ronnie martin

Substance.

What kinds of ministers does such a culture produce? Ministers who are not at home with what is significant; ministers whose attention span is less than that of a four- year-old in the 1940’s, who race around like the rest of us, constantly distracted by sounds and images of inconsequential trivialities, and out of touch with what is weighty. It is not surprising that their sermons, and the alleged worship that surrounds them, are often trifling, thoughtless, uninspiring, and mundane. It is not surprising that their sermons tend to be moralistic, or slavishly drafted into the so-called culture wars. The great seriousness of the reality of being human, the dreadful seriousness of the coming judgment of God, the sheer insignificance of the present in light of eternity — realities that once were the subtext of virtually every sermon — have now disappeared, and have been replaced by one triviality after another. From “Why Johnny Can’t Preach” by T. David Gordon.

A weight worth gaining.

Blessed Are the Blunt.

It’s time for me to come out and just say it: I like you, Mark Driscoll.

I like you a lot.

This isn’t exactly a piece of groundbreaking news for those who’ve known me for any length of time, but it feels good to say it out loud. For some, I just made a dangerous confession, which is odd considering we’re talking about a guy who has gone to great lengths to avoid sugar coating and watering down the truth for a world who needs the gospel in its purest form.  

Still, the jury will always be out on Driscoll. His sharp, sarcastic wit and dry, humorous delivery of God’s Word will undoubtedly preserve his reputation as a polarizing figure in the evangelical world for years to come. And that’s what I like about him. I like that he has taken our sanitized, processed, lovey-dovey art of modern day Bible preaching and turned it a little on its head. I love hearing a guy blessed with the same bluntness as guys like Elijah, John the Baptist and Jonathan Edwards bless us by being faithful to the gift he’s been given.

Not everyone feels this way. Although some may agree with Driscoll’s clear proclamation of the gospel, they disagree with his style of contextualization. In regards to Driscoll’s tendency toward “crude” language, some feel that there are things that gospel ministers never need talk about.

Never need talk about? At what point does the gospel preclude us from talking about any and all things related to the experience of fallen, depraved human beings? In other words, if we believe the gospel has implications for every facet of our lives, shouldn’t ministers of the gospel feel compelled to saturate and apply it to every facet of our lives without trying to “pretty it up”? Do we silence our mouths over uncomfortable questions and gross realities for fear that what comes out may be too raw and uncensored?

Most importantly, can we be abusing grace in the process?

We tend to think of grace as something that is soft, smooth and soothing, like the sound of ocean waves breaking delicately over the sand at dusk. Sometimes it is, and for that we rejoice and say amen. But grace is also what exposes the deathly horror that our sin truly is. It’s the bluntness of grace in our lives that shocked us into seeing Jesus as our only hope against the ravages of sin, death and despair. Jesus gently healed a blind man, violently overturned tables in the temple, and was savagely beaten and bloodied before being hung on a cross. In all of this we see God’s love and grace displayed in all of its bright and blunt glory. If it was anything less, our hope would be, too.

By all means, let’s have wisdom and discernment. Let’s make sure our speech is gracious and seasoned with salt when ministering to the diversity of people God has given us to care for, but let’s be careful about being too careful. We rightfully criticize Joel Osteen for his sickly sweet smile, power of positive thinking ethos and prosperity soaked gospel. We’re disgusted that he not only dodges the truth in his preaching, but that he speaks in a language completely disconnected from the gut wrenching realities of life. Do we do the same thing by the way we package and present the true gospel of grace? Are we dodging issues the church has deemed “untouchable”, instead of being more honest, courageous and bold?

Are we losing crucial ministry opportunities because protecting our image is more important to us? We like to say we fear God, but is it the fear of man that’s actually giving us the shivers? These are questions we need to ask boldly and answer bluntly if we want the gospel to saturate every facet of our lives, and the lives of others.

So what’s stopping us?

It’s far easier to attack someone like Driscoll for his blunt honesty, while failing to see the impact he’s having on a generation that is leery of big churches skirting the big issues. I appreciate that he’s using his gracious gift of bluntness to further the gospel and bless many who need sharp answers for hard questions. I wish I saw more of it.

Whatever our calling, this scandalous truth remains: while we were yet sinners, Christ came and died for us.

Let us not be any less blunt than that.

Resolve to Repent.

By now you’ve heard 127 versions of “Holly Jolly Christmas”. You’ve swiped your ATM card so many times that the strip on the back is actually bleeding red. You’ve eaten three times your weight in Hershey’s kisses, and drank another half of it in eggnog. You swore you’d start eating oatmeal for breakfast five days ago, but those left over cinnamon rolls keep creeping their way back into the microwave every morning. To top it all off, you’re experiencing an acute case of Post Christmas Depression.

It’s the strangest week of the year, this five day gap between Christmas and New Years. Most of us are just exhausted after a week of non-stop hustle and bustle, while others are experiencing the after effects of another end of the year holiday mash up on New Years Eve. Either way, the one thing we’ve all contemplated as January 1st has come and gone is….our New Years Resolutions.

Maybe 2011 wasn’t such a bad year for some of you. Maybe you put some disciplines into motion last New Years Day that actually stuck and became positive spiritual and lifestyle changes that you’re still benefitting from. For the thirteen of you who accomplished that, I applaud you. But the rest of us happen to be feeling the weight of overeating, overspending, under exercising, under praying, under tithing, under Bible-reading and every other over/under scenario you can possibly imagine. And we’re thinking about how it’s all going to change now that January 1st has blessed us with its presence. Again. We’re all dreaming of ways to build that better version of ourselves, to jump back on that tyrannical performance treadmill and conquer it once and for all. Well, good luck, because luck is probably the only kind of fuel you’ll have to keep that poor, weighed down treadmill from grinding to a halt.

But how about a different approach? How about resolving to do something that the Bible tells us actually works, and is the one thing that can make all those other nagging resolutions a real possibility? How about repentance?

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

 

Whether you’re a five, eight, or ten point Calvinist, we all continue to struggle with the horrible plague of self sufficiency. We want to get on that treadmill and knock those pounds off, feel that sense of accomplishment, and be praised for the incredible amount of self discipline that we possess. It’s as natural as how many times we said “It’s the holidays!” to justify that double-cheeseburger, fries and milk-shake during our 49th shopping spree in December. We voluntarily dig our own holiday holes and then frantically scratch and crawl to try and dig ourselves out. But we rarely do.

 

When God cleanses us from all unrighteousness, he is accounting for our lack of personal responsibility and self control, but the process starts with our confession to Christ, the one who is faithful and just to do the cleansing that only He can accomplish for us.

So before you vow to replace Reese’s Pieces for rice cakes, turkey for tofu and cookies for carrots, try confessing a much deeper need, a need that we all have to be free from the weight of unrighteousness, knowing that, “when he appearswe shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  And everyone whothus hopes in himpurifies himself as he is pure.” 1 John 3:2-3

I’d love to eat better, be skinnier, spend wiser, give more generously, read more studiously and love more charitably. We all would, but it’s our prideful hearts that turn Godly attributes into New Years resolutions that are doomed to fail. Instead, we should repent of self-resolution, and pray for hearts that seek God’s righteousness, so that all these other things will have a place in our lives that reflects His glory, not our own.

I know that without Thee I can do nothing, that everything with which I shall be concerned, however harmless in itself, may prove an occasion of sin or folly, unless I am kept by Thy power. Hold Thou me up and I shall be safe.

 –Morning Needs, from The Valley of Vision.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                   

Down Colorful Hill.

The subtleties of fall. In the morning, we walk down roads and we talk, carefully remarking and noting the vague hints of color that start dotting the leaves, matching the coats of birds and other creatures that blend into their warm, inviting tones. Clusters of oranges, yellows and reds have started to spread from the centers, but you barely notice them bleeding from leaf to leaf until one morning the entire tree has been completely immersed in the colors of autumn.

Fall creates a nostalgia. There’s an inherent sadness to the bright and blinding richness of the tapestry that reminds me of all the older, former autumns, and all of the older, former places I lived them in. My father was fond of the fall, and always described it as “a time when things slowed down and got back to normal” and although that doesn’t ring true for many, I think I understand what he meant. Maybe it’s a time that helps us understand how to embrace change and remember the moments when we clearly saw the slow, intricate movements of God at work in the fabric of our lives, overcoming us like vague hints of color dotting the leaves, barely noticeable at first, but eventually changing us to reflect the season.

And to reflect Him.

Everything In Its Right Place.

Optimist or Pessimist? What an unfortunate and limited way to have to define someone’s outlook and worldview, because both sides represent a near-sidedness that none of us probably want to associate with. The Opti gets accused of burying their head in the sand, oblivious to the realities, difficulties and potential problems of life, whereas the Pessi is accused of always taking such a negative stance on everything that they don’t recognize or delight in any of life’s blessings. Of course, right in the middle of these two views, and equally as unhelpful, is the beloved Realist. Usually a kinder, more congratulatory term for the Pessimist, Realists usually pride themselves in striking the correct balance between the two, until they realize that their version of what’s “real” can be quite a bit different than what either the Opti or Pessi both think is real, and usually does little more than make them come off like crazed, arrogant relativists. So here’s the question: Is there any Biblical way to discern between all of this “glass half empty or half full” madness? I think there is, and I’ve adopted a new phrase to try and cut through the Half Glass Wars, and it’s this: Proptimism.

Or, “Properly Optimistic”. Or, Proptimistic. Or, “Hey guys, how dare you try to stereotype me in the Half Glass Wars, don’t you know that I’m a Proptimist?”

The reality for all of us is that we will inevitably face times of trial and times of blessing as fallen beings in a fallen world from now until the end of time, but the question for us is always going to be in how we respond to who we believe is in control of all of life’s uncontrollable movements. I believe that the apostle Paul was a bona fide Proptimist. When things were difficult, and they often were for Paul, he definitely acknowledged it, but he also never failed to acknowledge the joy that he knew only the Lord would provide for him in times of trouble and heartache.

David? A cursory glance through the Psalms illustrates the heart of a king who was taken from the depths of pain to the pinnacles of promise, constantly reminding himself to hold all of these things in light of God’s steadfast love working endlessly through his life.

Proptimism is really just perspective. And these two guys had it because they remembered the character of God and actually believed it.

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:2-5

Most of us will fail at being “properly” anything in this life, but in the end, it’s not as important how we define ourselves as much as we remind ourselves that we have a loving, sovereign creator who allows nothing to happen in our lives that doesn’t point to the greater glory of His grace in our lives.

Help me to remember, O Lord.