Last week, John MacArthur dusted his twitter account off, and opened it up for business. Part of that was hosting a Q&A session in real time. Here are the highlights:
A ministry mentor of mine once told me that when you dress to run a marathon, you tie your laces as tight as you can, knowing that they will loosen over time.
He likened graduating seminary to launching out of the blocks in a footrace. It is understandable that my theological views and ministry strategies would be in particularly crisp focus and decisions would seem starkly black and white with no cumbersome gradation of grey to complicate matters. But as my ministry marathon progressed and the hills and troughs of pastoral work undulated beneath my stride, I would eventually get used to enduring short term discomfort in my theological positions for the long term prize of a mature flock.
This is a difficult lesson for rearing young bucks to learn. We know the truth, we love the truth, and we went into ministry because we want to share that truth with those who don’t know it yet. The question is whether there is God-honoring wisdom in waiting to prove the truth.
When is the time to smile and nod in a theological or ministerial discussion, and when is it time to stand your ground and fight for truth?
I grew up in an Italian-American family in Central New Jersey, hearing the Gospel and going to church. And as long as I can remember, I mentally assented to the Gospel. It had always made sense to me: if I broke my parents’ rules and disobeyed them, I was punished; similarly, I had broken God’s rules and disobeyed Him, and so I would be punished on a much greater scale. But because God loved us, He sent His Son Jesus to earth, who didn’t deserve to be punished, and He took our punishment by dying on the cross. And if I believed that, I wouldn’t have to be punished for my sins. I can’t recall a time that that message didn’t make sense to me. And because it did make sense, I thought that I was saved at a young age.
But I really hated church. It was boring. Every Sunday morning, my brother and I used to pretend that we couldn’t be shaken from our deep slumber, hoping that our parents would throw in the towel and let us stay home on Sundays. When they managed to get us in the car, church was still at least 15 minutes or so away, so it was plausible for us to once again be sound asleep by the time we arrived in the church parking lot.
I don’t know if the fake sleep routine ever actually worked, and so despite our commitment to stay out of church, we were there pretty much every Sunday. Usually, I would endure the singing and the preaching and then do my best to get my parents out the door as quickly as possible. But one Sunday when I was 11, I was particularly pricked in conscience as a result of something the preacher was saying. I don’t have any idea what it was, but it made me realize that though I thought I had been saved since I was 4 or 5, I hadn’t been. At the end of the service, “with every head bowed and every eye closed,” I “slipped up a hand” to indicate that I believed I was saved that day. But I didn’t tell anyone about it, and soon after that I reverted back to my old pattern of feigning sleep and living for myself.
I grew up in a home without Christ, but with parents who cared for me. All I knew of Christianity was an emotionally stirring, but very confusing Roman mass at Christmas now and then. And if I ever heard the true gospel in detail prior to my conversion at 23, I do not recall it.
Besides skiing and getting good enough grades to be applauded, I did not care about much. And it showed in my life. I was a very arrogant person who pursued pleasure at just about any expense. I hurt quite a few people along the way, to my great shame, and wish I could undo so many things.
During my college years, I dove deeper into alcohol and drug abuse and was out of control. Somehow, I graduated from college in the sciences. And I was restless and looking for another, bigger adventure. So, I decided to take a year off before graduate school and be a ski bum. I packed up my truck and moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. When I pulled into town 15 years ago, I was homeless, had no money, no job, no friends, and, worst of all, no eternal life. And I didn’t care.
For the most part, my days were spent skiing, and nights, intoxicated. And I loved it. I threw away the graduate school application. The skiing was just too amazing. And the intensity with which everyone pursued outdoor sports was amazing. The only thing I could liken it to was a fierce, religious devotion, and one which surpasses many Christians in their devotion. I was all in.
I was also a hardcore evolutionist. I had the hominid family tree memorized and could narrate how things came to be on earth over the past 4.5 billion years. Then God brought along a girl (my wife, now) who challenged me to check out the scientific evidence for a Creator. I had never heard of such an idea. But the more I studied, the more I saw that the universe, macro and micro, yelled loudly of its Creator.
I grew up in a non-Christian family, almost entirely ignorant of the Bible, Jesus, and the basics of the gospel. I was registered as a Quaker—to keep me out of the draft, were one to present itself again (flower power, and whatnot)—but this was mostly symbolic, and did not bleed over into any kind of religious upbringing.
In fact, when I was an eighth-grader I watched a soccer game on TV and noticed a guy in the stands who was holding a sign that said “John 3:16.” I honestly had no idea that meant, and I asked my dad. When I found out it was a Scripture reference, I tracked down a Bible. First I had to figure out that “3:16” was not a page number, and then sort through the five books in the KJV that bear John’s name. But because I thought it was connected to soccer, I was motivated and finally cracked the Bible code and read the verse. This was anti-climactic though, and left me super-confused—I could not figure out what God giving his son had to do with World Cup soccer.
One thing that strikes me is that the circumstances surrounding each conversion are always different, and yet the profound truth of the gospel is always the same. Some, like Athenagoras, came to saving faith while trying to disprove Christianity. Others, like Augustine, lived in wanton rebellion and immorality, until they were tracked down by the Hound of Heaven. Still more, like Luther, desperately sought to earn salvation through their own self-righteous works, finally discovering the gospel of grace and finding the gates of heaven flung open.
Countless stories could be told—from John Bunyan (the reprobate soldier) to John Newton (the slave-trader)—of dramatic conversions in which God’s grace suddenly and visibly arrested the sinner, like Saul on the road to Damascus. Other conversion stories are not as outwardly dramatic, but they are nonetheless equally profound. John Calvin summarized his salvation experience in a simple sentence: “God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame, which was more hardened in such matters than might have been expected from one at my early period of life.” Church history weaves together all of these powerful stories of divine grace (both the visibly dramatic and the seemingly subtle) to create a beautiful tapestry testifying to the glory, power, and mercy of God. Continue Reading…
In sympathetic resonance with last weeks’ posts on the Reformation, the Cripplegate bloggers will this week be sharing the testimonies of our own personal reformations. I have the privilege of running the first leg of this relay race.
I grew up Catholic. My parents instilled in me solid, biblical behavioral standards and morals. We went to mass regularly, I attended catechism classes and wore an understated St Christopher pendant around my neck (for protection against car accidents).
Thanks to this upbringing I knew that I was a sinner, that Jesus was the Savior of the world, and that he died for my sins, and that reading the Bible was better than reading comic books.
And yet I had no personal relationship with Jesus. I found it very difficult to grasp what the New Testament was saying, and the Old Testament was little more than a rambling, opaque prequel to the Christmas story. I cheated on lent days and, like Bill Clinton, only confessed when I had to. I put all my faith in my baptism and relative goodness compared to Hitler, atheists, and the stroppy “bad apple” latch-key kids in my school. I figured “If I am going to Hell, there are a lot of people going to Hell.”
Then, in college, I crashed a campus Bible study because a girl I liked said she’d be there. (She didn’t pitch). We met in the copious University of Pretoria chapel, about six students in total. The pastor was an American missionary who draped a sheet over the statue of Mary before preaching a 45 minute expository sermon from Ephesians 2. I was hooked. He preached with such certainty and clarity that it felt like the word of God was relevant to my own life in every way.
497 years ago today, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany, kick-starting the Protestant Reformation. Nearly 500 years later, God’s people reserve this day to celebrate the rescue of His Word from the shackles of Roman Catholic tyranny, corruption, and heresy. The glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in the sufficient Scriptures had been recovered, and it’s been doing its saving work ever since.
Romans 1:16–17 stands at the heart of the Reformation, especially because of how central it was in Luther’s conversion. Luther speaks of how he had hated the phrase, “the righteousness of God,” because he understood it to be speaking only of God’s standard of righteousness by which He would judge unrighteous sinners. But eventually, he says, “I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith. Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.”
Today, as we reflect upon and remember the grace of God that fell upon the world in the Protestant Reformation, I want to reflect upon the Gospel that made it happen—and particularly the concept of righteousness which was so central to the regeneration of the great reformer. And to do that I want to focus on another text that Paul penned, which gives us wonderful insight into the saving righteousness of God. In Philippians 3:9, Paul explains what it means to be found in Christ—namely, “not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (NKJV).
This week I attended the Expositor’s Summit at Southern Seminary. It’s a conference for pastors who love expository preaching, and the messages have been very powerful. John MacArthur preached on parables, HB Charles on the doxology at the end of Ephesians 3, and Al Mohler on Genesis 22 (in the next few days, the audio will be posted here).
There was also a panel discussion where each of the speakers was asked what the hardest passage of scripture is that they have ever preached. Here is what they said:
With Reformation Day coming up, this is a good time to recall why the Reformers departed from Roman Catholicism. In our day especially, it seems that many Christians have history-amnesia when it comes to the importance of what God did through the Reformers. During the Reformation, great confusion existed regarding what was, and was not, the true church of Christ. Rome had asserted itself as the true church for centuries, and continues to do so today. However, as the Reformers recognized then, Christians must follow in step today by recalling that joining hands with Rome is a departure from Christ.
To be clear, this is not to say that everyone who sits in a Roman Catholic church is not a Christian. What it is saying is that several changes must occur before Roman Catholicism, by the book, can be considered biblical Christianity. And the men and women of the Reformation understood this, hence their necessary break with Rome. In their case, and ours, joining Christ necessitates breaking with Rome and coming under Christ means coming out from under Rome.
Christians will know that it is time to join hands with Rome when it does the following: