Humble Ambition

Pioneer missionary William Carey is noted for his mantra:

“Expect great things from God, and attempt great things for God.”

These are tremendously inspiring words.  They call us to think about the God in whom we believe, and whom we serve.  Jesus reminded us that “With God nothing is impossible.”  (Luke 1.37)  When Paul thought of our God he wrote: “I can do all things though Christ who gives me strength.”  Philippians 4.13  (I know these verses are often taken out of context, but the point is still valid.)  And having thought of God, Carey’s words encourage us to step out in action.  It is putting feet to our faith.

The question for me is: How does humility fit in here?  When I think of the things I would like to accomplish in my life, I have to ask myself: Is this Holy Ambition or simply Wholly Ambitious?  It is a real dilemma.

I am completely honest when I say that what I want most is for God to be glorified in my life and through my life. But at the same time, I confess, there is a part of me that would enjoy at least some credit, a little bit of the noteriety.  How much of the glory I want varies with each day – and with how honest I am being with myself.  In short, I do desire God’s glory, but my ego is all too alive as well.

How do I resolve this tension? How do I live out William Carey’s mission statement?

Dave Harvey, of Sovereign Grace Ministries, has written a new book, Rescuing Ambition, addressing this very issue.  I have yet to read the book, but I am placing it high on my On Deck list. 

A sneak peak is offered through a series of helpful posts Harvey has written for The Gospel Coalition:

Jesus Freaks

Studying the Church at Smyrna, while working through a series from the 7 Churches in the Book of Revelation, reminded me that persecution of Christians is not just something that took place on the pages of ancient history.  Persecution of Christians is an ever-present tragic reality.  We are told by historians and scholars that more Christians were persecuted for their faith duing the 20th Century than during all history up to that time – COMBINED! 

As startling as that statistic may be, it is important for us to be aware. 

As Christians we are instructed to “bear the burdens” of other believers (Galatians 6.2), and to “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn”. (Romans 12.15)  We can do none of those things if we are not aware of what others are experiencing. 

We are also strangely strengthened by the examples of those who have endured suffering and persecution for the sake of Jesus.  Their testimonies ought to be an important part of our devotional diet.

There are a number of good resources that will share the stories of those who have endured hardship, indignation, and even martyrdom, for the Cause of Christ.  The classic is Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Another I recommend is a more contemporary book – one I was at first skeptical about simply because it is written by the members of CCM’s DC Talk.  (I didn’t know anything about them.  I just assumed: “How deep can it be?”  But was I ever wrong…)

Jesus Freaks by DC Talk is a wonderful collection of testimonies of those who have glorified God by faithful endurance throughout the generations.  Each account is brief and profound.  Simply by reading a page or two daily, or periodic intervals, will enrich the reader with chronicles of Chrisitans whose lives have been poured out for God’s Glory.

Suffering Saints

I have begun a series of messages at Walnut Hill Church from the Seven Letters to the Churches in Revelation.  This past Sunday we looked at the Church at Smyrna, from Revelation 2.8-11.

The Church at Smyrna is most intriguing for a couple reasons. 

First, the name Smyrna litterally means “City of Myrh”.  If myrh sounds familiar it is probably because it is one of the three gifts the Magi brought to Jesus, the new-born king.  We sing about it at Christmas-time.  Myrh is an herb that when crushed emits a fragrant aroma.  This was an appropriate gift for the young Jesus, who was born to become a martyred prophet. It is also an appropriate name for this church since it endured incessant crushing and persecution.  

Second, the Church at Smyrna is one of only two of these churches that received no correction, only commendation. That alone ought to make us take note of them. They received only encouragement from Jesus, who commended them for faithfully enduring seasons of suffering and persecution.

As I considered the Church at Smyrna, and the message Jesus had for them, I could not help but contrast them from the television ministries today that proclaim, what they call, Prosperity Gospel.

The Propserity Gospel, in a nutshell, proclaims that God wants all his people to be Healthy, Wealthy, and Happy.  There are differnt versions of this.  The Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn disciples embrace this clear message.  The Robert Schuller, Norman Vincent Peale disciples embrace a tamer Positive Thinking version.  And Joel Osteen has created a hybrid version, proclaiming you can have the best life now (as opposed to what the Bible says – that the BEST life is yet to come). 

In my message Sunday I pointed out the erroneousness of this teaching.  I was pretty blunt pointing out that this message is unbiblical.  But there are words I did not use that now, in retrospect, I wish I had; I think I should have: Heresy, Lies, Dangerous.   That’s what this whole memvement is – no matter the sincerity of those behind it. 

See, here the issue: they proclaim that the faithful will not experience hardship on this earth. Jesus proclaims to a church that is in the midst of persecution (not prosperity) that they are being faithful by enduring hardship. Clearly there would be no room for Jesus in the Prosperity Gospel movement.

Further, Hebrews 2.10 says:

In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.

In some sense, Jesus was made perfect through suffering.  So, the logic of the message of the Prosperity Gospel is:

Be more faithful, be LESS like Jesus

Continue reading

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

A group of pastors invited the mayor of their city to discuss his dream for the city, along with the issues that were hindering that dream from becoming a reality.  The mayor came with a list of pervasive issues that the pastors in this group were eager to address: at-risk kids, elderly shut-ins, dilapidated housing, and hunger.

But before addressing these issues the mayor said to the gathered pastors:

“After thinking about all of these things, it occurred to me that what our city really needs are good neighbors….The majority of the issues our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just become a community of people who are great neighbors.”

 To this statement one pastor responded:

“Here we are asking the mayor what areas of the city are most in need, and he basically tells us that it would be great if we could just get our people to obey the second half of the Great Commandment.”

Continue reading

Gospel at the Center

At my core I am committed to gospel-centeredness and being gospel-driven. But I confess I don’t really know what that means.  The rich complexity of the gospel and the scope of the implications from the gospel are far beyond my ability to grasp, plumb, or fathom.  So I am drawn towards faithful expressions of the gospel that expand my understanding and depth of insight.

I am indebted to the Elders and leaders of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, California for their thoughtful and compelling explanation of what it means to be gospel-centered: 

The gospel is at the center of all we do.  The “gospel” is the good news that through Jesus, the Messiah, the power of God’s kingdom has entered history to renew the whole world.  Through the Savior God has established his reign. When we believe and rely on Jesus’ work and record (rather than ours) for our relationship to God, that kingdom power comes upon us and begins to work through us. We witness this radical new way of living by our renewed lives, beautiful community, social justice, and cultural transformation. This good news brings new life. The gospel motivates, guides and empowers every aspect of our living and worship.

Let me encourage you to read this again and again.  Spend some time thinking through what was said and what is demanded.  (You may even ask yourself if you agree with what they said.)  And join me in praying that God would not only grant us greater understanding, but that He would bring about personal and cultural transformation.

What’s Glenn Beck Doing at Liberty University?

It was with some bemusement that I took note of the speaker for Liberty University’s 2010 Commencement: Glenn Beck.  I am not sure what message was conveyed by this choice. One possibility seems commendable. Another possibility, I fear, may be a sad reflection of attitudes within and around contemporary American Evangelicalism.

Liberty University, long steeped in Baptistic Fundamentalism, maintained its commitment to the conservative politics held by founder Jerry Falwell while broadening its umbrella in recent years by making a transition to be more of an Evangelical institution.   I applaud them for this move.  Not only do I believe that Evangelicalism is  more Biblical than Fundamentalism, an Evangelical worldview is unquestionably more conducive to a comprehensive education. 

Glenn Beck, while controversial, is a voice in the Public Square not to be ignored. I don’t much buy into Beck’s conspiracy theories. And I categorically oppose his audacious and unqualified call for people to leave churches that promote ‘social justice’.  But I do not dismiss him, as some on the far Left are inclined to do – or, at least, wish they could do.  (i.e.: MSNBC)  In short, not only is Beck an intelligent and articulate pundit for cultural conservatism, he also freelyspeaks about God.  BUT Beck is a Mormon, not a Christian.  So the god he speaks about, therefore, is NOT the Triune God revealed in the Bible.

So what is a Mormon doing speaking at a Baptist graduation? Continue reading

Thinking Christianly

Thinking Christianly is not simply thinking by Christians, nor is it thinking by Christians about Christian things, nor is it thinking by Christians about or in order to develop a ‘Christian line’. Thinking Christianly is thinking by Christians about anything at all in a profoundly Christian way. Where their minds are so informed and influenced by the truth of God in terms of their principles, perspectives, and presuppositions that they begin to see as God sees, though it will be in an imperfect way.

                                                                –Os Guinness

7 Reasons We Need Small Groups

Our church has begun a process to initiate Small Group ministry.  Though I am familiar with the “whys” and the methods of small groups, I am by no measure an expert.  Fortunately, we do have in our church others who a far more knowledgeable than I am about the implementation of this aspect of ministry.  Still, the early going has been difficult. 

People in our church are not sure why they need to be part of this type of group.  Our church has been blessed to have strong relational ties and a welcoming mentality that easily embraces those who join us.  At our church “outsiders” are relatively few – and those who are probably are so by choice.  So those who are active in our church seem confused about why they need “one more activity”. 

Again, I do not have all the answers. I can articulate the benefits of a committed small group, but sometimes my explanations are found wanting.  Fortunately there are others who offer better counsel. One person in particular: John Piper.

When John Piper met with the small group leaders of the Downtown Campus of Bethlehem Baptist Church, in Minneapolis, he tried to show them how essential their role is at the church by giving them seven reasons why his preaching is not enough—seven reasons why perseverance in faith and growth in faith call for Christians to meet regularly in a face-to-face way to “serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).

Piper says: “God intends to do things in us which he will only do through the ministry of other believers.”

Here are Pipers’ 7 Reasons We Need Small Groups:

He has given pastors to the church “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12).

I believe in what I do. And I believe that it is not enough. Here are the seven reasons I gave the small group leaders.

  1. The impulse to avoid painful growth by disappearing safely into the crowd in corporate worship is very strong.
  2. The tendency toward passivity in listening to a sermon is part of our human weakness.
  3. Listeners in a big group can more easily evade redemptive crises. If tears well up in your eyes in a small group, wise friends will gently find out why. But in a large gathering, you can just walk away from it.
  4. Listeners in a large group tend to neglect efforts of personal application. The sermon may touch a nerve of conviction, but without someone to press in, it can easily be avoided.
  5. Opportunity for questions leading to growth is missing. Sermons are not dialogue. Nor should they be. But asking questions is a key to understanding and growth. Small groups are great occasions for this.
  6. Accountability for follow-through on good resolves is missing. But if someone knows what you intended to do, the resolve is stronger.
  7. Prayer support for a specific need or conviction or resolve goes wanting. O how many blessings we do not have because we are not surrounded by a band of friends who pray for us.

Piper goes on to say:

So please know that when this small-group ministry of our church is lifted up, I don’t think it’s an optional add-on to basic Christian living. I think it is normal, healthy, needed, New Testament Christianity. I pray that you will be part of one of these small groups or that you will get the training and start one. This is the main strategy through which our pastors and elders shepherd the flock: Elders > small group leaders > members to one another.

I could not have said all that better myself.

Considerations for the Gay Marriage Discussion

While I suspect that the question of Gay Marriage is a settled issue for most of the readers of this blog, it seems anything but settled in our culture.  We are inundated by the rhetoric of both activists and those who are merely sincere and sympathetic to the seeming inequalities.

Christianity Today has published an informative article by Mollie Hemingway that brings some further insights to the table.  In short: Legalized Same-Sex Marriage WILL have a negative effect on our culture and, if not yours, the marriages of the rising generations.

Consider just opening paragraphs:

Same-sex marriage advocates frequently ask, “How would gay marriage affect your marriage?” The question is posed rhetorically, as if marriage is a private institution with no social consequences.

But The New York Times, of all papers, argues that gay unions could significantly alter marriage norms. A new study of gay couples in San Francisco shows that half are “open,” meaning that partners consent to each other having sex with other people. The Times says that the prevalence of such relationships could “rewrite the traditional rules of matrimony” by showing straight couples that monogamy need not be a “central feature” of marriage and that sexually open relationships might “point the way for the survival of the institution.”

To read the complete article, click: Same Sex, Different Marriage

7 Rules for Reconciliation

To live in community is to live with – at least – the potential for conflict. I have acted wrongly on too many occasions; I have wronged others; and I have been wronged by others. 

I find few things more emotionally taxing than living in conflict. But God calls us to live in community, where conflict will almost surely take place from time to time. I suspect this is because living in community is one of God’s chief tools for sanctifiying us.  But for God’s sanctifying process to have effect we must understand the principles for living in peace and for restoring peace.

The following “rules” are from a post by Ray Ortland, of Immanuel Church in Nashville:

  1. We can rejoice in one another, because the Lord rejoices in us.
  2. We can create an environment of trust rather than negative scrutiny.
  3. We can judge ourselves, even as we give each other the benefit of the doubt.
  4. If a problem must be addressed, we can talk to, not about.  Gossip destroys.
  5. If a problem must be addressed, we can avoid blanket statements but identify factual specifics, offer a positive path forward and preserve everyone’s dignity.
  6. We can always extend kindness.
  7. When we do wrong one another, we can say to the person harmed, “I was wrong.  I am sorry.  It won’t happen again.  Is there anything I could do now that might make a positive difference?”

To read Ray Ortand’s rationale and explanations for each Rule click: Guard & Repair