Monthly Archives: October 2006

You Might Not Be Humble If…

Time for a new series. This one should be fun and mildly enlightening, I hope.

I often think about what a secular documentary of a Christian church would look like. I think to myself a fair amount about the hypocritical tendencies the crew might pick up. One of the easiest spots of hypocrisy to spot, I think, would be false humility. There are many in the church who are good at projecting humility without inhabiting it. Able to smile, quick with the charm, versed in the cliches, it can be easy to pretend to be humble, modest, and concerned with others when in fact our smiles are like our suits: external trappings that hide our true selves.

That might sound a bit over the top, and it could be. But it also can be true. One of the ways this particular hypocritical attitude shows itself is when Christians compliment themselves in their personal testimonies. Have you ever noticed this? I have, and I’m guessing my fictional secular documentary group would expose it so quick they’d ruin their film. You see, Christians are supposed to be humble. That means we’re not supposed to talk about ourselves and make ourselves look good in conversation. Right. We know that. And a good amount of the time, we stick by it. But when we’re not truly humble, when our hearts aren’t truly made over in this area, sin and sinful arrogance will poke through the exterior. We’ll indulge our desire to make ourselves look good by speaking at length of our sinful past, dropping not-so-subtle hints that we were once pretty spectacular but now are altogether submitted to ordinariness, which we are oh-so-happy to live out. In fact, the opposite is true.

You must know what I’m talking about, if you’ve been in Christian circles for any lengthy amount of time. Here’s what False Personal Testimony Humility sounds like: “Before the Lord rescued me, I was living a crazy life. I was dating incredibly beautiful women, all of whom were rated 10s by my best friends (and they themselves did pretty well in the woman department), and I was wildly successful in my work, living the high life, getting promotions right and left, and school was just so easy and I totally sinfully blew it off, and I was also pursuing sports with idolatrous desires. That was made so much tougher by me being selected to four straight all-conference teams. I just couldn’t handle the accolades, and so I started partying, and I was the wildest, craziest party boy you ever saw. Then I got saved. Man, it all changed from there.”

That was exhibit A of the False Personal Testimony Humility. If anything in there resonated, congratulations. You too have suffered unjustly from False Humility syndrome, a disease attacking attention-starved Christians all around you. Tomorrow, we’ll examine another variation of this disease, entitled False Providential Blessing Humility.

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And While You’re At It

So the week is winding down, the weekend’s almost here, and it’s raining here in Louisville. Life is good. I thought I would give you a good article to read. It’s by Malcolm Gladwell, currently a very popular public intellectual, and it covers a new way to measure the productivity of basketball players. It will be interesting to you not because it is technical (it’s not), but because it takes conventional wisdom and flips it on his head. It’s always fun when that happens.

And here is a Very Fun Thing: Aol music puts up full-length cds on their website so you can preview them. They put them there for a week or so. Every week you can preview around 20 cds. It’s pretty cool. I’ve been listening a bit to Moby. Check that out, and know that your coolness factor will go up for sure. With that, it’s back to work on a rainy Friday.

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And While You’re At It

So the week is winding down, the weekend’s almost here, and it’s raining here in Louisville. Life is good. I thought I would give you a good article to read. It’s by Malcolm Gladwell, currently a very popular public intellectual, and it covers a new way to measure the productivity of basketball players. It will be interesting to you not because it is technical (it’s not), but because it takes conventional wisdom and flips it on his head. It’s always fun when that happens.

And here is a Very Fun Thing: Aol music puts up full-length cds on their website so you can preview them. They put them there for a week or so. Every week you can preview around 20 cds. It’s pretty cool. I’ve been listening a bit to Moby. Check that out, and know that your coolness factor will go up for sure. With that, it’s back to work on a rainy Friday.

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And While You’re At It

So the week is winding down, the weekend’s almost here, and it’s raining here in Louisville. Life is good. I thought I would give you a good article to read. It’s by Malcolm Gladwell, currently a very popular public intellectual, and it covers a new way to measure the productivity of basketball players. It will be interesting to you not because it is technical (it’s not), but because it takes conventional wisdom and flips it on his head. It’s always fun when that happens.

And here is a Very Fun Thing: Aol music puts up full-length cds on their website so you can preview them. They put them there for a week or so. Every week you can preview around 20 cds. It’s pretty cool. I’ve been listening a bit to Moby. Check that out, and know that your coolness factor will go up for sure. With that, it’s back to work on a rainy Friday.

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The Need to Punish

The soul of America has gone soft. Our will has dulled. When it comes to discipline, we are collectively the five year-old howling not to be spanked. We know we deserve it–we just don’t want it.

You see this instinct everywhere. I often think that we as a society are more prone to feel sorry for the criminal than the victim. Something terrible happens, and we’re so quick to look into the killer’s background, sympathize with his family, and generally look at things from his side of things that we forget the victim. Then, we as a society scream that the poor criminal has to spend time in as terrible a place as jail. Jail is bad, after all, and bad things happen there. So we shorten the sentences and lighten the burdens and ease off the death penalty and all of a sudden, being a criminal ain’t so bad.

We carry this out on many other levels as well. With children, for example. We don’t want to do anything to damage the “self-esteem” of our children or to raise the hackles of the government, so we softpedal physical discipline and use all manner of useless time-outs that do nothing to teach the child that their conduct is bad and instead communicate that if they misbehave, they get to take a quiet break in the corner. No harsh repercussions, no red mark on the hiner. Just a soft little ten-minute spell in the kitchen. Meanwhile, the children learn, just as the criminals do, that it’s not really such a bad thing to disobey.

Even at the seminary I attend, a school strongly committed to the need to point out wrong and address it, some professors use purple ink when they are correcting papers because red hurts feelings. Those who do so do it with the best of intentions. They would likely affirm the need to punish. But they are nonetheless a small participant in the societal shift away from punishment and firm, clear correction. We are so psychologically driven, so concerned with people’s opinions, so scared we might hurt a feeling or scar a psyche, that we go soft at the very point at which we need to go hard and at which the offending person needs us to go hard. As we’ll talk about tomorrow, discipline is not inherently bad for us. It is inherently good for us. And discipline that is not firm and unpleasant does us no good at at all. That type of discipline actually is bad for us.

Think about this. When you did something wrong and were caught at it, what caught your attention? What really made you change? When did you know you were going to get away with your wrongdoing?

When discipline is lovingly administered, it leaves a mark. That mark leaves a lasting impression.

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The Need to Act

I want to take a few days and speak on things that we modern evangelicals need to do. The first, as I see it, is the need to act. Too often we stare into the sun, becoming blind to the world around us.

We need to see what is before us. We need to act. We need a personal theology that rightly balances trust and action. It seems to me that most evangelicals have a healthy understanding of trust. We know that we must wait on God and seek His will before we act. We desire to do what He wants. These are great qualities. We should thank God that He has given us these instincts. However, these instincts do not come alone. God has given us a packaged set of qualities. Included in this set is the motive to take dominion (Gen 1), to survey our world, pray, think, and then act. You see, God has not left us to act only when our circumstances scream at us to take a certain course. He does not hold us accountable for hearing audibly or even imperceptibly what we are to do. The very first word of God to man included the summons to action: to take dominion. We are responsible for trusting in God and praying for Him to guide us. But then, Christians, we are responsible for acting wisely. Do not think that God holds us accountable only for the first. He holds us accountable for both of these actions.

I’m preaching to myself here. And to my colleagues at the seminary I attend. Many of us have a desire to go into ministry but possess little in the way of specific direction. We know we want to do ministry, and we want to do it faithfully. We just don’t know where or what, exactly. This situation can lead to a handcuffing of our will. We can pray and pray and fail to act, waiting as too many of us are for clear and incontrovertible guidance. This is not a godly schema for decision-making. Pray, yes. Trust, yes. Take counsel, yes. But then survey the field–and act. Men, this is your responsibility as the head of the household. And single men–this is the way you prepare to be leaders.

As I go through life, and hear testimonies of how God has led his children, I am repeatedly struck by how often action had to be taken before guidance became clear and blessing was given. We have been trained, latently and explicitly, that the primary way God works is through some intangible form of direct guidance. But this seems quite wrong. God often works when we have trusted in His sovereignty, prayed for His will and then struck off to make hay where fields are found. In the biblical economy, this makes perfect sense. God is not like those mothers you see at the mall who lead their children by a rope system. He leads us by faith. His world works by faith. It is the oxygen we breathe. He does not desire faith occasionally, but continually. Thus, He gives us all kinds of opportunities to exercise faith by prayer-fueled action. So, if you get one sentence out of this, get this: things aren’t going wrong if you have to take action without certain and incontrovertible guidance. If you have prayed, sought counsel, and thought your decision through, things are going right. You are acting, and you are doing so by faith. For the Christian, this is how the world works. For the Christian, you see, there is a need to act.

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The Journey to Here

Brian, a reader of this blog, a Kentuckian, and a kind fellow with a thoughtful blog, was nice enough to ask how I came to SBTS. I’ll happily answer that question, though I want you to know that next month I’m returning to my mostly-impersonal posting. I have a fun series coming up.

After I was gripped with my sin, and after I came to realize the simultaneous reality that I was terrible but grace was beautiful, I was caught with a desire to tell others of this beautiful paradox. The Lord blessed with me two friends who were similarly inclined. Jed and Keegan are their names, and they were wonderful friends to me. Incidentally, or perhaps not, both of them regularly post comments on this blog. You might have seen them if you read this blog once in a while–they’re the ones who write posts that require a PhD to understand. That shouldn’t surprise–Jed’s doing a PhD at some fourth-tier school called Cambridge and Keegan a PhD at a third-tier school called Duke. Yikes! Anyway, we grew much during our college years. At a college ranked one of America’s most secular, Bowdoin College in Maine, we found ourselves with incredible opportunities to share the gospel. Bible studies, nursing-home preaching, post-dinner conversations, school events. We saw firsthand why Christians should not abandon secular environments. There are great opportunities to share the gospel, to be light to those in darkness.

During my senior year of college I was trying to figure out what I would do after graduation. Keegan had gone to Washington, DC for an internship and had really enjoyed the time he spent at a church called Capitol Hill Baptist Church. He heard about their internship program and passed the news on to me. Without knowing anything beyond what I found on their website, I applied. As Johnny Depp would say, events arose, ensued, and were overcome, and after graduation, I struck off for DC to be an intern. At CHBC, I found myself in the middle of a hurricane called the “pastoral internship.” It was awesome. The other five interns and I had to write over sixty papers, attend all church functions (and I do mean all–ALL), and pitch in in various ways with the church. I was transformed by my time at the church. Mark Dever became one of my heroes. A corny term, I admit; but a realistic one.

At CHBC I heard about Southern Seminary and had the privilege of meeting Dr. Albert Mohler, one of the smartest men ever to inhabit a skeletal structure. I consistently heard good things about SBTS and, having become a Southern Baptist at CHBC, knew the tuition would be quite manageable thanks to the contributions of Southern Baptists. After the CHBC internship and an internship at the State Department, I was off to Southern. I’m now in my third year with a year to go. The Lord has graciously guided me these last six years, and I am delighted every day simply to be His.

Thanks, Brian, for asking that question. The providence of God is a beautiful thing indeed.

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When The Flannel-Graph Became Real

It was then that God began to change my life. I accompanied my roommate to the weekday service of the church we attended on Sundays, something I had never done before in all my years of faithful church attendance. There a preacher who I knew, the director of the Christian summer camp that I loved, told the story of Bartimaeus from Matthew 10. He recounted how Bartimaeus, though blind, cried out to Christ for His sight, imploring Christ to make him whole.

I had not intended to be seized by the story; indeed, I am sure that I had heard it before, and felt nothing. But that day I became Bartimaeus—I wanted healing! I wanted forgiveness for the sins of my life. I wanted Jesus Christ, the God-man who died on a cross to save sinners and rose again to give them eternal life, to become my personal savior. I wanted to go to heaven when I died and not to go to hell. Suddenly I loved Jesus, I loved the cross on which He died to save my soul, I loved the church people who worshipped him, and I loved the Bible. That night altered the course of my existence. I began praying earnestly, reading the Bible devotedly, and telling others about Jesus zealously. There was not enough time in the day to tell others about Jesus. God changed me then. He brought peace and joy into my heart by leading me to recognize both the horror of my sin and the beauty of Christ, the One who died to set me free from hell. As He has done throughout history, he used this paradox, this combination of terrible and wonderful truth, to convert me to himself. From that point on, I have lived for Him, and never looked back.

And so Jesus, who I first learned about in a small country church, ceased to be to me a fascinating figure, an arresting piece of flannel on a soft blue background. This Jesus became the one I love and worship, and all because of faithful Christian parents, a roommate who spoke and lived the truth of God’s word, and some basketball dreams that crashed just in time for a young man to see the true need of his heart: the forgiveness of a merciful God, a God whose kindness and warmth I now fully understood.

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Flickering Faith Meets The Bottom of the Rock

My life while in college was a strange mixture of genuine cognitive belief in the doctrines of the Bible, strong passion for girls and basketball, and a lukewarm heart for God. Yet though I could live a double-life in high school, sooner or later something had to give. It wasn’t that I fell headlong into lust and lasciviousness. The Lord kept me from all that. Yet though my sin was quieter, it was no less wicked. Through my freshman year, I claimed to love God and yet clearly loved worldly things. One of the two had to win my heart. One of the two had to direct my destiny.

It could easily have been basketball. I had grand plans to go to college and make it big, thus proving to my hometown that I was a good basketball player. With ferocious discipline, I readied myself for try-outs at little Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. My preparation, however, only readied me for even greater disappointment. The day tryouts ended, the coach called me into his office and cut me from the team. I never cried, but I cried then, all the way back to my dorm room where I collapsed in shame and heartbreak, my dreams departed, my world seemingly falling in on itself.

Yet there was a seed of hope in the experience. Basketball had ceased to become a game for me. It had become a way of life. It was an idol, an earthly object that commanded my devotion and passion, and I worshipped it well. When I was cut from the team, the idol was suddenly taken away from me. I had chased the dream of college basketball for years, and now I had nothing. Or at least I thought I did. I had a wonderful Christian roommate with whom I would talk and laugh each night. He was zealous in his faith and seemed to find genuine hope and joy in God. It was through contact with him that I first came to evaluate my faith.

I compared my love for God to his and found mine sorely lacking. We both said that we were Christians. But where he read his Bible, prayed for a chunk of time each day, and actually tried to live a holy life, I did none of these things. Or rather, I read Christian devotional literature for a few moments before I fell asleep. He had joy and peace in his heart, and it stemmed from the truths he learned in the Bible. I had joy and peace in my heart, and it stemmed from basketball, video games, and flirtatious encounters with girls. He attended church and found something deeply meaningful in it; I attended church, and found something deeply sedative in it. I saw the contrast in my life then, and I saw that on the whole, my lukewarm faith was not getting me anywhere. What’s more, I found myself thinking more about heaven and hell, and I saw that my lukewarm might well get me somewhere—it just might be hell.

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Faith, Basketball, and a Flannel-Graph Jesus

I’ve been trying to post on thoughtful topics for a while now. That’s good, because it stretches me and elicits interesting discussion. In the background of everything I post is my faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Yet I don’t think I’ve shared my story of faith. I want to take a few days and do that. I hope it is interesting, encouraging, and if you’re not a Christian, challenging.

My story of faith begins in the first years of my life. On Sundays, my father and mother took me to the small Baptist church in a neighboring town in rural Maine. In my Sunday School class, with a few other small children, I heard the story of Jesus, or rather watched it unfold on the flannel-graph stand before us in the creaky old building. I was intrigued by this Jesus. He seemed friendly, warm, and inviting, though I had little sense as a child of the depth of his kindness and warmth.

As I grew up I continued to attend church with my parents and supplemented this attendance with week-long visits to a nearby Christian summer camp. For six days, I played as I had never played before. Though I did not become a Christian in my youth at the camp, I realized as I heard there the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that my profile matched that of those who killed Him. I lied; I was mean to my little sister; I sometimes grew very angry with my parents. I began to see the sin, the desire and agency to do wrong things, of my heart at that time. What was worse, I heard about the reality of hell, where sinners who did not turn away from sin and receive the forgiving love of Jesus were sent to be punished for eternity, and I believed in it. I am not sure that I ever wanted to believe in hell. But from day one, I could not help it. It would be some years, however, before I matched my belief with action.

So I grew up, a conscionable kid in a school marked as most high schools are by partying and the pursuits of sinful desires. Unlike many of my peers, I was close to my parents, who provided a steady witness to Christ by faithful church attendance and dedicated Christian living. During this time, I fell headlong in love with basketball. Basketball consumed me, and though the people in my church were kind and godly and my pastor’s preaching was stoutly biblical, I wasn’t truly focused on God. Much of the time, I was far away in Basketball World, where I made every shot and won every cheerleader’s heart. Jesus? I believed in Him and the central ideas taught about Him—His deity, His perfection, His sinlessness, His goodness. But He remained distant. He was an interesting figure, sure, but like the flannel-graph figure of my childhood, He was distant, a curious but far-off presence.

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