Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career. Unless…

This is a fantastic TEDx talk by Larry Smith. In a very compelling way, he shoots down all the excuses people make not to go after what they are truly passionate about in life.

The worst thing (though he doesn’t talk about this) is when people claim that these excuses have biblical authority. I see people do it all the time — and then judge people who disagree, claiming that they are somehow “less spiritual.” It is a truly, truly horrible thing because it is using the Bible as justification for low expectations and false thinking.

Go after what you are truly passionate about. Just do it for the glory of God and according to his standards. And quit thinking that there has to be an unavoidable dichotomy between accomplishment and relationships. Embrace the genius of the and.

Jesus is Not Customizable

Well said by David Platt in Follow Me:

In Matthew 7, Jesus expose our dangerous tendency to gravitate toward that which is easy and popular. Hear his warning: Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

In other words, there is a broad road that is inviting and inclusive. This nice, comfortable, ever-so-crowded path is attractive and accommodating. The only thing that’s required of you on this path is a one-time decision for Christ, and you don’t have to worry about his commands, his standards, or his glory after making that decision. You now have a ticket to heaven, and your sin, whether manifested in self-righteousness or self-indulgence, will be tolerated along the way.

But this is not the way of Jesus. He beckons us down a hard road, and the word Jesus uses for this is associated in other parts of the Bible with pain, pressure, tribulation, and persecution. The way of Jesus is hard to follow, and it’s hated by many.

Almost unknowingly, we shrink back from this cost, choosing to redefine Christianity according to our personal preferences, church traditions, and cultural norms. Slowly, subtly, we take the Jesus of the Bible and twist him into someone with whom we are a little more comfortable.

We dilute what he says about the cost of following him, we disregard what he says about those who choose not to follow him, we practically ignore what he says about materialism, and we functionally miss what he says about mission. We pick and choose what we like and don’t like from Jesus’ teachings.

In the end, we create a nice, non-offensive, politically correct, middle-class, American Jesus who looks just like us and thinks just like us.

But Jesus is not customizable. He has not left himself open to interpretation, adaptation, innovation, or alteration. He has revealed himself clearly through his Word, and we have no right to personalize him. Instead, he revolutionizes us. As we follow Jesus, we believe Jesus, even when his Word confronts (and often contradicts) the deeply held assumptions, beliefs, and convictions of our lives, our families, our friends, our culture, and sometimes even our churches. And such belief in Jesus transforms everything about what we desire and how we live.

Was the Seahawks Final Play in the Super Bowl as Bad a Call as Most People Are Saying?

With just one yard to go in order to pull ahead of the Patriots in the final seconds of the Super Bowl, most people have found the Seahawks call for a pass to be inexplicable. Why pass on that play when you can run the ball with Marshawn Lynch?

I don’t think the play was a good call. And, as a huge Patriots fan, I’m super glad things turned out the way they did.

However, when evaluating that play call after the fact I think that there’s a slight distortion that comes about due to hindsight. Here’s why.

If the Seahawks had only one play to get into the end zone, then passing instead of giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch would make little sense.

But the Seahawks had three plays left to score. So it could be argued that it wasn’t unreasonable to try a pass, when you are looking at this from the perspective of three plays, rather than just one.

In other words, due to the fact that the play failed, it’s easy to end up evaluating the situation as though this single play was to be their only chance to score. Of course, that’s how it turned out, but they didn’t know that. When you look at the situation from the assumption, which they had at the time, that they would have three opportunities, then throwing one pass play and then switching to the run can make a bit more sense.

Of course, that perspective doesn’t take into account the risk of throwing an interception that comes with a pass play.

And so, we are back to where we started: it was indeed a bad call, given the abilities of Marshawn Lynch.

My point, though, is just that it’s easy to assess this call in a way that accidentally implies the Seahawks knew they only had one play to get into the end zone. When you look at it from the perspective of thinking they likely would have three opportunities, it is at least a slightly smaller blunder than it can seem at first.



Where Theology and Sports Collide

Today TGC has a TGCVocations interview that I did with Kurt Earl, founder of Compete4Christ.

Kurt is a teacher and coach who has done incredible thinking on how the gospel applies to coaching and athletics. Check out the interview, as well as Compete4Christ, to get a taste of his thinking.

And, of course, as a huge Patriots fan, I had to ask at least one question about the Super Bowl this Sunday: what does each team have to do in order to win? His answer was very enlightening and actually reflects principles that are just as applicable in organizations and leadership generally as they are in football.

Learning from the Heroes of the Faith — Especially Old Princeton

This is an interview with Gary Steward, a good friend of mine going all the way back to seminary and author of the just released Princeton Seminary (1812 – 1929): Its Lives and LeadersI highly commend his book for everyone!

How did you get interested in Old Princeton?
While I was a student at South Dakota State University, I came across a cassette tape of a lecture by Iain Murray, where he commended three particular books by the great Princeton theologians, saying: “if a young man gets hold of those books and they get hold of him, I believe that he’s got something, for life.”  To my knowledge, this was the first time I had heard of the Princeton theologians.

A few years later I discovered the wonderful two-volume set of books on Old Princeton by David Calhoun.  I found these books to be absolutely thrilling.  They opened my eyes to the wonderful world of the Princeton theologians and their rich theology and history.

Why is Old Princeton so important for us today?
The writings the Princeton theologians left us are a treasure trove of rich theology that the evangelical church desperately needs to rediscover today.  They are not only intellectually deep but are also clearly presented so that most will find books like A. A. Hodge’s Outlines of Theology to be very accessible.  In their theological writings, they provide responses to more liberal varieties of Christianity that are profoundly helpful and enduring for evangelicals today–thinking particularly of Hodge and Warfield’s Inspiration and Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism.  

The Princeton theologians also plumbed the depths of religious experience in their writings, seeking to distinguish between God’s common grace, his regenerating special grace, and the varieties of counterfeit grace which have merely emotional or sociological explanations.  Archibald Alexander’s Thoughts on Religious Experience is so helpful in this regard.

What made Princeton Seminary such a unique place from its beginning in 1812 to its reorganization in 1929?

The theologians of Old Princeton fused together the rich historical theology of the Reformed tradition together with the Great Awakening’s emphasis on conversion, piety, and religious experience.  The brought together what so many have wanted to separate.  Not only were they Bible scholars and theologians of the first order, they were also outstanding pastors and teachers as well.  In our day, seminaries and graduate schools have tended to value educators who are technical specialists in one isolated field only.  Old Princeton reminds us of the value of scholarship that integrates the disciplines, as well as the necessity of integrating of life, thought, and experience as well.

Why do “Christians need history, and Christians need heroes,” as you say in your video?

We live in an age that does not overly value the past.  Technology fascinates us, not history.  Christians, however, need a living appreciation of the past in order stay grounded and humbled.  Christianity is a faith rooted in history, and Christians are instructed in the Bible 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” (Heb. 13:7 ESV).  History gives us perspective, and it gives us hope for the future as well.  It keeps us from being taken captive by fads and can give us real wisdom for the living of our lives.

Christians need heroes well.  Heroes can encourage, strength, and inspire us.  They can helps us develop steadfastness, courage, and conviction.  Some historians are cynics and take a misplaced pleasure in pointing out the flaws of heroes and in tearing down the heroic.  I think we can admit that all of our heroes (apart from Christ) are severely flawed, but this does not keep us from the need we have of them.  We don’t want to worship our heroes, but we can and should be inspired by the truly heroic and courageous examples we find in others.  Look no further than the “Hall of Faith” heroes listed in Hebrews 11 for biblical warrant.

Which Princeton theologian is your favorite?
This is a hard choice.  Probably Charles Hodge, with J. W. Alexander being a close second, and Archibald Alexander a close third.  Warfield, Miller, and Machen are up there as well!

How did theological education under the Princeton theologians differ from theological education today?

Theological education at Old Princeton was a very personal matter.  After its first decade, the total number of Princeton seminary students was between one and two hundred.  The professors all lived within a short walk from the main seminary building and were very accessible to their students.  Often students would be in the homes of their professors.  They would eat together, pray together, worship together, and interact with each other in class.

The classroom experience was very interactive, with students often required to individually recite prepared answers on the theological material they were studying.  The classroom interaction and oral exams allowed the professors to adapt their presentation of material to fit each class’s particular needs.  A. A Hodge, in particular, seems to have viewed it as his responsibility not only to give theological lectures to his students but to Socratically engage his students and ensure their reception and embrace of orthodox truth.

Made to Flourish: A Pastor's Network for the Common Good

This is a guest post by Ben Stafford, a program associate at the Kern Foundation. Ben has an incredible understanding of the relationship between faith, work, and economics, and the role pastors need to play in helping build up the church more fully in a robust biblical view of vocation.

  • How might pastors affirm the basic goodness of work and make it a priority to empower people in their callings and responsibilities outside the walls of the church?
  • How might pastors affirm the basic goodness of business and economic activity, and distinguish economic motives and practices based on value creation from those based on value extraction?
  • How can churches affirm the importance of work done by the least advantaged and the socially marginalized, and by those whose areas of service are not always understood to be economically valuable.
  • How can church leaders Encourage people to live morally and spiritually integrated lives, avoiding language and practices that cultivate a dualistic mindset. (e.g. “I left my job in order to go into full-time ministry”)

The Kern Family Foundation seeks to equip pastors with an understanding of the intersection of faith, work, and economics and empower them to lead their congregations in its active application. In pursuit of this, I would like to invite all interested pastors who see this to apply for membership in Made to Flourish: A Pastors’ Network for the Common Good.

Made to Flourish Pastors and their local church leadership teams are invited to embark on an exciting journey of knowledge-building and church implementation that will, by God’s grace, enable them to embrace daily work in homes, workplaces, and communities as a calling to serve others fruitfully and make the world a better place. In this way, the family, the economy, and the culture become arenas of service where our discipleship contributes to the flourishing of all.

What we have to offer:

  • Regional Networks
    • A community of likeminded pastors engaging these issues
    • Region specific events
    • 6 Regional networks, more on the way
  • Affinity Groups
    • Thought leaders and practitioners facilitating learning in one of the five pastoral pathways of faith, work, economics integration – Theology, Pastoral Care, Compassion, Youth & Family, the Common Good
  • Collaborative Learning
    • Multi-Year learning environment for church leadership teams to dive deep into implementation of faith, work and economics into their DNA
  • Grants
    • Knowledge Building – grants for Pastors and their church leadership teams to learn about the integration of faith, work, and economics for ministry that produces human flourishing.
    • Church Implementation – grants for churches to take the integration of faith, work, and economics outside the leadership and to the congregation or community.

Interested? You can apply to join here. Have questions? Email Ben here.

Come to Together LA This February


I’m very excited about the TogetherLA conference, which will be this February 26 – 28 with Tim Keller as the keynote speaker.

Tim Keller has helped call our attention back to the importance of cities in the mission of God. But what does it look like to actually love your city (in this case, LA)? That’s what this conference is about.

The aim of the conference is thus to “engage pastors, ministry leaders, non profit leaders, lay leaders, and marketplace leaders on what it means to love Los Angeles.”

I love the fact that it is for people in all areas of life, not just ministry. Christians in every type of vocation are called to engage and love their city for the glory of the gospel. TogetherLA is thus seeking to bring together Christians from every sector of society to learn about what this means for whatever vocation they have.

It is also bringing together an amazing and diverse range of speakers. Here is part of the description from the website:

At this event we will hear what churches and church planters are doing.  We will learn about partnerships in the city and ways to partner together.  We will discuss how social problems impact LA.  We will learn how LA is integral in shaping culture and why culture is important.  We will hear from leaders in the entertainment, arts, political, and business community.  And we will discover how the men and women of LA, Asians, Caucasians, Hispanics and African Americans are loving and engaging their city for the Gospel.

The conference will be divided into four parts:

Thursday:  The Church (church planting, church partnership, church renewal, and so forth)
Friday morning: Social problems in Los Angeles
Friday afternoon and evening: Culture and Los Angeles
Saturday: Faith and work

This conference will be an incredible opportunity for equipping and encouragement for those who are in LA. And even beyond that, it is in itself a model for how all of us, in any city, should be seeking to ask and answer the question of how we can love our cities most effectively.

You can learn more about the conference at the website, and register online.

Here is the trailer for the conference:

And here is also a brief video of Tim Keller talking about why you should come to TogetherLA:

MLK's Letter from a Birmingham Jail: Do We Still Believe These Things Today?

A few weeks ago I read Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham JailIt’s reputation is deserved. His understanding of justice, and ability to articulate it, is absolutely incredible.

Here are a few of its key portions, summarized with some headings. And then at the end I have a few reflections on whether those who affirm MLK’s opposition to racial injustice, but aren’t just as zealous to care about other issues of injustice right in front of them, really believe his message.

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