Oaks not Mushrooms

Chapter 7 – “The Growth Chart of the Christian Life” – in Tony Reinke’s book Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015) came at just the right moment for me this week, when I’ve been discouraged and impatient.  There’s so much wisdom in this chapter!

It closes with this quote from Newton:

Remember, the growth of a believer is not like a mushroom, but like an oak, which increases slowly indeed but surely.  Many suns, showers, and frosts, pass upon it before it comes to perfection; and in winter, when it seems dead, it is gathering strength at the root.  Be humble, watchful, and diligent in the means, and endeavor to look through all, and fix you eye upon Jesus, and all shall be well.

And these words from Reinke:

In our impatient smartphone culture, this may be the most important takeaway from Newton’s three letters on the growth of grace in the Christian life.  Sync your spiritual expectations to the leisurely agricultural pace of God.  Live simply and live patiently, knowing that God is growing you for the ages.  Be patient and faithful in the ordinary means of grace.

Faithful pastor, don’t fuss over the imperceptible growth in your flock.  Let God’s timing recalibrate your expectations for what maturity will look like in them.  Although the progress is often unseen, and your pastoral labors never end, the Spirit-born fruit is growing.  Celebrate even the smallest evidences of maturity you see.  Christian, don’t fuss over your current mood as a gauge of your spiritual health, but keep two eyes focused daily on the Christ who hung on a tree (158-59).


City on a Hill

Too often the road of evangelism and mission is one people attempt to travel alone.  But we need the encouragement, support, and accountability of community as we live on mission.

In Matthew 5, in what has been termed the ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ Jesus gave great metaphors for what mission could and should look like.  One of the specific ideas was comparing the idea of our mission and message to light.

You are the light of the world.  A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden.  No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matt. 5:14-16)

One of the keys to understanding this passage is to recognize that Jesus was addressing a community of people, and He illustrated the carrier of this great hope as a city.

There has never been a city that had a population of one.  One person on a hill does not qualify as a city no matter how hard he or she may try.  A city is a city because it has a large number of people who make up its population.  We are called to invite people into biblical community so they can experience the ‘city’ – the family of God.

People need to see the grace of God lived out among a group of people.  They need to see other believers repenting, confessing, rejoicing in God’s grace, and forgiving others.  They need to see the gospel applied to life.  People desperately desire to belong to something bigger than themselves, and despite being more connected than ever (social media), many people are incredibly lonely.

You are not meant simply to show off the light that you have as an individual, but rather you are meant to display the light of the gospel through a community of people who are unified in Jesus.  Biblical community is like a city on a hill that emits a great light to those who are wandering around in a dark, desolate desert.

Dustin Willis & Aaron Coe, Life On Mission: Joining the Everyday Mission of God (Chicago: Moody, 2014), 132-33.


Some Should Go, Some Should Stay

Mark Dever’s recent little booklet entitled, Understanding the Great Commission, succinctly and successfully makes the case that the Great Commission is fulfilled by and results in CHURCHES.  It’s not an individual mandate to make individual converts.

But here is the section that stood out most to me (p. 53):

Just because a move might be costly doesn’t mean you should not go.  It has been costly for most of the saints who obeyed Jesus’ command to go.  And unless you live in Jerusalem, praise God that someone paid that cost and took the gospel to your nation and your city and your house so that you believe!

Is the point of this chapter to say that some of you should leave your churches?  Kind of.  Some should go to help struggling churches.  Some should plant new ones.  Some should go overseas.  And some should stay.

Of course people have to stay for any given congregation to remain a congregation.  Every church needs consistency in leadership, discipling, and long-term friendships.  In fact, staying in our culture is often the countercultural thing to do, especially among the younger generation.  With all the career or educational transitions that characterize modern urban life, the radical thing to do for some will be to stay in one place for decades.

Whatever you do, don’t make such decisions rashly.  And don’t make such decisions in isolation, but make them in prayer and conversation with your friends who know you well, and with at least one elder who knows you.


Cooperation in Theological Unity

Here’s my latest article for the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

I often find myself at denominational functions looking around the room and wondering, “What is it that really brings us together here?”  Is our unity based simply on an expressed common desire to reach the lost?  Or do we gladly join together in mission because we have deeply shared doctrinal convictions?


Did you know that there is actually a lot to be found in the little books of the Bible?  One way to read 2 and 3 John (which combine for a total of just 28 verses) is to put them side-by-side as two crucial lessons in cooperation.


Here is the background to both books: a church planting movement is taking root in the Roman world furthered by traveling missionaries who depend upon support from other Christians, primarily in the form of food and lodging.


In 2 John the tone and feel is one of caution.  “Many deceivers have gone out into the world.”  “Watch yourselves.”  The emphasis is on getting the gospel right.  Specifically, some of these traveling missionaries “do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh” – what has been referred to as the “Gnostic heresy.”  John speaks soberly of remaining in Christ’s teaching and not going beyond it.  He then directs genuine believers – “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your home… for the one who says, ‘Welcome,’ to him shares in his evil works.”  In other words, don’t cooperate with everyone!


The tenor is different in 3 John.  Here John is commending a “dear friend” for his generosity to certain missionaries.  The emphasis in this mini-epistle is on getting the gospel out.  “You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.”  These missionaries “set out for the sake of the Name” and trusted God to provide through his people.  “Therefore, we ought to support such men,” says John.  He even calls out a guy named Diotrephes for his independent spirit.  “He not only refuses to welcome the brothers himself, but he even stops those who want to do so.”  Don’t be like Diotrephes.  Don’t cooperate with no one!


2 John teaches us not to make our tent too big.  3 John encourages us not to draw our circle too small.  We need both messages.  Notice the disproportionate amount of times that the words truth and love occur in these two short letters.  We absolutely cannot disconnect them.  There are people who have great drive, but do not have good doctrine.  We have to be discerning about who we partner with.  On the other hand, there are Christians who are cranky and overly separatist.  We must be large-hearted and kingdom-minded.


Because of 2 John I know that the Apostle John would applaud the “Conservative Resurgence” in the SBC.  Is it not amazing that we have six top-notch seminaries that are committed to robust and orthodox theological training?


At the same time, based on 3 John I am pretty certain that the Apostle would thoroughly endorse the concept of the Cooperative Program and be thrilled with our North American and International Mission Boards.  It is wonderful that we have state and local associations.  And is it not telling that we have Directors of Mission and not District Superintendents?  We are the people who come up with campaigns like “Million More in ’54.”  And I love that I live in what was once a Strategic Focus City, now a SEND City.


However, we have not always gotten this balance right.  At times I have seen people approved for work in the SBC based on their passion without an examination of their doctrine.  And at other times I have seen people who were well qualified turned away because of a technicality.


In all of our missional zeal, may we will never fudge on doctrinal clarity.  And in making sure we are all on the same page about what the gospel is, may we make sure we are doing whatever it takes to get the gospel out.  If we are truly faithful to Scripture we will heed the lessons of both 2 and 3 John.  But there just might be something to the fact that 2 John comes before 3 John.


No Desire to Lead

This quote could appear a little too mystical in some ways and we might think of Paul’s holy ambition (Rom. 15:10) and the trustworthy saying – “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task (1Tim. 3:1) – but there’s something convicting about Tozer’s words here:

A true and safe leader is likely to be one who has no desire to lead, but is forced into a position of leadership by the inward pressure of the Holy Spirit and the press of the external situation.  Such were Moses and David and the Old Testament prophets.  I think there was hardly a great leader from Paul to the present day but that was drafted by the Holy Spirit for the task, and commissioned by the Lord of the Church to fill a position he had little heart for.  I believe it might be accepted as a fairly reliable rule of thumb that the man who is ambitious to lead is disqualified as a leader.  The true leader will have no desire to lord it over God’s heritage, but will be humble, gentle, self-sacrificing, and altogether as ready to follow as to lead, when the Spirit makes it clear that a wiser and more gifted man than himself has appeared.


The “Theology Church”

If I’m not mistaken, our church is known around town as the ‘theology church.’  I don’t say that to pat my own back.  After all, taking theology seriously is no guarantee of spiritual fruitfulness and Christlike maturity.  Being known for faith, hope, or love might be safer than a reputation for theological erudition.  Still, all things considered, I’ll take ‘theology church’ over the ‘church that recycles batteries,’ the ‘church with Xboxes in the youth wing,’ or the ‘church with the gnarly fog machine.’

Kevin DeYoung in Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan, The Pastor as Public Theologian (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015), 98.


The Era of the Spoken Word Is Not Over

Sometimes we are told that preaching is outmoded.  Once, in an age of grandiloquent speechmakers, it made sense to ascend an aged pulpit and preach a lengthy sermon.  Yet today we treat the homily with reverence, like an aged family member whose glory days are long behind him, but no longer see it as the centerpiece of our worship.  We’re in a posthomiletical age, which communicates in tweets and emoticons, not declamations and discourses.


The era of the spoken word is, in point of fact, not over.  Media personalities continue to fill the air with political analysis, dissection of sporting events, and the personal confessions of the podcast.  In such a time as this, pastors do well to reclaim their prophetic mantle.  It is not the psychologists, advertising executives, or life-coach gurus that should train the pastor.  It is not the latest sociological trend but the prophet, charged with the often-unpopular task of speaking forth God’s word, who should inspire pastors to preach with fresh power and zeal today.  The pastor, like the apostles, stands firmly in the oratorical tradition of the prophets, who heard the word of God and explained it, applied it, and commended it to the people.  The prophet’s ministry was a ministry of God’s word and hence a ministry of truth.

Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan, The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015), 55.


Queen Elizabeth vs. King Jesus

In A.W. Pink’s book The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross (Baker, 1984 [1958]) he references another book on Christ’s last words by Dr. Anderson-Berry in which he “makes use of an illustration from history which by its striking antithesis shows up the meaning and glory of the Finished Work of Christ.”

Elizabeth, Queen of England, the idol of society and the leader of European fashion, when on her death-bed turned to her lady in waiting, and said: “O my God!  It is over.  I have come to the end of it – the end, the end.  To have only one life, and to have done with it!  To have lived, and loved, and triumphed; and now to know it is over!  One may defy everything else but this.”  And as the listener sat watching, in a few moment more the face whose slightest smile had brought her courtiers to their feet, turned into a mask of lifeless clay, and returned the anxious gaze of her servant with nothing more than a vacant stare.  Such was the end of one whose meteoric course had been the envy of half the world.  It could not be said that she had “finished” anything, for with her all was “vanity and vexation of spirit.”  How different with the end of the Saviour! – “I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.”

(p. 110)


Great Awe

In the evenings presently our family is reading Kenneth Grahame’s classic, The Wind in the Willows.  Grahame plays on the strings of the soul with the pick of his poetic prose.  So far, it seems to be a story that shows the folly of wanderlust and the joys that can be found by staying put.  His talking animals arouse similar feelings in me that Wendell Berry’s talking ancestors of Port William do.

I read the description of Rat and Mole’s encounter with the demi-god Pan playing his pipes at dawn and wondered if it can be seen as an echo of the true experience we can have in God’s presence.

Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, and awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground.  It was no panic terror – indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy – but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near.  With difficulty he turned to look for his friend and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling violently.


‘Rat!’ he found breath to whisper, shaking.  ‘Are you afraid?’

‘Afraid?’ murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.  ‘Afraid! Of HIM? O, never, never!  And yet – and yet – O, Mole, I am afraid!’

Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.

You can definitely see here Grahame’s influence on C.S. Lewis and his talking animals!


An Emotional Relationship

From J.I. Packer’s CLASSIC – Knowing God:

Knowing God is a matter of personal dealing….  Knowing God is more than knowing about him; it is a matter of dealing with him as he opens up to you, and being dealt with by him….  Friends… open their hearts to each other by what they say and do….  We must not lose sight of the fact that knowing God is an emotional relationship, as well as an intellectual and volitional one, and could not indeed be a deep relationship between persons if it were not so.

Who said that meaty doctrine has to lead to dry, dead, intellectual, stuffy, heady religion??!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 67 other followers