June 2008

I like reading blogs.  I read ones by people and ministries I really respect and have incredible thoughts to pass my way; I read ones by friends so I can hear their thoughts on things and keep up with what’s going on while we’re apart; I read ones about deals so I can save money when I have to buy something; and I read some just for fun.  I’m pretty picky and only read posts I really want to read, but since I started following them very consistently I have been incredibly blessed, saved money, laughed a lot, and experienced other little pleasures.  There are huge downs to reading a lot of blogs and there are more to writing blogs a lot (future post), but if done in moderation, this can be a really great activity.  If you’re actually reading this on my website right now, It’s nice to have you stop by and look at the theme I took hours to choose, but you’re wasting valuable time.  You could have already read whatever I have to say, found your new favorite YouTube video, and made a sandwich — the secret is using RSS.

I’m not going to use valuable time explaining what it is or how it works, because some folks already have.  Abraham Piper with DesiringGod.org explains the benefits to RSS.  Matt Perman also with DG offers a primer on RSS feeds.  And Tim Challies has the most helpful post I’ve read about RSS feeds.  Give it a go…if you hate it you can always quit, but I bet you’ll find it extremely beneficial.  Reading about RSS is not what convinces you of it’s usefulness…using it is what convinces you.

The last thing I’ll say is after you’ve decided to try, use NetVibes.  That is what I use, and it is amazing.  You create a homepage for yourself that allows you to have a tabbed homepage with absolute freedom how you organize it.  I have a General page with links to my primary email account, my Facebook page, my del.icio.us links, and my box.net account.  I have another tab with News, which includes syndication for three newspapers, a sports news syndication, and some other good stuff.  I have another tab for blogs I follow regularly. And I have another one with friends blogs.  This allows me to dig up every gem the internet has to offer with one minute scans at a time.  Give it a go, you will really like it.


GRUMBLING — We all do it.  Call it complaining, murmuring, whining, or perhaps a preferred expletive, you probably spent at least twenty minutes to an hour doing it today…maybe a lot longer if it was a “bad day.”

Yesterday I finished a long busy day of work and spent some quality time at the neighborhood pool with my gf.  She asked me how work was and I spent about 20 minutes explaining why dealing with the public can be so frustrating.  I told her about a guy who called me to ask for our address so he could write a letter to express the fact he did not enjoy his time visiting…as if his present phone call and his vocal expressions a week before were not enough.  I told her about patterns of complaining and how almost every person over forty (that’s not an ageist remark, just something I’ve observed; plenty under 40s complain too) has at least one complaining remark to make before they leave, even if they enjoyed their time.  She was very patient and listened attentively (she’s really good at that).  She stuck with me, but after a while I could see in her expression that it was starting to wear on her.  I suddenly realized I’d spent about 20 minutes not merely explaining about my day, but complaining in detail about all the complainers.

That’s when it hit me — Conviction from God about my own sin.  I’ve never seen myself as particularly whiny, but I grumble inwardly or outwardly WAY too often.  It lead me to the Word where I was convicted by passages like:

1 Peter 4:7-9

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. (ESV)

And Philippians 2:14-15

Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world… (ESV)

Show hospitality?  No problem, I love hanging out with people and helping people out.  Shoot, my job is in marketing and public relations, hospitality is my specialty…wait…without grumbling?  As I searched my heart I realized that while I do experience joy in working with people and serving them, I have a short fuse before I get frustrated with many of them.  Most of them would never notice, but it’s there all the same.

Ok, so when I’m showing hospitality I can’t grumble, but there are plenty of other times I can get away with it, right?  Not according to Paul.  I’m called to do ALL things without grumbling.  That means doing the daily duties I don’t really want to, that means enduring traffic jams without grumbling, it means responding to rude remarks from folks at work with genuine care and concern, and it means glorifying God for every situation whether I feel like it or not.

I think there are two basic reasons why it’s so important that we not grumble.  First, grumbling is like the perfect inverse to praise.  When I am excited about something or enjoy something I speak aloud my joy.  I tell my friends and some random people about the good thing allowing them to join me in my excitement.  My heart ascends beyond myself in happiness and acclaim for my God who has done such a great thing for such an unworthy sinner.  Grumbling is the opposite of all that.  It is expressed by complaints to whoever will listen.  It drags others into things like gossip and more complaining.  My heart exclaims its lack of faith in the good sovereignty of God and makes ME central, surrounded by anyone who will join my pity party.

This may sound extreme, and we all know people who do this often and obviously.  Chances are, though, that sometime today you and I both have done just that, it just may have been more private and less noticeable to anyone besides God, but the essence was the same.  Grumbling is an assault on God’s glorious merciful sovereignty.  The book of Psalms describes the foolishness of the people of Israel whining in the wilderness…it’s a very convicting description:

Then they despised the pleasant land,
having no faith in his promise.
They murmured in their tents,
and did not obey the voice of the LORD.

(Psalm 106:24-25 ESV)

Not grumbling is important because to grumble is to shake a fist at our glorious God when we ought to rather be lifting our hands in humble praise.  I said that there were two reasons it’s important not to grumble; the second is that our decision to not grumble, even in the most grumble-like situations, allows us to shine in the darkness that is around us and show that unlike the rest of the world, Christians don’t have to grumble.  Most folks complain because they do not have a greater hope beyond what they see in front of them.  If they were planning to get a particular job, or planning to marry a particular person, or planning on everyone being nice to them at work, or planning on there being no traffic on the freeway during rush hour, and they find their plans are shot, all hope is gone.

For the Christian, the best is always yet to come, and we have a wise and powerful God who explains to us gently, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”  (Isaiah 55:8-9).  His thoughts and ways are high as the heavens are above the earth, but so is his grace towards us if we trust in him, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11-12), and “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).  Therefore by trusting in the hope that is to come and trusting that God has a great and mighty plan at work in the midst of our worse day, we show the world just how glorious and worthy of trust he is.

I am guessing that since almost everyone around me is complaining at work, if I am tender and kind and not complaining I will prove a sharp contrast that God may use to give hurting folks a peak at his Gospel.  John Piper says it incredibly well in his meditation on Philippians 2:14-15:

Grumbling only adds to the darkness because it obscures the light of God’s gracious, all-controlling providence.  But grumble-free, joyful, sacrificical love for others is the brightest reflection of God’s glory in the world.  A passion for the supremacy of God is a passion to murmur no more. (A Godward Life, 204)

Friend, will you join me in fighting to trust God so much that we have nothing left to grumble about?

I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church and prayed to receive Christ when I was fairly young (eight years-old).  I heard the Gospel preached and taught with several different methods, but it really ended up being more about relationships with family and friends personalizing the presentations that God used to call me to himself.

If you have a church background kind of like me (conservative evangelical) then you too may have heard the Gospel presented in a rather formulaic fashion.  At my church there were the ABC’s (Admit, Believe, Commit) of Vacation Bible School; there was an image that was preached and illustrated of God creating me for him, Jesus dying to bridge the gap that my sin caused between us, and he was now knocking at the door of my heart waiting for me to answer; and of course there were Salvation bracelets, which always had different colors but the same basic meaning (I remember when they replaced the black bead for a clear bead when referring to sin so as not to appear racist).  Our pastor had his own “Gospel According to Big Red” where he used a pack of gum to share the Gospel (and a pack of chewing gum).  There was a fair amount of creativity, and the various presentations helped me understand.  However, as I grew older and began to try and use some of these methods and others to share the Gospel with friends (new methods including the FAITH method and an Evangecube) I felt comfortable enough sharing (as if anyone ever feels comfortable trying to share), and some folks even “responded,” but there was little to no lasting fruit.

These presentations all had a few basic points in common that I used to understand as “The Gospel,” long before I had any real concept of what justification by faith or propitiation or other important ideas that initially go right over most of our heads.  Tim Keller recently wrote an incredibly insightful article about what the Gospel is and shows what many good Gospel-preaching evangelicals have explained as “The Gospel” is actually a presentation of the Gospel, which may or may not be the best presentation for the various cultures we live in.  He addresses these issues in more depth in an audio message from the Dwell NYC conference.  Check them both out.  It is very helpful in making the Gospel clear.

NOTE: I am not AGAINST any form of Gospel presentation, though I believe some are more relevant today than others, and I do feel we can rely too much on formulas and not enough on the content of the Gospel and building relationships.  This post is to encourage thinking about Keller’s points, not to knock on those using any given method or presentation.

This is the first of what I hope will be many posts on this blog.  The What is This?! page explain more about the purpose and vision, but  I wanted to start with some thoughts about blogging.  First off public blogging can be a waste of everyone’s time.  If you’re just writing for you, then you’re probably better off journaling and it can be more personal (then if you’re someone special, they’ll publish your journal someday when you die).  If you’re writing about news you could be a journalist or an editorial contributor and have a more automatic network of readers to lean on.  If you’re writing stuff that’s really worth reading, then why not write a book and get it published?  All valid critiques, right?

So why take time to do this?  Well I want this blog to be open and accessible to a lot of different types of people.  I want my friends who are asking hard questions to be able to read what I, or someone a lot smarter than me said to try and answer their questions.  I want the guys I am discipling to be able to reference this for a collection of solid Gospel-centered content.  And I want the random folks who stumble across it to be clearly understand the mystery of the Gospel.  Maybe those reasons are convincing to make you start blogging, but I hope you’ll give this one a look occassionally and maybe add it to your RSS reader.