic Tension Headaches

Yep, I just dropped the C word. 

No matter what theological system you follow—or if you take the “I just follow the Bible” route—you will undoubtedly be faced with certain tensions.  Your theology will cause those that differ to say, “yeah, but…” 

At the end of the day there is much in the Christian life that is mystery.  There are many beliefs within Christian doctrine that must be held in tension.  And no theological system is free from these tensions.  Most people are Calvinist, Arminian, Calminian, whatever you want to call them not because they are idiots but because they are convinced from the Scriptures that their “system” is biblical. 

As for me I strongly lean Calvinistic, but I’m not angry or militant about it.  One reason that I lean Calvinistic is because the “yeah, but…” questions that I am faced with tend to be the same ones that the biblical writers had to address.  Paul seems to me to be facing some of the same tensions that Calvinist face today. 

One of the big “yeah, but…” questions that Calvinists have to face concerns the justice of God.  Would it be just for God to choose someone and not another?  Paul raises this tension in Romans 9:

“Is there injustice on God’s part”? 

I wish he would have answered that one.  He simply says “of course not”, and then proceeds to open another can of worms… “[God] has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” 

This second can of worms opens up another tension question that Calvinist often are faced with:

If God has mercy on whoever he wills, and hardens whoever he desires, then “why does he still find fault”?  In other words how can God still say that somebody is guilty if He is the one that dispenses mercy and He is the one that hardens?  Good question. 

Again I wish that Paul would have answered it more fully.  But he doesn’t he mostly rebukes the “person” for asking such a question.  Oops, maybe I shouldn’t have said “good question” earlier.  God is God and we are not. 

I realize this doesn’t answer a million of the questions that you and I have about the relationship between human freedom and divine sovereignty.  In fact even though I think I have a decent grasp on the relationship I probably do not.  It’s probably way more complex (or perhaps more simple) than I even think. 

But at the end of the day I lean Calvinistic because it causes some of the same headache questions that seem to be raised by the biblical authors themselves.  Undoubtedly, my Arminian, Calminian, and my “I just believe the Bible” friends will have plenty of “yeah, but” questions.  And that’s cool because I have them too. 

Lessons from a Bearded-Dude Waving a Stick

“Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed.  But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side.  So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.”

Why in the world is this necessary?  If God wanted to strike the armies of Amalek, display his power, and rescue Israel why did he not simply send a tornado or something cool like that?  Why does it depend on a bearded dude raising a stick in the air? 

I do not know for sure but I have a couple of guesses.  There are a couple of things that this act communicates.  Lessons that are vitally important for Israel—and remain vitally important even for us.  One thing that this story communicates is that Moses is the conduit of grace that God is going to use to lead Israel fully out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.  God works through leaders.  Leaders are important.

But the second lesson is just as important as the first—Moses is only a conduit of grace.  Even though the mission vitally depends on God using Moses to lift up his hands, Moses is still just a man that cannot hold up his hands all day.

Can you imagine trying to do what Moses was asked to do? 

Do you remember in grade school whenever the teacher for some unknown reason refused to call on you?  (Perhaps, she had had enough wisecracks).  I do.  And I remember it didn’t take long for my little hands to get tired and I had to start propping it up with my other arm.  Then I’d switch hands.  And then switch hands.  And then again.  (Now, that I’m thinking about this…come on teacher…why didn’t you call on me?) 

Well those few minutes in grade school always felt like an eternity.  I cannot imagine what Moses felt like having to hold his hand up for hours upon hours.

The Pressure of Leadership

But this is more important than getting to answer a question (or at least make a funny remark).  If Moses lets down his hands some of his people are going to bite the bullet.  That’s a lot of pressure.  Moses cannot afford to take a 15 minute break and rest his hands.  In 15 minutes a battle can be decided.  So Moses cannot take a breather. 

This helps us to kind of realize that leaders face much pressure.  Often if we “let down our hands” the movement suffers, or even worse real-true-to life individual people suffer.  So leaders get weary keeping their hands held up all day.  We know that if we let our hands down it will be for our detriment and the detriment of others. 

The Necessity of Aaron’s and Hur’s

But the reality, like with Moses, is that sometimes you just cannot do it.  Conduits of grace need to be propped up.  Even the best of men are men at best.  And that means we will have to let our hands down.  We aren’t the savior.  We aren’t the provision.  God is.  We are the conduit and sometimes conduits get weak and can’t do their job anymore. 

Thankfully, there is a third way.  Leaders can be propped up.  It’s still Moses keeping his hands up, but Aaron and Hur are standing beside him and lifting up his weary hands when he cannot.  Leaders need Aarons and Hur’s in their lives. 

I am thankful for the men and women that God has placed in my life to be my Aaron or Hur.  I have had dear brothers and sisters in Christ come alongside me in times of my greatest weaknesses and prop up my leadership.  They’ve been used, by God’s grace, to keep my weary hands from dropping.  Aaron and Hur are just as vital as Moses.

Victory is a community project! 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hey Daddy, Chill Out!

I’ll warn you in advance this will not be a neatly written treatise or anything like that.  I simply want to share something, hopefully briefly, that I believe the Lord is showing me.  So…no catchy introduction. 

Background: I really love my children.  I am very dedicated to my children.  I want to see them grow into a passionate Jesus-loving, kingdom-building, earth moving man and woman.  I want Isaiah to be a good daddy and great husband.  I want Hannah to be a good mommy and great wife. 

I’m also a sinner.  I have idols.  I have ridiculous self-righteousness.  Part of the reason I want my kids to be “good” Christians is because I want that to reflect upon my super-awesome parenting.  My children are (at least in part) a reflection of my relationship with Jesus.  And I want to look good. 

At the same time that I am passionate about my children I also have a sinful tendency to disengage and shut-down when I get overwhelmed.  I know this about myself so I fight it extra hard.  Part of this fighting extra hard sometimes leads to me cleaning the outside of the cup and neglecting the inside.  It pains me to say it but sometimes my time with my kids isn’t from the heart it’s just me faking it. 

The Point: I’m going to chill out and rest in grace. 

Instead of reading a million parenting books and trying to get my Christian-parenting down to a science I’m going to try to make it simple.  I am going to radically pursue a day by day relationship with Jesus.  One with bumps, bruises, failings, successes, gritty-honesty, shameful hypocrisy, and everything that comes from a desperate (and sometimes prideful not-so desperate) sinner relating to a sinless Savior. 

Same thing with my children.  I’m just going to be dad.  Probably the greatest thing that I can give my kiddos is to just be present with them.  I’m going to sin against them.  I’m going to be angry at times.  I’m going to discipline when I should have just let things slide.  I’m going to let things slide when I should have probably disciplined.  I’m probably never going to win a dad of the year award.  But Lord willing, I’m going to be there

Even if at the end of everything my children look back and say, “dad was pretty screwed up, he had a ton of faults, but he loved Jesus, he was growing, and he was always there for us.”  If that’s what they say I’ll be happy.  And I’d also like for them to say it with a smile on their face. 

I want my kids to smile. 

I want my kids to rest in grace because they learned how to do that from their daddy. 

I want my kids to see that God’s grace is sufficient and it’s something to be enjoyed. 

I want my kids to grow up in a home that dances (interpretively moves if you’re a Baptist) at the victory that Christ has already won instead of a home that mumbles, grumbles, and labors as if the gospel only won a partial victory. 

May grace reign!

Hoarding v. A Daily God

I’m growing, but I still have pack-rat tendencies. 

There are still a few objects that I have a really hard time getting rid of: screws, bolts, springs, various parts that I have no idea what they are or what they are for, old shirts, ratty jeans, and “important” papers that will probably in reality remain unnecessary until well after Jesus returns. 

I keep these things because, hey…you never know when you might need them.  Which has proven itself true maybe about three times in my life.  There was that one time that I was able to use a spring, then I needed some ratty jeans for a paint job, and I just so happened to still have an “important” paper.  But mostly, it just piles up and makes it to where sometimes I cannot find things that I actually need. 

Now, this is not a HUGE problem.  I do not need to go on that Hoarders show…at least not yet.  But at root I have the same heart issue.  And I am guessing you might too. 

Hoarding in Exodus

We see this same tendency manifest itself in Exodus 16.  The people of Israel are starving in the wilderness.  God provides manna.  But he is only going to provide it every morning.  They cannot keep it.  (except before the Sabbath—when there will not be any that morning). 

If you try to hoard manna you get a mouth full of worms and stank when you try to chomp into in the morning. 

But even though they are warned of the worm and stank deal, there are some people that try to keep the manna for tomorrow…because, hey can I really be sure that it will be there in the morning?  And so some of them kept some manna around just in case

You see the reason why God does this is because He wants the Israelites to know that He is a daily God.  “His mercies are new every morning”.  He also wants them to know that their relationship of faith and trust is also a daily necessity.  Our God is an everyday is God.

Or at least He should be. 

A Daily God

But I must confess that often I do not have a daily experience of God’s grace.  My relationship with God is often more like a roller coaster, with extreme highs and lows.  I am convinced that our relationship with God is more like the Thunder River than the Screamin’ Eagle; a long, slow journey together through various dips, waterfalls, etc.  rather than a quick jaunt up and down huge inclines and declines. 

As I reflect on Exodus 16 I begin to wonder whether part of the reason why God doesn’t seem like a daily God is because I hoard.  Like the stupid servant in Luke 19 I bury talents, treasures, “manna”, in the hopes of being able to keep it…you know, just in case. 

God isn’t calling us to keep things for tomorrow, “just in case”.  God is calling us to live by faith everyday so that we can see the wonders of a relationship with a daily God.  Today I want to enjoy this day and not have a hoarding mentality that tries to protect tomorrow. 

For an amazing look at this Manna Principle I would suggest purchasing Ed Welch’s book Running Scared.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Review of Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson

Every church should have a small group for parents.  Maybe not to go over the latest Christian parenting book or fad, but simply to encourage one another that you aren’t the worse parent in the world and little Johnny is probably not Satan-incarnate. 

I read a good amount of Christian parenting books.  I read the ones that tell you “do X so that your kid will be successful”, and I also read the ones that are more geared towards parenting with the gospel as a grid.  Both leave me exhausted—convinced that I am going to mess up my kids.

You see, I absolutely love my children and I want give them grace.  More than anything I want them to drink deeply of God’s grace.  I want them to live holy, God-honoring lives.  I want my kids to be used by God in mighty ways.  And because of this I develop an idolatrous obsession with raising my kids to love the gospel.  I try to do everything perfectly because somewhere along the way I began believing the lie that my children’s salvation is largely dependant on my parenting. 

Not a How-To Book

I agreed to review Give Them Grace for Crossway primarily because I feel exhausted in my parenting.  It sounded like a much needed refreshment.  But it also sounded like something to give me a few “how-to’s” on applying grace in the lives of my children. 

What is ironic is that I really want is not a book that is saturated in the gospel but one that is saturated with a list of rules for successful gospel parenting.  How horrible that I have somehow turned gospel-centrality into a law or an idol that I bow to!

Because of this stupid obsession with getting a list of parenting tools to jam into my already bursting fanny-pack of Christian parenting tips, I felt a tad frustrated in the beginning of this book.  It was a breath of fresh air but I didn’t want a simple, “chill out, God is in control”.  I wanted simple answers that would put me in control of my children’s fate. 

Give Them Grace is not your typical parenting book.  In fact it actually identifies what is wrong with many “Christian” parenting books.  Most parents that read Christian parenting books do so with this mindset:

Their love for their children coupled with fear makes them want a guaranteed method of handling every situation with complete certainty.  They are serious about being godly parents, and they really don’t want to give themselves a pass if resting in grace somehow means that they aren’t holding up their part of the bargain.  They need grace to believe that there is no bargain, because if there were, they would never be able to uphold their part of it no matter how hard they try.  No bargains, no meritorious works, just grace.  Remember, parenting is not a covenant of works.  (159)

Sadly, many books are quick to offer exactly what a desperate parent desires; namely, how to control their children. 

Well, What DO I Do? 

If I abandon the “carrot and the stick” parenting method (you know motivating through rewards and punishments) then what do I do as a parent?  Fitzpatrick and Thompson, I believe, offer a simple answer: get grace yourself and extend it to your kids.  This book is an attempt to encourage parents to draw deeply from the well of grace themselves and then as the gospel-saturates their hearts and lives they will be in a much better position to instruct their children in the gospel. 

This echoes advice that I received from a professor in seminary.  His children were already grown and out of the home.  He was confessing to our class much of his “failed” parenting and how he regretted much of what he had done.  He shared with us the one thing he wishes he would have done as a Christian parent.  Ready for it?……Just chill out.  Rest in Grace; that was his advice. 

And it is this nugget of advice where this book really shines.  As a parent I found much refreshment from this book.  I was frustrated that it did not give me 10 simple steps of how to control my children for Jesus.  But at the end of the day I am refreshed and reminded of the beauty of the gospel and the mercy of God in making me a dad.  My children do not need me to beat them over the head with the gospel—what they really need is for me to get the gospel and let it overflow into their lives.  I need to chill out.  I need to rest in grace and enjoy myself—and hopefully in the process my children will catch on to the beauties of grace. 

One Negative

The authors are very quick to point out that their suggested dialogue in the book is just that—suggested dialogue.  But as I read through many of these I began feeling the weight of "saying it right” that is in many of the other parenting books.  In my opinion the others are guilty of trying to make every moment a teachable moment and actually not living in the grace that they are speaking of throughout the book. 

I had a real problem with this in the second chapter on “how to raise good kids”.  I absolutely agree with the underlying theology of this chapter.  I do believe that so much of our parenting is an attempt to raise good little Pharisee and not Jesus-loving sinners.  But I would have a hard time parroting some of their dialogue with my children:

Rather than telling Rebekah that she’s a good girl, we could say, “I noticed you shared your swing.  Do you know what that reminds me of?  How Christ shared his life with us.  I’m so thankful for God’s working in your life that way.  I know that neither of us would ever do anything kind if God wasn’t helping us.  I’m so thankful.  (42)

I get the intent behind this statement.  But I am not certain that it is really necessary to speak in such a way.  For one it does not do justice to the imago Dei.  Yes, ultimately we must push our affirmation of others upwards to reach its true origin—the goodness and grace of our Creator.  But there is a way of praising creation that echoes in praise to the Maker without explicitly debasing the creature. 

I tend to agree with John Bird’s caveat, when he says,

“this loose way of applying the gospel, especially when often repeated, takes the power out of the message and can weary the children. Something sadder than a child growing up never hearing the good news is a child who grows up hoping to never hear it again.

Honestly, the greatest danger will be for people like me that pick this book up looking for 10 ways to control your children with grace, try to follow the verbiage to a tee, and miss the overall message of the book. 

The overall message of this book is a much needed refreshment.  I need to be reminded that the gospel is for parents too.  I also need to be reminded that my children’s salvation is dependant upon the God of grace and not my parenting.  Yes, I want to parent to the glorify of God—but the way that happens is by drawing deeply from the well of grace. 

I would encourage all parents to read this book.  In fact I would almost encourage parents to get this book and stop reading so many other ones.  Chill out and rest in grace.  This book will, for the most part, help you to do just that.

You can buy it here

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Get a Life Giveaway Winner!!!

Congratulations to Terry Felton who has won our get a life giveaway.  Terry, you should have gotten a an email explaining how to claim your books.  For all the rest of you losers non-winners, be sure to subscribe to Borrowed Light.  I have a giveaway about every month, so perhaps in the future you can totally redeem yourself. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

no labor is in vain

“Well, that was for nothing”

That is a really dangerous statement when it comes to ministry.  (Do not hear, “vocational ministry”—I mean the ministry that every believer is to be engaged in).  It’s a dangerous statement but I bet we have all said it.  As one that preaches, teaches, leads, writes, etc. there is much of my labor that I never see the fruit to.  And sometimes I can be given to discouragement and think—“well, that was for nothing”. 

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul is encouraging the church at Corinth to steadfastly engage in ministry as a result of the truth of the resurrection.  For 57 verses Paul defends and expounds upon the reality of the resurrection.  Then in verse 58 he makes this doctrine practical:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

In other words Paul is saying, “because of the reality of the resurrection—drink from no other fountain, bring others in to drink, and do so confidently knowing that every bit of kingdom work is not in vain.” 

The resurrection of Jesus marks of his exclusivity.  Jesus is the fountain of life.  All other fountains are murky waters that only sustain you for a season.  Only the fountain filled with the blood that flows from Immanuel's veins is able to remove the sting of death.   All others cannot remove our death sentence.  But Jesus gives eternal life and immortality. 

Because of this exclusivity we must “be steadfast, immovable”.  That means that we must reject the silly notion that any other fountain may satisfy.  With Spirit-induced power we must resist the fleeting glamour of the perishing and cling to the often unattractive but yet eternally satisfying fountain of grace. 

This also means that our enjoyment of Jesus is tied up in “abounding in the work of the Lord”.  Jesus is not satisfied until all His people are home.  And while we drink from the fountain of grace we do it with one compassionate eye towards those that are drinking themselves full of the perishable. 

And we do all of this—both our own clinging and our calling others—knowing that no kingdom work is ever in vain.  Everything else has the danger of vanity and emptiness.  But that which will be eternal—namely, the kingdom of God—is the only thing that is never in vain. 

Lord help me remember that my plodding today is not in vain.  May I remember that the shiny moments and the dull moments are both—if done “in the Lord—for the sake of the kingdom and therefore are never in vain.  May I, with my brothers and sisters in Christ, be about kingdom work.  May this be my eternal aim.

Quotes You Don’t Expect From a Puritan #1

This gem is from Thomas Goodwin.  He is speaking hear of how Christ longs for His own return:

The truth is, I cannot live without you and I shall never be quiet till I have you where I am, that we may never part again; that is the reason of it.  Heaven shall not hold Me, nor My Father’s company, if I do not have you with Me, My heart is so set upon you; and if I have any glory, you shall have part of it.  (From The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Nip it in the bud!

“Nip it, Nip it in the bud!”

That of course is one of the famous sayings of one Bernard P. Fife.  His philosophy of the law is evidenced in the episode Barney’s Sidecar.  Here Barney is patrolling with his new toy—a motorcycle.  He decides to crack down on the trucker drivers going 5 over the speed limit just to get up a hill.



(The clip to watch starts at about 1:50 and ends at about 2:40)

Barney may be going a little overboard as far as the laws of Mayberry are concerned, but I think he is right on when it comes to sin.  As John Owen once noted:
Sin aims always at the utmost; every time it rises up to tempt or entice, if it has its own way it will go out to the utmost sin in that kind. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could, every thought of unbelief would be atheism if allowed to develop. Every rise of lust, if it has its way reaches the height of villainy; it is like the grave that is never satisfied. The deceitfulness of sin is seen in that it is modest in its first proposals but when it prevails it hardens mens’ hearts, and brings them to ruin.
We see this pictured in Pharaoh.  As you read through the Exodus narrative each time he desires to keep at least a little influence over the Egyptians.  At one point he says “I’ll let just your men go”.  Then he says, “I’ll let everybody go, but I’m keeping the livestock”.

That won’t do.  God is not satisfied with only a partial redemption.  All that He promised to deliver out of Egyptian slavery will be rescued.  It is the same way with our redemption.  Christ will not be satisfied until His sheep are absolutely rescued—both in number and extent. 

Total Deliverance

But as you know we do not yet live in total deliverance.  Yes, Christ has struck the death blow and has certainly secured our total redemption.  But we are not there yet.  We are positionally rescued out of Egypt but our hearts still have remnants of rebellion and our flesh still carries the stench of Egypt. 

I think if given the option, on their own, the Israelites would have settled for just a little redemption.  They, like us, would have probably been satisfied (at least at first) with the pain of slavery ceasing.  It doesn’t have to be total redemption—just enough to keep me from being totally miserable.  It is true, “we are far too easily pleased”. 

And it is because of this ease of satisfaction that we refuse to “nip it in the bud”.  We flirt with sin and dance with demons of deception.  Rather than running out of Egypt we tend to walk with one foot towards the Promised Land and the other dragging itself out of bondage.  We assume that we can let Pharaoh keep his livestock without that leading to a return to slave labor. 

Just like Pharaoh, Satan wants us to allow him to keep just a little control.  He is satisfied with that, because he knows that even one little seed of doubt can blossom into absolute rebellion, a destruction of humanity, and a defaming of God’s glory.  He’ll take that “little”. 

Thankfully that is not the end of the story.  Even though we are content with just a little redemption, Christ is not.  With the entire force of the Trinity, the Godhead is working for our complete redemption.  Someday Christ will without question triumph and finally once and for all “nip it in the bud”!

Not Without Love

I have been listening to Jimmy Needham this morning.  Really solid stuff.  I especially like this song of spoken word:

I tried Lord
I tried Lord
I tried hard to be Your good little boy
Chin up, head high
All zeal and no joy
Thinking all my good deeds could please Jesus
Boy, was I wrong
Though I knew the right songs, all my cymbals and gongs played the melodies wrong
And it wasn’t long ‘til I saw my disease
A life spent wanting to please
On hands and knees
To make right, to appease
God help me please
This can’t be Christianity, it can’t be
The whole thing’s like insanity
Where’s the rest of eternal security?
Where’s the hope of a God big enough to cope with all my hang-ups and insecurities?
Certainly this isn’t breathing
My chest burning and heaving
It’s like my pulse is ceasing
Like my heart quits beating
Yet this I recall to mind and therefore I have hope:
You died, Lord
You died, Lord
Assuredly, like the coming of the dawn, the Father’s love song goes on
Drowning out my bitter songs
And breaking through walls and barriers
Christ swoops in, removes sin, picks up His bride and carries her
So I can sing in agreement with the King this thing:
There’s only one thing that pleases the Father
The God-man on the tree in the midst of the scoffers
Now I finally see that Christ is what Christ offers
And I’m finally free in the love of the Father

Saturday, July 2, 2011

When Sovereignty Evokes Terror

“But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?  What he desires, that he does.  For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind.”  (Job 23:13-14)

What comes next? 

“Therefore, I am joyously content…”?

“Therefore, I will trust Him…”?

“Therefore, I can relax…”?

Nope.

“Therefore, I am terrified at his presence; when I consider, I am in dread of him.  God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me…”

Job 23:13-14 is only good news if “God is for us”.  If you are convinced, like Job, that “the arrows of the Almighty” are in you, and if you have no knowledge that there is an “arbiter to lay his hand on us both”, then the immutability and power of God is something that evokes terror rather than peace.

This is why a good amount of our counseling of hurting people (including ourselves) is to buttress—or establish--a confidence in the goodness of God.  Furthermore, our hearts and minds must be readjusted to believe that our greatest good is conformity to Jesus and drinking from the fountain of God’s sustaining grace. 

Here comes a really weird transition statement…

I almost killed a guy once. 

It was not intentional.  Total accident.  I was playing church league slow-pitch softball and hit a rocket to third base.  The ball hit something, took a bad hop, and absolutely jacked the face of the third baseman.  (Actually one of my former students, that I had poured a good amount of time into).  He was hurt pretty bad but I left the ball park, feeling pretty bad but convinced that I had only broken his nose. 

A few hours later the news turned grim.  Apparently he had some sort of condition that made that part of his cranium softer than normal.  He now had swelling on his brain and it was looking pretty serious.  Needless to say, I was pretty shaken up. 

During this time someone assured me “God is in control”.  They pretty much told me Job 23:13-14.  My response was similar to Job’s…terror.  I knew that God was more dedicated to His glory than He was to my unblemished not-accidentally-killing-a-guy record.  I knew that He could very well allow my friend to die and I would be (in part) the reason, though accidentally. 

Again, the counsel that I needed was not “God is in control”.  The counsel that I needed was that “God is good”.  I needed to know that he would withhold no good thing from me.  I needed to be reminded that all things work together for good (fundamentally conformity to Christ). 

Thankfully the story is that I almost killed a guy once.  But I learned a valuable lesson during that time—that often it is the goodness and not the sovereignty of God that suffering people must be graciously reminded of. 

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