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Whispers and Flames

Whisperers Feed Fires

Starting a fire requires fuel and something to ignite the fuel. In particular, fires need heat, fuel and oxygen. Remove any of those three ingredients and no fire will burn. When it comes to the fire of drama, whisperers are the fuel.

For lack of wood the fire goes out,
and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.
Proverbs 26:20

The word whisperer in Proverbs 26:20 is the Hebrew word nirgan, referring to a person who speaks softly and typically maliciously. We would call this person a backbiter, a slanderer, or a gossip. Whisperers communicate in a low voice for the sake of privacy, but there is nothing discreet about the consequences of their whispers. Whispers burn like logs on a fire and keep conflict going. That’s the point of the proverb: For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. Where no one is off in the corner sharing the new juicy detail they heard, the fire of drama dies out. Secret, personal, quiet whispers are the fuel of fights.

So who are whisperers and how can we identify them?

It’s easy to envision downright mean and snotty teenage girls whispering crassly about a classmate, caricatured in sitcoms and movies like Mean Girls. It’s also easy to visualize those girls all grown up, now with more money, wearing fancier clothes and better makeup, badmouthing and backbiting their neighbors over tea and finger sandwiches.

But not all whisperers wear their ill-intent so grossly. Some whisperers are more subtle, stoking the fire with sympathy and solace. We can identify these whisperers as those who:

  • see drama unfolding and jump in to offer their support. They ask for specific details in order to commiserate (or so they can better pray for the situation), confirming the victim and condemning the wrongdoer, all with the pretense of great care.
  • think they are helping by passing on information. They want others to be prepared and not caught off-guard by finding out at an inopportune time or from an unreliable source.
  • claim they are being kind by not talking to the person directly. They believe it would be mean to tell it to the person’s face, after all, they wouldn’t want to embarrass someone or hurt another’s feelings.
  • present themselves like the only ones who understand.
  • leave other things undone or who aren’t responsible for much in the first place (cf. [1 Timothy 5:11-15][1]). Free time enables fixers, with nothing better to do than than collect, coordinate and disperse bits of idle data.
  • seek out weak and gullible targets. They hide from the strong and avoid sharing with those who they suspect would stop them. They don’t seek out wise counselors because wise counsel isn’t what they’re after. This, of course, is part of the reason they whisper, so the strong won’t overhear and shut them down.
  • like to reveal the secrets of others (cf. Proverbs 20:19 and expose the sin of others (cf. Proverbs 17:9).

No matter what posture a person takes, flashing lights and loud alarms should go off in our heads if someone begins talking to us with phrases like, “You wouldn’t believe…” or “Did you hear about…?” or “I don’t know if this is true or not, but….”

Whisperers feed the fire. Yet without sticks, there’s nothing to burn and the fire goes out. So if the whisperer shuts his mouth, the drama dies out and the fire is extinguished.

On a practical note, we can’t forget that someone who is willing to whisper to us is probably willing to whisper about us. If they share someone else’s secrets they will eventually do the same with ours. They may not do it in the same hour, but if that’s their character, what makes us think our friendship is different, especially if and when that friendship ends?

Categories
Whispers and Flames

Whispers and Flames

Fire scares me; it has for as long as I can remember. For most of my life I refused to light a match unless it was one of those 10″ fireplace matches. Only during the last five years or so have I learned how to strike a match from a matchbook by folding over the cover for protection between my fingers and the flame. I hate lighting propane grills because I’m convinced one day a mushroom cloud blast will blow up in my face.

When I was in junior high, my best friend–at the time–pushed me into a fairly large fire pit. I was standing with my back to the fire and he thought it would be fun to see my reaction. Though I hopped out quickly–unharmed–I was hopping mad.

Yet in spite of a few bad experiences and for whatever inbred fear I have toward fire, fire still fascinates me. I am a man, after all, and men and fire are meant for each other. We’re supposed to know how to build a fire, even starting a fire by rubbing our bare hands together in the pouring rain if we need to. And the biggest reason we need fire is so that we can cook our red meat over that fire.

Some Christians are very comfortable around fire, and I’m not thinking of the pyromamiancs among us. I’m thinking about those who are comfortable, not with actual, physical fire, but with the fire of of gossip, slander, and drama. Fire is a terrific image of fighting and bickering and rumors and squabbles and scandals. Fire is an especially apropos illustration of drama.

A recent, growing and glowing, trend of drama disturbs me. Though it always crouches at the door ready to rule us (think Genesis 4:7), I have witnessed drama eating up more hearts and more talk and more time the last couple months than is right (or necessary) for Spirit-filled Christians, or at least those who make that claim.

What I mean by drama is acting and performing or speaking in a way to get a reaction, to make a scene, to get a rise out of someone by exaggerating the situation. Drama often takes place openly and publicly, but the primary stage for the drama I’m considering is found in private conversations and secluded lunch tables and instant messages and Facebook walls. Drama takes something true and exaggerates for effect, or perhaps takes something presumed true or even untrue and gives it a life of it’s own. Whether a main character, a supporting actor, or a stagehand, participation in this kind of drama fans the fire.

Most of the drama I watch is petty, with conversations and chitchat and reactions characterized by excessive attention on trivial matters, especially with small-minded or spiteful attitudes. Pettiness is the art of living small, taking the unimportant and peripheral and blowing it out of proportion. Much of the petty drama is plain old gossip, casual conversation about other people with little constraint, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.

This trend burdens and bothers me so much that I decided to preach on “Whispers and Flames” from Proverbs 26:20-22. Over the next few days I want to blog through these verses in order to expose the dangers of whispering, to encourage control of our tongues in public and private, and to remind us all to stop the drama and extinguish the fire.

Categories
He Will Build His Church

Closed for Business

The Graduate makes an excellent case that the church is a body, not a business. My favorite paragraph:

It seems that if someone sees a weakness in the body, he treats it like a messed-up fast food order. He is displeased and complains to those around him. He may just deal with it for a while, but if it happens week after week, then he decides to leave and never come back. He may leave without talking to anyone, but he may also ask to see the manager to give his two cents about how he thinks it should be done and then storms out.

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Enjoying the Process

The End of the Matter

I finished a three year project today with my sixty-first and final message from Ecclesiastes. Of preaching many sermons there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh, but my life has been changed as I’ve learned about, and tried to practice, enjoying the process. As I told our youth staff, part of me is sad that it’s finished, like moving away from your best friend. Though the friendship isn’t over, I’m going to miss hanging out with the Preacher.

Categories
A Shot of Encouragement

Another Shot at Life

The Everett Herald featured a great article today about Grant Weinberg as a walking miracle. (The write-up ran on the front page of the printed version). We started following this story the day it happened and praise God again for His goodness.

Categories
Enjoying the Process

Pay Close Attention

While pounding out seven miles on my treadmill yesterday I listened to C.J. Mahaney’s message from the recent T4G conference, Sustaining a Pastor’s Soul. It was the least dramatic message I’ve listened to by Mahaney (albeit out of only a dozen or so from Resolved, Shepherds’ Conference, and various mp3 downloads) but it had/is having appreciable effect on me.

The central point of his message was that God is best served by glad pastors. He asserted that it is simply not sufficient for a pastor to serve faithfully, he must also serve joyfully. I’ve heard that before, but God graciously opened the eyes of my heart anew. The entire sermon challenged the soul by considering the apostle Paul’s joyful ministry in the midst of demanding responsibilities, hard sufferings, and even imprisonment for sake of the gospel as seen in Philippians 1:3-8.

As I’ve heard him do previously, Mahaney urged each pastor to ask those closest to him–wife, ministry team, personal assistant–a series of simple questions about whether he lives and serves joyfully or irritably, with happiness or moodiness, gladness or discouragement. This time I took his advice.

I didn’t have to ask Mo for her answers. I just went ahead and asked her forgiveness immediately after I finished my run yesterday. But earlier today I arranged for some of the guys who work with me on a daily basis to listen to Mahaney’s message with me and then invited them share their observations about my life and ministry. I warned them in advance that a quiz would follow and when it was over I printed the questions and even initialed the disclaimer at the bottom so they could hold me to it.

Here’s the quiz. Click on it to see it full size.

I won’t go into specific successes or failures, but suffice it to say the process was less painful than it would have been three or four years ago. One thing they all agreed on is that my attitude is “ridiculously influential” for better or worse and that I should wield that influence with great care.

Since the door’s already open I suppose you are welcome to participate as well. The condition, however, is that you’ll need to email me so that the comments don’t get carried away in either direction. I’m not looking for praise or pettifogging criticism, but for signs of grace and areas needing growth. Of course God is the ultimate and only inerrant judge as well as the only One who can see my heart. Even so, my progress is supposed to be evident to all (1 Timothy 4:15). Some very important things depend on my paying close attention and maybe you can help.

Categories
Enjoying the Process

Like Being Thirsty

I’m tweaking some three year old Ecclesiastes sermons. What follows is an illustration that needs to be cut from its current position, but yet seems worthy of a home somewhere. So where to put it? The void is perfect.

Searching for satisfaction under the sun is like being thirsty and:

  • picking up an empty glass and trying to drink from it.
  • picking up a glass full of water and then realizing it was only a dream.
  • paying a fortune for a glass full of water then taking a drink only to realize that it’s salt water.
  • picking up a glass full of water when the glass shatters in your hand.
  • picking up a glass full of water when someone runs by and knocks it right out of your hand.
  • picking up a glass full of water, drinking the cool, clear, clean, crisp refreshing water, then immediately having a fatal heart attack.
Categories
Enjoying the Process

Chuck Norris Looks Down on Summa Cum Laude

In case my last post left you feeling a little down, let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Now is perhaps the best time ever to be a Christian college student, especially if you’re in Lynchburg, VA because Chuck Norris is your graduation speaker.

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Every Thumb's Width

I Don’t Believe It

I love Dr. John MacArthur. Much of my spiritual and pastoral growth can be attributed directly to him as the human instrument. When I packed my Ford Probe and moved to Los Angeles in 1997 for seminary it was because I wanted to be a student fully trained with him as the teacher. There is no one else I would rather listen to preach. And thanks to Phil Johnson and other editors his body of published material is without modern day equal. He is one of God’s strongest and clearest messengers and I sit up straight when he speaks.

More than likely, most of the people who read this blog know and love Dr. MacArthur as well. So it’s no new revelation to say he’s the preacher who never met a passage that wasn’t his favorite. Each week, every next verse he unleashes is the most “rich” one. I really do admire his endless positivity, especially in light of everything I imagine he’s seen and heard. His sanguine perspective also spills over into a proclivity for hyping whatever he’s thinking/talking about in the now. I’m amazed how excited he is, or at least sounds, about anything he’s announcing. For instance, though he’s greeted new visitors thousands of times I’ve never heard his welcome sound stale, rote, or disinterested. It’s more than admirable, it’s endearing.

That said, I don’t always believe everything he says. Sometimes sweet things are too good to be true and you get to a point where you can’t handle any more honey (Proverbs 27:7).

A good case in point would be the introduction of his recent chapel message, The Responsibility of a Christian College, in which he claimed that being at a Christian college is the most intense spiritual experience a believer could have. As president of The Master’s College I understand he’s obligated, and I think in his case genuinely excited, to promote the school. But this characterization of life at a Christian college is more like a caricature, and the exaggeration gives a dangerous and unhelpful impression.

For the record, I don’t have a problem with Christian colleges, or The Master’s College in particular. Just the opposite is true. For the last seven years I’ve promoted, organized, and driven students thousands of miles for Preview Weekends at TMC. Some of my favorite people are TMC students or graduates and I wish I could have gone there myself. Furthermore, I attended three different Christian colleges before finally graduating from one of them.

So I agree, as MacArthur opened his message, that Christian colleges should produce “distinctive Christians,” defined by him as those “who’s sanctification is evident.” That’s good if not self-evident. But I couldn’t believe what he said just a little under two minutes in:

Being a Christian in a Christian college should be the most formidable, the most aggressive, the most progressive, the most intense time of sanctification that a believer could ever know. …to be a true Christian, and to be put in this setting, with its level of spiritual intensity, biblical understanding, biblical literacy, theological clarity, ministry opportunity, is a level of intensity in spiritual experience that has no parallel. No youth pastor can produce this level of discipleship. No family can produce the breadth, height, length and depth of this level of discipleship coming from so many different directions, all singularly focused, all founded on the same convictions, all pursuing the same objective.

[Note: I transcribed this quote from the podcast of Chapel @ TMC. At the moment there is no other way to access the message than by subscribing to the entire podcast. Note to the media department at TMC: if you’re going to make the audio available at all (for which we are very thankful), why not create a more inviting way to access the chapel messages than only through iTunes? Anyway, I suspect this quote is exactly the kind of material that might be published in a future edition of The Master’s Current, though I hope it gets buried or lost on the editor’s desk.]

For sake of full disclosure, it’s true that Pastor of Student Ministries is the title on my business card. Maybe I’m howling because one of the rocks he threw hit my head, but I don’t think that’s the only reason.

If he would have said something like, “Sadly it’s true for many Christians that the most intense time of spiritual growth is in college” I’d have no complaint. Certainly that is possible. My objection is that his statement makes it sound ideal.

But if Christian college is truly the ultimate place for spiritual growth and sanctification and discipleship then that’s awful for the majority of past and present believers who never went to a Christian college for whatever reason. We should make everyone enroll immediately for every semester and attend classes at some Christian college as long as they’re alive. (We’re also going to have to do something about the hefty $120,000 price tag for this level of sanctification.) Every family, and church, should organize themselves around the college schedule. Apparently the rest of us are really missing out.

Obviously that’s not biblical. God ordained the church and the family as His institutions for instruction, discipleship, worship, ministry, and personal obedience. Christian college may be a small brick in the wall, but to say it is “a level of intensity in spiritual experience that has no parallel” discourages almost everyone but donors and undermines MacArthur’s message and ministry for over 40 years.

Professors cannot take the place of preachers/pastors and parents. They’re not supposed to. College is also patently NOT discipleship, unless discipleship is defined in terms of classes and chapels, which I’ve argued against elsewhere. In addition, roommates and RAs cannot provide what older, and younger, and otherwise different parts of the Body can.

When I look back on my own Christian college experience, sanctification was indeed formidable. But I always attributed that more to the fact of living in close quarters of a thousand other selfish sinners. And we certainly had some spiritually intense discussions, but most of the intensity was due to our youthful arrogance, not our theological acumen. I’m very thankful for everything I learned and wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m even more thankful that it’s done. In fact, trying to be a loving husband, a diligent dad, and a faithful shepherd has no parallel in terms of intensity.

My point is that no Christian college can provide the breadth, height, length and depth of spiritual experience. I don’t believe it. Dr. MacArthur himself has preached and published otherwise for a long time. I don’t think he believes it either.


Comments

Chuck Weinberg said April 30, 2008 at 5:44 am:

Hey Hig, Thanks for your leadership and truth declaring on our behalf. Thanks for your willingness to disagree, when necessary, with someone you love. Our family has been through some “intense sanctification training” lately, and you’re exactly right, it’s the Body that brings all those things so sweetly together. Thanks again for your work at TMC and seminary to move you along in the process, but thank you even more for your continued growth in sanctification over the past years you have been involved in our ministry. You, and Mo, have growth significantly and so has our 128 staff and students. God is Good. Chuck

Clyde said April 30, 2008 at 8:58 am:

i agree with your disagreement. Jesus established the church. He never established LABC.

$ talks. This is a good example.

Jesse Martin said April 30, 2008 at 9:43 am:

Hmmm, I don’t think I care for his dogmatic declaration either. When I first considered colleges, there was almost nothing I wouldn’t have given to be able to attend that college as well – a few years removed from that decision and looking at the growth and intense discipleship I have received through the ministry here in One28 – I KNOW I have received more ministry opportunity and personalized exhortation from the Godly men in this church than I would ever have received from a teacher that is forced into the formality of the academic arena. My deepest gratitude to your “second best” efforts Sean!

bean said April 30, 2008 at 10:05 am:

@clyde – i agree with the disagreement too. and i agree that money talks. but i did want to jump in with a tiny (maybe weak) defense of the book you linked to. from what i understand, many of the “spin off” books are handled by the publisher and macarthur (or phil) has very little, if anything, to do with them. he obviously has very much to do with his message at chapel, though, so there is no getting out of that.

and yes, the next question is why you would let your publisher have that much control and influence…i did say it might be a weak defense.

Mijah said April 30, 2008 at 11:16 am:

Although I am about to graduate from said college in a little over a week and I did sit through that very chapel message, I do agree that he definitely exaggerated the point of the Christian college experience being unique. Honestly, as I listened to him, although what he was saying was superlative and declarative, it didn’t surprise me. The day he gave that message, it was a view weekend, so there were over a hundred prospective students and their parents visiting. We (TMC students) all know that view weekends is when the visitors see the full face of the college. It isn’t that they see anything fake or false, but all Master’s is and represents and stands for is showcased for the visitors. With that said, MacArthur is stepping into the pulpit in front of prospective customers and with enrollment down, it didn’t surprise any of us that he was saying the things that he was.

But that is no excuse for undermining the authority and priority of the local church. I could give plenty of testimony to how God has shaped my life here, but there is no chapter and verse on the necessity to attend Christ’s college.

When I have heard leaders around here say that the college has something that the church wishes it had, I have understood that to mean we live alongside the very people who are discipling us and who we are discipling. We don’t just meet two times a week, but day in and day out we see each other live and confront sin and forgive and love and encourage. Although I see those benefits, living around people that are primarily your own age is not exactly what Titus 2 speaks of.

By the way, you can access the podcast by just visiting the feed through the web browser, where then you can download individual files without subscribing. So, just plug this feed into a browser: http://www.masters.edu/podcast/chapel/chapel.xml

GP said April 30, 2008 at 3:10 pm:

This makes me embarrassed to say where I went to school. I agree with footnote # 4. What you said about husband, dad and shepherd was right.

Dave Crawford said May 1, 2008 at 5:11 pm:

“In fact, trying to be a loving husband, a diligent dad, and a faithful shepherd has no parallel in terms of intensity.”

No kidding.

I truly don’t understand, however, how the book The Extraordinary Mother, which was linked above in the comments, typifies the expression “money talks.” The phrase means a compromise on essential principles for the sake of money. Since the content is biblical, I don’t see how a spin-off book does this, regardless of whether it was initiated by the author or the publisher.

SKH said May 2, 2008 at 11:02 am:

Alright, first of all and to all who have commented thus far, thanks for the feedback and encouragement.

Second, I don’t want to jump into The Extraordinary Mother discussion too deep except to say, Dave, it’s okay, we promise not to tell Jen what’s coming for her Mother’s Day gift.

Leila Bowers said May 5, 2008 at 9:03 am:

Looking back on my schooling experience, I wish I could have mixed private and public university. I certainly would have loved the depth of Biblical insight and knowledge provided by a school like TMC, but the fight to be “in the world and not of it,” the opportunity to meet many diverse Non-Christians, what it means to battle for truth in a hostile environment, refining critical thinking with Biblical truth – that ‘training’ through the UW and UVa was also excellent.

However, Andy and I have often discussed that, if I (or he) had grown up at a church like Grace, we would have been far more equipped for a place like the UW. I didn’t fully understand discipleship, God’s sovereignty – so many things! And I know a good church would have been a more effective equipper than time at a private college.

Biblically, is the ideal mode of sanctification through something like a Church environment or a School environment? I agree with others, and SKH, that this is more a charge to bolster the depth and life-on-life elements of the Church than start investing in the Stock Market in the hopes of being able to send all our kids to TMC…

Categories
He Will Build His Church

From Disciple to Discipler

The Practical Discipleship Plan of Attack aims to take in a disciple and produce a discipler. The following chart gives an overview of the whole process.

To recap: the discipler instructs his disciple in doctrine, illustrates truth in daily practice, involves the disciple in the work of the ministry, helps the disciple improve his effectiveness, and inspires the disciple when he’s discouraged. These five stages of development span the Biblical Discipleship Bulls-eye from evangelism to edification to equipping. Disciplers labor to help new coverts grow in Christ and train them to make disciples in fulfillment of the Great Commission. Maturity and multiplication are beautiful things.

As we wrap up this series, here are some final thoughts on disciple-making.

We learn about discipleship from Jesus!

Jesus already walked the road ahead of us and all we need to do is follow Him. As I mentioned before, The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman traces Jesus’ steps and is must read material. Jesus called disciples, lived and associated with them, taught them, modeled for them, partnered with them, delegated assignments, did follow-up, and then He left. We are here, not because Jesus filled stadiums with hundreds of thousands of people and preached great messages, but because He focused on twelve ordinary men (Yes, this is a shameless reference to John MacArthur’s book by the same name.). Apparently making disciples like Jesus it is effective (not to mention biblical).

Though not complex, discipleship is not easy.

In fact, discipleship may be the toughest thing we’ll ever do. It’s so easy to focus on other things. It isn’t always pleasant having other people look into our lives and it’s often messy when we get involved in theirs. But no matter how difficult, making disciples is our Lord’s commission.

Discipleship is all about the people and not about the program.

The best curriculum cannot guarantee growth. There are no checklists to complete or shortcuts to maturity. Some structure (like organized small groups) may be helpful, but the best program with the wrong people won’t make disciples. On the other hand, the right people with the worst program–or even no program at all–will move forward.

You are missing out if you just partake and don’t participate.

I changed the person of the pronoun on purpose. If you come and soak and don’t give you won’t grow like you should. Your joy will be half of what it could be if you’re not using your spiritual giftedness and pouring back out into someone else’s life. Besides, it would probably help you stop whining about your own life.) There is always someone who knows less than you. You can encourage someone. You’re ready. Every believer has a responsibility to reach out to someone else and make a disciple.

What stage are you in? What will it take to get you to the next level? My prayer is that God would give us all a passion for discipleship, that not just the pastor or the youth staff or parents, but that all of the saints would take ownership. May He give us a vision and burden for others and keep us from sitting on the sidelines. Let us commit to make disciples of all the nations until everyone is complete in Christ.