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The Gospel Stays the Same

I haven’t thought about my blog for months. It once was a passion; to be truly honest I must say it was often a consuming passion. The articles written for this site span three major seasons of my life: college, seminary, and now teaching theology at a Christian school. Along the way my ministries have radically changed. My communities have radically changed. My marital status is about to change. (In the good way, not the bad way.)

But through it all, the gospel has stayed the same. I was shot through full of weaknesses seven years ago when I began to write. I still am. But that’s the point of the gospel. I am not perfect. I struggle with sin over and over again. New contexts and new ministries do not change my heart; God does. Slowly but surely he is shaping me into his image. That’s the point of life. More than blogs or ministry footprints or name-dropping, I just want to be faithful. Whatever the context, whoever the people, whatever the mission, I just want to be faithful.

MacArthur, Patrick and the Tribal Identity

In case you missed it, the sun arose today on yet another controversy in the conservative Christianity blogosphere. I usually don’t even bother to read these, as they come and go and are almost entirely based on soundbytes that are irresponsibly pulled from a larger context. You know what I mean: YouTube videos with names like “PIPER PREACHES THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL” or “DRISCOLL DENIES THAT GOD IS MERCIFUL.” But this controversy struck me in a way others haven’t. Namely, the responses of the men in question have widely differed from those who follow these men and count them as heroes.

The kindling for this brush fire arose from an interview between Phil Johnson and Dr. MacArthur. In responding to a question, Dr. MacArthur chastized Darrin Patrick’s book Church Planter for encouraging pastors who are undertaking church planting to design their own doctrine and theological beliefs.  Here’s the passage MacArthur was referencing:

One of the common errors of young men who surrender to ministry is to simply adopt the model of a church they have experienced or idolized. A similar mistake is to blindly accept the ministry philosophy and practice of a ministry hero. The man who is experiencing head confirmation is thoughtful about his own philosophy of ministry, his own ministry style, his own theological beliefs, his own unique gifts, abilities, and desires. In short, there is a uniqueness to the way  he wants to do ministry (page 37, italics in original).

I watched the movie Luther the other night, the third time in five years. You know what? Tetzel plied his damnable trade again. Luther discovered justification by faith again. Katie showed up and they got married again. And the conversation between the followers of John MacArthur and the followers of the Acts 29 movement have been just as predictable as the movie Luther was the third time through. A quick survey of the comments left on Tim Challies’ blog runs the average to about 3-1 against MacArthur. The comments are exactly what you’d expect:

“I love MacArthur’s teaching, but he’s so ungracious towards his brothers in Christ. I wish he wasn’t so divisive.”

“Such a blatant violation of the biblical principles found in Matthew 18. Someone needs to call MacArthur out on this for not speaking to Patrick privately first.” (Which is a really ironic comment when you think about it…)

“MacArthur probably hasn’t even bothered to read Patrick’s whole book.”

“I haven’t read Patrick’s book, but I really trust and respect Dr. MacArthur. And I don’t know about those Acts 29 guys.”

Have we as the church become the same as our nation? Have we become an assortment of pundits each with an opinion based  upon nothing more weighty than which tribe we most readily identify ourselves with? We recognize these evils in politics and the incessant squaking of Fox News and the New York Times. But do we recognize it in ourselves?

Who in this conversation are you most likely do give the benefit of the doubt to – Patrick or MacArthur? There’s nothing wrong with that per se, as we all have to constantly weigh small snippets of words against the greater whole of an individual’s work and ethos. It becomes wrong when we make a particular style or ministry our own personal identity.  When our appreciation for and natural identification with one minister’s or ministry’s particular style eclipses our identification with the gospel and truth, we have ceased to think as the redeemed choosing rather to content ourselves with petty partisanism. When we hear of our heroes squaring off with another minister are we willing to seriously consider and ponder the critiques, or do we blindly grab our banner and lance and ride forth to do battle with the dark knights of the enemy’s blogging horde?

Shortly after the critique of Patrick’s book, Johnson asked MacArthur if any of his doctrine had changed in the middle of writing his commentary series. MacArthur responded by reminiscing about Michael Horton “catching [him] and taking [him] behind the woodshed” about an improper distinction between imputed and imparted righteousness in his volume on Romans. And MacArthur was thankful for it, for it improved his understanding of God and corrected an underdeveloped aspect of his theology. When a man writes a book and publishes his thoughts, he is inviting his peers to critique him. Matthew 18 is about personal sin, not a discussion about proper ways of addressing theological concerns in the Christian publication world. If it was, I’m not sure the blogging world could exist.

We have much to learn from the humility of these two men. As their followers have been sharpening their knives and preparing for blood, they’ve been planning to sharpen each other. MacArthur published a follow up article, clarifying that he wasn’t attacking Patrick or accusing him of being unorthodox. And Patrick tweeted “Dr. MacArthur you are a hero to me. Period.” And “Dr. MacArthur, many young pastors like me didn’t have dads. We need godly, established men like you to father us.” And “I would be happy to fly to SoCal on my own dime to be mentored and coached and get to know you.” To which the men agreed to do so.

I haven’t said anything about the actual content of the disagreement. In short, MacArthur’s probably right in identifying something that should not have been said in Patrick’s book. From knowing and participating in both ministries, I can say that Patrick isn’t talking about designing your own doctrine. But that’s how the book reads and that point needs to be modified and communicated better. And Patrick’s probably right in saying that it’s disaster for one pastor to try and duplicate the ministry of someone he idolizes, for God has made us all unique. Each tribe needs the others, for they challenge each other to clarify and purify both the content and the communication of our doctrine and ministry philosophies.

God make us all men like MacArthur and Patrick.

Book Review Page Launch

New to the blog is the “Book Review” page tab. While I’m nowhere close to Tim Challies-like reading (if you don’t know, he’s reading every bestseller on the New York Times bestseller list this year, which is roughly 10 million words), I am currently on pace to read 52 books this year. It seems a good use of my time to share my impressions of them. Hopefully the reviews I post will be helpful if you’re wondering if a book is worth investing time into.

Thankful

I was playing frisbee golf with a few of our youth group members yesterday when I asked them a question: “What are you thankful for?” We as a culture (which means me as an individual) usually relegate thankfulness as something that only needs to be pondered on the fourth Thursday of every November. But it would seem that our utter inability to merit even life and breath would cause us to be overwhelmingly thankful. When life itself is a gift, how could I take anything for granted?

We as people are happiest when we are the most thankful, for thankfulness overwhelming selfishness is a clear testimony of the grace of God. It isn’t natural to be thankful. It isn’t normal to bow before God and confess helplessness and gratitude for and trust in His life-giving nature.

I’ve yet to see myself intentionally slide from the mountain top of thankfulness to the obscuring valley of selfish ingratitude. Rather, I wake up to realize that I no longer have the joy of an uncluttered view of who God is and what He has done for me. And I’m shocked by it. It’s as though I start walking down the path from the mountain top to the valley, feeling like I haven’t lost anything because I can still remember what the view from the peak looks like. And I’m not worried because, although I can’t actually see the landscape of grace, I can still picture what it looks like. Can still conjure up the awe that it evokes.

But then as time goes by and as I get further and further from the peak I can no longer remember what I need to remember. I can no longer feel what I know I need to feel. It saddens me most that I take most for granted the things that I love the most, starting with my Savior.

I don’t think that the ultimate solution is what I’m about to do. I don’t think that merely listing out things I’m thankful for is enough to keep me from becoming thankless. The heart is more deceptive than that. I need the sustaining grace of God. But I do know that usually I become thankless when I simply neglect being thankful. I want to be diligent in giving thanks. It’s really hard to pull your gaze away from something you’re thankful for.

Here are some things I’m thankful for, in no particular order or importance. And this list is in no way shape or form comprehensive!:

1) The Intentional Fellowship of Christians. I’m thankful for the people in my life who practice and talk about the “one anothers.” People who love and understand the value of authentic, heart-and-gospel-oriented conversation and actions. Much endurance comes from having such relationships.

2) Brent and Laura. I’m thankful for the way they have opened their home up to me. I’m thankful for the lessons I’m learning about what family life is really like from a parent’s perspective. They challenge me in diligence, drive, and purpose.

3) John Marc. I’m thankful for being able to learn what it means to be a faithful minister of the Word of God. He’s taught me much about the realities of ministry. It’s not flashy, it’s not hype-driven. It’s about faithfulness and confidence in the Holy Spirit. He’s taught me much about loving people for the sake of their gain in Christ. His reward in heaven is going to be very great.

4) Stars. I’m in an area where I can see stars again. It was funny taking astronomy in Los Angeles. Looking up at the night sky has a way of bringing perspective. To think that God created all of that, and billions of galaxies that I cannot see with the naked eye! It breaths out the awesomeness of God and the insignificance of man. And yet, that only reinforces the joy of His personal love for me.

5) Cornerstone Youth Group. I appreciate the youthfulness of the youth. I appreciate their eagerness and excitement in life, their drive to get maximum enjoyment out of everything. And I’m thankful for their thoughtfulness in youth group. They ask good questions, ponder important things. I’m thankful that they keep coming to hear the Word, over and above excitement.

6) My Mom, Dad, and Brother. I’m excited to go home for Christmas. There’s no reservations, no worry that it might be a stressful time, no fears that conflict might rip us apart. I know that’s not the case for the majority of people. So I don’t want to take for granted the joy of having a tight-knit, like-minded, Christ-loving family. My parents are wise, and my brother is one of my best friends. What more could you ask for?

7) Good music. I’m thankful for music that makes much of God like Shawn McDonald, Caedemon’s Call, David Crowder Band, Casting Crowns, Phil Wickham, Jeremy Camp. I’m thankful for music that is relaxing and helps me study like Sigur Ros, Secret Garden, Ulrich Schnauss. I’m thankful for music that is fun and thought-provoking like Switchfoot, Hillsong United, Matisyahu, Andy Hunter. And I’m thankful for all the countless hymnwriters who used their gifts to create music that has lasted for decades because of the truth that rings forth from their work. I’m especially thankful for the men and women who wrote Jesus Paid It All, Rock of Ages Cleft for Me, Amazing Grace, Great is Thy Faithfulness, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, Whate’er My God Ordains is Right, In Christ Alone, The Power of the Cross, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, And Can It Be, It Is Well, and Hallelujah! What a Savior.

8 ) Doctrinal Words. Especially words that we don’t talk about much in ordinary conversation like regeneration and sustaining grace. They are rich words, containing so much about God and so much about man. I would be lost without God, and doctrinal words help me explore the nuances of who God is more deeply.

9) Blogging. It forces me to think through things more deeply. Clarity often comes through writing, and things I’ve thought have often proven to be untenable once I’m forced to form an argument for it.

10) Facebook. I’m thankful that Facebook lets me keep in touch with a much wider group of friends than I would be able to otherwise.

Maintenance Note

I’m in the middle of reorganizing the category tags applied to posts. I haven’t ever really had any organization to the categories, so they are in need of some serious modifications. This won’t interrupt the site at all, but will make searching the archives difficult until I’m finished (hopefully sometime this week.)

Blogging: A Snare and A Joy

I wonder how much more effective blogs would be if we didn’t care about sounding profound. I’ve sat here and tried to write about three different blog posts, all killed by my attempts to be too fancy with words. Writing from a heart devastated by the truth of God’s Word as mediated by the Holy Spirit is harder than I’d like to admit. My pride wants to sound wise. Pride wants to write something that will cause people to remember me. Pride cares little for the glory of God and much for the glory of self. And I think it’s really easy to write for the glory of self while thinking you’re writing for the glory of God.

WordPress has two dangerous features: the comment page, and the statistics page. It’s easy to write something that will get comments. Controversy stirs people to share their own opinions. Or, write something unusual. My two most commented on posts are the one on raising your hands in worship and my interpretive poem about Abraham and Isaac. It’s really easy to chase comments. I’ve done it. And God faithfully disappoints. Likewise, the statistics page can easily become an idol. For those of you without a WordPress blog, it tracks the number of hits your pages and posts get per day. The more hits, the more people are reading your blog. And it feels good to have people read my blog. And sadly, oftentimes it feels good not because they’re reading about the Lord, but because they’re reading my thoughts about the Lord. It’s easy to lower the goal from writing for the glory of God to writing for influence.

This isn’t a “I’m done with blogging” post. On the contrary, I deeply enjoy blogging and wish I had more time to write. Rather, I want to say to my fellow bloggers what has been pounding through my head every time I sit down to write a post: be careful. Be careful. Blogging can be a God-glorifying, soul-sanctifying, lost-reaching, conversation-starting tool. Or it can be a deadening, burdening iron, used by Satan to sear the soul into searching for personal glory. I’m privileged to be part of the TMC blogging circle and praise God for the work he’s done in my life through the blogs on my blogroll.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Roaring Lions

Satan never loses interest in us. He is every watchful, ever ready, and ever determined to destroy your walk with God. He is a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. People get eaten by lions because they wander off by themselves. People get eaten by lions because they aren’t paying attention. People get eaten by lions because they don’t think there is a real lion with a real appetite that will really eat them.

In Christian circles there seems to be the idea that old things cannot harm the soul. It’s as if we think that time purifies content, even though the content hasn’t changed. Satan doesn’t care about the copyright date on the movie, or the century of the sculpture, or the release date of the album. He’s out to kill your soul in any way he can using any thing he can.

The difference between Satan and African lions is that Satan sets traps. He baits us. He tries to manipulate our minds into thinking “He really won’t harm me.” But Satan will use every tool at his disposal to hurt us. Eve didn’t believe Satan could really be setting her up for destruction, but he was. Eve failed to realize how corrupt Satan is and how much he wants to damage her relationship with God. Satan hasn’t gotten nicer in the last 10,000 years. And he has a long string of “success” stories. Balaam. Saul. Ahab. Joash. Herod. Pontious Pilate. Ananias and Saphira. Diotraphes.

I was thinking a couple of days ago about the people who graduated with me from North County Christian High School. There were 20 of us. There should have been 21, but one girl was kicked out two months before graduation for moving in with her boyfriend.

“By the grace of God I am what I am.” Paul said that a long time ago. And yet it is the theme song of every believer because no one is a believer without the grace of God. What’s the difference between Herod and me? Grace. And the same grace that has made me what I am has also made me what I am not.

Many from my high school walked away. I didn’t. Tragically, many from my college will walk away. By God’s grace I won’t. Satan is out to kill your and my soul. And the only thing that keeps him from being successful is power of Christ in me. The Holy Spirit is Satan-Repellant. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be battles. But for those who are sealed by the Spirit into the family of God, Satan cannot win.

This post isn’t very unified. It’s kind of two topics welded into one post. I just praise God that just as He has given me eyes to be careful and watchful for Satan’s snares, He protects me from Satan even when I’m not looking.