A Web of Glory

Consider your life a spider web.

Something forms the center, anchoring every thread that radiates outward, connecting the various strands as one. What centers your web?

The Greek word for glory is doxay. A doxology thus ascribes glory to God. Theologian Robert Reymond writes: “The church . . . is to view itself primarily as a ‘trophy’ of God’s mercy and grace, and see its first duty to be that of living doxologically before God, praising Him both in its belief and its behavior.” Do you view yourself as Jesus’ trophy, as a monument to His victory over sin and death and hell? Are you living doxologically?

Trophies stand on display for all to see, marking achievement and excellence. Each Christian stands as a living trophy, whose life shows forth Jesus’ work of redemption and His power to sanctify His people. The Church therefore resides as Exhibit A in God’s trophy case, set out for the world to see, so that all might know that Jesus Christ redeems.

If an investigator traced the trail of your time, money, friendships, activities, and interests, would that trail lead him to Jesus Christ? In other words, would he find that the glory of Jesus forms the center of your web, anchoring every strand of your life? Or does something else reside there?

Pray this: “Father, give me passion and power to shape my life for the glory of Jesus. May all I do bring Him glory. Amen.”

As God answers that prayer in you, it will not matter which thread life plucks, for each will lead to Jesus who anchors all the threads of your life in His glory.

On Hunting Words and Mice

The Gospel spreads where and when it does for reasons we cannot see at the time.

Christianity captured Ireland in the 5th Century. Warlike and barbarous, the Irish nevertheless possessed a keen wit and a love for good storytelling. Christ curbed their warfare, cultivated their love for words, and bent their wit to His uses.

When the western half of the Roman Empire fell, much of the classic literature of antiquity survived only in the monasteries of Ireland. Irish monks preserved Latin, Greek and even Hebrew works, copying everything, whether they loved or hated its contents. That men once put it in writing offered sufficient reason to preserve it for future generations.

Irish monks developed new and elaborate fonts for the great works they copied, blurring the lines between letters and art, creating some of the most visually arresting books ever produced. And although history knows their work, little about the monks themselves remains. Bits of poetry, original stories, and personal comments in the margins of books hint at men who enjoyed their labor.

One monk described his love for copying, comparing it to his cat’s love for hunting mice, and captured his thoughts in the following poem:

                                        I and Pangur Ban my cat, ‘tis a like task we are at:                                                     Hunting mice is his delight, hunting words I sit all night.

                                        ‘Tis a merry thing to see, at our tasks how glad are we,                                                 when at home we sit and find entertainment to our mind.

                                        ‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye, full and fierce and sharp and sly;                        ‘gainst the wall of knowledge I all my little wisdom try.

                                         So in peace our task we ply, Pangur Ban my cat and I;                                                in our arts we find our bliss, I have mine and he has his.

As the Middle Ages progressed, Irish monks planted monasteries on the continent of Europe, contributed to the blossoming of western civilization, and helped to reeducate Europe.

Jesus saved the Irish. And the Irish, separated from the social, economic, and political upheaval that followed the demise of Rome, saved some of the intellectual seeds that sprouted during the Renaissance and Reformation.

You will never know their names. But you live in the intellectual world they helped to create.

 

To find this poem, and for further reading, see Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization.

Whose reputation matters?

“Do your whole duty, and quietly leave to God the defense of your reputation.” So taught Archibald Alexander, founding professor of Princeton Seminary.

Alexander instructed prospective ministers positively to inculcate the truth, with clarity and ability, and to shun personal squabbles. It is the minister’s business to adorn the reputation of Jesus Christ, and to leave to God the defense of his own.

Proverbs 12:16 advises, “The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.” Would that such advice were more often taken. Those who possess the least integrity often defend themselves most vocally. But David sets a better example when he pleads in Psalm 26:1, “Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.”

Pastor, do you devote more energy to exalting the reputation of Jesus or to defending your own?

You need not be a pastor to welcome Alexander’s counsel, and the world will never accept it. Republicans chastise Democrats. Democrats chide Republicans. Fox News toots its own horn, while shaming NBC. NBC counters. Never an insult passes but that the world replies in kind. Retaliation rules the culture, and reputation fuels retaliation.

Instead, let confidence in the LORD rule every Christian heart.

The less we defend ourselves, the more we exalt Him who does.

On Dudes and Nuance

I’m all for sound theology. Especially I favor well-articulated sound theology. But I’m no fan of “nuance.”

At least not in the way it’s currently being used in my insulated, small, Presbyterian, Reformed, PCA, neck-of-the-woods.

It goes like this: Dude writes something. Another Dude says, “That’s wrong because of X.” Original Dude replies, “You don’t understand the nuance.” Sometimes the conversation continues, but often it ends.

The effect being that an appeal to “nuance” explains away legitimate disagreement. I’d be much happier if Dude simply replied, “I disagree. I think X is good theology.” At least then we could talk about it. But when Dude appeals to “nuance,” he is like a Master Sommelier who tastes hints of moldy bark and burnt moss in his Cabernet. How do you argue with burnt moss? You can’t taste anything but fruity goodness. “Nuance” shuts down plain conversation and precludes plain disagreement. Dudes agree to agree that nobody can understand the nuance well enough to agree or disagree. Really?

I call Uncle. Enough with the nuance already.

Something similar happens with “tone.” Instead of Dude saying, “Dude, you’re an insensitive jerk,” he says, “Dude, you’re tone deaf.” Which roughly translated means, “Dude, you’re an insensitive jerk.” Only it’s not polite or politically correct to call a Dude an insensitive jerk, so we call him tone deaf instead. This is the ecclesiastical equivalent of a sweet Southern Belle saying, “Well, bless your heart!” when she really means, “I hate you and everyone who has ever contributed to your ancestry.”

How about we just say what we mean and deal with disagreement openly?

Please don’t hear me saying that I’m in favor of name-calling. I’m sure that some Dude will reply to this post by telling me I’m tone deaf. But all I am asking for is a little more forthrightness and willingness to have open, clear, and frank debate, absent the politically correct euphemisms that veil rather than clarify meaning. Polite? Yes. Murky? No thank you.

I fear that PCA Dudes are becoming so “nuanced” that we’re no longer following Paul’s example in 2 Corinthians 4:2, in which he asserts that “by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” Paul favored precise theology, and he offered clear distinctions. But he also modeled an open statement of his convictions.

Our current use of “nuance” does no favors to such forthrightness.

Dudes, “open statement of the truth,” please.

Balderdash and the Church

Maybe you’ve read the articles. The world accuses the Church of fostering a culture of sexual abuse.

Balderdash.

Millions of Christians worldwide daily pursue justice and mercy, goodness and truth, and love for neighbor within their marriages, in their parenting, at work, in church, in their neighborhoods, and in charities and social organizations, quietly modeling the character of Christ day in and day out. Their conduct never makes the news. Christ-like behavior is not nearly as sexy as one Christian whose conduct denies his profession of faith. Scandal sells.

Every day faithful churches deal carefully and biblically with cases of abuse, cooperating with law enforcement, caring for victims, and pursuing justice and accountability, quietly and faithfully. But that’s not newsworthy. Scandal scintillates.

For two thousand years the Church of Jesus Christ has inculcated the virtue of self-control (Titus 2:11-12), the importance of love for neighbors (Matthew 22:36-40), and the necessity that men treat women as sisters in Christ (1 Timothy 5:1-2). The Church has been teaching men and women to conduct themselves with sexual integrity since the days of Moses. But that’s just a killjoy. Scandal is so much more intriguing than obedience.

The world expects, nay, it demands, that the Church share its outrage against sexual sin, which is the sin de jour. If a church instead chooses simply to live in fidelity to the truth and in sexual integrity, rather than to make showy, toothless, public proclamations, then that church is—according to the world—complicit. Phrases like “silence is consent” bandy about as the world shames the Church. But if the Church does rebuke sin, and if that sin is not the sin de jour—or if it is a sin that society refuses to call sin—then the world denounces the Church as hateful or racist or misogynistic or any number of other derogatory labels of contempt.

Remain silent and be hated. Speak and be hated. These are our choices.

I reject the construct.

I affirm that individual professing Christians have been guilty of sin and abuse. I reject the idea that an entire institution is guilty for the sin of an individual.

I affirm that individual churches have mishandled abuse cases, and in so doing have wounded the abused. I reject the idea that every church stands guilty for the sin of one church.

I affirm that entire denominations have failed to speak or have actively covered up sexual sin. I reject the notion that every denomination is thus a nursery for abuse.

I affirm that the Church must balance justice and mercy, giving appropriate weight to each when dealing with sin and abuse. I reject the intimation that world knows best how the Church should deal with sin.

The world understands neither justice nor mercy, and it certainly knows nothing of how justice and mercy meet in the reconciling work of Jesus Christ.

I reject the hubris of the world in presuming to tell the Church what it should or should not do and say.

The Church of Jesus Christ—with all her warts, flaws, sins, shortcomings, baggage, failings, and weaknesses—is still the beautiful Bride of Christ whom He will deliver blameless on the last day. The Church still binds and looses, opening and shutting the Kingdom of God through her preaching of Good News. To the Church Jesus has given the oracles and ordinances for the gathering and perfecting of the saints. With the Church He is battering down the gates of hell.

The world is in no position to bad talk the Bride of Christ.

In fact, the world might find that the Church’s husband has been keeping score, and He is jealous for His Bride.

Kangaroo Courts and Internet Outrage

The court of public opinion sows moral disease. Far from administering justice, this court renders verdicts without evidence and sentences without process.

But “everyone is entitled to his opinion.” No, everyone is not. Everyone is entitled to his informed opinion. An uninformed opinion is no opinion at all. An uninformed opinion—a strong conviction devoid of evidence—has a different name. It is called prejudice.

And prejudice rules the Internet.

Of course I expect the world to bandwagon upon each wave of outrage that sweeps across social media. I expect that many people will treat their feelings of indignation as evidence. I expect that the prejudiced will be unwilling to hear or to respect any different view. I expect that people of outrage will attempt to silence those who refuse to join their outrage.

I expect better from Christians. Proverbs 18:13 teaches, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” In other words, listen. No, not just to one article from one perspective from one person. Listen. Every story is a diamond, replete with multiple facets. Look at it from more than one angle. And remember that Proverbs 29:20 asks, “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” In other words, speak only after listening. Speak only when informed. Speak gently. Speak not from a place of outrage.

If you are a Christian, do your words proceed from opinion or prejudice? Do they flow from a heart that understands its own guilt? More fundamentally, how would you want people to talk about you online? Would you like to be excoriated in the court of public opinion? Would you consider that just? Will you then live by the Golden Rule or not?

Those who prosecute others on social media often do so in the name of justice. They present themselves as proverbial “social justice warriors.” What an irony! There is nothing just about condemning another human being online because the public—which is often bizarrely ignorant—is outraged. Such behavior in no way represents justice. In fact, it represents a perversion of justice.

Real courts exist. Courts of the civil government pursue, reveal, and enforce justice. Courts of the church likewise dig to determine truth, to secure accountability, and to reflect the work of Christ, whose judgment is and always will be flawless.

But the court of public opinion is a kangaroo court that derives authority only when people choose to participate in it.

If you’re a follower of Christ, don’t.

Happiness is Vulnerable

Nothing will so surely create misery than to strive for happiness.

Happiness is secondary. Happiness is a byproduct. Happiness comes when pursuing something other than happiness.

C.S Lewis understood: “You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.”

What is first for you? What are you pursuing? Significance? Stuff? Relationships? Money? Whatever it is, you may be pursuing it because in your heart of hearts you believe that it will “make you happy.”

Jesus spoke about all the stuff after which people chase. Wealth. Material goods. Security. And then He told His followers not to pursue these things. Instead, He gave counterintuitive advice: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Including joy, which is better than happiness. Joy is deeper. It lasts longer. It proceeds from Christ and stands immune to the winds and waves and storms of this life.

A childhood song says, “Happiness is two kinds of ice cream, finding your skate key . . . playing the drum in your own school band,” and “walking hand in hand.” Happiness is thus vulnerable. If your ice cream melts, your skate key finds the bottom of a trashcan, the school district cancels music classes, and your friend moves to the other side of the country, then happiness falters.

But joy in Christ endures. Nothing can take you from Christ or Christ from you. So pursue that which is first. Pursue Christ. Pursue His Kingdom and righteousness.

When you do so, happiness will often follow.

But if happiness is first, Christ is not.

Following the Blind

It’s one thing when the blind lead the blind, but another entirely when those with sight willingly follow them.

I recently read a Christian article about Christian leadership in Christian churches. The author offered five keys to leadership but did not mention the Bible, Jesus, faith, or divine calling to leadership.

Restating standard advice from corporate America, the article omitted any mention of spiritual qualifications or Christian maturity. Neither 1 Timothy 3 nor Titus 1—nor a trace of their wisdom—appeared in the article.

From corporate America, I expect this. The world’s model reflects the world’s ideal: decisiveness, vision, self-sufficiency, and a firm handshake—mixed with equal parts confidence and grit—make for a surefire winner.

But Christian leadership does not fit the world’s model. Humble, self-sacrificing, other-oriented, and gentle, Christian leadership doesn’t look much like leadership in the eyes of the world. None of God’s leaders assert themselves. Instead, God calls. God equips. Usually He does so by driving the prospective leader through deserts and wilderness and drought and hunger and hardship and want, burning away the dross and producing the likeness of Christ. It is a spiritual process that defies the world’s expectations. It rarely follows neat steps, and the leader is not in control. God is.

Christ calls and prepares His leaders, and tells His Church in the Scripture how to identify them. A Christian leader experiences forgiveness and extends grace. A Christian leader believes the Gospel. A Christian leader, above all, follows Christ in humility and repentance, and displays—however imperfectly—something of His character and heart.

If you’re a leader in your church and you follow the leadership advice the world gives, you might become a competent CEO but you’ll be terrible elder.

And that makes sense because you’ll be following the blind.

Corporate America only cultivates blind men, and blind men have no business leading Jesus’ Church.

And the Church has no business following them.

On Good Authority

Everybody needs a source of authority.

If you’re a Christian, you look to the Bible. And for many years a common Christian heritage undergirded Western civilization, offering an accepted moral framework even to those who rejected the supernatural teachings of the Scripture. No longer.

After describing the increasing intellectual bankruptcy of American university students, Scott Gibson contends, “They are unable to think for themselves. Yet, the prevailing culture has taught them to rely upon themselves as the source of judgment. The self has become the authority.” That trend is only increasing. Gibson wrote these words nearly 20 years ago.

Self-authority offers a frightening prospect. Proverbs 14:12 teaches, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” When left to our own devices, human beings do poorly. Narcissism, hedonism, materialism, and raw power seduce and destroy. “The heart is deceitful above all things.”

To the contrary, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches that the Bible is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” In other words, the Scripture provides a profitable authority, able to correct and equip Christians for a life of God-honoring service.

Will you do that perfectly? No. Will you fail often? Yes. But over time, Romans 12:2 teaches that as you read the Bible with faith in Jesus you will “be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” You will learn to think biblically, to discern the will of God, and increasingly to act faithfully upon it.

So do not lose heart.

Self offers no trustworthy authority. But the LORD is trustworthy eternally. Build your life on the authority of His Word.

Spurgeon, Scholars, and the Savior

Charles Haddon Spurgeon had a way with words. Impressing upon his seminary students the need not merely to cultivate knowledge, but more importantly to nurture personal love for Jesus Christ, Spurgeon wrote, “The devil is a greater scholar than you.”

And he is. Our adversary is smarter than any pastor. He is a quicker study than any theologian. He quotes the Scripture better than any Navigator. But he lacks love.

Love matters. 1 Corinthians 13 teaches that even if a man grasps “all mysteries and all knowledge,” but has not love, he is “nothing.” Peter teaches that “love covers a multitude of sins.”

Don’t get me wrong. Ministerial education is vital. Spurgeon wasn’t denying that. He was, in fact, educating men for ministry! But he understood that at the root of our instructions must stand love—for Christ, for men and women, and for the truth of the Gospel.

It’s easy to love theology. Theology doesn’t talk back. I’ve never argued with a book. People are more complex.

But no book is created in the image of God. No theology primer possesses eternal value. Jesus did not die for a systematic theology. He died for you and me. And according to John 15:13, that’s the very definition of love.

Jesus is the greatest scholar of all, but it isn’t His scholarship that defines Him. It is His act of self-giving love.