From the Basement

October 31, 2010

“Do you learn because you love?” – On Francis Chan, Humility, & Graduate School

One of the best sermons I’ve ever heard, hands down, was Francis Chan’s message at the Think conference. I posted the link to the video in the last entry; you should really take a look, it’s fantastic. His talk centered on 1 Corinthians 8:1-3:

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.

Chan quoted John MacArthur who said “Knowledge is essential, but it’s not sufficient.” The pursuit of knowledge and critical thinking is absolutely crucial to the Christian life, but it must be girded, hedged behind and before, with the love of God, without which our righteous deeds are as filthy rags.

The focus of the sermon was humility, and even though Chan’s illustrations about speaking were obviously meant to apply to, y’know, speakin’ and preachin’, I took them heart even regarding my applications:

“I’ve told my preaching students, if you feel nervous, it’s probably because there’s sin in your life. And you’re thinking about a person, you’re thinking about pleasing someone, you want someone to approve of your message, rather than thinking about God. And the nerves often are not because you love the people, it’s because you want them to love you and you want them to like you.”

Before he preaches, Chan asks himself questions in order to check his heart, such as “Am I worried about what people will think of my message, or am I more concerned about what God thinks?” and “Do I genuinely love these people?” Because this is what he emphasized: when you are giving a message or leading a bible study or speaking even in a conversation, is your motivation to be loved or to love them? Are you asking God for the words that will best enable you to love them or are you worried about being seen as intelligent or articulate or [fill in the blank]?

Chan posed the question: “Do you learn because you love?”

Wow. Do I learn because I love? Is my desire to learn, to go to graduate school, for my colleagues, for those in my cohort, for my advisors – is my ultimate goal to love them to bring glory to my Redeemer, who because of his gracious nature alone saw fit to rescue me from the pit? Is my desire that they too would be rescued? Do I have, as Chan quoted the Apostle Paul, an unceasing anguish for the lost?

Sometimes, I feel like Jonah. I want the easy road; I am scared to minister to the people I think God’s calling me to (confirmation: when your fiance wants to minister to them, that’s probably a sign from God!). Sometimes, I think and pray, “Oh God, why can’t a literary agent just stumble onto my blog and I can write a book and go around speaking at Women of Faith conferences or something and just talk to other broken down Jesus Girls whose parents are divorced and who don’t know what love and marriage look like and who are looking to feminism and women’s studies as the answer and oh God, why can’t you just let me minister to women like me, women who need encouragement and who just want someone to love them?”

Because women like me go to college and grad school. Because women like me look to the life of the mind – to intellectualism – for answers. Women like me think we’ve got life beat. Women like me need Jesus.

My heroes are in academia. Some of the people who have had the greatest impact on my intellect, who I know God allowed to be my professors, who he put in my life in specific ways to nurture and guide my intellectual development – many of them are not believers. My honors advisor, who I love so dearly, has an utter disdain for religion and Christianity and marriage, and for the life of her, she cannot comprehend my faith. We’ve touched on it occasionally, but so much went unsaid throughout those four years. So many opportunities passed me by to share my faith with her, to try and help her see.

And you hear about how academia in the United States is one of the most hostile environments for faith, and I’m sure that many of you who’ve gone through college have encountered at least one openly anti-Christian professor on campus, and probably many more who were implicitly critical of religion, and I can’t help but think, what purpose would this serve, Lord? Evangelical Christians have zero cultural capital in higher education. To put it another way, they have no intellectual blue chips. My faith and my education are so seemingly at odds in the world, even if I see them as flowing beautifully together… and I ask again, to what purpose, Lord?

I think that we forget that people are watching. I think we forget that our calling is higher. Loving them in word and deed is far more important than being hailed as wise and knowledgeable in the ways of the world.

One of the writer friends I cherish most dearly is probably almost twice my age. She went to a top 10 English program, has written books, articles, you name it, she’s done it – and she cares about her students. She’s also one of the most ridiculously intelligent women I’ve ever met; she explained a complicated literary theorist to me using Harry Potter. I mean, come on!

Well, she and other writer friends of mine were at a convention, and apparently the conversation in her suite turned to faith, Christianity and Harry Potter. She sent me a message saying she wished I had been there to share my insights.

They are looking. They do notice that you’re different. I say to God, my professors – these are my heroes – they’re so smart – they write books and articles and prepare hour long lectures that leave me just mind-blown and they debate supreme court justices and went to top 10 and top 20 programs and – I get so intimidated by them. And so scared to talk to them about matters of faith. What could I have to say to them about Jesus and about what he has done in my life, how knowing I am loved by him gives me vigor and excitement that only further stimulates my mind?

Do I love them more than I care about them respecting me? That’s the question. Do I love them enough to risk my scholarship not being taken seriously?

In grad school, is it more important that I love people, emulating Christ, or that I produce groundbreaking scholarship?

And does what’s on the other side of grad school really matter? If God sends my fiancé and I to grad school, it’s to love people, pure and simple. Whether I’m teaching or writing or working in publishing or doing whatever on the other end of it doesn’t really matter – God will put me where He can use me. Here I am, Lord.

1 John 4:12 tells us, “No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” It is by our love that people will know we are his disciples (John 13:35). Are we acting this out?

Chan reminded us of 1 Corinthians 12:7: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” In response to this verse, he said, “Why did God gift you in the way that He did? It’s for us, it’s not for you! [The question to ask is] how can I build my brother up? How can I build my sister up?”

Today is my self-imposed deadline for the statement of purpose. Suffice to say, it’s not finished, even though there’s plenty written. And all day, I’ve been terribly nervous, trying to remember that no matter how I articulate my research interests, God has the final say.

Chan’s words have convicted me. Why on earth am I nervous? Because I want them to like me? In short, yes. But God’s the one who has the final say, and I can’t enter a program all willy-nilly over wanting to be liked. To repeat a phrase, if God puts my fiancé and I in grad school, it’s to love people. To witness to them. Plain and simple. Whether I’m teaching at an R1 on the other end doesn’t really matter.

This is what the LORD says:

“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom

or the strong man boast of his strength

or the rich man boast of his riches,

but let him who boasts boast about this:

that he understands and knows me,

that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,

justice and righteousness on earth,

for in these I delight,”

declares the LORD. — Jeremiah 9:23-24


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October 7, 2010

Notes from Tullian Tchividjian’s talk at “Think”

On Friday, October 1, 2010, Tullian Tchividjian (pastor, author, and grandson of Billy & Ruth Graham) gave a talk entitled “Giving Thought to Gospel Math: Why Jesus + Nothing = Everything” at the 2010 Desiring God National Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The conference theme was “Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God.”

Tchividijian’s talk was based in the book of Colossians. This post is an attempt to highlight the main points and details of his talk.

He stressed that the gospel is for people inside the church as well as out – it’s fuel as well as ignition, that once God saves us, He doesn’t move us beyond the gospel but rather, further into it. While he’s very encouraged by this gospel centric resurgence in the church, he exhorted us to “amp it up a notch.”

The outline is as such, that “gospel math” addresses:

  1. Motivation
  2. Identity
  3. Idolatry

Motivation

There’s still some trepidation re: the gospel and grace because of a common misunderstanding about the nature of grace – e.g. “dangers to avoid” – legalism and lawlessness. As the argument goes, in order to maintain the equilibrium, we need to balance law and grace. However, framing it in this way keeps us from understanding the radical depth of God’s grace.

Tchividijian suggested that it’s more accurate to say that there is one primary enemy of the gospel – legalism – and that legalism can take two forms, both of which are “self-salvation projects.” First, there are the people who save themselves by doing right, performing well – front door legalism, as it were. Second are those who attempt to save themselves by breaking the rules, by ascribing to autonomous standards – that if we do what we want, then we find freedom.

The biggest lie about grace is the idea that grace is dangerous and therefore needs to be kept in check. Believing this violates gospel advancement in the church and our lives.

The law scares us less than grace. Grace takes the focus off of us and puts it on Christ and HIS power, not on our own (rules). Relying on our own rules is much more comfortable.

Now, obedience matters. Tchividjian reminded us that as a pastor, he certainly understands the fear of “too much” grace – but he reminded us that fear comes from the pit of hell.

As a parent, he often thinks that the way to get his teenagers to behave is to crack down. But he has oftentimes concluded that the only way to “keep licentious people in line” is when they get a taste of God’s radical acceptance of sinners.

The irony of gospel growth is that those who obey more are those who realize that their standing with God is not based on their obedience but Christ’s… not on our radical fetes for Jesus but rather on His fetes for us.

Only when our hearts are captured do we begin to obey more.

People need to hear less on what we can do for God and more on what God does for us!

And people become moralists – unintentional legalists – when the focus is on imperatives and not indicatives. He reminded pastors of their accountability in this.

He noted that the apostle Paul always spent time on indicatives before getting down to imperatives, first exhorting people on the gospel and the awesome power of God, on what God has done, on God’s love, before offering imperatives. Colossians is an example of this – the first two are spent on indicatives of God’s love, and chapters 3 and four get down to the imperatives to the church. As Tchividjian put it, “Paul spends the first two chapters on marinating the people in what God has done!”

Some more gospel math? Imperatives – Indicatives = Impossibilities

Long-term sustained obedience must be grounded in the gospel rather than short-term fear/guilt. And God is interested in a certain kind of obedience – not just anything (look at Cain & Abel). Attitude matters to Him. He wants a cheerful giver – so what motivates our obedience?

Identity

The world wants us to locate our worth in something smaller than Jesus. The gospel liberates us from other identities.

Tchividjian described this last year as being the most difficult in his life. His church merged with another congregation and styles clashed, so for what he said was really the first time in his life, he lost acceptance and was subject to ridicule. It took away the identity that he had placed in what others thought, robbed him of the comfort of acceptance. And following this, his father died unexpectedly.

Colossians 1 – he loves us too much to give us over to old idols.

“Because Jesus was strong, I’m free to be weak. Because He won, I am free to lose. I can lose anything because my identity is in Him, and that is an identity I will never lose.”

Everything – Jesus = Nothing, but Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

“In Christ, my identity is secure, which frees me to give everything I have because in Christ I have everything I need.”

One of the most powerful quotes of his talk was this: “Real slavery is living your life trying to gain favor. Real freedom is living your life knowing you have favor.”

Idolatry

The threat to the gospel is idols – idols within the church. Most idols are good things that become ultimate things.

He quoted C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters at length, specifically focusing on the passages where the older demon, Screwtape, is writing to his prodigy, Wormwood, as to ways to keep his “patient” (a young Christian man) distracted. Screwtape suggests the practice of “Christianity and.” Screwtape says to never let believers come to the place where they really believe that mere Christianity is enough.

So Tchividijian asked: what is the one thing that would devastate you to lose?

That is your idol. Those are your idols.

In closing, he read a quote from Malcolm Muggeridge, a 20th century British journalist turned Christian apologist:

“We look back on history and what do we see? Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counter-revolutions, wealth accumulating and wealth dispersed, one nation dominant and then another. Shakespeare speaks of ‘the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.’

In one lifetime I have seen my own fellow countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, the great majority of them convinced, in the words of what is still a favorite song, that, ‘God who’s made the mighty would make them mightier yet.’ I’ve heard a crazed, cracked Austrian proclaim to the world the establishment of a German Reich that would last a thousand years; an Italian clown announce that he would restart the calendar to begin his own assumption of power. I’ve heard a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the world as wiser than Solomon, more enlightened than Ashoka, more humane than Marcus Aurelius. I’ve seen America wealthier and in terms of weaponry, more powerful than the rest of the world put together, so that Americans, had they so wished, could have outdone an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of their conquests.

All in one little lifetime. All gone with the wind. England part of a tiny island off the coast of Europe, threatened with dismemberment and even bankruptcy. Hitler and Mussolini dead, remembered only in infamy. Stalin a forbidden name in the regime he helped found and dominate for some three decades. America haunted by fears of running out of those precious fluids that keep her motorways roaring, and the smog settling, with troubled memories of a disastrous campaign in Vietnam, and the victories of the Don Quixotes of the media as they charged the windmills of Watergate.

All in one lifetime, all gone. Gone with the wind.

Behind the debris of these self-styled, sullen supermen and imperial diplomats, there stands the gigantic figure of one person, because of whom, by whom, in whom, and through whom alone mankind might still have hope. The person of Jesus Christ.”

EDIT: It has come to my attention that Pastor Tchividjian tweeted a link to this post. Thank you, Pastor, for your message last Friday. It convicted and encouraged me. Praise God for the things He did that weekend!

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