Jesus and Mark’s Gospel Prologue

Three new posts up at our pastor’s blog concerning the person and work of Jesus in Mark’s prologue and the first two sermon outlines (Mk 1.1-8, 1.9-15). Go here.

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A True Critique May Not Always Be A Wise One

My two year old likes to sing. And when he sings, he sings with all his might. And, you know, he can carry a tune — for a two year old. And because he is two and can barely put sentences together, and because he has not been trained in the academy or raised for operatic genius, I would critique him quite differently than I would a professionally trained singer. The slightest error might be cause for a corrective and stringent critique towards the trained professional. But for my son, the slightest error is only part of a larger reality that he is putting words together and being excessively cute. And so that sort of critique would not exist. Critique might come, but it will come much more indirectly and softly, according to his ability to handle it. Depending upon the experience and training and ability and maturity of the singer, the critique will be more or less stringent. It might even address different things.

The issue in giving critique is to know the one whom you are critiquing. The better we know them and their abilities and their level of training, the better equipped we will be to offer appropriate and gracious criticism.  I think we largely fail at this. The reasons for this suggested failure are manifold: perhaps, pride — we cannot stand to fathom that this person might be more gifted than me, so we have to knock them down a notch with our superior knowledge. Perhaps, extreme expectations, which is another way of saying gracelessness.  This is the inability to consider room for growth. We tend to think of people in static terms. What they are now, that they will always be. So we are more inclined to criticize harshly, thinking that by our effort they might be transformed. Tangential to this, I think, is the lack of a truly pastoral heart. Again, a failure to understand sanctification and how best to bring others along to full maturity in Christ. Or worst of all, perhaps, a simple lack of love. This idea is underneath the others. Love seeks to edify, to build up. And don’t misunderstand me. Direct and stringent and tight criticism can be edifying and has been necessary and useful in my own life as I have received it from others. I am not calling for the abolition of such critique. It can be done, it must be done in love. But a lot of what I have witnessed on this front is, ultimately, a failure to apply growth-inducing compassion. It requires the hard work of getting on the other person’s level, understanding their foundation, trusting in the inward work of God’s Spirit to transform, and offering edifying critique on those grounds.

An example and a final thought.

Example: My local church has an apprenticeship for men aspiring to the office of pastor, or missionary, or, very wonderfully, the biblically-informed and brave-hearted husband and father. Preaching a handful of short sermons is part of the course. While I am not in the apprenticeship, I sat in on one of the sessions a few months ago. One of the brothers preached for the rest of the men, about twenty-five of us. It was his first attempt at preaching before other human beings, much less a room full of present seminarians and future pastors and missionaries. And when he finished, he was critiqued — critiqued hard. One of the brothers used his knowledge of biblical Greek to criticize one of his points. What’s the problem? Not that this brother desired to help this other brother see things a bit more clearly by means of New Testament Greek. But that a critique was offered by means of New Testament Greek to a brother who had not yet taken New Testament Greek. And a few other such critiques were offered. I have been in both shoes. By God’s grace, I was able to see his discouragement. So afterwards, I went to him and mentioned a few things that he had said that were encouraging to me, that God really used to build me up in the faith. He had studied hard. He had genuine affections for the truth of the text. He had wrestled with it experientially. And he taught it with passion appropriate to the glory of Christ. He even used suitable illustrations (something I envy). And so I made these things known to him in order that he might be encouraged to continue to grow in his craft. Later, he sent me an email thanking me for the encouragement.

A final word: what this means is that while a critique may be true, a true critique may not always be wise. Again, know the person, know their foundation, give room for growth and sanctification, trust the working of God’s grace, seek to build up, and before speaking, consider humility. It is not that they do not need to know the truth at the center of your critique. They do! It is rather the packaging of it. And the packaging of it usually shows the maturity of our own hearts. Do we only seek to be a corrective? Or do we also seek to offer affirmation? Do we hold them accountable for things beyond their current level of knowledge or ability or experience? Or do we package these things with understanding and an encouragement that looks to future growth in what they lack? If we approach criticism in the latter ways described, then our hearts are venting a shepherd’s love. And at the end of the day, it is this shepherd’s love that must serve as a guide to all of our conversation.

Bringing More Gospel to Newton-Boston

Two years ago to the month, we decided to church plant in the Greater Boston area. My wife, Jenny, and I hail from South Carolina — and her accent is thicker than Andy Griffith’s. Joe and Melissa Keune are from the St. Louis area of Missouri.  And Erik and Anna Schaefer are moving to Newton, a suburb of Boston, with us from South Dakota and Iowa, respectively.  We come from different states and parts of the country, so various cultures, speaking accents, favorite sports, favorite sports teams, varying preferences concerning the weather, ideal temperatures and seasons of the year. We come from different home lives, economic situations, and stations in life. And yet we have somehow come together.

We have come together to leave what is comfortable to us, to leave family and friends, to leave present securities. We have come together to pull up our stakes and move them to Newton, MA, 6-7 miles southwest of Boston, one week from tomorrow. We have come together to church plant, to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to Newton and the nations, to live and die for the sake of Christ and His church.  Is this explainable? Of course.

We have come together because, though our differences remain, the gospel has bound our hearts to Christ and to one another.  The gospel, as always, is greater than our differences.  Indeed, it accentuates them, while bringing them under a single, transcendent banner: the gospel and glory of Christ. The grace that we have received from God in the gospel of Jesus Christ has brought us together in the same body and, through the new birth, made us to be of one great household. And so by God’s providence, we have come together to work out our sojourning, our going outside the gate to Christ, our gospel ministry in Newton and the surrounding area of Greater Boston.

We are aspiring to bring the gospel to Newton, and praying that God would give us that land as we follow Christ. What once seemed very far off is now a mere 8 days from reality. As we approach our move, I would ask you to consider a few things:

1. You can pray for us.  Having found housing, we are most immediately in need of jobs that will provide suitable resources for our families and strategic advantages for the advancement of the gospel. We have written a prayer guide also that you can use as you serve us and the kingdom of Christ in this way. Simply leave a comment to this post with an email address, and I’ll gladly send this to you.

2. You can partner with us in the grace of giving. While we will be transitioning out of fund-raising life support over the next 5 years and moving towards financial stability as a congregation, we will still be actively pursuing partners — individual brothers and sisters, and gospel-centered churches — as we are getting our feet under us. If you would like to give to Christ Community Church, email me at brianrmahon@gmail.com or christcommunityma@gmail.com.

3. You can connect us with other believers in and around Boston. It is amazing how many people we know know people in Boston. If you know of believers in the area who may be struggling to find a healthy body of believers, and you think they might be helped by Christ Community Church, let them know we will be on the scene by September 1, and that we would love to sit down with them and be of some gospel encouragement to them. If this is the case, see the email addresses above.

4. You can connect us with unbelievers in and around Boston. Wonderfully, this is already happening, and we desire it more and more.  We are moving to find Christ’s people and bring them into His sheepfold. Again, see the email addresses above if you think of someone in this condition and would like for us to meet up with them once we arrive.

5. You can connect us with local churches.  We desire to be tethered in partnership with Christ-treasuring, Christ-proclaiming local churches.  Healthy churches are a source of great encouragement, wisdom, spiritual gifts and abilities, saints, prayers and various other kingdom-advancing resources.  If you think of a church, whether your own or another that you think might be a good partner for us, please let us via email at the addresses given above.

If you have any further thoughts or questions, feel free to comment to this post and I’ll get to them as soon as possible.

Trusting in His might,

Your servant in the Lord,

Brian R. Mahon

Musings on Raising My Children

Many things concerning the raising of my children (in the fear and admonition of the Lord) have come to mind of late, but especially:

1) their need to know that I am a sinner that most desperately needed the salvation of God offered in none but Christ;

2) the importance of my approach to them for the purpose of discipline.  Discipline over a fit of rage is carried out in vain if I approach the discipline in a fit of rage;

3) the necessity of actually taking out the Bible so that they might see it, and reading God’s words to them;

4) of morning prayers for both of them, both privately and, humbly, in their presence;

5) of speaking frequently to them of what they already know (or have learned from us) and how it is a dangerous thing to go against what they already know, if what they know comes from good authority and a godly source.  Acting in accord with what we know, keeping with what we have already attained in the way of righteousness is essential in making progress in sanctification;

6) speaking to them of true love and true joy, which is a love and a joy not confined to self and not sought in self, but is found most highly in God and exercised most properly upon others, in order that they too might join in the love of and joy in God;

7) of Scripture memory;

8) and the use of the memorized passages in the prayers that I make for them, so that what they hear me praying, that they are most familiar with, knowing it to be a most blessed and happy and essential thing that I am praying on their account;

9) the necessity of confronting the temptation to set aside our word, occurring when they are playing with others.  The temptation is to do what the other child is doing.  Wrong or right, it doesn’t matter.  What matters is joining the parade.  But this is what the world does.  And even though they are of the world at this point, yet I find it a good thing to stress with them the importance of weighing anything contrary to our word and wisdom as something they ought not to do without first conferring with us.  They are to learn that our word is more valuable than their friends ways, and that their friends ways do not set aside our word and wisdom.  They must be taught to hold fast to our word when the temptation tempts them to do otherwise.  This is preparation for Christian discipleship and holiness;

10) that if there is a disagreement between Jenny and me, it is to be had in private, in peace, in pursuit of what is right and best in the way of advancing the gospel in our home;

11) that discipline is not mutually exclusive with mercy.  In fact, discipline carried out in love and for the sake of righteousness is a subset of mercy.

I’m positive there are more, but these are my most recent musings on the raising of the children that God has so graciously lent us for this season.

11 Reasons Why Working With Kids Is Not Second Rate Ministry, by Brent Osterberg

Sadly, children’s ministry in the local church can often be seen as second rate ministry, not much more than crowd control and waiting out the clock. This can be seen on the occasions when members looking to move on to bigger and better things will see children’s church or AWANA as merely something to cut their teeth on. Or when the church leadership, in a desperate attempt just to fill the volunteer gaps, will try and make children’s ministry as burden-less and non-committal as possible. Then, of course, there are those who take a shift with the kiddos just because they feel like they have to do something to serve.

Truth be told, I’ve thought all these things at one time or another over the years. Only now that my wife and I have kids of our own have I realized the crucial role that children’s ministry plays in the lives of the kids it serves, their families, and the church.

So then, in the hopes that more Christians and churches will begin cherishing this ministry and investing in it more copiously, here are 11 reasons why children’s ministry is not second rate ministry:

Go here for his 11 insightful reasons.

Where And How Do We Draw The Line, by Kevin DeYoung

1. Establish the essentials of the faith.
2. Listen to the communion of the saints.
3. Distinguish between landing theology and launching theology.
4. Distinguish between the explicit teaching of Scripture and the application of scriptural principles.
5. Distinguish between church existence and church health.
6. Avoid foolish controversies.
7. Allow for areas of disagreement, especially regarding “conversion baggage.”

Go here for his explanations of each.

What If I Had Stayed In The Workforce?, by Luma Simms

Ok, so I have posted many things recently on the value and goodness of motherhood.  Simms, in one sense, cuts against me in that she goes the next step, a balancing one, and refocuses our attention on ultimate value.  There is value in biblical motherhood, but biblical motherhood is not the place that the mother ought to be finding her value.  I get it!  So on the one hand, I do not rescind the articles that I have posted that have been written by others concerned with the devaluing of motherhood.  I think what they have said is good to read and apply.  But almost everything nowadays is written as a counter-response or balance or improvement upon what has been previously written or, in some cases, disregarded.  This is where I think Simms’ article is important.  She does not by any stretch of the imagination devalue what has been written, what has been a hot-topic in our evangelical culture, namely, the value of women, the role of mother, and the various beauties of that role in the Bible.  What she does is give balance, and help us to understand that if one’s value is located in the degree to which one mothers biblically, value is still located in the self and will rise and fall with the self.  She helpfully reminds us, and particularly women, that their value is not ultimately in how good they mother, but in the union with Jesus Christ.

Go here for her helpful article.