Quiet Fanatics

From Ray Ortlund’s blog, Christ is Deeper Still:

“It is a growing conviction of mine that no parish can fulfill its true function unless there is at the very center of its leadership life a small community of quietly fanatic, changed and truly converted Christians.  The trouble with most parishes is that nobody, including the pastor, is really greatly changed. . . .

We do not want ordinary men.  Ordinary men cannot win the brutally pagan life of a city like New York for Christ.  We want quiet fanatics.”

John Heuss, Our Christian Vocation (Greenwish, 1955), pages 15-16.

My potential spouse's sexual past: to know or not?

How and when should a couple talk about “the past”?  It’s a thorny question.  Dr. Russell Moore handles it beautifully, relating the tragedies of sin to the power of the gospel.  If you wrestle with this or counsel people who do, this is a must read.

How do I find "the one"?

It’s the most frequent practical question I hear in college/singles ministry.  It has the ability to tie people in knots like no other.

I’ve said this before, but the most helpful resource I’m aware of on sorting through these conundrums is Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something.  DeYoung walks through the maze and helps the reader discern what kinds of questions to ask and when you’re verging on the unhelpful extremes of spiritual subjectivism.

Here is a very short interview with Kevin DeYoung on the issue of finding the right spouse.

What NOT to say to those who are suffering

In this brief post, Ed Welch talks about how to come alongside people who are going through trials.  He makes very helpful comments about the difference between questions that are “orthodox” and questions that are “orthodox and pastoral/edifying“.  Taking Welch’s wisdom to heart could go a long way in bringing support and encouragement to our friends who are going through hard times.

What this passage "means to me"

From Thabiti Anyabwile’s post entitled, ‘What It Means to Me’:

That little sentence has been the death of many well-meaning attempts to understand the Bible.  “What it means to me” ruins our understanding because it decapitates the intent of the original author.  What matters first and primarily is “what did it mean to John or Paul or Luke or whoever wrote Hebrews.”  What did the author intend to communicate.  That’s first base in biblical interpretation and its the guard rail that keeps us from driving off into the wilderness of subjectivity and a million swamps of private interpretation.

And, ultimately, we’re concerned to know what the Author–God Himself–intends to communicate with us.  If we’re hasty to rewrite the Bible with our own thoughts, we’ll ultimately write God right out of it.  A premature “what it means to me” takes the pen out of God’s hand and dips it in the ink of our puny intellectual, emotional, social, psychological and usually idolatrous wells.

Read the whole post.

Don't massage in church!

About this time last year the PAMIC (People Against Massage In Church) became more or less formalized as blogger, Prodigal Jon, wrote a manifesto summoning fellow non-massagers to unite.  The four main articles go as follows:

1. The difference between a pat and a massage.
We recognize and respect the need to pat someone on the back. Sometimes, it’s good to say “Hi” or “Good job” or “Your chair is currently resting on my big toe” with a small tap on the back. We support that. But when you pat more than four times and then linger, you have now crossed into massage territory my friend. And you’re about to find yourself on the other end of a “PAMIC Attack.”

2. Circles are great for cheerios, not church.
We recognize and respect the need to lay a hand on someone as you say hello or want to show your spouse support during a prayer. But when you start rubbing in a circle, a square or any other geometrical shape, you are now giving a massage. That’s not a big deal right? Wrong. Your rotating hand is creating what we call a “circle of distraction.” People around you will not be able to focus on the sermon as they instead become hypnotized by watching you. God hates that. It’s in Numbers or Exodus I think.

3. There are consequences if you try to massage us.
The members of PAMIC are attractive and funny and Godly and often smell very nice. Please don’t get confused by those four things and think it’s OK to ever give us a back or neck rub during church. If you do, we can’t be held responsible if you suddenly find yourself in some sort of karate arm bar lock, a sleeper hold or at the bottom of a wicked leg drop.

4. Don’t confuse not loving in church massages with not loving life, Jesus, our spouses etc.
You will assume, based on our plans to rid all churches, in all countries of “during church massages,” that we are not loving people. That perhaps you are rubbing someone’s neck as an act of worship or praise or affection. And that members of PAMIC are not into any of those things. That is adorable. It’s possible we held hands with our spouses as we walked into church. We might give back rubs at home. We could be amazing “snugglers” but when it comes to touching folks at church, we follow the Bible. And there’s not a single example of someone in the Bible giving someone else a neck or back rub while Jesus taught. I dare you to find me a verse that show someone massaging someone else while they listened to the Sermon on the Mount for instance.

Carolyn McCulley adds her voice along with a word at the end to make sure people don’t freak out and get serious/ugly about the issue.

Worship Music or Music Worship?

That’s the name of a message I heard years ago from friend and mentor, Bob Kauflin.  As a worship leader in my local church I get comments rather regularly like “that song really makes me worship” or “now that was worship” (at the end of a particularly energetic time of corporate singing) or “if you want to really wake people up, you should do this song”.  Bob has challenged my thinking in these areas over the years and has helped me think more biblically about the Sunday meeting – how the ancient practice of singing praise to God connects to the larger picture of God’s purposes in the corporate gathering.

In this post, you enter a conversation that is already in progress.  Bob is responding to Pastor Greg Gilbert’s thoughts on the pitfalls of over-emphasizing music in our thinking about gathered worship.  Follow the links that Bob includes.  The entire conversation will prove stirring and, I believe, beneficial.

Introducing Mark Dever

Last week I had the chance, over at the blog for Next, to introduce another main session speaker for the Next Conference (May, 2010): a personal favorite, Mark Dever.

Dever has what he calls a “canon of theologians”.  He has a particular theologian assigned to each month of the year, such that, in a given year, in addition to his other reading, he will devote extra time to becoming more familiar with that theologian and his writings.  Those 12 or so men have been so consistently edifying to his soul that he makes a point year after year to delve more deeply into their writings.

All that said, if I had a canon of living theologians/pastors, there is no question in my mind that I would take a month of every year to spend extra time benefiting from Mark’s eminently helpful books, sermons, articles, and interviews.

My Favorite Books of 2009

This is a snippet of an email sent to members of the worship team at Lakeview Christian Center – a great bunch of friends and servants, and a fine group of musicians to boot.   I try to encourage the team to be “readers of good books”.  We want to be a worship team full of people who desire to learn more and more truth about the God we worship, so that we might lead others in God-centered, doctrinally-anchored songs that rise from grateful hearts.  We certainly don’t want to worship in a way that we’re simply stringing together tired cliches that say lots about how we feel and precious little about the One we’ve gathered to worship.

So, this little list is from a recent exchange with the team.  Since I’ve sent this, they’ve been chiming in one by one to let the other team members know what books have affected them the most this past year.  Seeing the solid things they’ve been reading and hearing how it has affected them is a great encouragement to the whole team.

Hopefully, as we’ve talked about before, we are cultivating the art of good reading – first and foremost, God’s Word, but also – and we learn this value from God’s Word – faithful teachers and Christian leaders (whose fruitful labor lives on in books) …

Though not in any particular order, these would be the five best books I read in 2009.

Just Do Something (DeYoung, Kevin)

Pivoters [our ministry to 18-30s] always ask questions about life, marriage, calling, majors, decisions, so I read anything on this topic that I can get my hands on.  DeYoung’s book is far and a way the best treatment I’ve come across on the topic of how to discern God’s will.  It’s also a perfect book for someone who says “I don’t like to read” since 1) the book is pretty short 2) DeYoung’s writing is solid, engaging, and at several points humorous and 3) every Christian immediately recognizes how relevant this subject is for his/her life.

The Reason For God (Keller, Timothy)

Keller’s defense of Christian faith is beautifully written and cogently argued.  He does an excellent job arguing for the biblical worldview and Christian faith as well as deconstructing some of the pillars of 21st century skepticism.  I love Keller’s writing.

Instructing Your Child’s Heart (Tripp, Paul D.)

The re-enacted conversations of how to discipline and correct children with the gospel are alone worth the price of the book.

Keeping Holiday (Meade, Starr)

Meade’s book is a kind of modern day Pilgrim’s Progress.  The characters and story development effectively communicate truths like – our inability to fulfill God’s requirements, Christ’s provisions for us, the Christian standing always with “the wind in his face” (opposition to the world, flesh, devil), false promises of sin, the ways that God “speaks” and draws us to Himself, the power of grace, the traps of religion, and more.  Short book.  I read it to the boys.  They begged for more every night.  So did I.

The Institutes of the Christian Religion (Calvin, John)

I have tons of quotes from Calvin’s Institutes, but have never gone through the whole thing.  It is widely regarded as one of the grandest works of Christian literature in all of church history.  All of Calvin’s theology is bathed in Christ-centered devotion.  He is no rationalist or dusty theologian.  It was a riveting read that brought me to tears on many occasions.  His letter to the King of France in 1536 (at the front) is Christian statesmanship par excellence.  I trust Calvin’s magnum opus will be on my all time top 10 list when I’m 90, if I’m alive.  Ref21 blog has a reading plan that will take you through it in a year.  You’ll have to put on your thinking cap, but the journey is well worth the effort.

Favorite authors: David Powlison

I’m letting myself slip little by little here because in the case of some of the writers I mention in this series, I’ve engaged their material more in sermons or articles rather than in their books.  That would be the case here.

Powlison is a seasoned man – seasoned by years of ministry and some challenging personal trials.  The main thing I hear him ‘say’ to me as I read and listen to his stuff, is “Matt, care for people.  Listen to people.  Ministry is not one size fits all.  Seek to apply the gospel to the individual sitting next to you.  Comfort and speak the truth in love, with patience.”

Two great places to hear him say that, in more and better words are in the following sermons:

I’ll get to Mark Dever in this series soon and talk more about this then, but the 9Marks Interviews have been an invaluable resource for me.  I’ve listened to many of them, many times each.  One of my all time favorites (I’d say top 3) is Dever’s interview with Powlison.  The way Powlison shares his testimony is a beautiful tribute to the power of God’s grace.  It’s also great stuff if you have particular interest in counseling.