Here’s a sermon I preached at Nansemond River Baptist Church in July from Acts 9 and the famous conversion of Saul.
As you might have realized, I write a lot about the relationship of patriotism and Christianity (see here, here, here, and here). For one of my readers the “straw that broke the camel’s back” was a post entitled “The Idolatry of Patriotism” (a summary of the issue at hand that I thought was very helpful). This particular reader (who will remain anonymous) has been continually angered by my thoughts on nationalism, patriotism, and politics. I, personally, feel that my opinions on these issues are centered on the gospel of Jesus and need to be heard. There are so many causes to which we can align ourselves; I want my supreme focus to be on the gospel of Jesus Christ.
All this to be said, a few years ago my aforementioned disgruntled reader wrote me a message entitled “My Swan Song” that said:
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,… a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation” (Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776).
Therefore: It has long been a policy of mine that I will not have any magazines or similar materials enter my home that I find contrary to my core value system, as a Christian. I am now going to apply that same rule to the only [sic] FB material that frequently not only comes into my home, but places itself on my computer desktop.
You and those who share your views are in my prayers.
Your Brother in Christ Jesus…
I felt this was worth sharing with others because it illustrates how misplaced priorities can make allies seem like enemies and vice versa.
1. Notice that this note quotes the Declaration of Independence rather than the Bible.
2. It is Biblically allowable and culturally helpful to familiarize yourself with things that are “contrary [to your] core value system.” By interacting with positions that are thoughtful, though contrary to your own, you will solidify your beliefs and articulate them in a pluralistic society. The Ostrich approach is not the Biblical approach.
3. The gospel and the gospel alone should be the dividing line for Christians. My views on nationalism and patriotism are wholly consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ according to the Scriptures.
4. While I appreciate the sentiment of brotherhood alluded to in the closing it appears that this “brother” sees me as more dangerous than his political allies. I think it is important to remember that the gospel which binds us is infinitely more important than the politics that might separate us.
5. Finally, it is important that we are willing to submit all of our opinions, philosophies, and beliefs to the Lordship of Christ and the teaching of the Bible. While I may be off on my analysis of history I am trying to critically evaluate the role of nationalism in the life of a Christ follower. In addition, I do not want naïvety or dishonesty to characterize my appraisal of the historical data. I am not free to make history say what I want it to say.
I hope this is helpful for those of us who continue to truthfully and lovingly discuss meaningful issues regarding what it means to be a follower of Christ. Though it is a struggle, I must always be willing to examine my life and beliefs in light of the Scriptures rather than try and mold the Scriptures to support my political and historical opinions.
There is this perpetual myth floating around that has implications for our understanding of wisdom, decision-making, and the will of God. It is a myth that is pervasive but proves wanting with a little Biblical and logical examination. However, without being examined many use it as an excuse to ignore any counsel that is contrary to choices they already want to make or have made.
I call it, “THE MYTH OF EXPERIENCE.”
Can I Know If I Haven’t Tried?
This myth has a number of iterations. For example, I do a lot of ministry with families. Some of the most fruitful pastoral opportunities involve teenagers and their parents. However, I do not have any children of my own. Therefore, when I have a difference of opinion with a parent over a particular issue the invariable response they give is, “you don’t understand because you don’t have kids.” Really? A doctor doesn’t have to have a disease to know the cure.
The whole purpose of advice is to help others avoid experiencing something that is bad or harmful or help them try something they haven’t tried. If experience is necessary then Christians can just get rid of the Bible and start experimenting (it appears some have already started down this path). This goes along with the old notion that “people have to learn the hard way.” Maybe some people choose to learn the hard way but they sure don’t have to learn the hard way. If possible, I would rather learn from the mistakes of others than experience them myself.
I am not trying to denigrate the value experience can have. Those who have made poor choices or experienced particular things are able to understand and empathize in a more robust way with others in similar situations. However, their experiences are not necessary for godly decision-making or figuring out “what is right.”
Experience Can Be Negative
It is important to remember that experience is not always positive. First, some experiences irreparably harm you or have consequences that never go away. In addition, personal experience makes objectivity more difficult than it already is. None of us see the world from a completely fair and unbiased perspective. None of us interpret history objectively. No Christian can look at the Bible and fully understand its meaning without being affected (either positively or negatively) by their own worldview and experiences. As a result, it might be possible that someone who has not experienced a particular situation may be able to more fully appraise the possible outcomes without being unfairly influenced by their own past.
Experience Can Cloud Objectivity
Most of us interpret things the way we want them to be rather than they way they are or should be. I have a recent example that makes this perfectly clear. I have some mutual friends that recently had a baby. On her blog, my friend carefully explained all of the positives of breastfeeding in public. Her main arguments were based on the fact that it was natural (it’s a part of the human body’s natural experience) and necessary (a baby has to eat). Purely because I sensed a logical inconsistency I pointed out that a lot of activities are natural and necessary (e.g., going to the bathroom) but our society still requires us to do them in private. Now, I’m not trying to rile up all of the lactating mothers out there. I’m just using this recent incident as an example. My friend (as a mother) was having a hard time seeing things from an unbiased point-of-view and was insinuating that when my wife and I have a baby we’ll understand. Basically, since we haven’t experienced this situation we have no right or ability to comment! Personal experience will increase our empathy of how difficult this issue is but it shouldn’t change our understanding of the issue at hand. One could argue that I am just as biased in the other direction since I do not have a hungry child whose cries melt my heart. That is my point, experience actually makes it harder to achieve objectivity (in both directions)! Since no one can remove their experiences or lack thereof, how do we decide what is right? We’ll get to that a little later.
Age and Experience
Another variation of this myth involves age. Many people argue that “experience = wisdom.” We all know this isn’t the case. I have met a some older people that are exceeding experienced and exceedingly wise. On the other hand, I have met a lot of experienced, elderly people who are immature and unwise. What is the difference? Experience is not synonymous with wisdom. One can be wise and inexperienced. One can also be old and inexperienced. I have met a number of elderly people that haven’t experienced a lot in there lives. However, wisdom and experience combine to make an unmatched resource for discernment, advice, encouragement, information, and much more.
Wisdom and Truth Are Independent of Personal Experience
How can one find wisdom? The theme of wisdom is prevalent throughout the Bible. In the New Testament, Jesus is described in terms of the Old Testament wisdom literature (e.g., Prov. 8:1-36, 1 Cor. 1:18-25). Jesus is the Word and Wisdom of God. There is hope for those of us who don’t have sufficient life experience. We can still have wisdom via the person of Jesus Christ.
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength… It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God (1 Cor. 1:18, 25, 30).
When Paul is talking to Timothy he explicitly tells him that his youth and, in some regard, inexperience do not negate his calling, his giftedness, and (most importantly) the truth that he has received (1 Timothy 4). The mature in his congregation are worthy of respect but the foundation of the church is not on their experiences but on the Word of God to which they must be faithful.
Ultimately, it is not one’s experience or inexperience that should guide decision-making. Jesus is the power and example of wisdom; he is the truth.
1. Experience is not necessary to make the right decision.
2. Experience does not equal wisdom.
3. Experience is not always positive, it can be harmful.
4. Personal experiences can cloud one’s ability to make a sound, Biblical decision.
5. Experience and wisdom work together to produce godly discernment and judgment.
6. Experience is not the final determiner of what is wise and true, Jesus is.
I’m beginning a new series on common myths about culture, Christianity, history, and more. I’ve dabbled in this concept from time to time. In addition, I’ve always had a soft spot for the popular Mythbusters television show (FYI, my favorite episode is “Phonebook Friction“).
We’ll start off this simple series by busting the old “myth of talent.”
First off, I’m not trying to argue that talent is not real or that some people are not more naturally talented at some things than others. I’m mainly voicing frustration with those who say they can’t do something purely because they aren’t talented enough.
For example, I know some people that are phenomenally talented musicians. That is, they have a natural ear for pitch and tone. That being said, even the one’s that don’t read music have spent countless hours honing their ability to play their instrument of choice (e.g., guitar, piano, voice, etc.). Ultimately, anyone can learn to sing or play an instrument if they are willing to work.
I find sports to be the same way. The best athletes will (most likely) possess a good deal of raw talent but they will never rise to an elite level (e.g., NFL, etc.) without combining that talent with skills that can only be acquired by years of practice. Talent is not the same thing as technique. This gives hope to those of us who have certain height and speed deficiencies. While my natural abilities are often lacking I can still gain proficiency in a sport through practice.
A similar phenomenon has crept into Christian circles. I notice a lot of Christians avoiding things that they are not naturally good at. Some people don’t share their faith because they think they are not smart or good at meeting people. Others avoid teaching because they are not extroverted and outgoing. Some don’t serve others because they don’t have the gift of compassion or mercy. The examples could go on and on.
The main problem with these objections is that the Scriptures command all of us to do all of these things. Sure, some people are more naturally inclined toward these activities but, as I’ve heard it said, “God doesn’t call the equipped He equips the called.” God will never command you to do something that He won’t also empower you to do. I think it is short sighted and faithless to think that God can and will only use those of natural ability.
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standard; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the way things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:26–30)
This past year has been quite an adjustment in many ways. I’ve been adjusting to the demands of being back in school. This is the first time I’ve gone to school while working “full-time.” I always thought I worked a lot in college and seminary but the increased level of responsibilities at the church in combination with the higher academic expectations of PhD courses has been daunting at times.
I’ve enjoyed teaching more regularly at Nansemond River Baptist Church. In fact, I just uploaded a recent series on “Discipleship” under the resources tab. I’ve been very happy to watch our church embrace a vision of shared leadership. I must say that I pastor alongside some of the most talented and godly men on the planet. In addition, the church has been very receptive to the Scriptures. I believe NRBC has a bright future as a church that embraces the Great Commission in every area of life.
This summer has been busy as we took the teenagers at NRBC to camp. Also, we’ve been using Dare2Share’s “Gospel Journey Maui” curriculum on Wednesdays. The thoughtfulness and openness of the discussion among our students has been an encouragement. I sense a desire among them to embrace a radical vision of obedience to the call of Christ.
On a personal note, Whitney and I have also been adjusting to a lot of things. Whitney will be starting classes at William and Mary this fall to pursue a Master’s of Higher Education. In addition, she starts a new job at W&M on August 18. She is very excited about all of these changes but they are changes nonetheless. In addition, God has been teaching Whitney and I a lot about risk, obedience, faith, and contentment. We are wrestling with what it means to leverage our marriage for the cause of Christ. It is scary to ask such questions but we are convinced that whatever we must sacrifice is well worth the reward.
I hope this fall will allow me time to post my musings on life, culture, mission, and miscellany. I know I have some music and book recommendations and I am rarely want for an over-the-top rant.
Thanks for reading.
This is one of the best and most creative presentations of the gospel I have ever seen. It is both memorable and theologically rich. It manages to take complex concepts and present them in a simple way without devolving into naïve simplicity.
If you are interested in obtaining a copy of this video, please do not pirate it but, rather, support those who made it and purchase it from Dare2Share ministries.
The Bible does talk a lot about public evangelism. In Acts, for example, the apostles preach to large crowds of unbelievers on many occasions. Their preaching is often direct and, even, confrontational. (e.g., Acts 2:14-40, Acts 14, Acts 7:1-51).
However, there is also a component of relationship and community that is evidenced throughout the Scriptures. (1 Thes. 2:7-12, Acts 19:9, 1 Thes. 4:12).
In my own life, daily discipleship is much harder than one-time events. I don’t particularly mind large, attraction-based, event-oriented evangelism (though I question their effectiveness in today’s culture). However, one-time evangelism must be accompanied by daily, sacrificial, authentic, missional living. I find it much harder to mentor a student weekly than take teenagers to camp once a year. It is much more time-consuming to volunteer in the local middle school than throw a Superbowl party. I have to be vulnerable when I share my life with other people and that scares me. When you share life you share success and failure, strengths and weaknesses.
By God’s grace I will strive to demonstrate the gospel not just once in a while but every day.
1 Peter 2 has been haunting me lately. I can’t seem to get it out of my head. There is so much to talk about in that passage about the people of God as his priesthood, his living stones. We are alive because Jesus has imparted life to us. We are living stones because the true living stone has resurrected us from the dead. We are a royal priesthood because Jesus, our great high priest, has bridged the gap between God and us. There is an amazing reality of being a part of the “people of God” if you have received the mercy and grace of Jesus.
However, I noticed in verse 4 that the true living stone (Jesus) that has been rejected by men is precious and valuable to God.
For those who do not believe, Jesus is a stumbling block, an obstacle, an inconvenience. For those who do believe he is valuable, he is a treasure, he is precious.
I suspect that many of my problems stem from the simple fact that I do not always value Jesus as most valuable. Whether it’s the sin of idolatry or familiarity, I often devalue Jesus in pursuit of other things that are immediately gratifying but pale in comparison to the worth of Christ. Jesus is a treasure worth more than anything and he is a treasure that never fades.
So I ask myself, “what do I treasure?” Am I seeking acclaim, notoriety, and wealth or am I seeking Jesus? Has Jesus become familiar or, worst, is he an inconvenience to my way of life? Is my satisfaction in Jesus alone unshakeable?
This book is not some sort of self-help manual but a reminder of how the gospel can change us:
I want to be like Jesus. I can observe him in action as I read the Gospels. I can study the life he lived and the love he showed. I could try very hard to imitate him. But at best that would lead only to a small, short-lived improvement, and indeed even that small improvement would probably only make me proud.
I need more than an example. I need help. I need someone to change me. Trying to imitate Jesus on its own only leaves me feeling like a failure. I can’t be like him. I can’t match up. I need sorting out. I need rescuing. I need forgiveness.
The great news is that Jesus is not only my example but also my Redeemer.
I could tell that Chester was on to something, particularly in Chapter 2, when he described three wrong reasons to change: 1) to prove myself to God, 2) to prove myself to other people, or 3) to prove myself to myself.
At the heart of any advice that Chester gives is the theological reality of God and the gospel. For example, he talks about some “reminder phrases” that he uses to help others stay focused on the gospel in the midst of fear:
God is greater than your thought.
Not what if? but what is, and what is, is that God is in control.
The reality of the gospel is that behavior does not justify us before God and, therefore, only changing behavior will always be short-lived and misguided. At the heart of behavior are the affections that motivate those behaviors. To overcome sin I not only have to purge it from my life, I have to replace it with an affection for Jesus alone.
Pastor Tim Piland shared an excellent message from Matthew 28:19-20 this past Sunday at Nansemond River Baptist Church. I love to listen to Pastor Tim share; he is biblical, passionate, and relevant. I like to tell people that he’s 65 going on 20. He has the energy and passion of a young man with the wisdom and wit of a seasoned veteran. I think he has a faint hint of Jimmy Stewart in his voice as well .
In any case, Tim made a comment (I think I’ve heard similar comments before) about sharing the gospel:
The gospel is not a commodity to be sold; it is a relationship to be shared.
I grew up learning all the methods of evangelism (E.E., Romans Road, 4 Spiritual Laws, Steps to Peace with God, F.A.I.T.H., etc.). As I’ve grown (a little) older I’ve found methods to be helpful but often inadequate. Each person is different and, therefore, every time I share my faith it sounds a little different. The content must always be biblical but the method of organization and communication is often ad hoc.
More important than the method, however, is the relationship. We must build relationships with people that can bear the weight of the gospel. The message of sin and salvation is heavy stuff and casual conversations rarely offer the opportunity for a meaningful dialogue. Talking about football and the weather is hardly a natural segue to the magnitude of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Too often fervent evangelists see people as converts to be won. I am reminded of Kevin Roose’s experience at Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University chronicled in the book Unlikely Disciple:
When I told the Liberty students at Thomas Road that I hadn’t accepted Christ as my savior, the entire dynamic of the conversation changed. It began to feel distant and rehearsed, like a pitch for Ginsu knives.
People are unique and interesting and the gospel is not formulaic. Different people have different objections and hangups to the gospel. I know that I value authenticity and honesty much more than a polished presentation.