God the Reality, not an abstraction

“What do we have today? We have the god of the philosophers, and the god of the philosophers is not the sovereign, transcendent, living God, he is an abstraction. . . .  God is not a philosophic concept. God is, and he alone is. He is life, and the author of all life and being. And they argue about him with their pipes in their mouths, and talk about him as if he is a term that they can handle and bandy about. You will never have revival in such conditions. God, I say, is not an abstaction, someone to be aruged with, and fitted into our schemes. Philosophy has always been the curse in the life of the Church, and it is the curse today.”

–Martin Lloyd-Jones

To Another Generation

One temptation of middle and old age is be frustrated with not being able to do what you once could. Even in middle adulthood, our joints creak, our bodies begin to weaken and things don’t work as well as they used to. But more than the physical, people miss the opportunities that have passed–career, family, and on and on. The older we get and the faster life goes, the more we wish we had another opportunity to do or redo the things from the past.

So what is the point of playing the back nine when it seems like every hole is harder and our game duller? The Psalmist writes:

17 O God, from my youth you have taught me,
    and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
18 So even to old age and gray hairs,
    O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
    your power to all those to come.
19 Your righteousness, O God,
    reaches the high heavens.
You who have done great things,
    O God, who is like you?
20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities
    will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
    you will bring me up again.
21 You will increase my greatness
    and comfort me again.

-Psalm 71:17-21

He sees the gifts of God still work after decades–from youth God taught him, and he still proclaims His deeds. And what is his hope? To keep doing it, to live long enough to “proclaim your might to another generation” (v18). We are used to hearing about the generation gap, the relational distance between parents and children. But it takes two to drop the baton–the one handing it and the one taking it.

The Psalmist is talking about the hand-off, and he is eager to be around, through all his troubles, with grey, and probably less, hair. His vision is to be faithful and full of hope and to leave that to the young of another generation. This is the greatest inheritance one can hope to leave. From this perspective, old age isn’t our decline but our biggest harvest. The one who sows sparingly will reap the same, but the one who sows abundantly over a lifetime goes out with a bang.

All Things to All People

“If we are to deal with people where they are (whether they can express their position in a sophisticated way or not), we have got to have enough genuine love for them and concern, as a human being, that we would take seriously what they are preoccupied with. We tend to give a person a prepackaged answer instead of having the compassion of Christ, which is to take the person where they are and actually step into their world in order to talk in a  meaningful way to them. And if that world is that of the Philippian jailer, good; if it is that of the one who believes truth is truth, good; but if it is the person who is lost in relativity, we can give them the Christian answers there as well.”

Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There

Theology-Driven Leadership

“Christian leaders are called to convictional leadership, and that means leadership that is defined by beliefs that are transformed into corporate action. The central role of belief is what must define any truly Christian understanding of leadership. This means that leadership is always a theological enterprise in the sense that that our most important beliefs and convictions are about God. These beliefs determine everything else of importance about us. If our beliefs about God are not true, everything we know and everything we are will be warped and contorted by that false knowledge.”

–Al Mohler, The Conviction to Lead, p133

Continuing Honor, Continuing Promise

Mark Twain reportedly said, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in seven years.” He was a wise twenty-one year old.

It’s a mistake to assume the 5th Commandment has a twenty-year shelf life: Honor your parents by doing (mostly) what they say while at home, and then you’re out on your own so don’t worry about it.

Like the other nine, the obligation is ongoing, though the way it is kept changes with seasons of life. This isn’t unique. The 7th Commandment requires chastity in singleness and fidelity in marriage. So honoring your parents primarily means obedience when you live in their house, but respect and gratitude once you are out. Of course respect and gratitude are always important, but the emphasis changes. Interestingly, Paul quotes the 5th in writing to a New Testament church and alters the setting of the promise:

Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you and that you may live long on the earth. –Ephesians 6:2-3

The promised land has become the promised world, including Ephesus. If they want it to go well there, they would have to honor their parents, and that doesn’t change after going around the 18 times. The 5th Commandment is mostly kept (or not) in adulthood, because for the average person, most of life is lived as an adult. Put another way, God wants to bless His people living in the world through the end of their long lives. Here are five ways to honor parents in adulthood. Continue reading

All Parts Enlisted

“It is far better to get one hundred me to do the work than to do it one’s self. Only when the rank nad file of the Chirsiatn churches are entlisted in active service for Christ will His Kingdom advance as it should.” –Dwight Moody

The Right Stick

Out here in Seattle, you can’t swing a cat without running into someone disillusioned with Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll. Not just any stick is good for beating on Driscoll or MHC, so we ought to make distinctions between the good and the bad, the helpful and unhelpful. Sincere Christians should shun gossip–negative speech that helps no one–and strive to edify each other. Here are three unhelpful types of criticism followed by an attempt at a constructive one.

Malicious   This point is obvious, but someone who tries to tear down the church with openly sinful motives shouldn’t be listened to. I’m thinking of one blog post where the author offered to fist fight Mark at the end of it–not very subtle. Open bitterness, violence, slander, all the obvious signs of people who pick at emotional scabs should be pitied, not promoted. It doesn’t mean they don’t have anything right; they might. It means they’re not judicious, their motives are twisted, and the author of Hebrews warns us that roots of bitterness spring up and defile many (12:15). Many sympathetic readers of these attacks would never talk or write this way, but they are lured into giving ear to it. The enemy of your enemy is not your friend. He may well be an enemy of your Savior, though.

Self Pitying  These are not necessarily scurrilous but still extremely unhelpful, and when they continue they can define someone. How would you counsel someone who blogged about their unfaithful spouse for years after the end of the marriage? What if they justified doing it as a warning to others because they too might end up marrying this person or someone like them? There is a deep temptation in the human heart to classify ourselves as victims and to run this line in our heads over and over. It’s plausible because we are truly victims to some degree of the sins of others. But forgiving and letting go, knowing everyone will answer to their own Master, is freedom. Of course this doesn’t preclude appropriate and productive discussion of situations that occur. The question is whether or not it’s productive. Should you tell the whole world about this?

If you want a test whether your complaint is edifying or not, ask yourself, at the end of your conversation or blog post, are you rejoicing in the work of Christ? Or are you feeling like a victim and pitying yourself? The apostle Paul tells the story about his enemies preaching the gospel to injure him as an occasion of joy: “Only in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that a I rejoice” (Phil. 1:18). A true victim of malice, he was anything but victimized, and his whole recounting of it makes everyone thankful for him and God’s greater purpose in his persecution.

Inaccurate   For those further away from Driscoll, bitterness is less of a temptation, though envy might well be at play. Who is this upstart who began with no seminary education? But I don’t want to read hearts–critic caveat. Still, some conclusions like Carl Trueman’s–”The overall picture is one of disaster“–are simply false. The overall picture is lots of evangelism, complementarian integrity, a call to masculine leadership, aggressive church planting, lots of outstanding books published, and who knows what other good fruit will fall off the young, restless and reformed tree. Of course, all of these virtues are imperfect since the church is run by people, but they are virtues nonetheless. I’ve met a lot of people who have outgrown the info-tainment worship and other immaturities at MHC, but were either wonderfully converted or discipled or both there. If Paul is thankful for his enemies, how much more should we be thankful for these brothers and sisters and the good work that continues there?

Trueman also makes the point that “there is no real accountability involved”. He refers to the incident where the executive elders at MHC approved the strategy of a marketing firm they hired to spend $200,000 getting Driscoll’s marriage book up the NY Times’ bestseller list. This was a bonehead move but for different, and actually more substantial, reasons than Trueman states. It goes in the same category as the recent exposure of MHC’s policy of having their pastors sign non-compete agreements: worldliness.

The problem is not lack of accountability. The elders took responsibility for the marketing move saying it was “unwise.” It’s not like this was a shotgun decision by a rogue elder. This was something they decided to do, and such elders must steward the large resources they’re entrusted with. What they didn’t confess, but should have, is not that it was unwise, but that it was worldy, wanting to become great by other means than those Jesus allows. He says to become the greatest by becoming the servant of all, not by marketing tricks or by implementing policies that ensure numerical growth in competition with other local churches (!). These are policies that dozens of elders and maybe hundreds of deacons tolerate and de facto endorse, and we don’t need one-sided accounts of private meetings to see it. It’s public.

This worldliness doesn’t ruin all the other good things that are happening at the church for which, like Paul at Rome, we can and must be thankful for, cynics notwithstanding. If we see the situation rightly, this gratitude drives our hope and prayers for this part of His kingdom.

 

 

Jesus Loves Sinners

“A father looks not so much at the blemishes of his child as at his own nature in him; so Christ finds matter of love from that which is his own in us. He sees his own nature in us: we are diseased, but yet his members. Who ever neglected his own members because they were sick or weak? None ever hated his own flesh. Can the head forget the members? Can Christ forget himself? We are his fulness, as he is ours. He was love itself clothed with man’s nature, which he united so near to himself, that he might communicate his goodness the more freely to us. And he took not our nature when it was at its best, but when it was abased, with all the natural and common infirmities it was subject to.”   –Richard Sibbes, A Bruised Reed