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To Compliment or Not

Christians can be funny creatures.  By “funny” I mean “annoying.”  Topics of which most people would think nothing  you will find Christians spending large amounts of time discussing whether they are good or wise or proper.  Pharisees are not the only group who “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (cf. Matthew 23:24).  But this post is not specifically about the meaning of that text; rather, it is about compliments.

I was reading one of my favorite bloggers, Tim Gombis, today and he had a simple post on the giving of compliments in the world of academia.  It is a short read so read the whole thing, but here is a small take-away-quote:

Several years ago a colleague relayed to me a positive comment he had heard about something I had written.  I thanked him and said that was really great to hear.

He then said that he thought about telling me when he had originally heard it, but declined because he didn’t want me to get a big head.  I still don’t know how to think about that sentiment.

This reminded me of a sincere email question I received from a person in my church in relation to compliments.  He was not sure how to respond to them and so he sought my counsel.  Here is what I wrote him:

You ask the wrong man for this answer.  I find myself incredibly uncomfortable around compliments for I know how easy it is to crave them.  However, I have learned a few things.  First, the “thank you” is always a safe bet.  I often add, “that is kind of you.”  Second, don’t try to diminish their praise, they give it because they usually mean it and you end up robbing them of the blessing of giving thanks to you.  And if you know for a fact that they don’t mean it then it is not worth responding to anyhow.  Third, don’t make too much of it either.  I have complimented some in the past and by the time they tell me all of the ways “they appreciate it but that I should not praise them because it is just God’s grace but they really appreciate it anyhow, though they don’t want to sound proud or arrogant……” I end up sorry that I even bothered to praise them.

My last point is the flip side of giving compliments to a Christian.  That fear by him that somehow he does not display true humility if he receives it so he destroys the moment with a barrage of self-effacing words all designed to say “thanks!” without being prideful at the same time.

All of this to say, you think you should compliment someone, then do it and don’t make a big deal of it.  Or, did someone compliment you?  Just say “thanks, I appreciate that” and don’t make them sorry they ever sought to encourage you because now they have to watch you writhe in false humility trying to accept and not accept the compliment at the same time.

Oh, and since there is a great little satirical video on things Christians say, I decided to toss it into this post as well.

The Power of Convicton

I am preaching through the book of 2 Timothy on Sundays.  Currently I am working through ten convictions that must be present in the life of any Christian if they are to effectively live in this age.  Now, a lot of sermons talk like this.  “Five steps of heaven-storming prayers.”  “Fourteen ways to bring yourself into the blessings of God.” “Three immutable truths to Christ-exalting holiness.”  And the list goes on.

So are these convictions something that matter?  Or are they just part of a long list of sermon titles that I shall continue to preach until I die?  Are they something I think the people should attend their ears to with the mind-set of repentance and prayer or are they messages to keep the people coming back with checkbooks in hand?  Are they to motivate and move people to true sanctification or enlarge the church’s attendance?  In our cynical world of America these are not easily answered.

But to make my attempt at it, yes, convictions matter.  At these specific convictions are essentially foundational for any Christian.  As one who has followed Jesus Christ for decades now, I find that it reminds and encourages me to grow more and press on more in these very convictions that I preach on each Sunday.  I have brand new Christians in the church who are establishing a heart that desires very different things then merely the “blessings” from God.

So I am going to blog those ten convictions here as well.  Not the whole sermons, no body reads long articles in blogs.  But the central points  to each one.  My hope is that as you read you might take stock of your position and relation to Jesus Christ.  Introspection is good for the Christian, especially when it is done honestly and with Jesus by your side.

But first a word about convictions themselves. Convictions are interesting things. They are not something you develop quickly; rather it takes time, practice, thought and diligence. You don’t have a conviction because you heard something once or twice and it sounded good to you.Many who attend conferences come away with that wrong conclusion.  It is something that seeps deep into your bones and does not let go of you easily, nor can you let go of it. Al Mohler said it this way in his book, The Conviction to Lead, “Convictions are not merely beliefs we hold; they are those beliefs that hold us in their grip.  We would not know who we are but for these bedrock beliefs.” (p. 21)

However, there is a dirty little secret about convictions.  Most people I have met think they have them, but most have none.  At least not ones that are evident. Convictions drive you and ground you in the hard times. Convictions are there to keep you moving forward when you look around and watch everyone else fall back. Convictions are what Paul would call the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5).  Convictions define you so that people around you already have a sense on how you will respond to a situation. Therefore, convictions are precious and they are hard to hold onto.

Convictions are consistent with the character of God.  I could do a whole series just on this, but suffice it to say that God’s ultimate conviction is that His Name shall be exalted and delighted in throughout the world. “ . . . that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” (Romans 9:17)  And frankly, everything in this world is moving toward that very end.

Convictions are not contradictions to humility.  Such a common charge in churches today.  Somehow humility requires that a person not be filled with certainty, authority, or conviction.  Silliness for a silly age.  Suffice it to say that Jesus was a man of convictions during his time on earth.  Yet He epitomizes humility.  You cannot read the gospels and not walk away with the clear grasp that He knew Himself, the will of His Father, and His purpose.  And never once did He shy from it.  He always did the will of His Father. His conviction to honor and obey His Father was so deep that with the joy set before Him He endured the cross for our sakes.

The Apostles were men of conviction.  So much so that when jailed for preaching the gospel, when they were then warned not to continue in this activity they declared that they must obey God rather than man.  Then after they were flogged by the leadership and sent on their way they were foolish enough to rejoice that they were worthy to be able to suffer for the name of the Lord.  This conviction allowed them to stand firm against the hellish assault upon the gospel as they planted and built up churches.

Convictions are critical for anyone.  But even more critical are to have the right convictions.  Those that honor the Lord and are fitting for a child of the eternal King.  Lord willing I will be able to unpack some of them over the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, In The Unordinary Pastoral World

Earlier today I posted this article about D. A. Carson’s father in the book, Memoirs of An Ordinary Pastor.  The key point of the book was that he was an ordinary pastor doing ordinary things on behalf of our extraordinary God. While I was writing up that post I kept thinking about a video I watched and saved a couple of months back that made me a bit sick and a lot more angry.  It features one of those celebrity pastors I tend to chew on in this blog.  His name is Ed Young, Jr. and frankly he is not worth your time.  But he is a big shot and countless young pastors want to be just like him.  Because he is a man who cares greatly about the Kingdom of God he has started a blog that helps other pastors learn how to dress for success.  In some warped, alternate universe, looking stylish is a way to express our desire to be clothed with Christ.  Did a little bit of your breakfast come up in your mouth?  No?  Hmmmmm.

Anyhow, he is not an ordinary pastor so I will call him an unordinary pastor.  What then, does an unordinary pastor look to for his motivation and delight? What captures his longing and desires?  Well, this for one.



What Happens when You Are More Arrogant than You Think You Are

Well it has been quite awhile since I continued with my story, you know, the one that is why I started this blog in the first place.  If you didn’t know about the story you can read it in this order here, here, here, here, and yes, even here.  But dear reader, be wise and start reading them from left to right.

I am still in Houston (no, not literally, in the telling of my story I am still in Houston) and still at a medium sized Southern Baptist Church that was not helping me or my girlfriend to grow. I was on my own and was devouring everything I could get my hands on by John MacArthur. At some point I thought it would be cool to get some training and heard he had a Bible Institute called Logos.  I inquired about doing it via mail.  They don’t do that, but the person who relied back to me mentioned that there was a former associate pastor who now pastored in my area. So I checked the church out and was so blessed to hear a biblical sermon for the first time in untold years. A man turned around when Kim and I first took a seat and immediately greeted us with a, “Hi, my name is Bruce I want to tell how God saved me and saved my marriage.” We were hooked and began attending from that day forward.

Kim and I started to have pre-marital counseling and the pastor started to disciple me.  Not anything real solid, but it was better than what I had up to that point, which was nothing. I was a starving man being given real food and I could not get enough of it.  Which was why I was stunned a few months later to come to church and have the elders announce that they had made the pastor resign because he was not accomplishing the things they desired from him.  One man, who was my Sunday School teacher, stood up and told the church he had been praying every day since the pastor came that God would remove him and he was thankful that day had come.  I was sick, stunned and mad.  How could the elders not see that he was a good teacher?  How could they say he wasn’t accomplishing the right things? Rubbish!  That is what it was, rubbish.

When I went home that day I called a couple of men I knew there and they were angry as well. We talked and decided we would get together with a few families and consider starting a new church and have the man pastor us there.  And that is what we did.  A little church was constituted in Houston, Texas in a child care building.

Oh, and did I mention that in all of this I showed incredible arrogance, folly, and am ashamed of ever starting that church?  No?  Well I was, but that part and the part where God’s providence works in and through idiots like me will have to wait for the next post on my story.

Things Thrust upon Me

“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things” (Act 17:24-25)

This passage is part of the famous sermon Paul gave on Mars Hill in Athens. In it he confronts the philosophers and religious leaders of several key facts, such as their ignorance regarding the person of God, how God receives worship, and how we live under His gaze. All of that drives the message to the key declaration that the time of ignorance is over, they need to repent.

I want to focus on just those two verses above though and consider them from a slightly different angle. They are densely packed, theological sardines-in-a-can if you will. But if I could give a basic sense of the words I would say that God doesn’t need us, but we not only need Him, but we live and have because of Him.

That is an interesting point because we tend to not think about ourselves that way. I am a white male, born in the United States in the 20th century.  I was not born in the 14th century in Europe while the plague ravaged the land. I was born into a home where Jesus was believed and loved, not to a prostitute in a Hindu temple of India. I was born with health and a sound mind.  I was not twisted and deformed either inside or out.  All sorts of things that define me about which I had nothing to do, they were thrust upon me.

My question is how long did it take me to realize that? And how long has it taken you?

Why Does God Allow Satan to Attack Us?

One of the blogs I follow had a good little post on why God allows Satan to attack us. This is a good example of why holding to a high, extensive view of God’s sovereignty is so healthy for a Christian.  It acknowledges that God is providentially working in our lives and in all of creation. So whether it is a sick child or a tsunami, we can see the hand of God. A wise Christian then begins to meditate on this and ask what God is doing in these acts. This meditation is not something you do fast, just slowly think about it, let it be part of your thoughts as you read the Scripture and as you listen to others. The result can be a much richer, humbler faith that learns to order itself under the mighty hand of God.  Here are eight reasons God allows Satan to attack us:

  1. They drive us to take refuge in God
  2. They train the believer in the duties and exercises of the Christian warfare
  3. They are made a means of intensifying our hatred for sin
  4. They can be an aid to self knowledge as unsuspected germs of evil are brought to light
  5. They afford the occasion to grace to develop itself in forms which otherwise it could not assume
  6. They wean the heart from the love of this present world
  7. Having been bravely and successfully resisted, they shall heighten future glory
  8. They redound to the glory of God’s grace

Any others?

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