Friday, November 8, 2013

On Theological Debate

I recently followed along with a theological debate via a series of blog posts, articles, video responses from many different parties or theological camps. The specific topics of the debate aren't important for my purposes here. Let's just say there was a theological position being critiqued, then there was the subsequent objections, clarifications, definitions and re-definitions.

Theological debate and clarification is not always fun. In an ideal world, the church would get along without theological disagreement. Heck, in an ideal world, all of humanity would agree on theology, especially that about the nature of God, the lordship of Jesus, the meaning of the cross, salvation, and the eternal state. But as it is in this fallen world, there will be debate, and there will be disagreement, even among the people of God:
"The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate..." Acts 15:6-7
Throughout the course of my following this particular debate in the blogosphere, I did encounter some who were uncomfortable with the fact that we had a debate at all. "Why can't we get along, why can't we be unified?" they would ask, somewhat understandably. Still others would assert something along these lines:
"I'm not into theology; I'm just into Jesus. We don't need to debate doctrine; we just need to be about God's love."
Now, I can understand being uncomfortable with debate or division. In a sense, this discomfort is a longing for heaven, when God's people will all finally agree! However, it saddens me to see the responses indicating that such a discussion about God's truth doesn't matter. Or that we need to just "be about Jesus" or "be about God's love."

Allow me to ask, when you are "just about Jesus", how do you define who Jesus is? When you just "focus on God's love", how do you know what exactly God's love IS and what it ISN'T? If you make the claim that you don't need to be about theology, you must realize that whatever you are "about" is itself its own theology! As Tim Keller says:
"The insistence that doctrine does not matter is itself a doctrine."
You cannot define whatever it is that you are "about" - Jesus, God, Love - without theology or doctrine. Once you have insisted what something IS, you have also stated what it ISN'T. At that point, you have raised a clear definition which is grounds for theological debate or disagreement! For example, if you are just going to be "about God's Love", you must define what God's love is/isn't and what it does/doesn't do - and someone may disagree with you. If you are just going to be "about Jesus", you must define who he is/isn't and what he has done/hasn't done - and someone will disagree with you.

I'm not saying that all debates or issues are of equal importance. Nor am I claiming that all are handled in the right manner. But when issues arise, to simply take a pass or claim them as unimportant is a position in and of itself. At some point, Christians stand on doctrinal definitions, without which we wouldn't actually exist.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Trials and Wisdom: James 1:1-8

Sermon I gave Sunday September 8 at Revive Church in Claremont. This was part 1 in our series on James, entitled "Heavenly Wisdom for a Life on Earth."

James 1:1-8

Trials Produce Perfection (1:2-4).
Wisdom is a Gift from God (1:5-8).

The sermon handout is up for download here.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Do Not Let your Social Network Know What Your Right Hand is Doing

"Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Matthew 6:1-6

In this passage, Jesus famously decries a religious tendency present in 1st century Jews- doing good works (even prayer) to be seen by others and praised by others. I believe this tendency may be present in us as well. Let's consider a few things.

The problem is not good works being seen. Earlier in the sermon on the mount, Jesus notes that our good works will be seen and will point others to God! "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (5:16). So the problem isn't even that our works are public or visible. We are commanded, "Let your light shine!"

The problem is the motivation for good works. Here, Jesus addresses a specific motivation standing behind good works: "in order to be seen by them"; "that they may be praised by others." Some are motivated by others' opinions, approval, and praise when doing good works.

Does this apply to social media and if so, how? With social media, there is an inherent audience. We post pictures, videos, and statuses because they are seen. If we didn't want them to be seen, we'd write them in a private journal (or on Google+!), not on a relatively public website. The specific motivations may vary as to why we want some items to be seen, but the reality remains; we post something that we feel is valuable enough for others to see, like, comment, and share. It may be something as simple as an interesting and helpful news article; or it may be a promotion of our own good works, in the words of Jesus, "in order to be seen by them."

These thoughts are borne primarily from my own heart motivations in my use of social media; my guess is that your experience may be the same. I believe a tendency exists in us to click "post" or "share" when we're doing things that others will deem praiseworthy. We receive our reward when others comment, like, or re-tweet their approval. That may be a formal ministry activity, informal service of a friend or family member, or even a quiet time. Could it be that Facebook, Instagram, Google+, or Twitter are the "synagogues and street corners" of our day?

I'm not claiming that if we share something potentially godly that we are doing via social media, that our motivation is necessarily off. I am merely claiming that it is a possibility, and it is well worth considering whether we have received our reward in full by sharing such items. If we are to "not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing, so that our giving may be in secret", would the same level of secrecy also be applied to our social networks?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Philippians: Progress and Joy in the Faith

I've been doing a lot of reading in Philippians lately, as I'm speaking for a youth camp this weekend and focusing on several passages for the messages.

I've always characterized Philippians as a book focused on the joy of the Lord and of following Him. This is an accurate assessment, as Paul uses the term joy/rejoice over 10 times in 4 short chapters:
- 1:4- "making my prayer with joy"
- 1:18- "Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice."
- 1:25- "I will...continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith."
- 2:2- "complete my joy by being of the same mind"
- 2:17- "Even if I am am to be poured out as a drink offering...I rejoice with you all."
- 2:29- "Receive him in the Lord with all joy"
- 3:1- "Rejoice in the Lord..."
- 4:1- "Therefore my brothers, whom I love and log for, my joy and my crown..."
- 4:4- "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice."

This is a sampling of the types of things that Paul speaks about in connection with joy. He covers items from prayer to evangelism to unity to one's relationship with God. It is obvious that this is a huge theme for this little epistle.

However, as I've dug a little more deeply and more specifically recently, I've also noticed a huge emphasis on a believer's progress in the faith. Specifically, Paul repeatedly addresses the tension of working hard to progress in your faith with the understanding that God is the one working in you and through you. Consider:
- 1:6- "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."
- 2:12-13- "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."
- 3:12-13- "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead..."
- 4:12-13- "I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

Here we see Paul repeatedly describing a believer's faith as a journey where the believer works hard ("work out", "press on", "straining forward") to progress and grow; yet, all the while, God himself is completing the work and supplying the strength (see the bold text above).

It seems then fitting that Philippians 1:25 is a great theme verse for the book, and should be the goal of every believer, and a priority of every church: "Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith."

Fight for joy, fight for progress. God will give it.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Fathers' Day Sermon- A Father's Love

Here's my Fathers' Day Sermon entitle "A Father's Love", given at Revive Church on June 17, 2013.

Psalm 103:13- "As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him."

Disciplining Love
Providing Love
Compassionate Love.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Spiritual Fitness- Sermon on 1 Timothy 4:1-10

Here's my sermon from Sunday May 19 at Revive Church on 1 Timothy 4:1-10 entitled "Spiritual Fitness." (We had some technical difficulties with the audio, so I sound like I'm screaming into my pillow, but that's alright!)

The deceived servant will fall away.
- Deceitful Teaching
- Seared Conscience
- Legalism
The disciplined servant will remain faithful.
- Different Diet
- Different Discipline
- Different Source of Strength

Friday, May 17, 2013

Mothers' Day "Poem"

This last Sunday, I had the honor of giving the message at my church for Mothers' Day. I'll be honest with you- it was one of the toughest messages to plan and preach (since the elders decided to do a moms-specific message). I am not a mother (obviously), and it was a challenge and a stretch to preach something encouraging, sensitive, challenging, grateful, etc.

One thing I was sure of was that I didn't want anyone feeling shame over their shortcomings (or perceived shortcomings) with their own family or their own mother. Therefore, I had to emphasize the gospel, and  not just the importance of a godly momma. In my prep, I came across a great article - "Happy Daughter's Day" -  by Elyse Fitzpatrick, and it prompted me to write the below "poem" in encouragement to mothers about the great God they serve:

It is not about your temporary status as a mother, it is about your eternal position as a daughter.
It is not about birthing children; it is about being re-birthed by God’s Spirit.
It is not about your performance as a mother, it is about Jesus’ perfection as a Savior.
It is not about having faithful children, but having faith like a child.
It’s not about weaning kids, but about worshipping the King.
It is not about your greatness; it is about Jesus’ grace.
It is not about your skillset; it is about God’s strength.
It is not about your imperfect love, but his perfect love.
It is not about your work, it is about Jesus’ worth.

If you wanted to check out the whole sermon "A Mother's Faith" (on Timothy's godly mother), here it is as well:

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Paul's Testimony: Great Mission, Great Mercy (Sunday Sermon 4/14/13)

Here's the sermon I preached Sunday April 14 at Revive Church in Claremont.

Text: 1 Timothy 1:12-20

1. Paul receives a mission
2. Paul receives mercy.
3. Paul gives glory.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Making Work Better

I've been reading a little about the theology of work, mainly from Tim Keller's Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work. This topic has intrigued me since I am a Bible-lover who is also in his early career years. It just so happens that my career has centered on staffing and recruiting.

On a semi-related note, and a shameless self-plug (hey, this is my blog), some friends and I launched an online hiring system this week, called Flazingo. The aim is to bring world-class hiring processes in a user-friendly format for any business to use (though we've started by aiming to serve small businesses, who are mainly do-it-yourself when it comes to hiring.) We believe humans are created to work and find the most satisfaction when they're using their gifts in a productive manner. We believe the best companies are those who care most about their employees gifts, lives, and productivity. In a small way, we believe the better companies hire, the better the world will be!

Since I know my general blog traffic, the odds are that you are a college friend, a family member, or someone who clicked on the wrong link. At any rate, check out our system or pass it along to someone who may be interested in it.

Flazingo - Complete Hiring System from Flazingo on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Good Friday Sermon: What Happened and What it Means

Here's my Good Friday sermon, given at Revive Church on March 29, 2013. Much of my study for this came from my favorite John MacArthur book, The Murder of Jesus.

"Good Friday: What Happened and What it Means"
1. Jesus was bound so that we would be free.
2. Jesus was found guilty so that we would be clean.
3. Jesus was forsaken so that we would be accepted.
4. Jesus died so that we might live.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Character and Benefits of God's Word (Sunday Sermon 3/10/13)

Sermon I preached at Revive Church from Psalm 19:7-11 on March 10, 2013.

God's perfect word gives spiritual life.
God's reliable word gives wise direction.
God's true word gives joy.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Unchained Gospel

As of this morning, the teaching pastor and founder of our local church, Revive Church, has announced that he will be moving on to a new church in a new city. This is no small event for our congregation corporately, as 5+ years ago, he faithfully planted the church in his living room. His excellent, biblical teaching has been the glue that has held our body together and led us through times high and low. This is no small event for me as an individual, as his teaching has been a constant stream of grace since my sophomore year of high school. That's right, he's been there for high school graduations, my eventual wife's conversion & baptism, college graduations, a wedding ceremony, dozens of rounds of (mediocre) golf and a few ski trips. Safe to say, this is a huge deal.

There will be an appropriate time for me to "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith" (Hebrews 13:7). But today, I write a rallying cry for a crying church.

Second Timothy 2:8-10 says this: "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory."

Briefly, Paul writes from prion ("chains") to a young pastor, Timothy. He assures him with utmost confidence that even though he in his leadership is chained physically, the word of God is not chained. There are circumstances that limit Paul physically, emotionally, and geographically. But he proclaims confidence to Timothy: no matter my physical circumstances, Timothy, God's Word is unchained, unbound, and unstoppable.

I wish I wrote with the same confidence of Paul this morning. I'll try to get there. And I'm not so much writing for my church body as I am for myself. "Ryan, you (and possibly your church) may feel very bound at this moment. You may feel chained emotionally and spiritually. You may feel that the future is chained. But rest assured that God's Word- the same message that your pastor taught you to love- is unchained. Your ministry and growth as an individual and as a church is tied to this word. No imprisonment, no ailment, no pastoral transition can chain this.

If you're reading this, I don't know what your situation is. If you're connected to my burdened church, rally around the banner that God's Word and the ministry thereof moves forward unchained, even as we limp and mourn! And help me to do the same.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Good Daily Reads

Generally, Christians commit or recommit themselves to a Bible reading program in the New Year. This year, I've been referred to a few excellent daily devotional readings, and wanted to pass them along, as I'd highly recommend them.

Solid Joys- This is a daily devotional app from John Piper & Desiring God Ministries. It's a great since, since it takes Piper's rather long discourses and breaks them up into short, daily tidbits. Each entry was not necessarily written as a devotional, but may have been a section taken from one of his books. The best part is that comes in an incredibly simple and convenient app (both for iPhone and Android).

Morning and Evening- I've wanted to read Charles Spurgeon's famous daily devotional for awhile, and the turn of the calendar was a great time to start. I've read few authors with such a way with words as "Chucky Spurg" and each entry- one for the morning, one for the evening- is packed with tidbits and truths that will lift your thoughts towards things above. I am reading this through a decently formatted $0.99 Kindle book.

Everyday Prayers- This work is a collection of prayers written by Scotty Smith, founding pastor of Christ Community Church in Tennessee. He simply journaled prayers for a year, not planning on writing a book. Therefore, his prayers come across as very authentic. They are practical, theological, humble, and relevant. Each prayer takes 1-2 minutes to read. Also nabbed this one via the Kindle store.

In the 2 weeks of 2013, these works have ministered to me. I hope they minister to you as well.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

#YOLO...So now what?

If you're of young blood, you likely have seen the hashtag #YOLO. It's a simple acronym for "You Only Live Once", allegedly popularized by the rapper Drake (who apparently should not be confused with a male duck). Generally, this hashtag/phrase is applied as a reason that someone is doing something crazy, stupid, awesome, or meaningful. For example, someone may say/tweet/post "Spent all my Christmas money on McRibs. #YOLO." Got it? Let's break down what this simple phrase may tell us about ourselves and our beliefs.

On one hand, I totally and completely agree with #YOLO. Why, you ask? Because, in and of itself, the statement is true and biblical! As a matter of fact, each individual only lives once. The Bible teaches that we live and die once- "It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment." (Hebrews 9:27). "What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes..." (James 4:14). So it's good and healthy for us to realize that we only have one life, and we are not sure how long or short our lives will be.

On the other hand, I totally and completely disagree with how our culture applies #YOLO to daily life. In #YOLO, the truth that we only have one life to live is used as a constant reason to live however we want to live in the moment. Wanna be crazy? YOLO! Wanna be immoral? YOLO! Wanna be daring? YOLO! Our culture preaches "You only live once! Therefore, be your own king and do whatever feels great or whatever feels meaningful to you at any given moment."

You only live once, and that is demonstrably true. This simple truth, however, cannot tell you how to live, whom to follow, or what is truly meaningful. The fact that we only live once should not lead us toward irresponsible or irrational living. No, it should drive us to serious reflection on what truly matters, on the purpose of life, and on the God that created us, the God that loves us, and the God that will ask us to give an account for how we lived our one life.

Solomon contemplated and wrote much on the idea of #YOLO 3000 years before Drake, in the book of Ecclesiastes. And his conclusion?

"The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil." (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)