Why it’s good to disagree with your past self

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It never fails. You write something, you put publish it, share it, do all the stuff you usually do with a blog post… And then, a few years later, you come back to it for some reason, and realize “Wow, I’m not sure I agree with that anymore.”

When this happens, I actually get pretty happy. Though it might seem strange to say, I don’t want to agree with everything I’ve written over the last six years. Why? Three reasons:

1. I’m not the same person who wrote it. Someone told me you’re the same person you were five years ago except for the people you meet and the books you read. Which, is really a coy way of saying, you should be a very different person if you’re doing it right. A few years (or a few months) from now, we may no longer agree with a popular figure who once was a strong influence. We will meet people and have experience which will affect us in ways we may not even be consciously aware of. We will be exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking through the books we read (at least, as long as we’re being appropriately diverse in our reading). These changes and influences may be conspicuous or subtle, but they will most definitely happen. And that is most definitely a good thing.

2. I’m a different kind of writer than I was then. A few years ago, I had no idea what kind of writer I wanted to be. Much of my old writing was (in my opinion) sloppy and filled with unnecessary filler (far too many thens and thats and such things). I wanted to be taken seriously, so I used more words instead of better ones. Today, I’m more looking to have fun with words than to present myself a certain way. I want to write in ways material that’s fun to read, and usually this means making things shorter.

3. I’m being refined by God. One of the ways I’ve seen God most at work in my life in this regard has been a slowly increasing concern with character over results. Results can be manufactured, as we all know. But no matter how hard we try, character can’t be. I want to have the kind of character that’s marked with the fruit of the Spirit, to be the kind of person who is self-controlled and considerate. I have a long way to go, but when I look back on things I wrote or said a few years ago, I have confidence that the Lord is at work.

The irony of God’s strength

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In, Psalm 8:1-2, David gives God praise, describing the gloriousness of His nature and the majesty of His name. And almost immediately, he presents us with a curious irony: God’s strength is displayed in weakness:

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. (emphasis mine)

Notice how God has established his strength—”out of the mouth of babies and infants.” God reveals His majesty using the “weak” and “foolish” things of this world. He uses voices that don’t matter, at least in worldly ways. He revealed himself to the world through the nation of Israel—redeemed slaves taken out of the land of Egypt. Through Moses, God revealed himself to Pharaoh with power and authority. Moses, a man who stuttered. Later, as Israel’s earthly throne was established, God rejected Saul, who was the epitome of what a human king should be, and gave the throne to David, a lowly shepherd boy.… On and on we could go through the Old Testament as God consistently used seemingly insignificant voices within the culture of the time—the poor, women, children—to reveal his power and majesty to the world.

And today, it’s no different. God continues to reveal his strength through the weak things in the world. He reveals himself through the church. A church founded by uneducated fishermen, a former tax collector and zealots, with a message that sounds like absolute lunacy to most who hear it: that God would come in human form, suffer and die on a roman cross to pay for the sins of the world, and rise again from death.

In his excellent book, The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life, Dale Ralph Davis describes the day General T.J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s world came crashing down around him. His wife had given birth to a stillborn son, then she suffered an uncontrollable hemorrhage. In the span of a few hours, Jackson went from joyful expectant father to crushed widower.

The next day he wrote his sister Laura; he told her he thought he could submit to anything if God strengthened him for it; but he made no attempt to cover his sad despair. But then there in the middle of his note, there is a most moving one-liner. He says: “Oh! my Sister would that you could have Him for your God!”

Can you imagine that? Can you think of anything weaker than Jackson dashed and devastated by the Lord’s “taking away”? Here is a man beaten and crushed who nevertheless says, Oh that you could have him for your God.

This is one of the great ironies of the gospel: God’s strength is made known in weakness. That is what God has entrusted to us. Fallible, foolish, sinful people, who, by God’s grace, have been saved and redeemed by this foolish message of good news and great joy. And so, like David, we give God praise because of the irony of his strength.


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Links I like

Stop Playing God and Calling It “Social Justice”

Chris Martin interacts with Andy Crouch’s book, Playing God.

Character Is King

Tim Challies:

When the Bible lays out qualifications to ministry, it is character that rules every time. The Bible says little about skill and less still about results. It heralds character. And from the early days, Mark Driscoll showed outstanding natural abilities which led to amazing results. He knew and proclaimed sound theology. But he also showed an absence of so many of the marks of godly character. A hundred testimonies from a hundred hurt friends and former church members shows that what we saw from the outside was only a dim reflection of what was happening on the inside. The signposts were there, but we ignored them.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

An Open Letter to My Friends Struggling with Eating Disorders

Emily Wieringa:

And when I was thirteen and standing there in that green hospital gown, Mum telling me in her soft British accent that nurses said I was a miracle because I was still alive — I should have died — it felt like God reaching down and cupping my cheeks and saying, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

It was my heavenly Father reassuring me there was more to life than rules and liturgies. There was joy — and it tasted good.

Ebola, Zombies, and Medical Missions

Clint Archer:

Last week an American doctor, Kent Brantly, and a nurse who contracted the Ebola virus on a medical outreach trip to Africa were flown home to be treated. Ann Coulter, a (loud) mouthpiece for political conservatives opined that the misguided Christian do-gooders ought rather to have stayed Stateside and focused their philanthropy on, say, Hollywood tycoons, so the world could be reached by the inevitable trickle down effect of Christianized American culture.

Nineveh Will Rise Up

Joel Badal:

Persecution is no stranger to the Assyrians. The Assyrians have felt two previous waves of persecution in the 1900s. The first wave took place in the 1918 (during World War I) as the Ottoman Turks invaded Iran. They forced Assyrians to drink poison (known as the Assyrian genocide). Then, from the 1960s to 1980s, the rise of Islam forced Assyrians to make drastic changes again. Convert or die, serve in the military, or face injustice were their options. Young Assyrian males were drafted to wage war in the front lines from the 1960s to late 1970s.

You know it’s not that hard, right?

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I don’t always do something stupid, but when I do, it’s usually reading comments on blogs.

Seriously. I’m very thankful for the helpful quality and tone of 99.9 per cent of the comments I receive on this blog. But, dang, you all are the anomaly, I think. That or I’m just reading the wrong websites.

Anyway…

The last time I made the mistake of reading the comments section on a blog, it was on an article talking about some of the latest blunders and buffoonery coming out of Seattle (I can’t remember the site, which may or may not be a good thing). As I read these comments, some thoughtful, some obvious trolling and attempts at gaining some attention for their own blogs, I stumbled upon a statement I never expected to see:

“I don’t believe any pastor needs to be above reproach.”

I… What do I even do with that besides say: “Well, you should, because the Bible tells you so (1 Tim 3:2)?”

The thing that’s funny about this blanket character qualification for a pastor/elder, this whole idea of being above reproach, is, really, it’s not that hard in some ways. I mean, at a basic level, being above reproach could be summed up simply as being a person of good character—you’re the kind of person who, as Thabiti Anyabwile puts it, “no one suspects of wrongdoing and immorality” (Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons, 57).

It doesn’t mean you’re perfect. It doesn’t mean you’re sinless.

But it does mean your character is such that others would be absolutely shocked if you were accused of some wrongdoing or immoral behavior or speech.

It means people would be surprised if you were accused of trolling on a website, swiping from other people’s sermons, only allowing your kids to watch the prequel trilogy, fudging your taxes, sexually harassing your admin assistant…

You know it’s not that hard, right?

When we no longer believe a basic character requirement—one that, at the lowest possible bar, means adhering to “Wheaton’s Law“—is actually a requirement, it’s sad. When we no longer believe it’s attainable, something is dreadfully wrong.


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Everything hidden will be revealed

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Jesus scares me.

He absolutely terrifies me sometimes. Not because of the power He exhibits in His miracles, although that’s certainly a good reason to fear Him. It’s because of what He says. He tells us we have to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). He warns that some who do mighty works in His name will hear, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). And then He says things like this:

No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away. (Luke 8:16-18)

On the one hand, there is great encouragement to be had here: You cannot hide who you are, it always comes out. If you are in Christ—if you are called “son” or “daughter” by God our Father, if you have been saved by Jesus, if you have been given new life through the Holy Spirit—you can’t keep it hidden. It will always be made manifest; the “light” of your faith will eventually be revealed, even if you try to cover it.

Negatively, the same is true. If your heart is rotten, if there is darkness in your soul, it will be made manifest. It will inevitably come through in your speech, whether in words of anger and hatred, or sweet words of manipulation. No matter how hard you try, no matter what kind of appearance you put forward, what you are will be revealed.

Anyone else a little nervous?

If it doesn’t scare us a little, then I’m not sure we’re really taking verse 18 seriously: “Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”

It’s not difficult to see how this warning is at work in the life of a guy like Mark Driscoll, who built his entire ministry on his persona as an edgy, “angry young prophet.” And many of us, who were either too immature to see it, or too caught up in the excitement of seeing the lost come to Christ through (or perhaps in spite of, depending on your point of view) his efforts, turned a blind eye to concerns that have only grown more serious.

And now it’s all coming to a head. Plagiarism. Manufacturing a bestseller. Questionable financial dealings. More and more stories of people coming out about their experiences at Mars Hill… And now, the unearthing of a thirty-ish year-old Driscoll’s actions as “William Wallace II” online—140 pages filled with some of the most foolish, ungodly, and downright evil things I’ve ever had the misfortune of laying eyes on.

“For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.”

No one knows for certain what’s going to happen to Driscoll or to Mars Hill Church, nor is it really appropriate for any of us to speculate. But it should make us consider our own actions—and do so with fear and trembling. What have we done that, if revealed, would end our careers, our marriages, our ministries? What have we said—or thought—that would put the worst of the Wallace rants to shame?

None of these are a secret to the Lord.

And if they’re online, they’re probably not a secret to someone else, either.

When we see a man besieged, and potentially undone, by controversies of his own making, we should weep—for him, for the people directly affected by all of this… And also for ourselves, for but by the grace of God go we.


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Links I like

50 Shades of Strange

Aimee Byrd:

One neighbor I haven’t seen in a while asked me what I had been getting into over the year, and I had the opportunity to tell her about the book I had been writing. I explained to her that it was about how our knowledge of God shapes our everyday living. Now you never know what kind of reaction you are going to get when you tell people you write Christian books. But I wasn’t prepared for this one. She was thrilled because she loves to read, and as a matter of fact, she was currently devouring 50 Shades of Grey. I think I my facial expression matched that of Ralphie when he decoded his first Little Orphan Annie message in his bathroom.

N Is for Nazareth

Russell Moore:

Christians around the world are changing their social media avatars to the arabic letter “n.” In so doing, these Christians are reminding others around them to pray, and to stand in solidarity with believers in Iraq who are being driven from their homes, and from their country, by Islamic militants. The Arabic letter comes from the mark the ISIS militants are placing on the homes of known Christians. “N” is for “Nazarene,” those who follow Jesus of Nazareth. Perhaps it’s a good time to reflect on why Nazareth matters, to all of us. The truth that our Lord is a Nazarene is a sign to us of both the rooted locality and the global solidarity of the church.

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Why Singles Belong in Church Leadership

Lore Ferguson:

Where I live, in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, young marriages are common. Younger than the national average at least. Yet few single men and women are involved in ministry. My pastor leads a large church-planting network, and I asked him recently, “How many single guys are planting in the network?” He named a mere few. The dearth of undistracted men and women in ministry is sad, but more so, it is alarming.

Instead of Building Your Platform, Build Your Character

Derwin Gray:

Pastor, words like “platform” and “influence” are important.

But if we aren’t careful, in our desire to build our platform and influence, we can end up building our EGO.

Spurgeon on Expositional Reading and Teaching in the Worship Service?

Nick Batzig:

One does not have to read many of Spurgeon’s sermons to understand that the same approach was themodus operandi for own preaching. In fact, there were many times during my seminary education that I remember getting in arguments with students who were hyper-critical of Spurgeon’s preaching. I was so thankful for the example of one who was so spiritually-minded and Gospel-centered that I was ready to be more forgiving with regard to his lack of textual precision and for the absence of an expository approach to preaching in his ministry. On one occasion, a student was criticizing Spurgeon’s preaching openly in the class. Welling up with frustration I shot back, “When you can preach the Gospel like Spurgeon, you can criticize Spurgeon.” One of the professors at my seminary quickly agreed with me as over against the unjust criticisms being raised.

All Christians should be above reproach, but elders must be

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Being above reproach means that an elder is to be the kind of man whom no one suspects of wrongdoing and immorality. people would be shocked to hear this kind of man charged with such acts. Being above reproach does not mean that he maintains sinless perfection. It means that his demeanor and behavior over time have garnered respect and admiration from others. He lives a life worthy of the calling of God (Eph. 4:1; 5:1–2; Phil. 1:27; Col. 1:10–12).

It’s critically important for an elder to be above reproach for at least two reasons. First, everyone will assume at least two things once he is made an elder: that he is an example to all the sheep in all areas of life (1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 5:1–3); and that he will receive the benefit of the doubt against uncorroborated allegations of wrongdoing (1 Tim. 5:19). Few things are worse for a church than having a man who lacks good character be able to set a bad example while also being shielded by the generosity of judgment that comes with the office.

Second, it’s critically important because an elder must be held in high esteem for his character, not for his wealth, popularity, or other worldly things. We may be tempted to grant the eldership to men on the grounds that they have made it in the business world, have a long family history with the church, or are popular and well regarded. But the apostle is not interested in any of these things. He’s interesed in a dignity of character commensurate with the office. If a man is popular in the worldly sense but is not above reproach, he will likely lead out of his popularity instead of character. He may fear man more than God (a big temptation for this office), or attempt to run the church like his business, or assume certain “rights” because of his standing in the community. And all these will cripple an eldership for a time.

All Christians should be above reproach, but Christian elders must be.

Thabiti Anyabwile, Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons, 57-58

My favorite articles to write in 2013

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Yes gang, one more list! This week I’ve shared my top reads of 2013, as well as my favorite books to review. This list is a little different, and is likely the last one I’ll be sharing about the year that is nearly done.

Any good writer will tell you that it takes a lot of effort to write—not to simply to write well, but to write at all. It’s actually a lot easier to not. And very often, we writer types tend to be our own worst critics (y’know, when we’re not inflating our own egos by watching how many Facebook likes we’ve received.). But no matter how much we tell ourselves we should quit, there’s always something we’ve written we genuinely like.

Which brings us to the topic of today’s post—my favorite articles of 2013.

These are articles representing some of the work I’m most happy with from the past year, although not necessarily the most read (though some of them are). I hope you’ll give them a read if you haven’t already:

Hope for timid evangelists

You wouldn’t think this is a terribly hard thing to do, but it seems to be. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt a sense of hesitation set in before doing something even as simple as sending an email asking a pretty open-ended question. When I see that people are ready and willing to answer these questions (some as pointed as “where do you believe you’ll spend eternity and why?”), I feel a little silly.

But here’s the good news—God’s Word offers much hope for timid evangelists like me, especially in the gospel of Luke. Here are five truths we can embrace.

Why I won’t read your book on visiting Heaven

Not too long ago, I received a copy of one of the many books on someone’s alleged trip to heaven and back. I couldn’t bring myself to read more than a few pages before putting it down.… I chose to not read the book about visiting heaven I received—and will continue to do the same for one reason: They’re almost certainly not true.

Does the Bible permit polygamy?

One doesn’t have to look hard to see that many of the “heroes” of the faith were polygamists—Abraham had multiple wives and concubines; Jacob had multiple wives and concubines as well. Even the greatest kings of Israel, David and Solomon, had multiple wives.

So… does that mean it gets a green light—or at the very least, a proceed with caution? Nope.

What does the Bible say about worship?

This is the important thing to understand, then, about worship. It’s not merely about singing, it’s about reverence—it’s about having a biblical fear of the Lord. At its most basic level, then, you could define worship as the humbling of yourself before the One who is your better. This, naturally, has serious implications.

3 reasons why some churches don’t grow (that you don’t usually hear)

There seems to be a lot of pressure for pastors to have “successful” ministries—and by successful, what’s really meant is to have big numbers. While numbers are not wrong (they can be very good, in fact), we’ve got to be careful about how we think about church growth, and what it means to be successful as a church.

Consider preschool before the pulpit

Practice makes perfect, so the saying goes—and often one of the hardest things for a novice preacher to do is find opportunities to practice their skills. One place they may want to consider: Children’s ministry.

God’s gag reflex

God—the One who made the world and everything in it, the One who holds all things together with but a word—has declared what is right and what is wrong. Our opinions on the issue don’t matter one bit. Jesus hates sin. He hates it so much that He became it so those who would believe should not have to suffer its consequences.

“Is he humble?”

A few years ago, a friend gave me an unexpected, but much needed corrective. He told me that, despite my many good qualities, I tended to have the appearance of arrogance about me. It hurt to hear that, but in a good way. It made me realize how much my character makes a difference in how people perceive what I do and say. I’m certainly not perfect (as my wife and my coworkers would attest), but Lord willing, I think I’ve made some progress as a man pursuing humility.

The real secret of keeping millennials in the church

But the real reason millennials are abandoning the church isn’t because they’re dissatisfied with the answers to any of these questions. And it’s not because they can’t find Jesus in the typical evangelical church. The reason many leave is they don’t know Jesus. 

Sin makes smart people stupid

Honestly, it’s easy to mock something like this, and sorely tempting. But for Christians, who have, by God’s grace, been given the Holy Spirit, who have the written Word of God at our fingertips, this is a reminder—and maybe a warning for us.