*A shameless rip on a JI Packer classic.
This same month four years ago I truly heard a message that would change my life forever. I was sitting in the very back of an auditorium that could hold thousands of people, listening to a pastor preach a message on what it means to turn from a life of sin toward a life of obedience to Christ. “Skeptic” would be the best term to describe how I felt toward any form of religion. Yet, in an instant, the message pierced my heart and transformed me in a way I didn’t know possible.
Since that day, the past four years of my life can only be explained by the absolute sovereignty of God in all things.
I have been an observer of God’s grace and faithfulness to his people. I have seen God raise the dead as he turns lifeless stone hearts into beating hearts of flesh. I have watched him transform people by the power of his Spirit as he fashions them in the likeness of his Son. I have seen marriages restored. I have seen men and women raised up and sent out for ministry, both overseas and in their own backyard. I have seen little children grow up and make genuine professions of faith.
I have also been a participant in God’s redemptive grace and faithfulness as he makes me more like his Son. I have felt God’s guiding hand over me in multiple job positions. God graciously called me into part-time ministry and affirmed my desires to someday pursue vocational ministry. He miraculously not only allowed me to apply and get into a great seminary, but also provided the finances to make it possible. Then, even though I am an absolute wretch of a man, God sent me a wife who loves me, cares for me and helps to sanctify me.
And now, God is calling both my wife and I to faith and obedience in the next stage of our wilderness journey.
This week is my last week at my job. For the past 5-6 years, I have worked full-time as a programmer, administrator and integrator. I love my current job and all of the people I work with, but I know God is calling me to something else. Through the careful guidance and affirmation of friends, family, pastors and my loving wife, we have decided that it is time for me to pursue training for vocational ministry full-time.
Under no certain terms do I think myself as better than anyone else for making this change, nor do I even feel qualified to be doing this. In fact, in a lot of ways I feel like I am taking the “easy way out.” I have shared this with multiple people and they are always quick to point out that vocational ministry has many unique and challenging difficulties. This is true. Yet, at the same time, I think it would be harder for me to stay employed and work faithfully in a full-time IT position as I am now. I say this knowing that my current position places me on the frontlines every day. I wake up knowing that I am going to work with plenty of people who don’t know Jesus, and that I will be placed in plenty of situations that will test my faith, obedience and my witness.
Now, I am taking a step back from the frontlines in an effort to try and equip and motivate other people for that form of ministry. Having been there for the last 5-6 years, I know it is a daily challenge and it is something I have never quite figured out. Moving forward, unless I am intentional with my time and who I talk to, it is going to be very easy for me to slip into a Christian bubble; one that is completely separate from the outside world.
Beginning in September, I will now be going to school full-time at Reformed Theological Seminary. I have been able to complete about 26 credits over the last two years, which means I still have 80 credits left. In addition, I will be beginning a pastoral assistantship at my current church. I am eager and grateful to be able to serve my church in whatever way God would allow.
Neva has been working on her Masters of Science for about the last 9 months in Predictive Data Analytics from Northwestern University. She has a work ethic that both inspires and challenges me. Her program is on a quarter system, and she hopes to be done by next summer. I am extremely thankful for her, and I know I could not take this big step without her support and encouragement.
In all things, we want to honor Christ and be sanctified to become more like him. This season will bring with it new challenges as we learn how to balance busy schedules, stick to a tight budget, honor Christ and love people well amidst all of it. We would greatly appreciate your prayers as we move into this next season of our lives.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about that popular saying, “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” It gets tossed around frequently and is commonly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, although there really isn’t solid proof for that citation. Now, I get it. The purpose and intent of the quote is often used in the context of spurring us on to be good neighbors toward others. And that’s great. The problem is, doing good things for other people is not the equivalent of preaching the gospel. Preaching the gospel is an audible proclamation that requires a response (Romans 10:8-10).
We in more conservative theological circles tend to attack this popular phrase as being naive or, even worse, plain stupid. I remember hearing Pastor John MacArthur say at this years T4G conference that he wouldn’t attribute this quote to anyone, let alone St. Francis, because of how stupid it is. Similarly, Pastor RC Sproul Jr. is known for saying, “Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary, rebuke anyone who says ‘if necessary, use words.'”
But I think if we’re honest, for all of our theological correctness about what preaching the gospel is and what it is not, we tend to let this be an excuse to – well – not be a good neighbor. We can get so hung up on having the best apologetic responses and defense of Christianity, so caught up in trying to make sure that we know every word we’ll say to someone about our faith, that we never pull the trigger and actually tell somebody. Or, even worse, we’re so caught up in our “good theology” that what we say to people comes off as cold, indifferent or even mean. That’s probably because it is.
Theological correctness should never be an excuse for neglecting the call to be a good, kind and hospitable neighbor toward others.
Recall some of the faithful Christians who have had the most impact on your life and faith. If you think about it for a second, you’ll realize that the reason they had so much impact on you was not only because of what they said but because of how they said it. You’ll probably remember these individuals as being warm, kind, hospitable, gentle, humble and caring.
What happens when we combine the audible proclamation of the gospel with warm, kind, hospitable, gentle and humble actions? We incarnate Christ himself; we physically represent the truths that we proclaim. See, the gospel will always be offensive; but not you. Christian, you are called to be warm, kind, hospitable and gentle towards others. This fact does not come at the expense of theological accuracy.
I don’t know what this looks like for you, but take time to think about how this dual reality of gospel proclamation and Christ-like character should shape your attitude towards friends and neighbors. Maybe you just need to bake cookies for someone or mow their lawn. Call them when you know they’re having a hard time. Buy their kid a birthday present. Spend time thinking about how you can just be a kind neighbor toward others and, when the time comes, preach the gospel with bold, audible words.
This post marks my 100th published post since starting this blog in April 2013! I am grateful for all God has done in and through this small blog. He has also worked mightily in my heart to teach me many lessons, such as how to interact with those who disagree with me, not to judge my worth based on quantity of readers, and to be patient in my growth as a communicator.
Many have asked me why I write on this blog. I think my answer today would probably be different than what I might have told you back in April of last year. I’d like to share with you now five reasons why I continue to write, tweet and blow up your Facebook feed with my blog posts.
1. It helps to keep me from going crazy.
If you knew me prior to starting this blog, then you know that once I started talking on a topic I was passionate about, I wouldn’t stop. I tended to dominate discussions not necessarily because I was prideful in any way (although that certainly could have been and may still be the case), but because I so rarely got the chance to talk with people about some of these subjects that when the opportunity presented itself I went a little bit crazy.
Having a place to put all my thoughts and ideas has been very cathartic for me. I have found that the longer I write, the less prone I have been to flying off the handle and running my yapper longer than needed. It is reasonable for me to think, then, that continuing to write will allow me to grow further in this area and become even wiser in my actions and speech.
2. I want to grow in my skill as a communicator.
There is certainly something to be said for having a natural disposition for particular skills. Lets face it, some of us are naturally inclined towards music while others of us couldn’t keep a rhythm even if we took dance lessons from Astaire himself. Even the most gifted vocalist needs to hone their craft as a singer.
I look at my gifts and desires to be a good communicator in the same way. Many have told me that I am a gifted speaker and communicator, but that does not give me freedom to take said skill or gift for granted. I will not grow or shape this gift if I do not practice.
Many of you have complimented me and encouraged me as I continue to write, telling me that they can see growth in how my writing so far. I am very grateful for your encouragement, as it strengthens and motivates me to keep at it.
3. I want to grow in my knowledge and love for Jesus.
I’ve never been one to journal or write my thoughts down, but during the last 9 or so months I have learned so much in the studying and writing process that goes into all of these posts. I have found that I retain and learn so much more if I not only read it and think about it, but also to write about it.
This writing and studying process has not only increased my knowledge, but I have grown in my affections for Jesus as well. As I take time to slow down, meditate, think and then write about Godly things I find that my heart and mind are shaped in the process.
4. I want to share with you what I am learning.
Theological knowledge and wisdom is not something to be hoarded. As I am abundantly given to by my professors, pastors, mentors and numerous books so too do I want to give abundantly to my friends and family. I write about these things not to gloat in them but in order to freely share them so that you too can taste and see these things. Every single post I write is fueled by my desire to share something with others such that their wants, desires and love for Jesus will also grow.
5. I both need and want your feedback.
I think there is a misconception that theology is learned, developed and communicated in some sort of Ivory Tower on a hill somewhere. On the contrary, good theology must be informed and developed in all of life; theology grows and matures in the midst of real people, real places, and real (and often hard) situations.
This journey I am on is not one that I want to take or can take alone. Possibly the most important of reasons behind my writing is because I want your feedback, yes YOUR feedback. I want your critiques and criticisms, your modifications. I want to hear about how you think about things and maybe hear from a different angle that I have not yet considered. I want this site to be a safe place for good, open and honest conversation.
If you ever stumble upon something that you like, agree with, disagree with, or want to share, I would love to hear your thoughts. Please do not hesitate to comment, email or find me in person.
Thank you to all of you who have read, continue to read, and encourage me in my growth as a communicator and child of God.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Some time ago I was talking to my friend about historical evidences for what the events in the New Testament. One of his biggest challenges was that of the account in Matthew in regards to Christ’s death. In Matthew’s account, he records there was a great earthquake that damaged the temple and that the temple curtain was torn in two. My friends objection was that such a significant event should have some sort of secular, extra-biblical accounts backing it up. So, accepting his challenge I went off and did my research.
What I came across is striking. Of course, there is hardly any physical evidence that would actually entirely prove the entirety of the Bible. Nor can I say that this one piece of evidence completely supports all of the Gospels – that would be jumping to unjustifiable conclusions. Take a look at the evidence for yourself, however. I bolded what is particularly shocking about my research. It is either another huge coincidence – or Biblically accurate – that there was an earthquake that damaged the temple in 33 A.D (the same year we believe Jesus was crucified), is it not?
Below you will find the original text, a leading commentary on the text, and the research it led me to (with that research’s citations).
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. 54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mt 27:51–54.
Matthew’s characteristic And look (see on 1:20) makes for a vivid introduction to what follows, as the Evangelist goes on to speak of some unusual happenings that accompanied the death of Jesus. He starts with the temple and speaks of the curtain, which appears to mean the curtain that separated the holy of holies, into which even the priests might not go (except the high priest, and he only one day in the year), from the holy place, into which only the priests might go (most interpreters accept this view, for the meaning is surely that by the death of Jesus the way into the holiest has been opened). Alternatively it might signify the curtain that separated the holy place to which priests had access from the adjoining court to which lay Israelite men were admitted (McNeile favors this view on the grounds that it must have been visible to people in general and not only to the priests; Ridderbos also thinks of this curtain). Either way the thought is of judgment on the temple, and Matthew is indicating that symbolically the way into the holy place was opened by the death of Jesus (cf. Heb. 10:19–20). He emphasizes this truth by saying that the curtain was torn in two from top to bottom, which indicates more than a minor tear. He is speaking of a bisected curtain, a curtain that no longer functioned to keep what lay on the other side of it a secret from all those outside. Religion was never to be the same now that Jesus the Messiah had died for sinners. This phenomenon, Matthew says, was accompanied by an earthquake, the earth being shaken and the rocks split. He leaves his readers in no doubt that what had happened was no minor event, but, in the literal sense of the word, earth-shaking.
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 724.
The footnote for this commentary reads:
For earthquakes in the Jerusalem area see ISBE, II, pp. 4–5; this article refers to an earthquake that damaged the temple in A.D. 33. In the Talmud we read that the doors of the temple opened by themselves forty years before the destruction of the city (Yoma 39b). Allen cites this passage and others from Josephus and Jerome, and says, “A cleavage in the masonry of the porch, which rent the outer veil and left the Holy Place open to view, would account for the language of the Gospels, of Josephus, and of the Talmud.”
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992).
The Encyclopedia (the ISBE mentioned in the above footnote), with Seismology and Geography citations
EARTHQUAKE [Heb ra˓aš; Gk seismós]; AV, NEB, also RUSHING. A shaking of the earth’s crust, usually a tectonic activity of variable intensity. Egypt is relatively free from this hazard, but the area from Greece to Iran is especially vulnerable, as many catastrophes in the area indicate: a quake in Iran in the spring of 1972 took four thousand lives, and two decades earlier Greece suffered severely. Palestine is at the edge of this quake-prone area, the center of which lies in Turkey.
In the past two millennia Palestine has had seventeen recorded quakes of major proportions, an average of slightly less than one in each century. Amos alluded to one in his day (ca 760 B.C.): “two years before the earthquake” (Am. 1:1). Josephus (Ant. xv.5.2) reported the loss of ten thousand lives in a quake in 31 B.C., the effects of which may still be seen in the steps of a cistern constructed by the Qumrân community near the Dead Sea. On Jan. 1, 1837, an earthquake centered in Safat took nearly five thousand lives. Another, centered in Nâblus, resulted in the loss of 350 lives in 1927. The Ludd-Ramla area is also subject to earthquakes.
It is believed that the source of the major quakes is the Jordan or rift-valley. Antioch in Syria has often been an epicenter. Jerusalem is relatively free from severe quakes (though it seems to have been hit more frequently by small ones). A quake in 64 B.C. damaged the temple in Jerusalem, as did another in A.D. 33. This may have coincided with the disturbance mentioned at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion (Mt. 27:54; 28:2).
In addition to the major quakes reported above, seismic activity has been recorded in many places since NT times. A severe quake hit central Palestine in A.D. 130, and in 365 the fortress at Kerak in Transjordan was severely damaged. Severe shocks were experienced at Imwas in 498, at Acco in 502, in Galilee in 551, and at Jerusalem in 746. In 1016 the cupola of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem collapsed. The quake in 1033 was very severe and widespread. In 1546 and again in 1834 severe damage was done to the domes of both the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock. Earthquakes dammed the Jordan River (as perhaps in the time of Joshua) at Damiya in 1546 and again in 1927; the latter shock left 860 dead.
The number of casualties normally depends not so much on the severity of the quake as on its location; when populated areas are hit, as at Safat in 1837, the loss of life is far more extensive than if the quake occurs in open country. Obviously buildings constructed of earth or stone are much more liable to damage than structures of wood, steel, or reinforced concrete.
The Bible sometimes refers to earthquakes as accompanying divine revelation (Ex. 19:18; 1 K. 19:11f; Isa. 6:4) or demonstrating God’s power (Job 9:6) and presence (Ps. 68:8 [MT 9]) or divine judgments (Ps. 18:7 [MT 8]; Nah. 1:5; Isa. 13:13; 29:6; Am. 9:1; Ezk. 38:19f; cf. Zec. 14:5). An earth tremor sufficed to free Paul and Silas at a very opportune time (Acts 16:26). Earthquakes are predicted to precede the end of the age (Mt. 24:7; Mk. 13:8; Lk. 21:11; Rev. 6:12; 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:18).
Bibliography.—D. H. K. Amiran, IEJ, 1 (1950/51), 223–246; C. F. Richter, Elementary Seismology (1958); E. J. Arieh, Geological Survey of Israel, 43 (1967), 1–14; Encyclopedia Judaica, VI, sv; D. P. McKenzie, Nature (London), 226 (1970), 237–243.