Episode 201: Being Christian in a Secular Workplace

On this episode of the FTC Podcast, Jared Wilson and Ross Ferguson talk about navigating worklife as a Christian in a secular world.

The Scariest Thing Jesus Ever Said

For some, the Bible is and should be a great comfort.

For others, it is and should be deeply disturbing.

Throughout the Bible, God heals with reassuring words of forgiveness, kindness, and welcome. Also throughout the Bible, God thunders with warnings meant to stir people toward repentance, restoration, and peace.

Jesus, the center of the biblical story, comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. He gives grace to the humble and opposes the proud. He is kind to shame-filled prostitutes and fierce with self-filled Pharisees. He gives special attention to the poor and denounces those who ignore the poor.

Perhaps the scariest thing Jesus ever said is that at the final judgment, many will say to him, “Lord, Lord,” and he will respond, “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matthew 7:21–23). He will also say the following:

“Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me … Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:41–45).

These words should jolt us, especially because they will be spoken to church folk. These are people like me who spent their lives attending church and reading their Bibles and giving their money and praying their prayers and getting their theology right and even preaching sermons and writing Christian books. And yet, like the ancient church at Laodicea, though they will have built reputations for being spiritually alive, Jesus will expose them as naked, poor, wretched, and blind (Revelation 3:14–22).

James, the half brother of Jesus and leader of the church at Jerusalem, linked genuine faith with an active concern for the poor. He wrote, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15–16).

James answered his own question, saying, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).

Earlier in his letter, James said, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).

Both Jesus and James are putting a spotlight on our inclination to replace Jesus’ call to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him. We replace his call with a self-serving path in which we deny our neighbors, take up our comforts, and follow our dreams. When we do this, we exchange true faith for a counterfeit. We exchange irresistible faith with a way of thinking, believing and living that God himself will resist. Why is this so? Because demonstrating active concern for our neighbors—especially those whom Jesus calls “the least of these”—is an inseparable aspect of a true, Godward faith.

The apostle John, who was quite possibly Jesus’ closest friend on earth, gave a similar warning: “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17–18).

One of my predecessors at Christ Presbyterian Church, Dr. Charles McGowan, says that our doctrine—that is, our stated scriptural beliefs about God, ourselves, our neighbor and the world—is the “skeleton” of our faith. Our doctrinal skeleton is a foundational, necessary structure around which the muscles, tendons, veins, and vital organs of faith must operate and grow. In other words, our doctrinal beliefs provide the foundation for our Scripture reading, listening to sound teaching, prayer, spiritual friendship, involvement in a local church, observance of the sacraments, and active love for our neighbors, including those who are without advantage among us.

As it is with the human body, so it is with faith: if the doctrinal “skeleton” is the only thing or even the main thing people can see when they look at our faith, it means either our faith is malnourished and sick, or it is dead.

Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

And a dead faith, like a dead corpse, is one of the scariest things of all.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published at scottsauls.com

Geoff Chang on Underappreciated Aspects of Spurgeon’s Theology

FTC.co asks Geoff Chang, curator of the Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, “What is an underappreciated aspect of Spurgeon’s theology?”

Episode 200: Barnabas Piper on Belonging

On this episode of the FTC Podcast, Jared Wilson talks with pastor and author Barnabas Piper about his new book “Belonging” and the beauty of gospel-centered unity and community in the local church.

Christine Hoover on Social Media and “Being Real”

FTC.co asked Christine Hoover, author and pastor’s wife, “In an age of Instagram and Photoshop, why should we not be afraid to be real?”

Episode 199: Singles and The Church

On this episode of the FTC Podcast, Jared Wilson and Ross Ferguson talk about the ins and outs of singleness within the church community.

Valentine’s Day Meditation

It’s Valentine’s Day. The day that most people pretend to hate because they either don’t feel loved, or don’t want to show love, but mostly because they always wish the love they had was more intense, more real. So, it’s the day that we eat candy and have nice dinners and buy flowers and try to imagine a love that is so powerful that romance bursts out of us spontaneously, without even trying.  But for the most part, people are disappointed because they see that even love itself is too often a fleeting feeling that we can’t create even in the perfect of circumstances. That’s why love can’t be defined in terms of experience, merely, but must be defined in terms of underlying reality, eternally. A reality that shapes every day and every thing, not relegated to the convenient or designated times.

God is love (1 John 4:8). He is not love because we exist. That would mean he needs us to be who he is. We exist because of his love. Without that love of the Father, there would be no reason for us. That is the underlying eternal reality. Because God is love there has never been a day in all of existence that wasn’t defined by love. Love itself is the foundation and ground work, it is the structure and frame, the heartbeat and skeleton, the flesh and blood that reverberates throughout each day. So, why do we not feel it moment by moment?

If God is love and God upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3) would not love then be even the ruling reality of the universe? It’s more than foundational, it’s governmental as well. The love of God literally sustains the entire cosmos. Love then is meant to be intense and real because God himself is intense and real and God himself is love.

So, here on Valentine’s Day we look out on all those disappointed in the world. Their experience of love isn’t working. They feel let down. They feel betrayed. They feel as if something as good as love should be more real and so why isn’t it? Simply put, their eyes are too low.

God is love. I am not love. I love, but I’m not Love. But God is. So, on Valentine’s Day, if we want love, we have to raise our sights to him. We wouldn’t go to someone who has water and expect for them to be the satisfying reality of water. We must go to the water itself for that. So, if we want real love, shouldn’t we go to the source? And the good news is that this Love isn’t unavailable to us. He is there. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Do you want a love that exceeds even the most thrilling of Valentine’s Days? Go to him and get it. After all, it’s the most real thing in the universe. Ultimate reality is a God who is love.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published at thingsofthesort.com

3 Surprising Agreements Pastors Must Make

And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
— 2 Corinthians 11:28

Beginning pastors aren’t often prepared for these unspoken agreements. Veteran pastors still struggle with them. But there are a number of “job hazards” that come with the pastoral territory for which every minister should be aware and to which every minister should adjust. Here are just three:

1. Pastors agree to be misunderstood sometimes.

It’s difficult when it happens, but very often leaders must make decisions that are in the best interest of the church — or conduct pastoral ministry that is out of view of most of the church — that can lead to being misunderstood. Take for instance a congregational nomination for the diaconate. In interviewing the candidate, it becomes apparent that the person isn’t biblically qualified. Maybe it’s a sin issue they are struggling with or battling through. Maybe it’s simply a matter of they’re not yet being mature enough for the role. Maybe they’re just not interested. But when the nominee isn’t put before the church for a vote, those who nominated the person may feel their input was ignored. The pastor in most cases cannot share publicly why this nominee wasn’t put before the church without violating their privacy or embarrassing them, especially if there are sensitive matters requiring personal care. So the pastor must be content to know he is now open to being misunderstood in some way.

The same often occurs when someone must be let go from a staff position not for a sin issue, but just because of poor job performance. It would be embarrassing to get up in front of everyone and announce “Brother So-and-so just wasn’t performing his job well.” But in the absence of information, questions naturally arise. To be a leader is to make difficult decisions, and very often those difficult decisions will be second guessed or translated into personal disappointments. In most cases, leaders just need to know this comes with the territory of leadership.

2. Pastors agree to receive criticism.

There is such a thing as sinful distrust, divisiveness, gossip, and the like. Those things must be addressed. But not all criticism rises to the level of sin. Sometimes it’s just people disagree with something done or said — or something not done or not said. A pastor must not be so thin-skinned that he cannot handle hearing people’s critical appraisal of his performance. Not all criticism is warranted, of course, or even true. But the impulse to be defensive about or — worse — rebuke every critical comment is not a mature impulse. If your plan is only to lead people who always agree with you, leadership probably isn’t for you. The wise pastor will listen carefully, weigh what is being said, separate the claims from his personal feelings (about the claims or the person making them), and be honest before the person and before the Lord. The mature pastor knows he’s not infallible. The mature pastor knows he is not perfect. The mature pastor knows he is not Jesus!

Again, if one is bearing the brunt of criticism from those with a pattern of revealing a critical spirit, it is probably worth addressing in a direct way, as gently as possible. But generally speaking, to assume the office of pastor is to agree to hear constructive criticism with a open mind and a kind heart. Sometimes there’s a kernel of truth in even the most exaggerated of claims. Sometimes the criticism is spot-on. Agree from the outset to pursue a thick skin and a receptivity to feedback.

3. Pastors agree to be disliked.

This is usually the hardest agreement to make. Hopefully, the pastor is not serving a church that is unified in their dislike! But something I try to warn my students and residents about is the weird reality that they will invariably have one or two — hopefully only one or two! — people in their church who just don’t like them for no apparent reason. It’s usually because of some disappointment they cannot help. They don’t preach as well as the previous guy. They’re too much of one thing or too little of another. Sometimes the reasons are even more vague than that. It’s not okay for any believer to just not like a brother in Christ for no real reason, but it happens anyway, because people are weird and messy and different and often inscrutable.

It is a good idea to do whatever appropriate to try to win these people over. Do not return unkindness for dislike. Love them anyway. Oh sure, you’re probably not inviting them over to the Super Bowl party. Or maybe you are. You don’t have to be best friends with everybody, in any event. But of course, God’s directive is to strive to be at peace with all people, so much as it depends on you. But sometimes it just doesn’t depend on you. Someone just doesn’t like the cut of your jib. And this where you can, with the Lord’s grace, agree to be disliked, because you’ve agree upon your divine calling not to pursue the pastorate to be popular or have your ego stroked. The call to ministry is not a call to keep the customers happy. It is a call to serve others for the glory of God. And this means, in part, dying to yourself and to your need for a 100% approval rating.

These are not the agreements we set out to make when we obey God’s call or accept a church’s appointment to the pastoral office, but these are agreements we make anyway. They just come with the territory. The good news is, the Lord will never misunderstand you. He approves of you in Christ. And his delight in you is more than enough to help you bear whatever burdens come your way.

It is a privilege and a joy to tend to Christ’s lambs. It’s easy to forget that when these unspoken agreements become apparent. But it’s always true, brothers. Don’t forget it.

“We must obey God rather than men.”
— Acts 5:29

Good Shame, Bad Shame, and Ugly Shame

Shame is a popular word today. Sometimes preachers like to substitute the word “sin” for “shame,” as if the antithesis to a whole and fulfilled life is a life free of shame. In this respect, such pastors do not sharply contrast with the rest of our world. If our culture is anything, it is on a mission to rid ourselves of shame. Of course, if you think the antithesis to a whole and fulfilled life is shame, this will shape how you go about seeking wholeness and fulfillment (and not at all in a good way). If shame is the primary problem, shamelessness is the solution. This is why our world is intent on ridding ourselves of all absolute standards of morality. The sexual revolution is nothing if not a grand attempt to whistle in the dark and wish our consciousness away. If shame often comes from the transgression of sin, there is nothing to do but rule sit out as a category. There are no taboos anymore. If someone else’s sexual sin causes you to have a reaction of disgust, we are told, that says more about you than it does them. There is no accident to the fact that the phrase “you do you” is often coupled with the phrase “no shame.” We vehemently hate the shame that accompanies knowledge of moral transgression, so we erase the idea of moral transgression. There is no nature nor command behind sexuality—it is what I want it to be. Christians should steer clear of this kind of wholesale antipathy for shame. 

Christians should steer clear of this kind of wholesale antipathy for shame. Shame is not our sworn enemy. Sometimes shame is useful. Some sins should cause us to have reactions of disgust! The Scriptures often appeal to shame at various points. Much of the time, shame is an indication of a conscience that still functions properly. It is often the rightful corresponding emotion to shameful acts.

Bad Shame

Having said that, undue shame is a horrible thing. Shame that persists wrongly is not good. This would include, for example, shame for a sin that was committed against you. Victims often feel shame for sins that their oppressors should feel shame for. In such situations, shame is doubly perverted; where it should be absent in the psyche of the victim, it is overactive, and where it should be present with a vengeance in the psyche of the oppressor, it is altogether absent. I can tell you most assuredly that the cure is not a look inward—you keep looking inward and you will only find more reasons for more shame.

Another kind of undue shame is that kind that hangs onto sins that have been truly confessed, repented of, and forgiven by Christ. This kind of shame, while it may feel pious, is actually dishonoring to Christ. It cheapens his blood and essentially says that Christ’s atonement is not sufficient—it needs to be supplemented with wallowing shame. So, the opposite of shame is not shamelessness; the opposite of shame is a humble gratitude for forgiveness. Now, it’s easy for me to say that in the abstract—“let go of the shame for the sins that Christ has atoned for and cleansed you of”—but practically, this is easier said than done.

I’ve recently read Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet, for the very first time, and was reminded of the power of shame in a scene with the King of Denmark, Claudius. Now, I won’t give away too much of the story, but I will say that Claudius is Hamlet’s uncle, and he was made King after conspiring against and murdering Hamlet’s father—the rightful King of Denmark. In one scene, Claudius is struck with the shame of his guilt and says this:

O, my offense is rank, it smells to heaven;

It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t,

A brother’s murder. Pray can I not,

Though inclination be as sharp as will.

My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent,

And like a man to double business bound

I stand in pause where I shall first begin,

And both neglect. What if this cursed hand

Were thicker than itself with brother’s blood,

Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow?

Claudius could not bring himself to pray because of the shame of guilt. He had committed the “primal eldest curse,” the same sin as Cain—the murder of a brother. And he asks, “What if this cursed hand Were thicker than itself with brother’s blood?” In other words, “What if there is more of my brother’s blood on my hand than there is my own flesh and bone?” In that case, is it even likely that heaven has enough rain to wash the guilt away? Have you ever felt paralyzed by the guilt of your sin like this? Have you ever been paralyzed by shame? What’s the cure?” Well I can tell you most assuredly that the cure is not a look inward—you keep looking inward and you will only find more reasons for more shame.

Worthy in Christ

The cure for this kind of paralyzing shame is not to search for how precious you are, it is to behold how precious Christ is, and what an unfathomable grace he has shown to bring about your reconciliation. If you are in Christ Jesus, you should remember that our Triune God did not wait for you to even realize your sin before acting on your behalf. The cure for this kind of shame is to be reminded that Christ was not compelled to lay his life down for you by your beauty—you had none. It is not our intrinsic worth that is seen in the gospel—as if God simply could not be happy until we were restored to him in salvation. No, friends, it works the other way around. It’s not that Christ was compelled to pay such a price because we were so worthy, but rather, we are now made worthy because of the infinite price he paid to purchase us.

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:9-11).

If you are in Christ Jesus, you should remember that our Triune God did not wait for you to even realize your sin before acting on your behalf. You were at your lowest—your ugliest, and most shameful—when Christ came for you. He did not save you on your best day, but on your worst. God did not stand afar off, aloof, with his arms crossed, waiting for you to work up the courage to come and ask for forgiveness. As if to say, “You got a lot of nerve showing up here…” No, Christ came to you at your lowest and he positively transformed you from an enemy to a friend. The Father’s overflowing, gushing love for you he displayed when he sent his Son to win your reconciliation with his life, and purchase your reconciliation with his death—all while you were breathing out venom and hatred and rebellion towards him. That is news good enough to put undue shame to shame.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published at credomag.com

Paul Chitwood on Local Churches Supporting Missionaries

FTC.co asks Paul Chitwood, current President of the International Mission Board, “Outside of praying and giving financially, is there anything else local churches can do to support missionaries?”