Life Lesson: Do Things.

I've heard it said that in our twenties we fumble around in life trying to figure out what we're good at. Then in our thirties we know what we're good at and spend the next decade or so getting better at it. Our forties are spent getting fat, then our fifties growing senile.

While I don't know about those last two, the first two sound like they're probably pretty right on. As a wiener of a twenty year old I put my hand to everything and succeeded grandly at none of it. I don't know that I could argue I'm succeeding at much of it even now, but I've learned what I really enjoy and what I'm good at. Something nobody told me is that having children will give you a tight focus in life. After my second girl was born I found myself sitting down and making a list of things I wanted to do in life for hobbies outside of work. My list was about 5 items:
  1. Run
  2. Write
  3. Mountain Bike
  4. Program
  5. Graduate Studies
I don't think I dwelled on this for very long before I realized with two children I was fooling myself and cut out numbers 3-5. Those who know me know it took time to cut some of these out. I'm still working on finishing up one of my graduate degrees, but it is prioritized low on my list. Always losing out to running and writing.

For about four years now I've had this blog (and my other for almost as long), and it's changed dramatically over the years. I'm okay with that. Things I learned about writing:
  1. Write like a crazy person.
  2. Never announce a change of direction for your writing (blog et al.), just change direction.
  3. Write like a crazy person.
  4. Revising is only painful at first, it quickly becomes a pleasure.
Just because you can publish anything without reviewing it at all doesn't mean you should. Writing is about writing, therefore write. And write. And write some more.

Similarly here are some things I've learned about running:
  1. Run like an idiot.
  2. Don't wear shoes.
  3. Run like an idiot.
  4. You will fart your brains out after the 5th mile. This is normal.
I used to run for the sake of mental stability. The biggest change I ever made was shedding my shoes — now I run because I love it. I run far because I don't want to stop, and mental stability has become a mere pleasant side effect. As a side note, don't run during the day barefoot on pavement which has been cooked by the 104 degree Houston sun; run in the morning, or just before sundown.

On reflecting on these things I realized these lessons also have parallels in my spiritual life. Knowing what I know now, I wish someone would have told me the following:
  1. Chase God like a fool.
  2. Ask God for the desire to desire Him.
  3. Chase God like a fool.
  4. When you find yourself distracted by the world (fame, lust, pride, money) it's probably because you're failing at numbers 1 and 3.
You'll find the things you love to do are really pretty simple. You could spend hours each day reading about how to do them better, but the best way to learn to anything is just to do it so much it becomes ridiculous. The best way to learn to run is to run till your legs feel like Jello, and then some more. The best way to write is to write so much you don't just discern a writing voice, you discover two or three, and you learn a Hindu accent just to mix things up. The best way to follow the Lord is to chase after Him like nothing else matters.

Walk slow. Run fast. Write all the time. Publish only some of it. Wake up early. Read the Bible and mark it up as though it is God-breathed revelation — because it is.

The time you spend reading about something should never outweigh the time you spend actually doing it. The Getting Things Done (GTD) crowd is the epitome of failure in this world. You could spend 4 of your 8 hours every day learning new software to help you better get things done or you could actually just do things.

Time spent writing should be greater than time spent reading about how to write, or trying new writing software. Time spent running should be greater than time spent reading about running or running gear. Time spent with God should be greater than time spent reading about how to spend time with God.

The truth is, if you do numbers 1 and 3 in any of these you will figure out 2 and 4 in no time. Everything other than passionate pursuit is secondary and will be learned through experience if you maintain said passion. And maintaining passion is easy if you just stay in the pursuit.

Knowing what things are worthy of your time can be difficult. But once you've decided where you will spend your time, the how is simple. Listen to Nike — Just do it.

Awkward Transitions Aren't Awkward When We're Passionate

Dude, check out my shoes.
Hey, did you see my bike? It's Harley.
Did I tell you about my new home? It has a pool.
Hold that thought, check out my new flat screen TV.
Bro, let me tell you about the God who saved me.

Just saying.

Ministry: Whose Kingdom? ➙

You see, the biggest protection against the kingdom of self is not a set of self-reformative defensive strategies. It’s a heart that’s so blown away by the right-here, right-now glories of the grace of Jesus Christ that you’re not easily seduced by the lesser temporary glories of that claustrophobic kingdom of one, the kingdom of self.
Bringing to mind the same truth worded differently,
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

Calvin on The Preaching of the Word

I assert not that wherever the word is preached, the good effects of it immediately appear; but that it is never received so as to obtain a permanent establishment, except in order that it may be efficacious. However this may be, where the word is heard with reverence, and the sacraments are not neglected, there we discover, while that is the case, an appearance of the Church, which is liable to no suspicion or uncertainty, of which no one can safely despise the authority, or reject the admonitions, or resist the counsels, or slight the censures, much less separate from it and break up its unity. - Calvin's Institutes Book 4 Chapter 1
Unity, unity, unity. But what I really love in this short quote is an admission that results (good fruit) are not proof of faithfulness.

We (as fallen-judgmental man) so wish God's approval would be revealed in tangible success. We as ministers wish we could judge our work in the same way a businessman judges his — numbers.

God's ways (often to our frustration) are higher than ours.

And unrelated but worth mentioning due to recent um, labeling, I should note that not all who read Calvin (or quote him for that matter) are followers thereof.

Judgement, Hubris, and True Christian Maturity

If everything you know about Christian living came from blogs and websites in the old-and-bored district of the Reformed community, you might have the impression that judgement is the principal symbol of Christian maturity.

For some who self-identify as "Old, Bored, and Reformed," (OBeeR) it seems judging others is a more popular topic for study and discussion than the doctrine of predestination. They devote whole blogposts to the celebration of categorizing and then disapproving of others. They earnestly assure one another "that most good theological discussion has historically been done in finding fault with others and discussing it online." They therefore love to meet for "open dialog on faith and culture" wherever the elderly Bible-commentators are wearing suits — or better yet, in circles discussing how things were "better in the old days". The famous among them publish their own books (an antiquated form of textual communication) and even offer opinions publicly online outside of Facebook.

It's clear that judgement-loving passion is a prominent badge of identity for many in the OBeeR movement. Apparently judgment is also an essential element in the missional strategy. Judging others publicly is often touted as a necessary means of influencing  youth culture, and conversely, humility is deemed a "sin" to be repented of.

After all, in a culture where "experience" is everything, what could be a better lubricant for one's testimony than mocking a generation they don't understand?

Of course, judgement is by no means the only token of cultural savvy frequently associated with old-and-bored religion. All kinds of activities deemed vices by youth everywhere have been adopted as badges of Calvinist identity and thus "redeemed": academic pride, wrinkly skin, Uno, bickering, snobbery, and lots of awkward talk about how people never have sex.

Cast a disapproving eye at any of those activities, and you are likely to be swarmed by bored reformers denouncing humility and wanting to debate whether it’s a “sin” to divide the body of Christ. But without even raising the question of whether this or that specific activity is acceptable, indifferent, or out-and-out evil, we surely ought to be able to say that disunity and judgement amongst ourselves and other symbols of pagan society's seamy side are not what the church of Jesus Christ ought to wish to be known for. In fact, until fairly recently, no credible believer in the entire church age would ever have suggested that so many features evoking the ambiance of a bridge group or a cheerleader's slumber party could also be suitable insignia for the people of God.

It is puerile and irresponsible for any pastor to encourage the recreational use of pride-at-the-expense-of-others — especially in church-sponsored activities. The ravages of pride and egotism in our culture are too well known, and no symbol of sin’s bondage is more seductive or more oppressive than self-righteousness. I have ministered to hundreds of people over the years who have realized their good works cannot save them. Many of them wage a daily battle with fleshly desires made a thousand times more potent because of the church's acceptance of hubris. The second to last thing I would ever want to do is be the cause of stumbling for one of them (the absolute last thing I would ever want to do is imbibe that devil-juice known as beer).

Besides, deliberately cultivating an appetite for pridefulness or a reputation for loving myself is not merely bad missional strategy and a bad testimony; it is fraught with deadly spiritual dangers. The damage is clearly evident in places where the strategy has been touted. Bob McDinkinson, who helped pioneer “Theology Doesn't Need A Savior, Just Division Over Secondary Issues,” acknowledges the gravity of the problem:
As I coach and mentor church planters and pastors, I am shocked at the number of them who are either already convinced or headed toward thinking they've got it all together. Increasingly, the same is true works-righteousness. One pastor I know could not relax without first mentally putting others down during and after work and could not sleep without the aid of counting crippled sheep. [Thick Book (Fancy-Reformers, 2009), 511117 (we read really long books)]
In biblical times, self righteousness was necessary for health reasons. The risk of humility in public places could be significantly reduced by walking around next to someone who dressed worse and talked slower than you. The result was an overly optimistic view of one's own opinions and self-image. Weblogs and international fame make the need for private self-righteousness unnecessary today.

Contrary to the current mythology, humility is no sin — least of all for someone devoted to ministry (Leviticus 26:41 ; Proverbs 15:33; Luke 14:11). It is, of course, a sin to give one’s mind over to thinking our own good reputation is sufficient unto salvation. As a matter of fact, judgement and division are the very antithesis of Spirit-filled sanctification (1 Corinthians 3:17)—and men who indulge in them are not qualified to be spiritual leaders.

Yes, I realize Jesus Himself was referred to by His enemies as "a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Matthew 11:19). But He was none of the things that expression implied—nor did He seek such a reputation.

He was indeed "a friend of tax collectors and sinners" in the sense that He specialized in lifting them up out of the miry clay and setting their feet on a rock. But He did not adopt or encourage their lifestyle. He did not embrace their values or employ put-downs borrowed from their vocabulary in order to win their admiration or gain membership in their fraternity. He confronted their wickedness and rebuked their sins as boldly as He preached against the errors of the Pharisees (Matthew 18:7-9).

Note, too, that He ate and drank with Pharisees (Luke 7:36) as readily as He ate and drank with publicans. His disciples were young, restless, and regularly indulged in wine. The only significant difference was that the typical tax collector was more inclined to confess his own desperate need for divine forgiveness than the average self-righteous Pharisee (Mark 2:16-17; Luke 18:1-14).

But there is no suggestion in Scripture that Jesus purposely assumed the look and lifestyle of a publican in order to gain acceptance in a godless subculture. He didn't.

This tendency to emblazon oneself with symbols of carnal self-sufficiency as if they were valid badges of spiritual maturity is one of the more troubling aspects of the OBeeR movement's trademark boredom. It is wrong-headed, carnal, and immature to imagine that stereotypical old-woman behavior makes good missional strategy. The image of judgement-casting old dudes does nothing to advance the cause of Christ's kingdom.

Slapping the label “incarnational” on strategies such as this doesn’t alter their true nature. They have more in common with the Pharisees, who looked down on everyone else as unholy, than with Jesus, who is “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26).

Real Christian maturity is not about flouting perceived superior righteousness and offending other believers. The maturity in which we stand begins with full indemnity from the law's threats and condemnation—meaning we are at peace with God (Romans 5:1; 8:1). An understanding of Christian maturity also removes the restrictions of the law's ceremonial commandments (Colossians 2:16-17)—freeing us from asceticism, superstition, sensuality, and "human precepts and teachings" (vv. 18-23) — making us more like Christ.

But conscious humility and maturity are virtues commanded and commended by Scripture; these are not manmade rules or legalistic standards. As a matter of fact, one of the main qualifications for both deacons and elders in the church is that they cannot be arrogant. In other words, they are to be known for their humility, not for their judgement of others or self-righteousness.

It should not take a doctor of divinity to notice that Scripture consistently celebrates virtues such as self-control, sober-mindedness (which includes a healthy perspective of ourselves), purity of heart, the restraint of our fleshly lusts, humility, and similar fruits of the Holy Spirit's sanctifying work in our lives. Surely these are what we ought hold in highest esteem, model in our daily lives, and honor on our websites, rather than trying so hard to impress the world with touting our superiority, encouraging the very things that hold so many believers in bondage.

Please note this post is written with tongue firmly planted in cheek. It is a response to/rewrite of/mockery of John McArthur's recent post Beer, Bohemianism, and True Christian Liberty.

I do not know John McArthur nor do I know much about him. However I do know some who have been positively influenced by him and therefore have no reason to believe he deserves anything other than respect. Outside of this blog post, of course.

Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours

I'm reading this book by Roland Allen because someone, somewhere, in an article once mentioned it. And I really wish I could remember where so I could link to it.

So — old dead fogies who lived a hundred years ago are not all boring idiots/stiffs. Exhibit A:
There is yet another and a more weighty reason: St. Paul's method is not in harmony with the modern Western spirit. We modern teachers from the West are by nature and by training persons of restless activity and boundless self-confidence. We are accustomed to assume an attitude of superiority towards all Eastern peoples, and to point to our material progress as the justification of our attitude. We are accustomed to do things ourselves for ourselves, to find our own way, to rely upon our own exertions, and we naturally tend to be impatient with others who are less restless and less self-assertive than we are. We are accustomed by long usage to an elaborate system of church organization, and a peculiar code of morality. We cannot imagine any Christianity worthy of the name existing without the elaborate machinery which we have invented. We naturally expect our converts to adopt from us not only essentials but accidentals. We desire to impart not only the Gospel, but the Law and the Customs. With that spirit, St. Paul's methods do not agree, because they were the natural outcome of quite another spirit, the spirit which preferred persuasion to authority. St. Paul distrusted elaborate systems of religious ceremonial, and grasped fundamental principles with an unhesitating faith in the power of the Holy Ghost to apply them to his hearers and to work out their appropriate external expressions in them. (Emphasis mine).

But seriously though, epic.

Beer, Bohemianism, and True Christian Liberty ➙

I had to link to this, not least because in it John McArthur linked to my previous post on beer, but also because the argument is amusing.

Yes alcoholism is a problem, and not a small one. But in my opinion Christians tend towards legalism more than overly practicing their liberty. Talking about beer, tobacco, or whatever isn't sinful, or even weird. Neither is abstinence.

But an old guy calling me "Young, Restless, and Reformed", thats weird. I resent all three.

Why we must fire boring teachers and preachers ➙

So, elders should make sure they fire consistently boring teachers and preachers (making providence, for example, as dull as ditch water is false teaching as sure as open theism is); and congregations should connect their acts of praise and worship to the declaration of God's wonderful acts about which they hear from the pulpit.
And to think people have long used 1 Corinthians 2:1-4 to argue that by speaking passionately you're taking away from the gospel.

Stop Doing Stupid S*** (Back to the Basics) ➙

I recently read this spectacular article and I've been thinking about it ever since. The title is really more an attention grabber than anything (and if cursing is overwhelmingly offensive to you then don't click through), it really should be titled, "Getting Back to the Basics."
Learning how to reflexively avoid stupidity is a key ingredient to attaining great heights with any skill. It's amazing how many hours you can piss away trying add new and interesting techniques to your repertoire before you've really mopped up the basics.
I've thought about this in light of my running. Since switching to barefoot running I have re-learned how to run and now I can run much further without getting tired, which makes me enjoy running more. I also no longer breathe as intensely as I used to, which is incredibly relaxing. Re-learning the basics has made me a much better runner.

So naturally I started to wonder what it meant to get back to the basics as a missionary. It occurred to me how much I read about missionary methodology, or church planting, or whatever. But a few months of great teaching on the Pauline Epistles had a dramatic effect on the way I thought about and did ministry. Really learning the Bible is the minister's equivalent to the pianist's scales. Knowing the word is the equivalent to the runner's knowing how to run. The Bible is my basics.

And it's a shame to me to have done ministry so long and have such a sad grasp of the basics.

via Rands