Monday, May 28, 2018

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row, 
That mark our place, and in the sky, 
The larks, still bravely singing, fly, 
Scarce heard amid the guns below. 

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, 
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields. 

Take up our quarrel with the foe! 
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high! 
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
John McCrae

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Quotable–Get Real: Sharing Your Everyday Faith Every Day

This is a collection of highlights from John Leonard’s Get Real: Sharing Your Everyday Faith Every Day. It’s an interesting book, worth your time if you are interested in having gospel conversations with people. If you aren’t interested in gospel conversations with people, you should especially buy this book. It will encourage you.

The inclusion of a highlight is not full endorsement. It is merely an indication of a provocative thought.

_____________________

Sharing your faith doesn’t impose itself on others, leaving them feeling resentful and used. It invites people to step beyond a superficial friendship where no one really cares about listening, and to head toward deep spiritual relationship. (LOCATION: 152)

The good news of the gospel is that you cannot get to Jesus, but he can get to you. (LOCATION: 310)

What we need is for God to give us mercy and grace so that Christ might do through us those things that are not in us. (LOCATION: 322)

Not only are we to preach the gospel to all kinds of people, we are to expect that some of these very different people will believe the gospel and become part of a local fellowship of believers. The church of Jesus Christ is unique because of its diversity. Too many churches are built on sociological principles, rather than the gospel. (LOCATION: 472)

Do you know why the world has stopped listening to the gospel? Because we want to share it in the least inconvenient, least costly way. We want to save dirty people at a distance. (LOCATION: 541)

It’s remarkable that each time Jesus steps down and identifies with sinners and their suffering there is a corresponding elevation and revelation of who Jesus Christ is. (LOCATION: 564)

Perhaps she sees in you someone who never questions, doubts, or struggles. What she may be rejecting is something she believes is unobtainable for her—a faith that is either blind or na├»ve. (LOCATION: 613)

… you may be her biggest obstacle to belief because she can never imagine herself believing like the person you want her to believe you are. (LOCATION: 614)

We want people to see Jesus in us when it would be so much better if they instead saw someone in need of Jesus. (LOCATION: 622)

In our desire to show others how different we are because of Christ, we’re not making ourselves any more appealing to the nonbelievers around us. In fact, we are presenting ourselves as weird, strange, and bizarre. (LOCATION: 627)

We must work at being normal so that others can imagine themselves being able—and by God’s grace, deeply desire—to be followers of Jesus. (LOCATION: 631)

Don’t feel badly if people call you crazy—this just proves that you’re in good company! They said it about Jesus when they listened to his teaching: “He has a demon, and is insane” (John 10:20). (LOCATION: 646)

We should do the hard work, keeping the balance of being crazy for God, but completely normal around others. (LOCATION: 699)

The syncretism that confuses the gospel with American culture and secular values is much harder for us to see because we’re the ones doing it.

NOTE: As opposed to pagan idolatry described above (LOCATION: 754)

God’s salvation includes our experiencing, right now in the present, being reconciled to him and others and entering the new age where we experience a foretaste of heaven in our life together—through the application of the work of Christ in each of our lives. (LOCATION: 782)

The only way I can experience the fullness of God’s salvation in my life is if I’m part of a community of believers who are gracing one another in their daily lives. This is exactly what the church is to be and why it is essential. We can only experience all of God’s salvation together when we share his grace among us. (LOCATION: 789)

Western individualism has turned the church into an event that I may or may not participate in, depending on what I get out of it. This is not what the church is to be. It is a community of people who bring the best of the grace that God has given us and give it to one another. (LOCATION: 792)

The church is to be a spiritual banquet, where we all bring the grace God has given us and share it with one another. We should share that grace the same way God shared it with us. Because he has lavished his grace on us (Ephesians 1:8), we should lavish it on one another. When we do so, the church becomes a community where the promises of God are lived out among the people making the church heaven on earth. (LOCATION: 815)

This understanding of the church also changes why we go to church. We shouldn’t go thinking, What I am going to get out of church today? But, How am I going to grace my brothers and sisters this morning? (LOCATION: 823)

In party evangelism, everyone evangelizes, using the gifts they’ve been given. (LOCATION: 868)

If the Christian community is going to challenge our culture, we as the church must begin by being a place where the gospel is communally lived out toward the external world. (LOCATION: 904)

To love your friends doesn’t take a great deal of grace, most of the time. (LOCATION: 913)

Instead of making friends, hoping that one day they will be interested in the gospel, we should find people who are interested in the gospel and befriend them. (LOCATION: 939)

When we separate evangelism from discipleship, we limit what we say to non-Christians to a few passages in the Bible that we believe are “for” non-Christians. (LOCATION: 1015)

One difference between a convert-making approach and a discipleship-making approach is that the convert-making method takes a brief time. You can make a convert in a few minutes. It takes a lifetime to make a disciple. (LOCATION: 1064)

How do you disciple non-Christians? By using every circumstance and question in their lives as a window into what it means to follow Christ. (LOCATION: 1085)

It is the Holy Spirit, working in the hearts of non-Christians in many ways, who opens their eyes and softens their hearts. (LOCATION: 1184)

we live in an age where we put far too much importance on what we do and how we do it than calling on God in prayer to do his work. (LOCATION: 1188)

Why should we tell others to depend on and trust in Christ when we don’t demonstrate that we depend on and trust Christ in the way we share our faith? (LOCATION: 1190)

when we consider our work primary and God’s secondary we’re tempted to change the message so it becomes more palatable and our initial response rate to the gospel is improved. (LOCATION: 1194)

Instead of trying to lead people to Christ, let Christ lead people to you. You do this by only sharing the gospel with those who are truly interested in hearing it. (LOCATION: 1207)

Letting Christ bring people to you means never saying more than people want to hear. (LOCATION: 1228)

Why do we feel if we keep talking we can change their minds? It is God that changes hearts, not my words. God may use your words, but if people are not interested in what you have to say, stop talking. (LOCATION: 1230)

In traditional evangelism we look for someone to share the gospel with. A better approach is not to go looking for people to talk to, but to look for people to listen to. (LOCATION: 1346)

We listen more than we speak not only to communicate real care and concern, but because listening will help us know what the Lord wants us to say to the person that he has brought across our path. (LOCATION: 1388)

In the West, we put far too much emphasis on the power of speaking, while overlooking the power of listening. (LOCATION: 1398)

Instead of believing you were not made for evangelism, believe that you are the perfect person to share your faith with many people—because your personality, your experiences, your knowledge, and the way you say things is the best way for many people to hear the gospel. (LOCATION: 1449)

In a real approach to evangelism, we do not have to take the person from A to Z in a single presentation. All we’re looking to do is help the person take the next step, or just go from A to B. Remember, we are discipling people to Christ and downplaying the “big decision.” (LOCATION: 1459)

We need to get over wanting people to like us! (LOCATION: 1471)

Perhaps the real reason we don’t share our faith more often is because we don’t believe the gospel. It no longer works for us. (LOCATION: 1491)

You might want to say to him, “Wait a minute, don’t you know that only one out of every three seeds you plant will produce fruit? Why bother at all, if your return is so small?” His response would be, “I’d better plant a lot more seeds, then!” In other words, if few people respond, increase the number of people you’re sharing the gospel with! (LOCATION: 1507)

“You don’t pastor just a church; you pastor a community. (LOCATION: 1565)

Maybe Philippians 1:6 should be the way we think of our testimonies: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” It’s not about how the process started; it’s about how God is continuing that process. (LOCATION: 1614)

you have hundreds of testimonies because you have a story of how God is at work throughout your life and how he continues to be, even at this moment. You can never tell the whole story in one sitting; you simply pick a part of the story to tell. (LOCATION: 1616)

In a normal, real approach to evangelism, the real question is which testimony do you give? You share the one that’s most relevant to the person you’re speaking with. (LOCATION: 1620)

the reason most of us only have one testimony, and why it ends on the day we raised our hands, is that we have not seen God working in a progressive way in the different identities of our lives. (LOCATION: 1624)

This is good news for all of us who have ever had “testimony envy.” We don’t have to wish we had a horrible past; we have, at present if not for Christ, very ugly hearts. The closer we grow to Christ, the more we see just how rotten we are. (LOCATION: 1637)

When we speak about our Christian experience as a distant past event—where our life is divided into a bad part and a good part—we give people the impression that we are good, instead of showing them how God is good. (LOCATION: 1642)

In a real testimony, you make it clear that your life right now would be a mess if it wasn’t for Jesus—that you would be in the exact same position as the person you are speaking to (and in some ways, still are), if it weren’t for Jesus. (LOCATION: 1655)

You’re not good, but Jesus is great. (LOCATION: 1657)

The shaping of the gospel so that it directly addresses and perfectly fits the person you’re speaking to is called contextualization. (LOCATION: 1677)

It is the difference between a personal handwritten letter and spam e-mail. (LOCATION: 1678)

The only way to effectively shape the gospel to fit the individual is to listen deeply to what the person is saying to you, then take what they’ve told you and wrap it up in a response that was made (LOCATION: 1694)

you don’t have to speak until you clearly see how the gospel applies to that person’s needs. (LOCATION: 1698)

With a real approach to presenting the gospel, you want to listen as much as possible because the other person is giving you clues as to how you should shape the gospel. (LOCATION: 1700)

If it isn’t clear how you are to respond, keep asking questions until the light comes on in your head and you see how you should frame the message. (LOCATION: 1703)

To shape the gospel we listen, look, and ask questions. In doing so we’re also telling the other person that we care deeply about him. (LOCATION: 1723)

Listen, listen again, pray as you listen, and speak only when the person invites you to do so, on the issue they’re asking you about. (LOCATION: 1726)

You take what someone does every day, all the time, and you wrap the gospel around it so that their daily life is a continual reminder of God’s truth. (LOCATION: 1766)

People have said to me that they cannot think quickly enough to illustrate the gospel from people’s everyday lives. However, you can learn to be better at it. You can improve these skills by practicing them until they become second nature. And you can keep listening until you know what to say. Listening is never a bad thing! (LOCATION: 1779)

One exercise you can do is to take a theological concept, list some occupations, and think of a way to communicate God’s truth for each. For example, sin. How would you illustrate sin for a plumber? What was the dirtiest, smelliest problem you ever had to deal with? Sin is uglier than that. Or a nurse? Sin does the same thing as not washing your hands; it makes a lot of other people sick. Or a lawyer? Sin is like the slamming of that jail door behind you, and you know you’re not getting out. (LOCATION: 1781)

Then change to another gospel concept. For example forgiveness, for a lawyer, is like hearing the prison door slam and realizing you’re on the outside. For a plumber, forgiveness is like that moment when the clog releases and everything gets washed away. And what about grace? For a nurse, it’s when someone gives an organ so another can live. For a mother, grace is all those things she does that we never see or thank her for. For a golfer, it might be playing “best ball” and having Rory McIlroy as your partner. (LOCATION: 1785)

When the conversation turns from sharing the truth to defending it, traditional evangelism stops and apologetics begins. (LOCATION: 1828)

Everyone “has skin in the game.” All facts are reinterpreted by our worldviews and unproven presuppositions in order to support our conclusions. (LOCATION: 1837)

Presuppositional apologetics turns those tables. It isn’t God on trial—we are. (LOCATION: 1846)

We want to seek to understand their system and the unquestioned assumptions they’re making about God, his creation, and themselves. (LOCATION: 1850)

In as loving and gentle a way as possible (an approach that presuppositional apologists aren’t especially known for), you want to help them see how intellectually dishonest they’re being. (LOCATION: 1851)

A better way is not to read the book, but ask your friend to explain her religion, why she believes it, and what it does for her. Tell her that you’ve always been interested in understanding what her religion teaches and want to compare it with Christian teaching. This is better than reading a book because people who say they’re from a particular faith may neither know nor believe the teachings of their own faith. There are many people whose faith is a cultural commitment rather than a religious one. (LOCATION: 2185)

Attacking someone’s religion, even if they don’t believe it themselves, doesn’t help them convert; it just closes down the conversation. (LOCATION: 2210)

People are people first! Instead of thinking of people as different from you because of their religious beliefs, understand that they are in many ways like you. They have many of the same hopes, dreams, and fears. Instead of us-versus-them, we should see ourselves on the same side of the table, talking about how we and our friends are facing the problems and difficulties in life. Your attitude and respectful listening will set the example. (LOCATION: 2222)

Our job is not to pressure, but to explain and clarify. It is God who changes the heart. (LOCATION: 2247)

Could it be that people reject the gospel because it is too good to be true? (LOCATION: 2325)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Ryle’s Inadequate View of Revelation

In Holiness, Ryle has a chapter devoted to a warning for the visible church drawn on the letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3. In this chapter, Ryle remarks,

I never can believe, if a certain form of Church government was so very important as some say, that the great Head of the Church would have said nothing about it here. I should have expected to have found something said about it to Sardis and Laodicea. But I find nothing at all. And I think that silence is a great fact.*

It is no doubt an argument that persuades many. We know this because the same argument is trumpeted about by what are known as “Red-Letter Christians.” The idea is that if Jesus didn’t say something about it the words directly attributed to him, then it isn’t really Christianity. By this means people pick and choose what parts of Scripture they must follow and what parts they can disregard. It is essentially Marcionite in its approach.

The rebuttal to this is simple:

First, there is the teaching that all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable (2 Tim 3:16-17). We should not devalue some parts of Scripture because it isn’t repeated in other parts. If something is said then we should consider it authoritative when it is rightly understood and applied. It is the discipline of systematic theology to correlate the passages, not to discount them. And once is enough. If God said it, he doesn’t need to repeat it (though he might).

Secondly, there is the reality that much of Scripture is topical in nature, or what theologians call “occasional.” By “occasional,” we don’t mean “every now and then” but “written to address a particular occasion.” This reminds us that a message or a letter in Scripture need not address every single thing but only the things that were important for the recipients of the message at the time of the writing.

So with respect to Ryle’s particular argument, we must not devalue church government because it isn’t mentioned in Revelation 2-3. It may well be that church government wasn’t the problem. It is entirely credible that the churches in these seven cities were indeed in order when it came to their polity. The problem was something else.

Let us be careful not to discount a truth from God because it isn’t in every verse of Scripture.

All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable.

*J. C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots (London: William Hunt and Company, 1889), 326–327.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Power of Parents in the Worship of Children

Everyone knows that parents have tremendous power and influence in the lives of children, particularly in their younger years. And everyone knows that children have tremendous power and influence in the lives of parents.

The first is what God intended. The second is moving toward the effects of the fall in the reversal of creation-based roles.

The irony of the title, “The Power of Parents in the Worship of Children” is that we parents have often become almost powerless because we worship children. They run our lives by commanding our responses that flow out of a heart unchecked by the worship of God.

It should be the other way around. That our power in the lives of our children is driven by our worship of God, and our children’s worship is instructed by our worship of God rather than our worship of children.

As Israel departed Egypt in the exodus, the Passover was instituted by God as a reminder of his powerful deliverance, a deliverance that their children and grandchildren would never see. Yet in the initial instruction concerning the Passover, God envisions a day when the children will ask “What does this ceremony mean to you?” (Exod 12:26). “Why are you doing this?” they will say.

Embedded in this anticipated question are several important things.

First, there is the assumption that the parents are continuing in the commanded worship of God through the observance of the Passover. They have not let the immediate, internal complacency, or the passing of time shove aside their commanded worship and remembrance.

Seccond, there is the assumption that parents are participating in the observance in a way that makes clear that there is a meaning to it beyond the mere passing observance of a religious ritual. There is the assumption that the meaning of the Passover has been internalized by the parent.

Third, there is the assumption that the children are involved in the observance, that this worship is not just for adults. It is a family observance.

Fourth, there is the assumption that parents are able to answer the questions of their children because of their own spiritual knowledge of the history and the meaning of God’s work among them. In fact, there is the assumption that the parents will give God’s answer, "that our God delivered us from Egypt’ (Exod 12:27).

Thus, when children see it and ask, parents can answer in way that instructs their children and brings about the worship of children, that is, children who worship because of the mighty acts of God that they never saw but have only heard about from their parents.

In an age where parents worship children, we are often tempted to avoid the hard things. It is often easier to put our children to bed than it is read the Bible with them and pray with them before bedtime. It is often easier to let the sports schedule dictate the church schedule rather than fight the fight of missing games rather than church. It is often easier to address sin issues with non-biblical or quasi-biblical instructions rather than address the matters of the heart.

Parents who have no internalized the worship of God will usually take the easy road. We just want them to be quiet, to stop fighting, to get their homework done, to get to bed, to win games, to clean their rooms. And we will say or do whatever it is necessary in that moment to satisfy our children enough to get them to do what we want.

And in that, we often miss a teaching opportunity, however brief it might be. It’s the opportunity to teach them that at that very moment, they are worshipping something. They are professing allegiance to something—their selfish desires that bring fighting, their sinful desire for the immediate gratification of laziness rather than the harder task of completing homework, their arrogance that convinces them they know more than the referee or the teacher.

What we should want is for them to see how all these things are connected to the worship of God and the  filling of their God-ordained roles at this stage in their lives. What we should strive for is to root all these responses to life in the mighty acts of God in creation, deliverance, and community.

Sure it’s hard. And if we worship children, we will do everything we can to make them happy and to appease them.

But if we will worship God, we will approach parenting with the goal of teaching and reminding our children constantly that we all—ourselves included—have someone greater to answer to and to worship—namely, the Creator and Deliverer, God himself.

And so when our children ask, “Why do you do that?” let us make sure that the “that” they are asking about is our counter-cultural and other-worldly worship of God and the radical approach to life that stems from it. And let us make sure that, when our children ask, we have an answer that can lift them above the pressing needs of this hour and direct them to the eternal values of God.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Ryle on the Importance of a Church That Teaches Hell and Judgment

If you would ever be a healthy and Scriptural Christian, I entreat you to beware of any ministry which does not plainly teach the reality and eternity of hell. Such a ministry may be soothing and pleasant, but it is far more likely to lull you to sleep than to lead you to Christ, or build you up in the faith. It is impossible to leave out any portion of God’s truth without spoiling the whole. That preaching is sadly defective which dwells exclusively on the mercies of God and the joys of heaven, and never sets forth the terrors of the Lord and the miseries of hell. It may be popular, but it is not Scriptural: it may amuse and gratify, but it will not save. Give me the preaching which keeps back nothing that God has revealed. You may call it stern and harsh; you may tell us that to frighten people is not the way to do them good. But you are forgetting that the grand object of the Gospel is to persuade men to “flee from the wrath to come,” and that it is vain to expect men to flee unless they are afraid. Well would it be for many professing Christians if they were more afraid about their souls than they now are!

J. C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots (London: William Hunt and Company, 1889), 252–253.