Frightening Words from Gordon MacDonald

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Natural gifts such as persona charisma, mental brightness, emotional strength, and organizational ability can impress and motivate people for a long time. Sometimes they can be mistaken for spiritual vitality and depth. Sadly, we do not have a Christian culture today that easily discriminates between a personal of spiritual depth and a person of raw talent. Like the wheat and the tares of Jesus’ parable, they can be difficult to distinguish. The result is that more than a few people can be fooled into thinking they are being influenced by a spiritual giant when in fact they are being manipulated by a dwarf. 

Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World, p. 5, emphasis added.

I find these words frightening because I think they are true.

Read My New Article at The Well

Some quick shameless self-promotion: I have been published online at The Well, an InterVarsity website published by Women in the Academy and Professions. My article, “Balancing Out Callings”, is part of their “Being a Good Brother” series by and about husbands of professional and academic women. It’s about some guidelines that Elizabeth (try to) use to keep ourselves sane and respect God’s call in our lives. Enjoy!

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Trust in the Lord

Today, I read two passages that bookend well together.

The first, Psalm 125, which begins:

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,

which cannot be shaken but endures forever.

The second, is from Luke 5.  After beginning his public ministry, Jesus calls Simon Peter, James, and John to follow him. After addressing a crowd from Simon’s fishing boat, Jesus commands Simon to put out his net.  Simon responds:

Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.  But because you say so, I will let down the nets.

The nets are lowered, an enormous number of fish are caught, and Simon falls at Jesus’ feet, leading to this exchange:

“Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!.”  For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Psalm 125 promises that those who trust in the Lord (lit. YHWH) will be like Mount Zion, and Luke 5 depicts Simon – who would be called The Rock – trusting in Jesus.

A couple of side notes.  I appreciate the egalitarian spirit of the TNIV, which I am currently using in my personal reading, but “you will fish for people” simply doesn’t have the rhetorical strength of “thou shalt catch men” from the King James. Also, did Simon’s entire fishing company disband and follow Jesus?  The text has an interesting change of person: Jesus calls Simon to follow him, then concludes “So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything, and followed him.” The change of person is also their in both the King James and NIV.

How does it change our perspective of this scene to think of any entire company of men – a small business, really – following Jesus together?  Were they following Jesus, or were they following Simon Peter, their boss, who was following Jesus?

Greatness in the Kingdom of God

In my work with the Emerging Scholars Network and Faculty Ministry, we call Christian students and faculty to be “redemptive influences within higher education.”  People often ask me what that means, and it’s tempting to paint a picture of thousands of C.S. Lewises, spiritual giants at every college in the country.  First of all, that would be unrealistic – someone like C.S. Lewis comes along once in a century.  But more importantly, it would give a distorted image of what a faithful follower of Christ in the academy looks like.  C.S. Lewis is famous because of his many acclaimed books, now being made into blockbuster movies, and his justified fame as both an apologist and scholar. However, as Lewis himself pointed out in The Great Divorce, greatness in heaven is very different than greatness in the world.  Worldly success, such as that enjoyed by Lewis, is not a guaranteed result of faithfulness to Christ.  The very opposite may be the case. Continue reading

Praise God for Terry Morrsion

At InterVarsity’s recent Graduate and Faculty Ministry staff conference, we honored Terry Morrison for his many years of ministry. Terry is currently Director Emeritus for Faculty Ministry, and served as IVCF’s second Faculty Ministry Director. Terry has a powerful ministry among Christian faculty around the country, and he played a small, but crucial, role in my own journey.

In college, I became an English major because I loved to read. Only after I responded to the call of Christ did I start to see that there were truths that could be understood through language, and began to desire to integrate my love for Christ with my love for literature. At the time, I thought that a PhD in English was the most direct route to this integration, and besides, I loved school and had very good grades and test scores, so a PhD made sense. I knew from personal experience, however, that English departments were not necessarily friendly to Christian faith, and explicit questions about, say, how Christ’s identity as the Word of God influences our understanding of human words were not exactly welcomed. I wrote a lot of poetry back then, and I was especially interested in the practice of language, and my relationship with Christ was a central theme in my poetry. I knew that I would have to be careful in my choice of graduate school, so that I would be free to explore this integration project.

Through a series of InterVarsity connections, I was put in touch with Terry Morrison. Robbie Castleman’s True Love in a World of False Hope had been very influential in my relationship with Elizabeth, and we had met Robbie at chapter camp in Florida. At the time, Robbie was working with graduate students in Florida, and she directed me to Terry, then the Director of Faculty Ministry. One of Terry’s gifts is countless relationships with Christian faculty around the country, and he immediately pointed me to three Christian English professors who he thought could help me.

I emailed all three, and put to them a question that, looking back, I think is a little odd: “Where I can I go to earn a PhD, where I can integrate my love for Christ with my love for literature?” The first emailed me back and said, “I have no idea, but don’t do what I did.” The second wrote back and said, “I have no idea, but perhaps Baylor.” The third wrote back: “I’m not sure there is such a place. I think you will be facing a long and lonely battle. You can, however, do what I did, and earn a theology degree first. That way, you will have the foundation you need to do the integrative work yourself.” I just happened to be reading Knowing God by J. I. Packer and Earth and Altar by Eugene Peterson at the time, and both men “just happened” to teach at a school I had never heard of, Regent College. And now you know the rest of the story.

Looking back, that series of conversations and connections – from Robbie, to Terry, to those three Christian professors (whose names, alas, I have forgotten) – was one of the key turning points in my walk with Christ and my understanding of my vocation. As I have joined ESN, I have spoken to many people about these conversations, and reflected on them frequently to understand why (I think) God has called me to ESN. I would be willing to wager that Terry was a central link in more conversations like these than he will ever know on this side of heaven.

And that’s why I praise God for Terry Morrison.