Combing the Net – 5/14/2012

What’s a Homemaker Really Worth? — As somebody married to one, that question is nearly impossible to answer… but this article is a pretty valiant effort to exalt the worthiness of homemaking! Definitely an encouraging read for stay-at-home moms, but also  one which others will enjoy as well.

SSBC Pastor Candidate Q&A — From this link you can see updates on the entire pastor search process at Stevens Street Baptist Church from the last two years, but most notably, the May 10 update includes the responses of our current candidate (who will be preaching here in view of a call on June 3) to a list of questions on theological and ecclesiological matters. Overall, I am very encouraged and excited to meet him!

Leo Tolstoy: Youth Group President? — Eric Geiger, VP of the Church Resource Division at LifeWay Christian Resources, draws an interesting parallel between the moralistic effort of author Leo Tolstoy and the way children’s and youth ministry work in most evangelical churches. This is a problem which LifeWay hopes to address with its upcoming new curriculum for children, students, and adults called The Gospel Project. Our church will be taking a closer look at this curriculum over the summer, but so far it looks GREAT!

A Critical Mind vs. A Critical Spirit — I try hard to cultivate the former, but frequently display the latter. This post by Trevin Wax has been a great encouragement to me today.

[Exercising loving discernment] doesn’t mean we should turn off the critical mind. It doesn’t mean we no longer test everything according to the Word. It doesn’t mean we just accept every sincere message as being helpful and positive.

It does mean that when we critique, we do so with a spirit of love. We overlook small flaws and winsomely talk to our brothers and sisters when we see big issues. We refrain from insisting on agreement for every jot and tittle of theological precision. We don’t dismiss an idea outright just because it comes from someone outside our theological camp.

The Wild Things and Us — Here’s an article from World magazine by a Christian mom and grandmother who, like me, finds much to praise about the recently deceased Maurice Sendak’s greatest work.

And now for something amazing… check out this guy who can whistle two notes at once! (Skip the first 25 seconds or so to get to the good stuff):

To Thee All the Follies of Sin I Resign

This week has been one of much reflection for me. I have been revisiting many of the thoughts that have gone through my head in the last several days, in light of the announcement of my pastor’s resignation. It is quite interesting, contemplating the thoughts that go through our heads when we are preparing to say goodbye to someone we love, is it not?

I’ve said goodbye to pastors and partners in ministry before. Brother Jimmy is the third member of our ministerial staff to leave since I came on staff. The church where I grew up had pastors coming and going pretty frequently while I was there (though they’ve had the same man in the pulpit there for about 15 years now). It’s been difficult every time I’ve seen someone leave.

This is different, though. Jimmy Arms has been my primary shepherd for most of my Christian life, and all of my adult life. I admire and respect him as much as any man I’ve ever met. Conventional wisdom would say his leaving ought to hurt more than any of the others. While there was the inevitable wave of emotions when he informed the staff on Sunday afternoon of his decision to resign during the evening service, my very first reaction was simply: “Oh, it’s you.”

You see, God’s been pounding a lesson into me for the last year or so, regarding a particular area in my life over which pride had taken hold. I love my job with the church orchestra and the School of Performing Arts, but for years I had been treating them as if they were “my” ministries. As if I were somehow responsible for and critical to their success. Because God has gifted me in ways that make me particularly suited to the work He has ordained for me to do for His Kingdom, I was able to see some small successes as a result of my labor. However, I had placed on myself the God-sized task of growing ministries, as opposed to simply growing a school or writing music.

This is why, when all three of our guitar teachers told me they were leaving the School of Performing Arts in 2009 (two for seminary, and one to assist in a new church plant in another city), I panicked. How could I possibly find enough teachers to fill those spots so quickly? I tried to be happy for them, and to rejoice that they were going into new and exciting ministries, but it was hard.

Two encounters late last year (both written on our family calendar because they were so important to us) helped me see this part of my life I had not released to God’s sovereignty. In November, Brother Jimmy shared with our Lifegroup the importance of being willing to renounce all that we have in order to be Christ’s disciples (Luke 14:33). He said that the sweetest memory he and Diane have is the time they sold or gave away literally everything they owned in order to follow God’s call to Africa.

A month later, Lee Bailey’s message to the men in our group was that the only place we are irreplaceable is at home. He told the story of how, when he left his job as a bank manager to enter the ministry, he thought the bank would have a hard time finding someone to take his place. A day after turning in his resignation, he said there was someone else at “his” desk, with “his” secretary, managing “his” accounts. The bank never missed a beat. He had been applying most of his energy to his job, when his real focus should have been on his role as a husband and father. That is a job that no one else can do.

I realized I had been doing the same thing. I thought that if I left, the SPA would fall apart. I thought that, even though I have the greatest assistant in the world, things would somehow go terribly wrong if I didn’t stay long into the evening on the nights when there are late lessons. This was sin, and I knew I must turn it over to God, come what may.

Almost immediately, the Lord brought three new excellent guitar teachers to our school. I’d never met any of them before January, though I’d been searching for over 6 months for instructors. Yes, I placed the calls and conducted the interviews, but it was God who provided for the increase of His ministry.

We now have two more SPA teachers contemplating leaving (one for seminary, and one to teach music as a missionary in a foreign land). Despite the fact that they are two of the most gifted music educators I have ever known, I have been able to tell them truthfully and honestly that, while they would be missed, their current roles will be filled by others whom God will (and perhaps already has) lead to us.

I have also realized that if I am not leading my areas of ministry in such a way that they will thrive without me, then I am not being faithful to the responsibility God has entrusted to me. My family has no plans whatsoever to leave Stevens Street in the foreseeable future, but I have a duty to renounce everything, including my prideful and misplaced sense of self-worth, so that if God should call us to follow Him in service elsewhere, we will be free to respond, just as our pastor has.

And so it was with many of these thoughts already in my mind over the weekend that I was reading Luke 4 in anticipation of receiving Pastor Jimmy’s teaching on the text. His messages as he has preached through Luke have been some of his most challenging in years. When I got to the end of the chapter, though (from which he’ll be teaching this coming Sunday), I was very convicted by verses 42 & 43: “And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” It was then that I “knew” that someone would be leaving us soon. I did not know who it would be or when… and thought for a moment that it might even be me. When I heard Jimmy’s news, then, I was emotionally shocked, but it was not a surprise.

I have long felt that God has been preparing our church for some great work. I feel that now more than ever. It will of course be a difficult transition as our pastor of 19 years moves on, but it can be nothing but a tremendous multiplication of ministry. Many of us would keep him from leaving us, but we have no more “exclusive right” to this man of God than the people of Capernaum had to the Lord Jesus.

Of the many emotions that I feel in light of Jimmy’s resignation, the strongest is excitement. I am excited to see how God will use this man to impact the Kingdom on a much larger scale. I am excited to see how our congregation responds to this great act of leadership from the man who has led us for so long. Is there a chance that the church falls apart? Of course there is, if those of us in leadership positions try to handle things in our own strength. But God has blessed our congregation with very Godly leadership. Our pastor has always led us in such a way that the church will thrive in his absence. He has never been our head, but has shepherded us in submission to the true Head of the Church, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:23). Pastors come and go, but our Lord will never leave us or forsake us, and He will never change.

These are indeed exciting times! May we all follow our pastor’s lead as we worship, mature, and serve together at Stevens Street Baptist Church. May we not see “resignation” as something negative, but as a positive step of submission to our Lord! This is, after all, not a resignation from Stevens Street, but a resignation to God’s call on the life of His humble servant.

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. ~ Hebrews 13:5-8

Discerning the Doctrines

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” ~2 Peter 2:1-2

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” ~ 2 Timothy 4:3-5

“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.” ~ Romans 16:17-19

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruit.” ~ Matthew 7:15-16

“And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.” ~ Matthew 24:11

Scripture very clearly warns that there will always be false teachers among us whose heretical teachings will lead many away from the narrow path of salvation. Paul identified two types of people who would follow poor teaching. There are some who will not endure sound teaching, and who surround themselves with those who tell them what they want to hear. Others are deceived because of their naïveté. They are susceptible to “smooth talk” because they lack the wisdom to discern what is good. As followers of Christ, we must take every precaution to prevent our being led astray, so let’s briefly address these two conditions.

First of all, we must be clear on one thing: True Biblical teaching is not easy, and it’s not comfortable. There’s a reason many people don’t endure sound doctrine!  Jesus’ own disciples grumbled in John 6:60, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” In Mark 3:21 we learn that Jesus’ family at one point tried to seize him, thinking He was “out of his mind.” If Christ’s own family and friends struggled to make sense of his teaching, we should not presume that we will be any more receptive to it.

Jesus’ words (and we must remember that the entirety of Scripture is the Word of Christ) are convicting. They force conflict. They bring us face to face with our own depravity. Naturally, we want to turn away from things which make us uncomfortable. There will always be plenty of “teachers” available who will tell us exactly what we want to hear, but only Christ offers the words of eternal life (John 6:68). Choosing to follow Christ means choosing a radical way of life that contradicts everything our culture and our own sinful nature tells us about how we ought to live. This is why Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” These verses (Mt. 7:13-14) are then followed by Christ’s warning against false prophets quoted at the top of this post.

Not all who are deceived choose their own deception, though. Many others are led astray despite good intentions and an earnest desire to seek God. Many Christians blindly trust teaching simply because it has come from the pulpit or from the shelf in their local Christian bookstore. We may empathize with those who have a trusting spirit (as should we all, to some degree), but Paul calls this sort of misplaced trust exactly what it is: Naïve.

As Christians we are called to be like the Bereans in Acts 17, who, after hearing the teaching of Paul & Silas, examined the Scriptures daily to see if what they had been taught was true. We are not to rely on the word of preachers and teachers — though the Lord has raised up many great Bible expositors — but on the Word of God. When we search the Scriptures daily, asking the Lord for wisdom, we begin to mature in our faith, developing the discernment to distinguish good doctrine from bad.

Unfortunately, many of us are like those to whom the author of Hebrews was writing:

“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” ~ Hebrews 5:11-14

Paul told the Christians in Corinth that they were children in the faith — infants, even — because they were not spiritually ready for the deeper things of God, what he called “solid food”. In Ephesians, though, he tells us how we can move beyond our own spiritual infancy:

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” ~ Ephesians 4:11-16

Just as this post began with a warning to recognize and avoid false teachers, it will end with an encouragement to recognize and seek out the true apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers that God has provided for us. Preaching — no matter how good — will never take the place of our own personal Bible study, but God does provide good preachers for our benefit, so we should avail ourselves of their teaching whenever we can.

In the coming weeks and months I’ll be sharing a bit of my own journey from infancy toward maturity. I’ll be linking to helpful online resources, reviewing books, and responding to what the Lord has been teaching me in my own study. I’ll show Scripture that points out errors in popular teachings that are contrary to God’s Word.

For starters, here are some teachers that I greatly admire, and links to where you can listen to their sermons online. Please share teachers that have influenced your walk with the Lord as well!

John Piper, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN

John Piper, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN

Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church, Seattle, WA

Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church, Seattle, WA

Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Manhattan, NY

Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Manhattan, NY

Alistair Begg, Parkside Church, Cleveland, OH

Alistair Begg, Parkside Church, Cleveland, OH

Jimmy Arms, Stevens Street Baptist Church, Cookeville, TN

Jimmy Arms, Stevens Street Baptist Church, Cookeville, TN

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.