Don’t ask me to do you harm

heart

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been told, “You can believe whatever you want, as long as you keep it to yourself,” I’d be wealthier than a prosperity preacher after his royalty check arrives.

The notion that your beliefs should only affect you, but the rest of the world should remain unaffected is so common, and yet it’s completely illogical. It’s a contradiction, one where we see the values of one being or group infringe upon the other—all the while telling the group being infringed upon this is what we are not to do.

This is the line that is appearing in an ever increasing number of articles, particularly those dealing with the religious liberty implications of the recent ruling on same-sex marriage in America. Some bring it up as they dissect the words of the majority judiciaries, usually with some handwringing. Others affirm it openly in their commentary, often with arrogant presumption.

Yet, what I consistently fail to see is anyone—particularly from those affirming the statement—acknowledging that what they’re asking for is impossible. And not just for Christians who are commanded by God himself to share their beliefs openly and without apology.

No one can not share their beliefs. Why? Because out of the heart, the mouth speaks. What we care about, what matters most, what is at the root of our affections, is always going to come out in what we say and what we do. Even if we narrow the idea to imposing our beliefs upon another, we run into more or less the same problem. If one were to follow the logic to its conclusion, the result would be anarchy.

Consider parenting: my job as a dad is to do all I can to ensure my kids grow up to be responsible human beings, with a clear understanding of right and wrong, the ability to make decisions and solve problems, and who (Lord willing) worship Jesus as Lord and Savior. But my three year old boy doesn’t have a terribly well defined sense of right and wrong, and he’s very “in the moment”. So he’ll be playing and then decide it’s a great idea to smack one of his sisters. As a dad, my job is to impose my will in order to stop him from continuing in this pattern of behavior.

Am I wrong to do so? Most, I hope, would say no.

But what would happen if I were to say, “Sorry girls, I believe it’s wrong for the boy to smack you, but it’s really best that I keep it to myself”? Would that say that I care about my daughters?

This is the dilemma that Christians feel pretty dramatically, although to be honest, people from a number of different faith backgrounds feel it, too. The Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses who show up at my door with their false gospel and deficient Jesuses. The Muslims who believe that all must submit to Allah. The Bahá’ís’ who believe that they will be the ones to bring about a perfect new world order1

And this is also what we’ve, quite honestly, been terrible at expressing in our concern over religious liberty issues. It’s not simply that American Christians want to see the First Amendment upheld and Canadian Christians want to see the first of our fundamental freedoms upheld simply for the sake of them being upheld. We want to see them upheld because we love the people around us. The consistent Christian recognizes that the logic of keeping our beliefs to ourselves is really a call to do those around us harm. For to know the truth of what awaits us all after death and to say nothing is to be a perpetrator of great evil. And that’s something we simply cannot do. So please don’t ask us to do you harm. Because we won’t do it.


Note: After writing this article, I noticed several friends sharing a terrific comic by Adam Ford, which expresses a similar sentiment, however those similarities are purely coincidental.

Links I like

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Celebrating distinction

Also, be sure to check out this article by Peter Jones.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Gay Marriage

Aaron Earls:

For many of us, we dread having to talk to our kids about our values about sex and traditional marriage, much less same-sex marriage. So how can you have a different “talk” with your children?

Here are five important aspects as you think about talking with your kids about the recent Supreme Court decision and the culture they are facing.

Gay Marriage, Abortion, and the Bigger Picture

Karen Swallow Prior:

While public policy and legal experts debate the recent decision and the ramifications for people of faith, our most meaningful response as Christians will come from our daily lives. We witness through how we love: our God, our church, our spouses, and all of our neighbors.

So just as ultrasound images of the babe in the womb often serve as the best argument against abortion, the portrayal of our own robust marriages—signifying the mystical union between Christ and his church—will make the case for natural marriage. Just we have shown compassion toward those who have gone to the abortion clinic and to the divorce court, so must we do the same for those who go to the altar of gay marriage. We can stand for principle and love people, too.

On Twenty Years of Marriage

Russ Ramsey:

We are like two tectonic plates who, by God’s grace, grind away at each other’s rough edges until we fuse together into a brand new nation. My nearsightedness and pride collide with her courage and wisdom. Her woundedness and fear run aground on the shores of my boyish optimism and confidence. And these collisions shape us both.

But when we stood hand in hand at the altar, promising to stay in this covenant for better or worse, in sickness and in health, until one of us died, we knew little of each other’s worlds.

Now, twenty years in however, we know much more. With God as my witness we do.

Knowing When To Quit

Mike Leake:

There is a point in most every argument when one side or the other just gets silly. Logic and well reasoned biblical arguments no longer matter. Instead emotions and misrepresentation rule the day. The lengthy correspondence between Thomas Scott and John Newton eventually hit this point, as Scott began charging Newton with gross misrepresentation. Newton called him on it:

“It is easy to charge harsh consequences, which I neither allow, nor, indeed, do they follow from my sentiments”.

The Long-Term Consequences of Pragmatism in the Church

Jonathan Leeman:

The question I want to think about can be posed like this: is there something endemic not just to megachurches, but to post-1950s-evangelicalism as a whole that, over time, tends to undermine the very doctrinal convictions which makes us evangelicals? More specifically, does our doctrine of the church inevitably tend in a pragmatic direction, such that we will eventually leave the gospel and other core theological convictions unguarded?

 

How helpful is the Christian confessional?

christian-confessional

He walked across the stage toward the microphone, the room was more crowded than he’d expected. All eyes were fixed on him. He smiled awkwardly and wondered, can I really do this? What will people think? Heart racing and palms sweating, he gathered up his courage and began to speak softly.

“Hi, um, I’m a, uh, a Christian,” he said, “and I have a… a confession to make.”

He cleared his throat, tugged at his collar and continued.

“I want to apologize for the Crusades. And I want to apologize for politics being confused with Christian faith. I apologize for hate crimes being perpetrated in the name of Christ and for slavery. I’m sorry for everything that we’ve ever done that has made life difficult for anyone. But I want you to know something… We’re really not all that bad. I hope you’ll forgive us.”

As he exited the stage, several people came up to him, most of them from his small group, and congratulated him on his effort.

“I don’t know if I would have had the courage to say that,” they told him. “That was so humble of you.”

The young man blushed and thanked them for their kind words.

“I just want to be real, y’know? Authenticity is important to me.”

* * * * *

You’ve probably seen, heard or read something similar to this before: the Christian confessional.

This idea was popularized by Donald Miller in his too-young-to-write-a-memoir memoir, Blue Like Jazz. Miller describes setting up a confession booth on a college campus where he and others would confess the sins of Christendom and ask for forgiveness. In the years since the book’s release, many others have gone and done likewise. These days it’s usually seen in the form of videos of random dudes confessing the institutional sins of Christendom on YouTube.

Now, I’m not against publicly confessing sin, obviously. I’m not even entirely against the idea of the Christian confessional under certain circumstances. But whenever I see it, it’s typically only used to say to our post-Christian culture, “See, we’re not so bad.” And I’ve got to be honest, I wonder if it’s actually beneficial? I mean, I know it’s typically done under the guise of being authentic, and I’m sure those doing it have the best of intentions, but is it really authentic to confess sins you have not committed to people who may not have been sinned against?

Now, certainly there are some (many, even) institutional sins we should ask forgiveness for broadly. For example:

  • We should ask forgiveness for our churches or denominations using the Bible to wrongly treat other people as less than human.
  • We should ask forgiveness for failing to remember that the “but you were washed” of the gospel applies as equally to the gossip and slanderer as it does to the homosexual man or woman.
  • We should ask forgiveness for giving cover to peddlers of God’s word who seek to fleece people instead of feeding God’s sheep.

But these things should always be done from a place of genuine heartfelt repentance. We ask forgiveness because we see genuinely believe they were wrong and we are striving to reconcile with those who have been injured by those actions and beliefs.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if the Christian confessional is just another attempt to have the appearance of godliness without actually having to be godly. It’s like confessing generic issues in a small group—”Gosh, y’know, I’m just really wanting to follow God’s will for my life, but it’s a struggle. Pray for me, if you don’t mind.” Now, there are definitely times when you need to be a little more vague than even you might prefer—especially if you’re in a place where you’re not sure what’s actually wrong, but you’ve just got a sense that something’s off—but it’s easy to use this kind of thing to give you a pass from actually repenting of anything at all.

It’s like saying “mistakes were made,” or “I’m sorry you felt that way,” which is really just having the appearance of contrition without a contrite heart. And the thing that is so deadly is that most of us wouldn’t even be able to recognize that’s what’s going on. But that’s how pride deceives us, isn’t it?

In Luke 18:10-14, Jesus tells the following parable:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Pharisee thanks God for the righteousness that God has given him; that He has made him not like other men who are “extortioners, unjust, adulterers.” He even points directly to the tax collector and thanks God for not making him like him.

Think about that for a second. The Pharisee slams the tax collector—right to his face. All while he’s thanking God and declaring how he fasts and tithes faithfully. Imagine if the Pharisee, rather than saying, “Thank you that I’m not like this tax collector,” said, “God, thank you for not making me like the Crusaders, the slave traders, and the fundamentalists. I live in a monastic community and only buy products that reduce my carbon footprint.”

Imagine if the Christian confessional went a little more like this, “I want to apologize for every time I’ve put my own desires ahead of those of others. For using my words to cut people down instead of building them up. For using the Bible in a hamfisted manner instead of taking the time to explain what it says with patience. For constantly forgetting that grace is freely given to all who ask, and that I am in dire need of it. And I would ask anyone here who has been personally hurt or offended by me to come and speak with me, so I can ask your forgiveness directly for what I’ve done wrong.”

The Christian confessional has its place, just as asking forgiveness for institutional sins has its place. But what’s more authentic, and what’s more God-glorifying, is to put our own need for God’s mercy on display—and to rejoice in the knowledge that while we are great sinners, we have a great savior in Jesus Christ.


An earlier version of this post first appeared in 2010.

 

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today’s deals from Crossway focus on apologetics:

Also on sale is Puritan Portraits by J.I. Packer for $3.99.

The Symbolism of the Rainbow

Nick Batzig:

Yesterday one of my sons asked me why there were so many rainbows on the television and internet. Most of us have have seen them on children’s books and clothing from our earliest days–and in recent years placarded on the television and internet–yet many have never stopped to ask the question, “What symbolism did God invest the rainbow with from the the day in which He first set it in the sky?” There is a rich biblical-theological answer to that question, and it would serve us well to consider what we are taught from the Genesis narrative–as well as from the rest of redemptive history.

In an Instant-Messaging Age, Sometimes It’s Best to Sleep on It

Nathan Bingham:

For bloggers like me, a literal seven-hour delay can be a beneficial habit. We are a unique breed with unique temptations. We might say that we write for the simple love of it. But that doesn’t mean we would love writing as much if no one were to read our posts. Pride is often crouching at the door as we hit the publish button. And it’s this desire to grow our readership that can push us to write on every scandal or trending topic, even if when we seriously consider it, we have nothing meaningful to contribute or any legitimate reason for providing our commentary. Simply sleeping on it, or sending the draft to a trusted friend for their counsel, can be enough to prevent publishing something that you will later regret. Making this your practice will provide you with the time to examine your motives, repent of any sin, and thereby grow in your walk with the Lord and ultimately the quality of your blogging. Having a social media editor isn’t a sign of weakness, but a sign of maturity.

We’re Addicted to Doubt

Barnabas Piper:

When I say “we” I mean younger people in the church. We are addicted to doubt — a reaction to a religious background that stifled it during our formative years. When we were growing up questions about God, any sign we lacked surety, was frowned upon either explicitly or tacitly by the greater church. Sometimes we were reprimanded, but more often we simply received canned answers to hard questions and were told to believe them. Our doubts were not resolved; they were suppressed. Many of us grew up in fundamentalist contexts where things were black and white, right or wrong, yes or no. There was no room for anything else. Anything else was sinful.

Computer Brains, Mind Trips, and the Ugliness of Myopia

Luke Harrington:

There’s a fascinating post up at Google UK’s research blog right now about image recognition and “neural networks.” These are networks of computers designed to mimic the human brain in the way they operate—they think, and they can learn, and yes, they’re probably plotting world domination as we speak. Here we had an act of terrorism carried out by a man who was enough of a racist cartoon to make Yosemite Sam look like Laurence Olivier doing Hamlet. . . . And yet, so many of us still wanted to make it about anything other than racism.In the meantime, though, they show a lot of promise for automatic image classification. For instance, if your phone has thousands of photos on it, and you haven’t done anything to sort them (imagine that, right?), a neural network could search through them for you. If you search for “dog,” and the network has been taught what a dog looks like, it’ll return all of your photos of dogs to you; if you search for “vastly overrated television program,” you’ll presumably get some stills from Breaking Bad.

Three Reasons White Pastors Need to Start Preaching on Race

Dan Darling:

For most white evangelical pastors, racial reconciliation hasn’t been a primary emphasis of their teaching. This may be for a variety of reasons. First, as the majority culture, white Christians don’t feel the sting of prejudice. It’s not that all white evangelicals are insensitive; it’s that many are not in proximity to racism or injustice. Because most of our friends are white, we aren’t forced to empathize with our minority brothers and sisters in Christ. Second, there is likely some fear of addressing race. Racial issues are delicate. Pastoral leadership is already a tightrope act; why stir up more trouble? Third, it could be that pastors might view racial reconciliation as a worthy goal, but not a gospel issue.

The limits of love

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One of the greatest lies we tell children is a nursery rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I remember repeating this to myself as a little boy, over and over again, with tears running down my face, as the terrible things other kids said about me kept repeating in my head. I was desperate for it to be true.

It never was.

So I get how so many Christians feel living in a thoroughly post- or anti-Christian culture, as many of us do in the West. Recent political decisions only officially made legal what was already approved culturally. Those who hold to the traditional or biblical definition marriage have long been called intolerant, bigots, homophobes, and numerous other pejoratives. One website ran an entire article that existed only to direct the F-word (and I don’t mean “fundamentalist”) at us, and particularly politicians and political figures who voiced concerns about or opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage.

The intolerance of tolerance is at work.

The hurtful words are terribly discouraging. No one wants to be called a bigot, or a hate monger—no one. And yet, this is what is happening and will continue to happen until the West falls or Jesus returns, because we have to understand that love has its limits. There are places that, because we love people, we cannot go and ideas we cannot embrace or endorse.

I was reminded of this again by Sam Storms in his devotional, To the One Who Conquers: 50 Daily Meditations on the Seven Letters of Revelation 2-3. In writing of Jesus’ commendation of the Ephesians, Storms describes them as a church that had “20/20 discernment.”

They hated evil—period. No ifs, ands, or buts. Whatever form evil took, whether ethical or theological, they stood resolute in their opposition. No compromise. No cutting of corners. Their love was revealed in their intolerance.… This was their most stellar achievement. No heretical concept could ever raise its ugly head in Ephesus without being decapitated by the swift stroke of biblical truth. (41)

The Ephesians understood that Christian charity could not give room to false teaching within the church. Whatever else was going on in the culture, whatever trials they would face, whatever persecution they would be forced to endure, they would; but they could not suffer the usurping or perversion of biblical truth. And, again, Jesus commended them for this. Why? Because, as Storms writes, Jesus hates moral and theological compromise.

Any appeal to grace to justify sin is repugnant to our Lord. Any attempt to rationalize immorality by citing the “liberty” we have in Christ is abhorrent to him and must be to us. True Christian love is never expressed by the tolerance of wickedness, whether it be a matter of what one believes or how one behaves. (43)

This is the position we find ourselves in today. The culture has spoken and, while we can (and I believe should) disagree with the outcome, we should at least acknowledge the reality. This means the hateful and hurtful words are going to keep coming, with a promise they’ll stop as soon as we are willing to stop believing what we believe. If we can just embrace same-sex marriage, and then polyamorous relationships, we can all get along. But is that the best way to demonstrate love to our unbelieving neighbors and our fellow believers?

No. Instead, we need to be willing to affirm that love has its limits. And just as the Ephesians were forced to in the face of the Nicolaitian heresy, we must ask what we must say no to for the sake of our devotion to Christ—and in order to demonstrate the love of Christ to all.

Links I like (weekend edition)

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There are a lot of articles coming out about the same-sex marriage ruling from the US Supreme Court. Here are a few reflections and items on implications worth reading:

Now for a few other links worth checking out…

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today’s the last day to take advantage of these deals from Crossway:

Also on sale:

Guilt Is Not Just a Feeling

Sinclair Ferguson:

The stories of how individuals are converted vary enormously, but there is one strand that features constantly. They may have begun with no obvious awareness of guilt and no special sense of need for God. When probed a little, they might have been self-defensive, even self-justifying, but nevertheless they felt secure, safe.

But nobody can protect himself or herself fully and finally from God’s invasions.

A Stupid Promise To God

Brad Hambrick:

But how many of us have tried to make private deals with God where we promise, “If you just get me out of this situation, then I will [blank].” And, usually, what goes in the blank is some flavor of stupid – extreme, unsustainable, impossible, in conflict with other moral commitments, etc…

What do we do with that? And, as important, how do we prevent our response to these stupid promises from making us cavalier in our attitude towards God?

Proud of our children—or because of them?

Barnabas Piper:

Being proud because of your kids, though, is not aimed at your kids at all. It’s self-focused. It’s feeling an increased sense of self because your child had a success. Your child is the best soccer player, first chair violin, a scholarship winner, or on the A honor roll. Thus they are the best, and that means you, as the one who crafted them, are also the best! It’s a game of compare and contrast with other parents in which your child has become the basis for your success (or failure). It’s usury.

Choking ourselves to death

choking

During Jesus’ incarnation, the religious elite of His day, the scribes and Pharisees, would follow Him around and seek to trap Him, discredit Him and have Him arrested and killed.

The Pharisees honestly get a bad rap sometimes. During the 400 year silence prior to John the Baptist’s arrival on the scene, these men saw the godlessness of their countrymen and wanted to do something about it. They wanted Israel to live according to the Law. So the strove to obey the Law as closely as possible; to obey God as His people. But then they started adding laws to the Law in order to help them obey the Law. The spirit of the law became the letter of the law and man’s laws overtook God’s Law and then they were left with something opposed to the Law.

Although there were many, a common example is found in the Sabbath. God had commanded that on the seventh day, all his people should rest. No work was to be done, for just as God had rested from his work of creation on the seventh day, so too would his people from theirs. They had a lot of extra rules about what to do, where to go, what you could carry and even whether or not someone could be healed. So one day, Jesus was at Bethesda and saw a man who has been an invalid for thirty-eight years.

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. (John 5:6-9)

Jesus performed an amazing miracle in the life of this man. An invalid for over 30 years, yet now he could walk. People should have been celebrating! Except, there was one small problem: “Now that day was the Sabbath” (v. 9b). The Sabbath—the same day on which the Pharisees had determined that people could not carry a mat because they considered that work.

So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:10-17)

The Pharisees sought to persecute Jesus because “he was doing these things on the Sabbath” (v. 16). They persecuted Jesus because he broke their rules. Rules they had equated with God’s. And they became so blind with pride that they could not see who Jesus was or what he was doing.

This is something we all need to be careful of. There’s a tendency among Christians to be afraid of grace—if we talk about it too much, or if we really believe in it, people might start thinking we don’t care about obedience, or we think you can live however you want because “once saved always saved.” Even when we don’t do this, we add rules about what to wear, what to drink, what to say, what to think, how to pray, how to sing, whether to put our hands up (and how high)…

We love our rules, don’t we?

And yet, they’re the very things that might be choking the life out of us. When we substitute human effort for genuine affection for God, terrible things follow. I can’t help but think of the seven churches of Revelation to whom Jesus sent warnings and encouragement. The Ephesians, for example, he commended for their uncompromising doctrine, and their unwillingness to bear with false teachers. Yet he warned that they had abandoned “the love [they] had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place, unless you repent” (Rev. 2:4).

Jesus warned these Christians that he would put an end to their church not because they were following false teachers, but because their hearts were far off from him. Their right concern over protecting their doctrine was choking the life out of them because they’d forgotten the spirit in which it was to be pursued. Right doctrine was to lead to greater delight and devotion, not to a cold, “dead” orthodoxy (which is completely unorthodox).

One of the things I always want to be careful of in my own life—and I’ll be honest, I chafe at it whenever certain things are imposed from the outside—is whether or not the rules and structures I’ve implemented in my own life and in my family are life-giving or if they are ultimately pushing me and others away from Jesus. If a “read the Bible in a year” plan is about little more than checking a box, it ought not be done. Bible reading should happen, but the form that takes needs to change. If prayer is rigidly structured and my words are rehearsed, there’s a problem. Prayer should still happen, but the form is (generally) open by necessity. If “worship” only happens when hands are raised higher and voices are louder, well… you get the idea right?

Seeking to obey God in all of our lives is right of course. It is good and necessary and life-giving. However, we need to be careful of not adding rules that go beyond those found in Scripture lest we become proud, devoted and dead.


This post is based off a much earlier one from 2010.

 

 

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10 Reasons Racism is Offensive to God

Kevin DeYoung:

I’ve grown up my whole life hearing that racism was wrong, that “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior” (to use one of the first definitions that popped up on my phone) is sinful. I’ve heard it from my parents, from my public school, from my church, from my college, and from my seminary. The vast majority of Americans know that racism is wrong. It’s one of the few things almost everyone agrees on. And yet, I wonder if we (I?) have spent much time considering why it’s wrong. We can easily make our “I hate racism” opinions known (and loudly), but perhaps we are just looking for moral high ground, or for pats on the back, or to win friends and influence people, or to prove we’re not like thosepeople, or maybe we are just saying what we’ve always heard everyone say. As Christians we must think and feel deeply not just the what of the Bible but the why. If racism is so bad, why is it so bad?

What I Learned from Elisabeth Elliot in Her Last Years

Jennifer Lyell:

There is much I could share about those days I spent with Elisabeth, but one experience is particularly on my mind as I write while flying home from her funeral service. The moment came in a simple circumstance with Elisabeth, arguably the most influential Christian woman of the 20th century. We were far off the beaten path in a place where there was no fanfare for this spiritual giant who had given so much to Christ and his kingdom. I sat holding her hand, but the microphone was gone. The lines waiting for an autograph were gone. The pen would be pointless. She sat struggling to stay awake even as we journeyed on. And I was full of a righteous anger I’d not previously experienced.

Bros before Marios

This is a bit older, but it’s pretty funny nonetheless:

God Will Use Even You

Steven Lee:

I have not written a New York Times Bestseller, and no one has publicly endorsed, recommended, or vouched for me. I don’t have any letters after my name. I can’t charge an exorbitant hourly fee for my time. I don’t speak on any circuits, have given no TED talks, and have been the keynote speaker less than once. No buildings, streets, or hospitals have been named in honor of me. I have an unimpressive family background and do not come from a long line of important people.

And that is okay. Really, it’s just fine.

The danger of being theoretical Christians

heart

Buzzwords make me want to die inside. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about in the business world or ministry world, they are just painful. I cringe every time I hear “strategy” or “strategic” (or worse, “strategic strategies”). I squirm when I hear the term “missional.”

It’s not that these words are bad. But what gets me is how easily they can be bent toward passivity or, worse, theoretical living. I know of lots of folks who talk about the importance of strategy all day long, but it doesn’t go beyond talking about why it matters. We believe it in theory, but actually building one and then following it, that’s something else. I’ve heard dozens of sermons about being missional or reaching the community around us, but it doesn’t really seem to go beyond the hypothetical. We believe in the idea in theory, but when it comes to actually doing something like getting to know our neighbors, oh my goodness.

Now, here’s the thing: For me, I don’t have an “everyone else should do better at this” attitude, because I’m just as bad as everyone else. I live in my head. It’s easy for me to live theoretically, but not move beyond theory. And this won’t do, because, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it well in Seeking the Face of God, “People are not interested in something theoretical.”

The thing that always convinces people is reality. If they see there is something about our lives, a certain quality, a certain calmness and equanimity, the ability to be more than conquerors in every kind of circumstance, if they see that when everything is against us, we still triumphantly prevail whereas they do not, they will become interested in what we have. They will want to know more about it. I am convinced, therefore, that the greatest need today is Christian people who know and manifest the fact that they know the living God, to whom His “loving-kindness is better than life.” In other words, nothing is more important than an assurance of salvation. (122)

This is what we’re to be about, isn’t it? We’re to be people whose knowledge and love for the Lord are clearly visible. Who recognize that salvation is truly of grace and live like it’s true. So what does that look like?

It means we quit running around as though we’ve got to do “enough” in order to earn God’s continued love. It means we speak up about our faith with confidence, at the right times and the right ways, not to beat people over the head with the gospel, but because we speak about what we care about. We don’t pretend we’ve got all the answers to every question, because we don’t. And we do our best to be honest about the fact that we’re totally going to blow it on nearly everything I’ve just said. And we can do that because we know that we are secure in the loving-kindness of our Savior.

That’s a little bit of what it looks like to live as something more than a theoretical Christian. And a theoretical Christian is exactly what we must not be. The world doesn’t have time for it, and neither do we.

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The Easiest Way To Self-Publish

David Murray shares about a new tool he’s using for self-publishing called PressBooks. It looks pretty neat.

Why donations of free media are almost always a bad deal

This was interesting:

When someone gives away free media, it’s possible they’re being truly philanthropic and donating something of value. More likely, though, they’re unloading “garbage” on you — media they haven’t been able to sell because it has little or no value in the marketplace. They’re just going for the tax deduction.

How to Prevent a Gospel-Centered Fizzle Out

Erik Raymond:

We are well into this new and widespread recovery of the centrality of the old gospel. I continue to see and hear of lights being turned on for people. Those precious, robust theological truths of yesterday are gripping hearts today. While I rejoice in this there is also something of a rock in my throwback theological shoes: these truths are being recovered because they were once under-emphasized.

What Are Some Concerns You Have With the Homeschooling Movement?

R.C. Sproul Jr shares five things he believes are a current danger for homeschoolers in America. It’s good stuff.

Four Tips for Dealing with Church Antagonists

Rob Hurtgen:

For some reason it seems every ministry will have antagonists. Those who—for a variety of motivations—set themselves against you as the leader, the ministry strategy, and, in extreme instances the church, itself. Most often—at least it has been my experience—antagonists are not evil people. They are men and women who say they love Jesus and are concerned about the church. However, they become antagonistic when the pastor and other ministry staff do not conduct ministry they way they think it should be done. When decisions that are made that are not decisions they would make. Often their preferences and their issues–theological persuasion, political temperament, worship style, etc.–become elevated as dogma and those who are not full agreement with them are quickly dismissed as spiritually immature and intellectually faulty.

Schaeffer on the Christian Life

schaeffer-review

One of the people I’ve not read nearly enough of is Francis Schaeffer. Maybe you’re with me on that. But this is something I realized, after reading How Should We Then Live?, I realized I needed to correct. But where to start?

While some might suggest starting with a seminal work like one of those found in Schaeffer’s TrilogyThe God Who Is There, Escape From Reason, and He Is There and He Is Not Silent—I’d recommend taking a step back and getting a better sense of the man himself. And probably the best place to start is with Schaeffer on the Christian Life by William Edgar. Divided into three parts, Edgar examines Schaeffer by:

  1. Helping us understand Schaeffer the man and the era in which he lived;
  2. Summarizing the fundamental beliefs undergirding Schaeffer’s views—his “countercultural spirituality”—as well as their application; and
  3. Examining how Schaeffer lived out his faith, trusting God for all things.

Praying like God would really answer

While I found much of the biographical sketch fascinating (more on it in a minute), it was the final part—Schaeffer’s dependence upon the Lord for all things—that I found captivating. Francis Schaeffer was not a man who gave lip service to trusting God. He really believed it. And this really hit home when Edgar recounts a question Francis asked his wife, Edith, “What if we woke up one morning and our Bibles were changed? What if all of the promises about prayer and the Holy Spirit were … eliminated from the text? What real difference would it make in our lives?” (129)

This question wrecked me.

I’ve reflected on this in greater detail elsewhere, but cultivating a healthy prayer life has been one of the most challenging parts of my life as a Christian, and is probably my most significant area of weakness (aside from all the other ones). It’s not that I don’t believe in the importance of prayer, nor do I disbelieve in God’s working through it. Just the opposite—I take God at his word in regard to his promises, and I’ve seen him work quite powerfully and obviously through prayer. Yet, when it comes down to brass tacks, I still struggle with this disconnect, and prayerlessness can easily reign in my life if I’m not watchful. Schaeffer’s rebuke, that far too many Christians sit in the “chair of unfaith,” stings (131).

This, of course, has major implications in my personal life (to say nothing of my current and future ministry). But it is also where I took a great deal of encouragement from the Schaeffers’ example. Edgar describes the Schaeffers (and indeed, all involved in the L’Abri work) as people who prayed like they meant it. Whether it was for the finances to ensure the lights would still be on or for the salvation of a visitor, they truly believed prayer made a difference. They trusted that God would indeed answer (132).

How I’m seeking to apply this is through repentance and simple obedience in the area of prayer. Though not terribly profound, this means when I am asked to pray, or I feel any sort of compulsion to pray, I stop what I’m doing and pray at that moment. While this has lead to a few funny looks from my wife who might suggest praying about something and has been met with “okay, let’s do that,” it’s been a really, really positive experience for me.

First, it’s helping me to remember that—blasphemy aside—there is no wrong way to pray. Prayer is not magic; it is communication. And though reverence and respect should be obvious, it should reflect a true relationship.

Second, it’s helping me relearn the proper posture for ministry. I’m not some sort of super-person that can do all things through sheer force of will.

Finally, it’s a reminder that, if I want to see people move toward Christ, I must be praying that God would move them. I cannot make someone a Christian. I can no more make someone a genuine Christian than I can make a rock become a tree. But God can, and so I need to pray he will do it.

Doubt’s role in developing stronger Christians

But this isn’t all I’ve seen and appreciated in Edgar’s reflections on Schaeffer. One of the things Edgar does well is he doesn’t create a picture of Schaeffer that pretties up his weaknesses. In fact, it’s his recounting of Schaeffer’s greatest spiritual crisis that made me respect him more. During the 1950s, Schaeffer became increasingly concerned with how he had been less than loving to those with whom he disagreed. Eventually, having been “plunged into the depts of doubt,” he came to the point where he had to “rethink ‘the whole matter of Christianity.'” (53, 55)

He decided in the midst of this dark night of the soul that the only honest way forward was to rethink his entire theology and Christian commitment, even at the risk of finding it not true in the end. (53)

Some readers might be concerned with such a decision, but it’s important to remember that doubt is not the enemy of faith in some respects—it can be the catalyst for a stronger commitment. It all depends on how we are approaching resolving our doubts though. Let’s say I start having doubts about whether or not my faith is even real, if it’s not just some happy clappy placebo effect that ultimately doesn’t actually mean anything. If I just let my doubt linger, and never really deal with it, guess what? It’s not really doubt: it’s unbelief. But if I recognize it and decide to do what I can to resolve it, my doubt can actually be a catalyst for a stronger, more certain commitment at the end.

Schaeffer reemerged a free man—one who recognized the need to balance truth and love, for they are inseparable. The journey through doubt resulted in a changed man, one who better reflected his savior. That’s the role doubt can play in our lives: it drives us to cry along with the desperate father in Mark 9:24, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief!” Schaeffer knew, as that father did, that if we call to the Lord in this way, he will answer.

Reading Schaeffer on the Christian Life has been good for my soul, and its compelling and challenging portrait of “countercultural spirituality” really looks like leaves me wanting more in all the right ways. I trust it will be the same for you as well.


Title: Schaeffer on the Christian Life: Countercultural Spirituality
Author: William Edgar
Publisher: Crossway (2013)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

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Talking About ‘Inside Out’

Jeremy Pierre:

While Inside Out overstates the primacy of emotion in human motivation, the movie nevertheless helpfully forces the audience to acknowledge that emotions make up a major part of why we do what we do. For Christians, acknowledging this is vital to discipleship, which requires that we love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). In other words, Christians value emotions because they are part of how God designed us to worship him.

The Best Way To Teach

Tim Challies:

As someone who both writes and preaches, I have been struck by my tendency toward hypocrisy in this way. I know that I am capable of teaching what the Bible says about marriage (or anything else, for that matter) even when I don’t act what the Bible says about it. I am capable of writing “8 Ways to Guarantee the Flame Lasts Forever” while acting as if I don’t care if it lasts another 5 minutes.

3 Ways I Know I’ll Never Be “Ready” to Be a Dad

Chris Martin:

One reason a lot of young couples don’t have kids, though, is that they don’t feel “ready.” The common phrase you always hear about being “ready” to have kids is similar to the one about marriage, “No one is ever ‘ready’ to have kids (or get married).” Both statements are true to a point—a lot of marriage and parenting is only learnable via experience.

In reality—I’m not even a parent and I know this—you are never “ready” to parent because there’s nothing quite like parenting. Below are three ways I know I’ll never be “ready” to be a dad, even though I plan to be one anyway.

Foolish, ignorant controversies

Landon Chapman:

The meteoric rise in social media has enabled folks from around the globe to exchange information and converse, both audibly and visually, with great ease.  As the platform has continued to grow and mature, developers have simplified its usage to the point where even those with the most basic of personal computing knowledge and/or extreme time limits, may quickly and easily engage their not so geographically close peers.  Of course, it is likely that none of this information is new to anyone reading this article.  Rather than crafting yet another piece lamenting the many reasons why social media is destroying our culture, faith communities, families, etc., I want to instead focus on a Biblical issue to which the widespread adoption of social media has contributed.

The big list of Christian podcasts

Clayton Kraby’s put together a great (and very thorough) list of podcasts touching on topics of interest to Christians. No doubt you’ll find a few in there that you’ll want to subscribe to.

The number one Christian conversation killer

speech

There are certain words that are conversation killers:

  • Hitler (doesn’t matter what you’re comparing, if you bring in Hitler, the conversation is over)
  • Nazi (whether grammar, brand, or any other modifier one may choose to use)
  • Homophobe (because, well you know…)
  • K (because it’s a letter, not a word)
  • YOLO (because it it makes you look like an idiot)

In Christian circles, we have our own conversation killers, in addition to the ones we’ve picked up from the surrounding culture. Most of these are buzzwords like “missional” and increasingly “gospel centered”—the terms and phrases we either overuse or just haven’t bothered to adequately define, thus rendering them meaningless. But there’s one word to rule them all—one forged in the fires of Mount Doom:

F-U-N-D-A-M-E-N-T-A-L-I-S-T

“Fundamentalist” is a big word, and not just because it has 14 letters. It’s one that some—usually those who prefer the term “progressive” to describe their doctrine and outlook—use with alarming frequency, arguably more than some folks use “heretic.” And for Christians, it really is the ultimate conversation killer. After all, no one wants to be called a fundamentalist—homophobe we can handle. Out of step, ditto. Being on the wrong side of history, no problem. But “fundamentalist”? No way—that’s like being the kid who had cooties on the playground during recess!

Okay, I kid a little. (Maybe. Probably not.)

But you often see the F-word used by the desperate, the folks who put something out there but what they’re saying doesn’t really have legs. Here are the two ways I typically see it play out:

1. To defend preference. There’s a great deal of freedom in the Christian faith, on this I hope we can all agree. And there are certain things we cannot reasonably be too hardline about. For example, if I were to say all alcohol consumption is sinful, I’d have a hard time squaring that with Scripture. Now, I don’t drink due to personal conviction, so for me it would be sinful unless I had a change of conviction (which I have not). That is perfectly within the bounds. However, if I were to say “and you drink can’t either—everyone,” I’d be on the wrong side of the Bible (Romans 14:1-12).

However, there are other things that aren’t really up for debate (even if we still debate them anyway). If we’re participating in occult practices or taking part in spiritual practices from other religions, we’re going to have a hard time squaring that with the Bible. We point to Paul’s words about eating meat sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8, and say that idols aren’t living things, but ignore that later he warns us against participating in idolatry itself in 1 Corinthians 10:14-21. We talk about Paul’s freedom in eating meat sacrificed to idols—but we forget that he’s talking about meat purchased in the marketplace, not being part of the sacrifice itself.

In our day, it’s things like yoga, The Walking Dead, and 50 Shades of Creepy.These are the things where we disagree (rightly or wrongly). But if we’re going to disagree, let’s at least make sure that our views are based on something a little more substantial than “I like it,” “it feels good,” or “it works for me.” Actually have a good argument.

2. To defend syncretism. This is the second time the f-word is typically dropped—on the clear black and white issues like the supremacy of Christ, the authority of the Bible, who goes to heaven and hell, sexual morality… Big stuff. Fun fact: I once read a blog where the writer called Scripture’s command that a man spiritually lead and provide for the needs of his family (cf. 1 Tim 5:8; Eph 5:22-33) a misogynistic, patriarchal attitude and anyone who says different is, well, you know…

On big issues—the things where the Bible doesn’t give any wiggle room whatsoever—it’s not being fundamentalist to say “Nope, Christians can’t affirm XYZ”. It’s not unloving or unkind. It’s just being honest. And when we resort to name-calling and conversation killers rather than engaging people honestly, it just says we’re desperate, proud and kind of lazy. It might be easier to demonize those we disagree with—regardless of our position on the theological spectrum—but it’s not worth it. And I don’t think any of us want that.


An earlier version of this post was written in 2010.

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Also on sale are several volumes in Crossway’s Knowing the Bible series ($5.38–$6.99 each):

The Story of the Most Daring Cliffhanger in ‘Next Generation’ History

Really enjoyed this behind the scenes look at one of the best stories to appear on Star Trek.

How to Conquer the Grumbles

Michael Herrington:

Last week, in preparation to preach from Philippians, I began tracking how often I grumble. How often do I complain either out loud, under my breath, or in my mind? I’m ashamed to say it was far more than I would have suspected.

Paul says we should do all things without grumbling or disputing (Phil. 2:14). He then goes on to describe four characteristics of what we will become when we do so: blameless, innocent, children of God, and above reproach. He’s not talking about salvation with these terms; that was accomplished by grace through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ. He’s instead talking about how others will perceive us. He’s talking about an outward revelation of an inward reality.

In Search of True Evangelicalism

C Michael Patton offers a framework for defining evangelicalism.

How Pixar Enchants Us

Michael Cavna at the Washington Post:

Arguably no film studio in the world expends so much energy actively trying to fail. And succeeding at it. Time after time, in 15 mostly acclaimed feature films over two decades, Pixar’s history is littered with big and beautiful and once-treacherously unwieldy failures — epics of initial underachievement and momentary monuments to the quagmire of the creative mind.

I Just Agreed With Richard Dawkins

David Murray:

Although we usually disagree on just about everything, I recently found myself in the strange position of agreeing with Richard Dawkins as he came to the defense of Nobel Prize-winning scientist Sir Timothy Hunt, who’s been hounded out of his important and prestigious job for foolish comments he made at a scientific conference in South Korea.