Eagerness vs. Necessity

As a preacher it is a regular occurrence for me to hear criticism. Actually, I am amazed that I don’t get more disapproving comments from my teaching, and am quite thankful to God that He has permitted so much positive fruit. But still there are occurrences of strong disagreement or subtle challenges to the content or approach of any given message.

Perhaps one of the most common “suggestions” that a preacher gets is to “focus on what we agree on” and stop focusing on disagreements. We are told to concentrate on things we have in common. We are advised to “stop majoring on the minors.” And certainly, at all costs, we should not negatively attack those who disagree.

But consider Jude’s response to such ideas (verse 3):

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

The word “contend” may be defined as “to struggle on behalf of,” “to fight for,” “to exert intense effort on behalf of.” It is the conscious application of one’s powers for the achievement of a goal.

And in this case, the goal, the reason, the aim of our struggle is “the faith.” We fight for God’s revelation. We contend for God’s doctrine. We struggle to protect God’s message. The church is “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), and without the truth–we cannot be free (John 8:32).

Consider the following thoughts from J. Gresham Machen, a New Testament scholar who taught at Princeton Seminary and who founded Westminster Theological Seminary. He wrote the following on June 17, 1932 in London:

Men tell us that our preaching should be positive and not negative, that we can preach the truth without attacking error. But if we follow that advice we shall have to close our Bible and desert its teachings. The New Testament is a polemic book almost from beginning to end.

He illustrated his point with this story:

Some years ago I was in a company of teachers of the Bible in the colleges and other educational institutions of America. One of the most eminent theological professors in the country made an address. In it he admitted that there are unfortunate controversies about doctrine in the Epistles of Paul; but, said he in effect, the real essence of Paul’s teaching is found in the hymn to Christian love in the thirteenth chapter or I Corinthians; and we can avoid controversy today, if we will only devote the chief attention to that inspiring hymn.

Machen continued,

In reply, I am bound to say that the example was singularly ill-chosen. That hymn to Christian love is in the midst of a great polemic passage; it would never have been written if Paul had been opposed to controversy with error in the Church. It was because his soul was stirred within him by a wrong use of the spiritual gifts that he was able to write that glorious hymn. So it is always in the Church. Every really great Christian utterance, it may almost be said, is born in controversy. It is when men have felt compelled to take a stand against error that they have risen to the really great heights in the celebration of truth. (J. Gresham Machen, “Christian Scholarship and the Defense of the New Testament,” in What is Christianity, 132-133).

I must admit, I am very eager to talk about our common salvation. I would love the harmony and sweet fellowship of dialogue with those who hold fast the faithful word (1 Corinthians 15:2). But however enthusiastic I may be to be “agreeable,” it is sometimes necessary to point out on what we disagree. A true shepherd will identify wrong teaching and teachers (Titus 1:9), and guard the flock from savage wolves (Acts 20:28-30). We are promised that “in the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions. It is these who cause divisions” (Jude 18-19).

So remember, whether we enjoy controversy or disagreements over truth or not, it is our responsibility to fight for the faith. It is necessary!

The Battle over Surface Earth

*Yesterday was a monumental day in my life. Although there was no parade and no fireworks, it was an absolutely great day.

Yesterday, for the first time ever, I mowed my own yard with my own, brand-new mower! I’ve mowed a lot of times before, but both of the above details made this occasion truly historic.

First, I have never “owned” a yard. I’ve mowed my dad’s yard many times. I’ve mowed neighbors’ lawns; I’ve mowed strangers’ lawns. I’ve mowed for businesses; I’ve mowed as a business. I’ve mowed for fun; I’ve mowed for funds. But every other time I’ve been taking care of someone else’s property – never my own. Until yesterday I’ve never known the great sense of pleasure and “ownerly” pride in manicuring my own lawn.

Second, I’ve never had a brand new mower. I’ve used push mowers, self-propelled mowers, riding mowers, lawn tractors, and small farm tractors (there are differences, you know). There are a lot of ways to cut grass. But a true “mowing man” always envisions the day when he will push his very own, never-used, first-pull-starting, not-a-nick-on-it, shiny, new mower out of the garage and engage the evil Lord Grassgrowwild in the epic battle for dominion over Surface Earth. And now I too have joined the ranks of Sod Soldiers with my very own red, Craftsman 6.5 horse power, 21” deck, rear bag mower/mulcher. It really is a mowing man’s dream machine!

Some of you have read all this and are thinking to yourself, “Mowing is a chore – not a drama!” Others perhaps are thinking, “Who stinking cares?” And I guess on one hand the whole discussion is somewhat silly. On the other hand, there is benefit and blessing in the work. I think one of the reasons I like to mow so much is that it gives an immediate and quickly increasing sense of fulfillment. There are a lot of things that we do that we don’t see results from, and many more things we do that we will never be done doing anyway.

Even though mowing is something that needs to be done on an ongoing basis (as long as the grass keeps growing), with each pass through the yard and with each revolution of the blade there is advancement. It is obvious. It is progressive and “profitable” labor. It is always encouraging to see something “get done.” The ability to work is great, but the opportunity to see results from our work is no less a good gift from God.

Whatever it is that you do, or need to do, or like to do – you should enjoy it. In fact, it is the gift of God to be given the power to enjoy and rejoice in your labor (Ecclesiastes 5:19). It is “fitting to…find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot” (5:18). Seeing the completion and accomplishment of our work is just one of the ways we are able to enjoy our labor.

So remember: In all mowing there is profit, but mere talk leads to overgrown landscape. (cf. Proverbs 14:23)

Scoffer Sensitive Services

Off and on for the last twelve years or so I have been reading the “proverb of the day.” When I was in high school my youth pastor pointed out to me that there are 31 chapters in the book of Proverbs which easily associate with the 31 days in most months (on the other months that are shorter than 31 days you just have to read a bunch of chapters on the last day!). Anyway, that seemed like a reasonable amount of reading to me–a chapter a day, and it also seemed like reasonable content to read since the proverbs are intended to give the “youth knowledge and discretion” (Pro. 1:4).

I am sure that in the future many days of weblog will be dominated by some verse in the “proverb of the day.” How about we make today the first?!

Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease. Proverbs 22:10

Perhaps at the first reading this seems like many proverbs – a short statement of observation on the way things typically go. I think all of us have experienced this. We’ve been part of some class or team or group or club or neighborhood or ministry that had a scoffer (or more than one) in it. Never content to scoff alone, the scoffer freely shares his disdain for the leader or the program or the material or whatever with any who would hear his preaching. And there is always widespread relief when providence relocates the scoffer to another location, the further away the greater the relief!

But the verb “drive out” is a piel imperative, (the Hebrew piel tense is an intensifying form; the imperative obviously demands our response). Therefore, this proverb is more than simply a statement about the peace that comes when scoffers quietly disappear on their own. Instead, wisdom calls us to take an active position against scoffers. We are to chase out, banish, deport, reject, show the way out, turn away, discharge, disregard, expel, leave out, remove, etc., those who mock and deride and belittle and ridicule. For us to have peace among our families and our churches and our social circles, the scoffers must be scooted out!

Now, the immediate objection that some sensitive person will naturally raise is, “That is not a loving response. That is not gracious. That is not kind or patient or long-suffering.” And this is a reasonable, if not entirely biblical concern. We should examine all that we do in relation to scoffers. There is a priority on love (Matthew 5:43-47; 22; 39; John 13:34; Romans 12:9-16; 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Ephesians 4:2; 5:2; Colossians 3:14; etc.). There is great need for us to avoid anger and bitterness and all of the other sins that so easily respond to those that attack us or others around us.

But if this proverb is right (and since it is inspired it must be), and if this proverb reveals the wise way (and since it comes from Wisdom is must be), then we must at least admit that there are times when we must actively, proactively seek to see the scoffers leave. We are not to have “scoffer sensitive” worship music and small groups and messages. Those who complain and cause division and stir up strife are to be warned, and warned again, but if their antagonism continues we are to “have nothing more to do” with them (Titus 3:10). We are to drive them out.

At stake is the unity of the body, the purity of the body, and the honor of our group as it reflects the honor of God. As the mocker is forced out so the fighting and bickering and feuding and quarreling will go out. When ridiculers are rejected the stains of strife are cleansed away.

The Ugliness of Unthankfulness

I thought that I might be able to skip over this thought in my head, but providence apparently had another idea. The thought came up yesterday while Mo and Maggie and I were out driving around, doing a little shopping for our remodeling efforts at the house. And we were, of course, all packed into the little cab of our truck so that we would have room in the bed of the truck for all of our large purchases. Needless to say, we were in close quarters, and we were in those close quarters all afternoon.

So far what I’ve described is probably not that awful for a person who can have fun no matter the situation, and there were a lot of reasons for me to be having fun with the family, but I wasn’t! I was cramped. I was uncomfortable. I was tired. I was thinking of all the other things I needed to be doing.

As the afternoon passed into early evening Mo and I became aware that Maggie had not taken advantage of our many miles on the road to take a nap. We noticed this, not because little kids come with a digital display of their sleep tank, nor because they are given the gift to communicate the state of their situation with verbal clarity and completeness, but rather because God has given them another avenue of announcing their displeasure with their world: whining.

And you know, whining is ugly. There is no beauty, no attractiveness, no charm, and no grace in whining. Whining is repulsive and uninviting. Whining is an expression of self-centeredness, selfishness, and unthankfulness. That makes whining ugly.

So Maggie and I had a little father-daughter chat about the attractiveness of happiness and the beauty of joy. I told her that we wanted her to grow up and be a pretty young lady and that she would be most appealing in proportion to her being most thankful.

That was great. I had taken responsibility to direct my little girl’s heart in the way it should go. And as my sense of fatherly pride welled up within me, I realized that I had failed to direct my own heart in the way it should go: the way of thankfulness.

I am better (perhaps some would disagree with this!) at concealing my lack of thankfulness than perhaps a 20 month old is but, even if my outside is not ugly, my heart is. I thought about it all last night and I thought about how ridiculous it is for me, or for anyone, to be unthankful.

As providence has planned it, this morning when I took my copy of God’s Word to pick up my reading from yesterday, I began in Psalm 136. And Psalm 136 verse one says, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.” Then verse two begins, “Give thanks to the God of gods.” And then verse three, “Give thanks to the Lord of lords.” And not to be outdone, Psalm 138 verse one starts out, “I give thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart.”

I started singing the song in my heart: “Give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good. Give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good. And His love endures, forever. Call upon His holy name. And rejoice in the Lord; Rejoice in the Lord. Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord, rejoice.” And while I was singing in my heart I thought of the numerous times that we are commanded to be thankful throughout Scripture. Specifically I thought of Colossians 3:15, “And be thankful.” And 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” We know that those who are filled with the Spirit will be “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).

So whatever is happening you today, be thankful. And pray for me that I will increase in my thankfulness…because being unthankful is ugly.

It’s About Time

Well, my first post was more than a few days ago, and I really do have a lot of things that are going through my mind that I want to write about. It just seems like there are other things which always take priority…like preparing and preaching sermons, preparing for and teaching Bible class, preparing for and teaching Greek II, etc., etc. But rest assured that the wheels are turning and soon there must needs be things written!