Thursday Throwback: The ‘Religious People’ Boogeyman | Jared Wilson

There’s no blogger whose writing I have consumed or appreciated more over the last decade than Jared Wilson. I want to point back to an old post from Jared called “The ‘Religious People’ Boogeyman. Originally, Jared wrote this post in response to a controversy with Perry Noble in 2011. This was even before he was blogging at TGC, and when For The Church wasn’t yet a twinkle in his eye.

Now, it’s been edited and reposted at For the Church (which, if you don’t have FTC bookmarked, you should). You should take 10 minutes and go read the whole thing. Here’s a small snippet:

It is so common a rhetorical practice among the preachers and speakers that I fear it is a systemic dysfunction in the attractional church paradigm which has defined itself largely in contrast to the boring, irrelevant, “traditional” church. This is what I’m talking about: The warning that there are “religious people” in our churches threatening our contempo-casual culture.

First of all, there are people in every church, no matter what kind of church it is, who struggle with the distinction between law and gospel, who struggle with the driving place of grace in their pursuit of holiness, so it won’t do to deny that legalism looms in our churches. Legalism lurks in every heart, actually, mine and yours. But this constant invoking of the judgmental “religious people” is very often a boogeyman. It’s an imagined threat, a scare tactic employed to both justify dumb exercises in license and arouse the self-satisfied mockery of self-identified “grace people.”

Go read the whole thing for yourself.

Also, while you’re here, here’s a short and hilarious video from Jared that I found on a very old Vimeo playlist of mine. Enjoy!

Tim Keller on Why We Must Reach Cities

Over the last decade, a great debate has raged about prioritizing reaching cities in our church planting efforts. This past week, I looked back at this short (15 min) message from Tim Keller at the Lausanne Conference in 2010 answering these questions: Why must we reach the cities? How should we reach those cities? How can we reach those cities?

It’s an interesting debate, and has had wide reaching influence. Under similar frameworks, the North American Mission Board has spent the better part of the last decade focusing on “Send Cities” in their mission efforts. Keller’s own church planting network has focused on cities. The list could go on and on.

I thought this was an interesting video to look back on and reflect: how have Keller’s arguments proved to be true? Where have we learned otherwise, if at all? It certainly seems to me that we’ve learned about our limitations in influencing the culture. If anything, the trend of exvangelical deconversion from so many “major Christian figures” in city centers is worth exploring. Likewise, I would be interested to see if Christians have made any measurable impact on cities in terms of culture.

If you’re reading this, I’d be interested to hear what you think.

Anyway, here’s the message:

A Podcast Episode Pastors Can’t Miss

Today I listened to one of the most important, timely podcast episodes I have heard in a long time. The episode is “Leaders Who Won’t Flame Out” with Paul Tripp, the most recent installment of the Gospelbound with Collin Hansen.

Tripp has a new book releasing Lead: 12 Gospels Principles for Leadership in the Church. In the episode, he describes the book as a followup to his book Dangerous Calling. This earlier book was a huge hit among pastors when it released in 2013. One of the things Tripp draws attention to is the initial endorsements for the book on the back cover.

Those endorsements include Tullian Tchividjian and James MacDonald. Both are now out of ministry, having been publicly disgraced for the very kind of prideful and domineering spirit that the book encourages against. They are two of many high profile pastors to disqualify themselves from ministry in recent years.

Tripp says that when he wrote the initial work, he would have pointed at the pastor when you asked him why a certain leader had a “fall from grace”, whether sexual promiscuity, abuse, abuse of power, pride, etc. The issue was something in their heart. Now he looks somewhere different for early signs. Tripp says he would instead ask about the community around the pastor. Are those who should be holding the pastor accountable and protecting him from his own sin and the temptations that leaders face now his chief defenders? Is the most seasoned pastor that everyone looks up to a 40 year old? Does anyone have the ability to call the leader to repent if he engages in sinful behavior in a meeting? In Lead, Tripp says he discusses these principles and more, providing recommendations for how to create healthy churches and healthy church cultures.

My heart was moved listening to Tripp articulate what a healthy gospel community looks like, both for pastors and those who they shepherd or lead. It is impossible for me not to see this crisis of character in our church leadership culture. As a young man, one of my Sunday School teachers went to prison for sexual abuse. The pastor who was preacher when God first began to call me to ministry was outed for a multi-decade adulterous affair. One of the first ministry conferences I attended was headlined by 3 pastors who are no longer in ministry due to their sinful actions in leadership. Over the span of the next decade, I can name at least 15 leaders who I have admired, known, or looked to as a model have disqualified themselves due to sexual sin, sinful abuse of authority, or various manifestations of pride. My spiritual “family tree” is littered with destruction such that I can not look back on any major period of spiritual growth in my life without experiencing grief over the fallen leaders who ministered to me then but are gone now.

I can not say why it happened to each of them. But here’s what I know: every time it has happened, it has caused me to grieve and question myself. It should not be this way. Young men like myself should not have a spiritual graveyard full of their former role models.

How do we prevent this?

Tripp says, “The key to longevity is spiritual health…the key to spiritual health is gospel community. There’s the book.”

I can not recommend this podcast enough. You can listen to the whole thing by clicking below for iTunes or Spotify, or listen to the YouTube embed above.

Buy the book here.

Bethel Church, Forgiving Jesus, and An Upside Down Atonement

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I’ll never forget where I was the first time I heard of Bethel Church. I was at my own church. A few weeks before I had begun what would ultimately be a few months of preaching to our youth group while the church searched for a new youth pastor. One Wednesday night, I’m sitting in there and my buddy turns on this music video: “Walk In the Promise”, by Bethel Church. I remember thinking to myself, Who is that?!? I was stunned. I immediately fell for the music, and over the next few years regularly listened to music and musicians out of Bethel Church—Jeremy Riddle, Jesus Culture, Jenn Johnson, etc. I loved it. As I looked a little deeper, it became apparent to me that I had some real differences with the church itself. Good music is good music though, right? I pushed my concerns away. Then a friend sent me the video at the bottom of this page (and then troubling video after troubling video after that), and everything changed. I decided that, for better or worse, Bethel Church and I disagreed too much and too strongly for me to continue wholeheartedly endorsing their stuff. I was done. I’m still done.

For the most part, I’ve stayed away from Bethel, though many churches I have been a part of have sung and benefited from their songs. This week, however, I couldn’t stay silent any longer. I noticed this video popping up on my Facebook timeline over and over again, sometimes with angry comments and sometimes with wholehearted support. Too many people I love have liked it, shared it, or asked about it. In the video, children’s pastor Seth Dahl talks about coming to the point of forgiveness after a pastor deeply hurt him, but instead of forgiving the pastor, Dahl says that he had to forgive Jesus.

Watch it for yourself ( transcribed below):

“One time I was laying on the floor… and in a vision, an encounter with God, Jesus picks me up and holds me so close that I can’t see anything. And Jesus starts to weep. And he says, “Please forgive me. Please forgive me.” And I said, “What are you talking about, ‘please forgive you’?” He said, “When that pastor hurt you, it’s as if I hurt you because he is a member of my body. Please forgive me.” And when we hold onto pain from other believers or other leaders or old pastors or old Christians, look—the enemy is called the accuser of the brethren—any thought that accuses a brother had its origin with the devil. Any pain I hold onto from a believer, and unforgiveness that I hold onto from another believer, Jesus actually takes it. Think about the cross, what Jesus did: he did not sin but he paid for ours. He did not sin, but he let us kill him for our sin. He took the blame for us. He took our blame and let us punish him for our stuff. So why would he not look at you and say, “That pain you’re holding onto, that hurt you’re holding onto, that unforgiveness you’re holding onto, look—holding it against them is like you are holding it against me, because they are a member of my body.” And I wept when I realized that I had been in pain from God—from what I thought was God. I don’t know if that made sense. It wasn’t that God inflicted the pain. It’s that God took the blame for inflicting the pain, and holding it against my brother was like holding it against God. And I wept, and I wept, and I wept as I forgave Jesus for something he didn’t do but someone else did. And I didn’t realize until that moment that holding it against them, I was actually distancing myself from God. To distance myself from them, I was distancing myself from God.”

It’s easy to get riled up by a video like this. If we give him the benefit of the doubt, what Dahl is after is this: Jesus calls us to forgive those who sin against us, as we have been forgiven in Christ. Every pain, every grief that we hold in that becomes the root of bitterness for us is sin. When we refuse to forgive, we do not act like Christ—we deny the gospel by our actions.

At that level, Dahl is right. It cannot be ignored, though, how troubling what Dahl actually said is. Dahl reverses the logic of substitution of the cross, making Christ not just the bearer of sin but the sinner himself. Notices what “Jesus” says to him:

“Please forgive me. Please forgive me…”

Dahl goes on, “And I wept when I realized that I had been in pain from God—from what I thought was God. I don’t know if that made sense. It wasn’t that God inflicted the pain. It’s that God took the blame for inflicting the pain, and holding it against my brother was like holding it against God. And I wept, and I wept, and I wept as I forgave Jesus for something he didn’t do but someone else did.”

For Dahl then, who needs the forgiveness? Jesus does. Jesus becomes the offender. A video like this one is tough. Our gut reaction is to scream, “No!” or to be disgusted, but when we get down to it, it’s more problematic. “Jesus is the offender.” Isn’t that right? After all, doesn’t 2 Corinthians 5:21 say that , “…he who knew no sin became sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Didn’t Jesus become the “cursed” man (Gal. 3:13) for us? Of course he did. But that’s not what Dahl says.

To be fair, Dahl does say, “He did not sin.” That much is to his credit. But the way Dahl frames forgiveness here is deadly at worst and pastorally harmful at best. What kind of teaching is this? Who is God that he should need to be forgiven? 1 John 1:5 tells us, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” And yet Dahl says that Jesus himself told him that it was actually Him, Jesus, who did the misdeed. Because the one who sinned is in Christ, it is as if Christ himself sinned. Christ has become a sinner in need of forgiveness from his own creation.

Let’s get to the point: Dahl has totally subverted the truth of the gospel. He has flipped it on its head. Christ is our substitute, because he is without sin. It’s because Christ is not in need of forgiveness that he is a perfectly righteous substitute for us (2 Cor. 5:21) and advocate before God (1 John 2:1). Jesus is not empathetic with us because he becomes a sinner. Jesus is empathetic with us because he took on human flesh with all of its weakness and insufficiency and it was there, in the likeness of sinful flesh(Rom. 8:3) that he upheld the law completely. We “have a high priest who is not unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

I can not help but be reminded of Jesus touching the woman with an issue of blood in Luke 8:40-48. As Jesus traveled along his way, a crowd pressed in and a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years touched him. She was unclean. Under law, Jesus should have become unclean. But that’s not what happens. Instead, the woman is healed immediately (8:47). Likewise, when sinners in the church hurt people, it is not Jesus who is tainted. When sinners are in Christ, regardless of their sinfulness, it is they who are changed. Yes, Christ takes their sin away from them. But Christ has paid that penalty. He is a resurrected and glorified Lord, spotless and free from all sin. It is us who are changed by relationship with him; it is us who are cleansed.

At its best, Dahl’s message here misses the heart of the gospel message (and that’s not what you want to be best at), a message where the righteousness of God is revealed (Romans 1:17) and we see God as he is, as one who never needs forgiveness. At its worst, Dahl’s message is victim blaming. After all, Dahl does not merely encourage listeners to the imperative of the gospel (“forgive as the Lord has forgiven you”). Rather, he says that when we hold onto not just unforgiveness, but pain itself, we hold that very pain against God. It switches all of the responsibility off of the guilty party and on to the victim. He says, “Any thought that accuses a brother had its origin with the devil.” So now, if a victim does not immediately move from offense to forgiveness, what they are participating in is something demonic. This is just heaping on guilt, and shame, burdens too large to bear.

Everyone has a bad moment. I know as well as anyone that in the preaching moment, it is easy to mis-step. This, however, was no misspoken word. It’s clear that Dahl knew exactly what he was saying. He says that Jesus himself told him this in a vision. And it’s because of that, that claim to divine revelation, that I can’t help but look at what he’s teaching and look at how he says he got this message, and conclude that Dahl is teaching a lie. Worse still, he makes Jesus a liar, because he claims Jesus says something that so clearly contradicts the Scriptures. He’s saying thus says the Lord and the Lord has said no such thing. We should run from this. I probably wouldn’t say anything if this weren’t such a popular video, and such a regular occurrence out of Bethel Church. (For an even more egregious misrepresentation of the gospel, see the video below.)

I don’t take any joy in this. It isn’t fun to write a post like this—in fact, I never have before. A.W. Tozer is right, though: What comes to mind when we think about God is the most important about us. If we accept this sort of teaching, if we follow these sort of teachers, then we will come to worship a God who not only needs to forgive us, but who needs us to forgive him. A God like that is not only unworthy of the songs Bethel sings— He is unworthy of worship at all. A God who needs our forgiveness is a God who can not save. It is the God who is wholly righteous, the God of all grace, the God who has set Christ his Son as perfect head over the imperfect church, who is worthy of worship. Let’s listen to teachers that teach us about that God.

___________________________

Is this what we want? More important, is this really what God has shown us in his word that He wants? Surely not.

The Best Sermons I Have Ever Heard

1. The Glory of the Groan – Robert Smith, Jr.

I don’t mind admitting a little bias here. Dr. Robert Smith is one of my mentors. He is a preaching father to me. Still, this is the only sermon that has ever made me weep. Robert-SmithI’ll never forget telling the story Dr. Smith’s preaching making me cry to Dr. Hershael York, preaching professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He said that Dr. Smith had likewise made him weep in a sermon, so much so that he had to pull over his car. As we discussed what it was that got us, we realized something: it was the same sermon. This is that sermon. An exposition from Romans 8, Dr. Smith’s sermon “The Glory of the Groan” will swell your heart with the goodness of the Gospel and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This is the best sermon I have ever heard.

2. The Shepherd and His Unregenerate Sheep – Matt Chandler
This sermon caught me in two waves. At the beginning of my time at Auburn University, I was partying heavily. I was filled with guilt. I hated church and didn’t want to go anywhere near it. I saw God as vindictive and angry with me. My friend Drew casually sent me the now-famous “Jesus Wants The Rose” clip, and it changed my life. It turned me back to the Bible. It led me to learn the Gospel. It started me on the road to repentance.

When I was first called to ministry, I knew it was to preach. At the same time, I knew I still didn’t want to be anywhere near the church. The church was a place that wasted time on fun and games, that fought and gossiped, that said the Bible was inerrant but didn’t teach it with any measure of faithfulness. From the “Jesus wants the rose” clip to Chandler’s discussion of gospel-centered preaching, to his call for a holy life, this sermon has shaped me totally in regards to how I view ministry. I’m not sure there is a single thing in this sermon that I feel uneasy with or remotely disagree with. I have probably listened to this one at least 30 times. It has meant that much to me. I still feel joy when I hear it through remembering the good work God did in me as I heard it the first time.

3. Prayer As a Way of Walking In Love  – Francis Chan
After my first semester of seminary, I was in a pretty desperate place with money, family, personal life, and more. For a variety of reasons, I had gotten into a rut where I simply would not ask God for things. I was anxious. I was falling apart. And now I will never forget that first line I heard in the sermon: “Jesus loves me this I know, because the Bible tells me so. Yes that’s true, but at this point in my life I can also say that I know Jesus loves me because of how he answers my prayers.” No sermon has affected my relationship with God through prayer as much as this one.

4. “Getting Out” – Tim Keller
I’ll never forget where I was when I heard this sermon. I was in my bedroom at college. I was trying to do laundry and listen to this, but before long I ended up laying on the bed and listening. I laid there about half and hour after the sermon ended with my mind racing. Wait, did he just…. did he really…. how did he see…. that’s how we read the Bible… WHAT?! This sermon is an amazing example of Biblical theology in preaching. If you’ve never heard, prepare to be amazed.

5. Passion, Purpose, and Designer Jeans – Louie Giglio
Louie’s winsome plea to student at the Passion conference is one of the most helpful sermons on vocation I have ever heard. His stories are engaging—Louie may be the best public speaker on this list. At a time when I and so many of my friends were struggling with a call to ministry or secular vocation, as well as not dividing our faith from our work, this sermon proved enormously beneficial.

6.  The Mission – J.R. Vassar
J.R. Vassar is one of my favorite preachers. I have found his teaching on Sabbath and his teaching on mission to be some of the most clear and helpful there is. J.R. sermon here, from an Acts 29 Bootcamp for pastors, is a lucid explanation of what exactly the mission of the church is. I have listened to this sermon at least 10 times.

7. Passion for the Supremacy of God, Pt. 1 & 2 – John Piper

These two sermons, preached by John Piper at Passion 1997, are among the most famous of John Piper’s entire sermon corpus, which is really saying something. These sermons are especially precious to me for two reasons: 1) These sermons were the sermons that laid the foundation for Matt Chandler’s ministry that has meant so much to me and 2) these sermons further put in me a passion for the glory of God.

Listen to Part 1                     Listen to Part 2

8. Missionary Commitment – Billy Graham

If this list had unlimited spots, I could have filled it with Billy Graham sermons. Billy Graham preaches with power and conviction that should be an model for all preachers. His interaction with the communist worldview, politics of the day, the Scripture, and passion for missions is commendable. This is a true classic.

I’ve included a clip of the sermon below, and a link to the full sermon.

Listen to the full sermon.

9. Holy Spirit Empowered Ministry – Eric Mason
I heard this sermon in February of 2011 at The Resurgence “Our Fathers, Our Future” conference. I had never heard Eric Mason preach before this. It was my understanding that the session I was on the front row of seating for would be R.C. Sproul. I’ve never been so delighted to not get what I want. This sermon shaped my thinking at an incredibly formative time for me.

http://theresurgence.com/v/aefndg17ccuu

10. Universalism and The Reality of Eternal Punishment – Sinclair Ferguson

This two-part sermon by Sinclair Ferguson left me with a weight that, quite frankly, was terrifying. I don’t like to think about Hell. After Rob Bell’s book Love Wins came out, a friend pointed me towards this defense of the traditional doctrine of hell. It is weighty, saddening, and Biblical. But to have a theology where the doctrine of Hell is absent could only represent a loss. These sermons gave me that. Do not listen to these as you do other things. Set time aside.

Part 1: The Biblical Basis for the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment
Part 2: The Justice and Mercy of God

 

Honorable Mentions:

Intimacy With God – Andy Stanley
Andy is an incredible communicator and this sermon shows that. Not only that, the teaching is solid. Andy and I don’t always agree, but when he’s on I think he’s one of the very best.

Moral Purity In Your Marriage – Dr. Russell Moore
Teaching on purity is often just shaming and guilting. Not this sermon. Dr. Moore is winsome, Biblical, and extends the grace of the gospel at every turn.

Divine Sovereignty: The Fuel for Death Defying Missions – David Platt
If you’ve never wept in public before, don’t make the same mistake I did by listening to this sermon on a plane. I was headed to Boston for a business trip, and thought I’d throw on a podcast. Huge mistake. Platt’s passion for the glory of God among all the people brought me to tears by the end of the sermon as David Platt lifted me up to the glorious throne room of our crucified Lord.

Never Spoke a Man Like This Before – Kevin DeYoung
In this sermon, primarily from the Gospel of John, Kevin DeYoung argues that Scripture’s inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency provides a foundation for both the truth of the gospel and our confidence in evangelism. Christians believe this not because of a modern, man-made ideal of “inerrancy,” but because Jesus himself thought and taught this way. As DeYoung said, “It’s impossible to uphold the Bible more than Jesus did. I heard this sermon at T4G 2014 and remember thinking, “Every Christian everywhere should hear this.”


The Path Sermon Series by Matt Chandler
After I was called to ministry and heard “The Shepherd and His Unregenerate Sheep” sermon, I turned to this. To this day, I would argue that it is the best sermon series I have ever heard. Not only that, in the middle of this sermon Matt received a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer. He returned to complete the series. What remains now is one of the best, short set of sermons you will ever hear on the Gospel-centered sanctification in all of life.

Listen to that series on The Village Church’s website.

 

What About You? What’s the Best Sermon You’ve Ever Heard?

Mark Driscoll and the Internet’s Omniscience: A Lesson For Us All

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Mark Driscoll is not having a good year. This past week news broke that 14 years ago, Mark Driscoll had posted regularly to a Mars Hill Church online forum under the moniker “William Wallace II” to troll his own church members. This wasn’t the “forever alone meme” style of trolling; instead it was full of coarse language and hateful speech I’m not comfortable reposting here. Of course this news took the Christian blogosphere, twittersphere, and at least three other spheres by storm. Driscoll is no stranger to controversy. This year alone he was busted for plagiarism, deceitful marketing of his book “Real Marriage”, and imposed a hiatus on himself from social media. There are entire websites dedicated to recounting stories of alleged spiritual abuse by Mark Driscoll, with stories from even those who were his closest friends. There are other sites and social media groups dedicated to the so-called harmful environment of Mars Hill, which generally place the blame for such an environment squarely on Driscoll.

The Slow Falldriscoll

Driscoll rose to fame through the emergent church movement at the beginning of the era of Evangelical blogging. During this time, Driscoll gained a reputation as the “cussing pastor”, with a glimmer of this on display is his famous YouTube sermon clip where he yells to immature men in the audience, “Who the hell do you think you are?!” From there he berates the men for the rest of the clip. After teaching through Song  of Solomon in a manner that was a tad crass, Evangelical leader and Grace Community Church Pastor John MacArthur wrote that Driscoll was not qualified for the office of pastor. That’s not to mention controversy surrounding Driscoll following the Elephant Room event, his hard-line stance on things like video games and the movie Avatar, as well as him claims to prophetic (occasionally sexually graphic) visions and gifts of knowledge. About two years ago, Driscoll departed from the neo-Reformed tribe he had been a part of in lieu of a tribe more like him: influential, non-denominational multi-site mega-pastors such as James MacDonald, Perry Noble, and the like.

Recently, multiple pastors and staffers at Driscoll’s Mars Hill have left, some of who have written lengthy ‘insider’s view’ pieces that are less than complimentary of Driscoll’s leadership style and character. All of this has culminated this week in the removal of Driscoll and Mars Hill Church from the Acts 29 Network, which he co-founded, and the Acts 29 board of directors requesting Driscoll resign his ministry for a time. The list of Driscoll’s offenses and failures go on and on, easily accessible by a simple Google search.

Most of these occasions, with exception of the Elephant Room, was followed by an apology by Driscoll. I agree with Jonathan Merritt, who wrote earlier this week that the radical grace of Christ compels us to grant forgiveness when asked for it. The scandal of the cross and the teachings of Christ is such that when someone asks for forgiveness, we are not allowed the prerogative of judging their motives. We are simply required to forgive and to love.

Still, I think there is something we can learn from the fiasco that has been Mark Driscoll’s ‘tenure of influence’. He has, unfortunately for him, become an example for all pastors regardless of their church size or influence.

Well Thought of By Outsiders

The apostle Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 3 are often quoted in discussions about pastors who have failed in the public eye. When it comes to Driscoll, verse 7 is particularly germane. It reads, “Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” Because of the reality of indwelling sin in the believer, we need to realize that every pastor is going to fall short in various ways. Every pastor sins. To pretend that pastors are in some special category of über-righteousness is foolish. They will never be perfect. Still, there is a requirement for elders and pastors, beyond simple striving, that they should be Christ-like.

They should be so Christlike, the text says, that even though we ought to beware “when all men speak well of us” (Luke 6:26), we should still be well thought of by outsiders generally. Wendy Alsup wisely notes that, “If a man is not esteemed outside of his congregation at some level, outside of the Body of Christ at some level, he should not hold the office of elder.” This is not a commentary on someone’s salvation, so much as it is a comment on qualification. God may have qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Col 1:12) without our being qualified to pastor. There is a terrifying warning that remains: disgrace is the snare of the devil. Not all men escape such snares.

Not long ago, it wasn’t that difficult to be well thought of by outsiders. Pastors with a long, private history of infidelity or insincerity were formerly exposed to the shock and chagrin of their followers. How could no one see this coming? Were there any indicators? In the era of the internet, a façade of public holiness with a private life marked by sin is not longer a possibility.

The Internet Never Forgetsclear-history

As a millennial, the ever-present reality of the internet’s permanence is a burden that can not be ignored. Every tweet. Every Facebook post. Every blog post. Every online insult. Every trolling comment. Every picture. It’s still there. Posts that have long since been deleted, sites that are now defunct, browsing histories that seem to have vanished have not truly been deleted, disappeared, or erased from possible discovery. The internet is forever. Mark Driscoll is learning that lately. How many more of us will learn that same lesson, especially those of us who have hardly ever lived without a large online footprint. For some, there are or will be those who desire to discover those online missteps and sinful wanderings. Where have you been?

It’s scary to think that someone could expose my every misstep online. I’ve been using the internet almost my entire life. I have never really known a world without it. It’s sickening to think my high school decisions are discoverable. It’s easy to long for the days where I could hide. It’s easy to lament the loss of a day when privacy was a reality.

God Sees More Than Search History

It’s harder to realize that those days of hiding secret sins never really existed. The internet is the closest we have come to a tangible omniscient thing in our lives. It’s not that the internet knows all— this isn’t a God-like omniscience. This is a pagan omniscience that can see your every keystroke and recover evidence of failures. It makes ads based on your browsing history (Anyone else glad Puritan Hard Drive has stopped stalking them?). For those with the will and desire to make it so, it can be the tool to your downfall. Could Driscoll have known 14 years ago that someone could easily find his lewd, vitriolic rants that were seemingly anonymous and bring them to the fore? Surely not.

The greatest reality of it all, however, is that there is and always has been an omniscience far beyond the internet. The all-seeing eye of God knows perfectly not only the keystroke of the finger, but the desires of the heart. He knows the thoughts, cruel and careless, and judges them fairly. In Matthew 12:36, the Scripture tells us that we will be judged on the day of judgment for “every careless word”. Nothing escapes his sight. No foul thought goes unnoticed. No sin goes unpunished.

It would be easy for Mark Driscoll to simply wish that these words had never been discovered. It would be easy for us all, likewise, to simply hope that our failings and foul hearts will simply go unnoticed and outsiders will think well of us based on the façade we’ve created. But we shouldn’t wish this. Instead, we should bring darkness to light. When the apostles tells us to, “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them,” (Eph. 5:11) that includes our own unfruitfulness. Darkness is not expelled when it is contained. Darkness dies by the power of the light. Repentance for Driscoll, indeed for all of us, is not to hope that we are never discovered, but to wish our sins never were. It is to agree with God about our failure, and utterly forsake them.

All the same, we must realize that the God who remembers every sin is the God who, “while we were still sinners”, died for us. As we strive to live lives worthy of the gospel of Jesus, we should act honorably and morally not out of fear that someone may see but as those who know that God sees all. Fear of the Lord should accompany our every keystroke. For many of us, our Twitter archive, Facebook timeline, or Google history exists as a tangible sign of our certain condemnation apart from Christ. In Christ, all is forgiven. The reality of our sure salvation, however, should drive us away from the snare of the devil and the disgrace that is only a click away. Instead, we ought to ask forgiveness where needed. We should bear fruits in keeping with repentance, treating those around us with charity, respect, and the kindness and love of Christ. We don’t do this to avoid the shame of possible exposure at the hands of the internet. We do this because Christ bore our shame. In the fear of the Lord, tweet.

A Simple “Don’t Enter Ministry If….”

Kevin Hart talks to Conan about rent money and Bible reading. It’s a funny story, but the conclusion is pretty sad. Don’t enter ministry if you never want to deal with people like Kevin Hart. A lot of people will want our time, our generosity, and our love without ever desiring to know our God or His word. If we don’t have the heart to patiently and prayerfully bear with people with this kind of attitude, we don’t need to be pastors.