100: By His Grace, For His Glory

Via Emmaus’ hundredth post is one of pray and praise. 

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!  It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!  For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 100

Thankful for the joyful labors of blogging for the last five months, and prayerful that this media venue might be continue to be used to inform, reform, and be a platform for God’s glory, only by his grace (cf. John 15:5; 1 Cor. 15:10).  

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Distraction, Devotion, and Destruction: A Reflection from Gregory the Great’s “Pastoral Rule”

Reading Gregory the Great’s “Pastoral Rule,” a document addressing Christian shepherds and their pastoral roles, I came across this quote.  Ponder it with me.

Secular employments, therefore, though they may sometimes be endured out of compassion, should never be sought after out of affection for the things themselves; lest, while they weigh down the mind of him who loves them, they sink it, overcome by its own burden, from heavenly places to the lowest (Gregory the Great, “The Pastoral Rule,” in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, p. 18).

Gregory’s comment illustrates numerous biblical exhortations for pastors and leaders in ministry.  Consider three:

2 Timothy 2:4, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”

2 Timothy 2:20-21, “Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable.  Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful for the master of the house, ready for every good work.”

1 Peter 5:2-3, “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God whould have you; not for shameful gain…”

In a world filled with distractions…Television.  Radio.  Video Games.  Internet.  Telephone.  Cell Phone.  Email.  Blogging.  Facebook.  Twitter.  The list goes on… Where was I?  Oh yeah, distracting secular employments!  In a world filled with distractions, Gregory’s warning is a timeless reminder that one of Satan’s ploys is to take our eyes, our minds, our affections off what really matters and to fill them with worldly goods (Read: Luke 14:16-24). 

More so than ever, our enemy has an avalanche of options to force us off the straight and narrow path.  He may not tempt us to be bad but to be busy with banality.  For none of the things listed above are intrinsically evil, but they become instruments of destruction when they hinder our worship, deter our mission, promote lethargy, or increase vain curiosity.

I don’t say this as a disenchanted technophobe, but as someone who regularly utilizes the modern amenities afforded by technology.  Nevertheless, I feel their effects.  Gregory’s words rachet me back to Jesus’ pre-modern call to pick up my cross and follow Him.  I confess that too many times, I am distracted in this pursuit, and so I appreciate his exhortation.  I pray for spiritual renewal in my life and a return to a “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3).  I pray for others too that we will together fix our eyes on Jesus running with endurance the race set out for us, and that to do this well we throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  In this I pray, that we will learn how to use mass media not for purposes of distraction, but for purposes of spiritual destruction–“destroying arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:5)

Father in Heaven, Undistracted Deity: Give your people the wisdom to see the ways in which worldly distractions keep them from following you as loyal soldiers, clean vessels, and willing shepherds.  Spirit of Truth, lead us to repent and turn from our futile pursuits and to utilize all creation, technology included, for your glory.  Protect us from the world’s all-consuming efffects.  Lord Jesus, glorify yourself in your church, liberating your people to be wholly committed to loving and serving you.  And may the world watch in wonder and follow in obedience to you as your church turns from distraction to devotion!

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Why blog (5): For the joy of telling the truth.

This is my last extended reflection on why blogging is a valuable endeavor.  (Such a prolegomena could go on infinitum and ad nauseum, so we will conclude with these final remarks).

Why blog?

For the joy of contending for, expounding, and simply telling others about God’s goodness and truth.  John writes:  “And we write these things so that our joy may be complete” (1John 1:4).  Let me unpack this verse with three questions, and than one point of application as it pertains to Via Emmaus.

First, who is the “we”?   Contextually,  without any proper names, it seems like it is the band of witnesses who heard, saw, and touched the risen Lord (v. 1).  This would include all those listed in 1 Cor. 15, but more particularly it seems to be those, like John, who lived to tell the gospel message of Christ.  For John says in verse 2, that “we” who have seen it, “testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life.”  Moreover, since these these witnesses are testifying to Christ’s bodily resurrection and His promise of eternal life, it seems logical that it would be the first century apostles and prophets (i.e. Eph. 4:11). 

Second, what are “these things”?  Again, going only from the context, it seems to be the content of what he is describing in verses 1-3: the reality of Christ’s resurrection, that which he saw, heard, and touched.  Moreover, it is the eternal life himself, Jesus Christ, who “was with the Father and was made manifest to us” (v. 2).  This is what John proclaimed, “so that you too may have fellowship with us” (v. 3) — fellowship that was with God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the assembly of believers (cf. v. 3).  These two things–the reality of Christ’s resurrection and the promise of eternal life–clearly indicate why this beloved disciple is joyful, but they also lead us to a final question.

Third, how is his joy made complete?  John’s joy is found in sharing “Christ”ian fellowship with others.  John loved expanding the boundaries of the community of faith.  He loved telling others of the gospel, describing all that he had seen, heard, and touched.  He delighted in recounting the gospel of Jesus Christ, with its exclusive promise of eternal life; and when he shared this good news with others, his joy was made complete.  In other words, his joy is expanded in the sharing of his joy.  (Oh, that we might all share this joyful spirit).

Let me illustrate this point.  Last night my wife and I found a great little Middle-Eastern restaurant.  The food was great– authentic falafel and shawarmas.  What could be better?  Well, one thing: sharing the good news with others.  For in sharing the experience of these Lebanese delicacies we would not only enjoy the pleasures of the food, but even greater, we would share the joy of seeing others enjoy the same appetizing foods.  How much more with the bread of life that brings eternal life!  (For more on this idea, John Piper has masterfully explained it in Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist.) 

So it is with blogging.  While it is a joy to consider gospel truths in isolation, it is a far greater joy to share God’s daily mercies with others.  For only in this sharing are our joys fully experienced.  While I would contend that it is best to do this in person (particularly in the framework of a local church), the vehicle of blogging is a viable platform for highlighting God’s goodness, truth, and beauty–in his Word and in his world.   Such intentional testimony has the incredible prospect of building faith, fueling hope, and/or purifying love.  Certainly, not all (Christian) blogging is done in this spirit, but what if it was?  It ought to be the conscious effort of every Christian to be a means of grace in all that they say or blog.  Prayerfully, that will be the aim of this fallible blogger.

Let me again refer to the beloved apostle and close by answering the question, “Why blog?” with his words: “that our joy [in Jesus Christ] might be made complete.”

Sola dei gloria, dss

Why Blog? (4): So that the sparks may fly.

Why blog?

If two of the three reasons for blogging listed so far are aimed at conversation with non-Christians (i.e. 1. to explain and expound the gospel of Jesus Christ, and 2. to defend the faith once for all delivered to the saints),  the fourth reason is directed towards other believers.  Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”  So too, we who know the Lord ought to spur one another on towards love and good deeds (Heb. 10:25)– the language of “spurring” is one of provocation.   However, it is not the kind of goading that leads to argumentation–the kind that I used to engage in with my younger brother.  Rather, it is the thought-provoking, spirit-convicting, heart-rending kind of spurring that would turn someone to repent from error and wrongdoing.   It is the kind of spurring that instigates godly sorrow and saves a brother from egregious sin (cf. 2 Cor. 7:8-9; James 5:19-20).  It is not the kind of instigation that leads to wranglings over words, personal attacks, or vain speculations, but it is the kind that prizes truth but never relinquishes charity.   This kind of provocation takes more thought and time, and cannot be done without the Spirit.

When done in this manner, blogging can be very fruitful and clarifying.  Even when more heated issues are debated, the resulting friction can provide a flame to purify consciences and a surface to round rough edges.  The daily exercise of answering difficult questions and articulating nuanced thought is valuable in understanding the simplicity and profundity of the Bible.  Thus, blogging proves valuable in crystallizing complex ideas.  At the same time, in a way that no other medium can, it allows brothers from all over the globe and from various traditions to discuss critical matters of the faith. 

Sadly, as we all know, blogging can also be mean-spirited, fool-hardy, and destructive.  Providing a platform for the carnal nature to take center stage, blogging has the potential to incite vicious arguments, undisciplined rants, and speech that is simply unbecoming to a Christian.  With sober recognition of that, we who belong to Christ must guard our tongues and fingers.  For even if your post can be deleted, your words cannot (Matthew 12:36) .  Consequently, we must exercise spiritual discernment over what and how we write.  Perhaps sitting on comment for a day beforing publishing, or letting another brother read it in private before the world can view it in public.   

With that said, blogging remains an excellent way for those committed to the gospel to challenge and encourage one another in the things of Christ and His Word.   And it is something to be employed for fruitful and godly discussion.  So brothers, draw your swords and let the sparks fly.

Sola Dei Gloria, dss

Why Blog? (3): Blogging as the Modern Day Areopagus

Why Blog?

Because the Internet and weblogs are the forum for the twenty-first century Aeropagus.  In Acts 17, Paul travels from Thessalonica to Berea to Athens.  Being run out of the first two cities, he arrives in Athens to mend his wounds and wait for his traveling/ministering companions.  Yet, as he walks the streets of the cosmopolitan city “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw the city was full of idols” (v. 16), and he could not hold back.  In response to the culture’s false religions, he went to the synagogue (v. 17a) and the marketplace (v. 17b) “preaching Jesus and the resurrection” (v. 19).

Stirring up significant attention to his claims, Paul was ushered to the Aeropagus.  Located on a hill on the outside of Athens, this forum of philosophers “would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (v. 21).  Having heard that a new preacher was in town, the Aeropagite leaders invited the apostle.  Standing up in the midst of this erudite but skeptical assembly (v. 22-31), Paul preached the gospel–starting with the religious worship of an unknown God (v. 22-23), he described the God of the Bible as the Creator (v. 24-28 ) and Judge of humanity (v.29-31), and the one whom all men would one day give account.  He spoke of Jesus as the man God raised from the dead to judge all humanity, and he called them to put faith in him (v. 34).

The scene is impressive.  Paul, in isolation yet empowered by the Holy Spirit, boldly enters the pluralistic assembly and proclaims the exclusive message salvation offered by the God of Israel through His Christ, Jesus of Nazareth.  Such is the task of a faithful blogger, to enter the arena of swirling ideas and nihilistic philosophies and proclaim a surer message.  Today the world of ideas is too expansive for an Aeropagite rotunda, but within the WWW the Aeropagite debate rages on. 

Consequently, like Paul there must be a steady stream of humble witnesses proclaiming the Truth.  For this reason, Christians (perhaps not all, but some) must blog.  Not to be heroic, but to be a small but persuasive voices standing against an avalanche of avatars who reject Jesus Christ or who simply misuse and abuse his name.   For behind every weblog sits a person with a name and a soul, someone made by God (Acts 17:28 ) and called to believe in his savior for eternal life.  

When Paul left the Aeropagus, some mocked (v. 32), others said they would hear him again, but only two said that they believed (v. 34).  So is it in the blogosphere: many who hear about Jesus mock, others out of intrigue, antagonism, or misunderstanding listen and debate, but few believe.  Nevertheless we must contend (Jude 3) and blog, so that seekers of wisdom like Dionysius and Damaris (v. 34) may encounter voices of truth when they enter today’s Google-navigated Aeropagus.  

And perhaps to their amazement and surprise, what they find is not information but wisdom.  Wisdom that is not found on the the beaten path of the information superhighway, but rather on the sloped road that leads to Mt. Calvary, that winds into a garden tomb, and that turns to view the hill on which Christ will one day reign-Mt Zion.  This may sound like foolishness to some, but to others who have ears to hear it is the way of wisdom.  And for the latter ensnared in the Aeropagus, we must blog.

Sola Dei Gloria, dss

Why Blog? (Part 2)

Why Blog?

Let me suggest another reason: In order to grow in the wisdom of God’s word and to better understand and articulate its Truth.

Consider 2 Timothy 2:7 with me. Paul writes, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” This verse has two parts. First, is the command to “think over what I say”–in other words, to cogitate, to meditate, and to postulate on the inspired words of the living apostle. Enlisting the imagery of a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer in previous verses to respectively illustrate devotion, honesty, and rigorous labor, the elder apostle seems to indicate the value in thinking hard upon the his apostolic message (cf. 2:2). Certainly, the apostle Peter considered some of Paul’s words very challenging (2 Pet. 3:15-16), and thus these truths needed then and still require careful and thoughtful attention. For this reason alone, blogging is useful because it stimulates thought.

In addition to this plain command comes the second part of the verse which underscores a foundational principle, “the Lord [gives] understanding.” This command to think in verse 7 is coupled with the biblical the reality that the Spirit of Christ must illumine truth (cf. John 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:14-16; 1 John 2:27). This means that hard thinking alone does not produce revelation. The story of Martin Luther teaches us this. The Augustinian monk beat on Romans 1:17 until Paul was a bloody mess, but not until the Spirit moved did the apostle speak and divulge his secrets of justifying fatih.

This dual reality, then, is humbling and refreshing truth. Humbling because mankind is absolutely dependent on divine revelation; refreshing because God graciously reveals himself to those who earnestly seek him (Jer. 29:11; Matt. 7:7). Consequently, blogging when done well, perhaps even done “spiritually,” is an exercise in biblical cogitation which can and should promote a humble cry for help in ascertaining God’s truth. Likewise, in expressing these truths in open conversation allows for more precise application and proclamation in a sin-darkened world. Of course, thing like personal hubris, vanity, and self-deceit stand in the way of this aim, but without compromise this must be the kind of blogging to which we endeavor–the kind that thinks hard and prays for wisdom in our choice of words. Paul knew this dual reality, so did Solomon (see below). Think hard about it and ask the Lord, “Do you?”

May the Lord give us grace to see our blindness.

Proverbs 2:1-7

My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you,
2 making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
3 yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
4 if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
6 For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
7 he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,

Why Blog?

For today, let me pose a question that may take a few days to work out.  The question is: Why blog? 

Surely there are many reasons and motivations to avoid and guard against.  Snares like diffusing gossip, espousing puffed-up views of our own invention, promoting ones self  and their ministry for personal gain, unrighteous proclivities towards argumentation and disagreement, or simple intimidation to speak truth in person are a sampling of some negative reasons people (Christians) blog.  However, with such a broadband capability for delivering truth and testimony for Christ, such a medium also has limitless potetntial for doing good and proclaiming the gospel.  Edifying dialogue and inquiry, gospel conversation and explanation, Christocentric testimony, and Bible-saturated reflections on everyday life are all positive aspects.  To these we must hold fast. 

Today, in answering the question, “Why blog?” let me recommend the words of J. A. James, an eighteenth century puritan-esque preacher, and suggest that one good reason for blogging is the ever-needed communication of the gospel and the aim of converting sinners (albeit, only by the work of the Spirit).  His words chasten us and sharpen our focus on Jesus’ Great Commission.  Simultaneously, his words present a caution of thinking to highly of our blogs or of our clever turns of phrase.  May his words, uttered long before computers, Internet, and blogs, be constantly kept in mind as we hit the submit or publish button.

The thought of having done any thing to save souls from death gives [me] far more delight than he could have derived from having made the largest acquirements in learning and science, or from having gained a reputation for genius and taste. There is a time coming to every man when the knowledge of having been the instrument of plucking a single brand from the eternal burning, will yield him more real satisfaction than the certainty of having accomplished the loftiest objects of literary ambition(John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1993; Reprint: 1847], xvii).