Renewing the Vision

IMG_0710If you previously “followed” my posts on this page (and I’m thankful for all 5 or 6 of you who did…), then you realize that it’s been a LONG time since I posted anything here – a couple of years, in fact!  I feel pretty ashamed of how long it’s been since I’ve posted here, but as I hinted in my last post or two, there were several different areas of my life that kept nudging me in other directions and preventing me from making the time to do this.  Specifically, here are some of the thoughts that have kept me away from this page for so long…..

1) Kids – Most obviously, I became a DAD!  Ever since we were first blessed with Luther on May 31, 2011 – and even more so since Nora was born in January 2013 – loving, teaching, and ministering to the needs of our children has been among our top responsibilities.  As any parent can tell you, this takes TIME, and makes it very hard to pull away and invest time doing other things which aren’t urgent or required.

2) Work – It goes without saying that jobs that help us buy food, pay bills, and put gas in the cars are more urgent than volunteer “jobs” that don’t.  As a minister, the demands of church ministry kept pulling me away from other writing-related projects, like this, which I had previously aimed to do on a more regular basis.  In the past year, the transition from church work to editing work (along with my various teaching and preaching opportunities) has put similar demands on my schedule, and has also forced me to sit in front of a computer screen for quite enough hours as it is!

3) More experienced bloggers – There are already SO many great bloggers on the internet, such as Tim Challies, Justin Taylor, Kevin DeYoung, etc., and they have professional-quality blog sites with years’ worth of excellent posts and thousands of online followers.  How can I possibly compete with that?  What new can I offer that isn’t already readily available to readers around the world?

I know several of these guys personally, and while they lead extremely busy lives as pastors, husbands, fathers, etc., looking at their blogs gives the impression that they never step away from their computers!  They write about events WHILE they are happening, they write thought-provoking reviews for books that haven’t been released yet, and they stay just about as current, relevant, and informative as can possibly be.  In some respects, just knowing that these guys are out there, posting new and exciting posts nearly every day, can be very discouraging to young bloggers like me, who have no money and very little time to invest in an endeavor like this one.

4) Poor self-discipline – Like everybody else that I know, I struggle to properly manage my time each day (In fact, one of my earlier blog entries was dealing with this topic.).  My biggest struggle in regard to the blog, though, has been that I’m used to writing sermons, articles, and even book manuscripts – not “blog entries”.  So, I haven’t yet mastered the helpful art of being brief with my comments!

Being a minister and a reader / writer, I like to communicate!  Therefore, whenever I would set out to write a blog entry, I would always invest more time trying to articulate my thoughts fully and articulately than I probably should have.  So, rather than a blog post, I would offer an article, which proved too time-consuming for me as a writer, and probably too substantial for some of my readers (who have limited time for reading articles online), as well.  Even now, I’m struggling to know how to be concise with this post, and not spend all morning typing it!

So, anyway, these are the things have lingered in my heart and mind over the last two to three years, consistently discouraging me from writing anything new on here.  Obviously, I have been seriously tempted to simply delete this page and forget about my blog idea altogether – not because I don’t love to write, but simply because I have lots of other great opportunities to write, and because the blog seems more like a distraction from the other, more important, areas of my life.

Truth be told, I may still give up on this idea permanently at some point in the not-too-distant future.  However, I’ve determined that I’m not quite ready to do that just yet.  I do see some good benefits to blogging more faithfully, such as requiring myself to put my writing skills into practice more often, and inviting other respected bloggers and writers to both critique and (I hope) encourage me in my writing.  Furthermore, in spite of the overwhelming variety of great Christian blogs already available to readers, I still believe that I can build this page up into something that will be of interest and benefit to potential readers, and which will hopefully edify them in their walk with the Lord.

So, in an effort to give this page another go, and to see if I can stay a bit more disciplined and devoted to this website than I previously did, I have updated the layout of the page, hopefully improving the appearance a bit, and will soon begin adding some (other) new posts.  My “renewed vision” for this, though, is to invest less time preparing “theological articles” (as I previously offered), and to focus more regularly on reviews and recommendations of new books, sharing the best posts that I find on other pages, etc.  In other words, I’m hoping to do a better job of making this page actually live up to its name – “Echoes of the Elect” – by spending more time considering what all of us can learn from the writings of great biblical teachers of both the past and the present.

To get this endeavor started back in the right way, I’ll begin by sharing this link to a brand new, FREE “eBook” by John Piper (also available as a PDF file, for those – like me – who still prefer the physically printed page over an “e-anything”…).  It surveys the rich teaching of Jonathan Edwards, and especially the significant role that the writings of Edwards have had in the life and ministry of Pastor Piper.  This should be a great blessing to all of us – and it’s absolutely FREE!

http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/jonathan-edwards-via-john-piper-new-ebook

Of course, I hope that this “renewed” blog page will find its proper audience, and will prove to be encouraging to all who read it in the days to come.  Thanks to all who read this, and thanks for your prayers and encouragement as I continue to strive to serve the Lord to the best of my abilities.  I hope that you, too, will find similar ways to honor God and serve others with your gifts, talents, and the various passions of your heart!

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Why “Echoes of the Elect”?

For my first official “post”, I want to offer a bit of explanation about why I chose the name that I did for this site.  For many of my “Reformed” (or “Calvinistic”) friends, a word like “elect” is a common part of our theological language and is simply making reference to a basic biblical truth, namely that GOD initiates our salvation.  However, many of my non-Reformed friends (and, being a Southern Baptist who grew up in the United Methodist Church, I have many non-Reformed friends…), this word makes them uncomfortable and perhaps even makes them think that they’re really not going to like hearing what I have to say.  Needless to say, this point of “division” among my Christian friends troubles me.

I do not imagine that, in the space of a few sentences here, I will persuade all who read this to fully embrace a “Reformed” perspective on theology – and I’m really not even setting that as my goal.  However, I do want to begin by trying to calm the waters a bit, and encouraging all who read this to acknowledge that the word “elect” – and the doctrine of “election” – is not some “new” idea that is intentionally contrived to stir up controversy, but rather that it is simply a basic, theological term straight from the pages of Scripture.  Furthermore, you do NOT have to take on the title “Calvinist” in order to acknowledge that this is true…you simply have to believe what the Bible says.

From a “human” perspective, salvation involves individuals who (1) recognize their sinfulness; (2) believe in the historical life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; (3) confess their sins to the Lord and trust in His atoning work on the cross to accomplish their salvation from their sins; (4) make this decision public, submitting their future lives to the lordship of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:23; 6:23; 10:9; etc.).  However, the Bible clearly teaches that we don’t go through this process in our own strength and abilities….and this brings us to the doctrine of “election”.

The ESV Study Bible (a truly fantastic resource!) introduces this doctrine very simply, as follows:

“From God’s vantage point salvation begins with his election of individuals, which is his determination beforehand that his saving purpose will be accomplished in them (John 6:37-39, 44, 64-66; 8:47; 10:26; 15:16; Acts 13:48; 16:14; Romans 9; 1 John 4:19; 5:1).  God then in due course brings people to himself by calling them to faith in Christ (Romans 8:30; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Tim. 1:9; 1 Pet. 2:9).” (p. 2531).

In our own abilities, we are truly incapable of “saving” ourselves.  If we are saved purely by praying a prayer, then that implies that the power to be eternally saved is in our hands.  Yet, the Bible teaches that, as a direct result of the Fall in Genesis 3, we are all born “dead” in sin.  In other words, our human tendency is to do as we please, not as God pleases – all of our thoughts and actions are tainted by sin, and we are therefore incapable of saving ourselves.  Just as a man trapped deep in a pit cannot rescue himself, neither can we pull ourselves up from the depths of sin in which – apart from Christ – all of us live (Romans 3:23).  Only someone separate from us – greater and stronger than us can offer us the salvation that we need.

So, God – who alone has the power to save – elects to save whom He chooses.  Why doesn’t God “choose” to save every single person?  That’s a question for God alone to answer.  Clearly, the Bible does tell us that God DESIRES for all to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4), but this is not to say that salvation is completely in our hands and that God is merely waiting to see which way we choose to go.  On the contrary, Jesus teaches us that, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…” (John 6:44).  Even the Old Testament paints a beautiful picture of Christian salvation in Ezekiel 37, when the Lord leads the prophet Ezekiel to the Valley of Dry Bones, and teaches him that “dry bones” can not breath life into themselves – only the Giver of Life has this power.  Similarly, we can not save ourselves, for we are “dry”, dead in sin, and totally incapable of accomplishing our own salvation.

Simply put, those who live their entire lives and reject God to the end have nobody to blame but themselves, for God has made His presence clearly known throughout the world (Romans 1:18-20) and yet, most people choose to live and die in their own sins.  On the other hand, those who experience true salvation and come to a life-altering knowledge of God’s love, grace, and mercy have nobody to thank for their salvation but God (Eph. 2:8-9), for it is God’s Spirit who draws us, opens our eyes to our sinful nature, and convicts us of our need for Him, and – of course – it was Jesus who paid the ultimate price for our sins, and God the Father who sent His only begotten Son to do so.

Can people be truly saved from their sins without understanding the doctrine of “election”?  Of course they can.  If an individual truly surrenders his or her heart to the Lord and trusts in the work of Jesus on the cross, then they will be saved.  However, since the Bible does call us to continue studying, meditating upon, and growing in our knowledge of His Word, it’s also good to move beyond the stage of simply “being saved”, and to learn about the good, deep doctrines of the faith which are taught in the pages of Scripture, such as the doctrine of “election”, which reminds us that God is the one who initiated our salvation, and that we are to be forever thankful to Him for the great gift of salvation!  After all, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 Jn. 4:19), and the real definition of salvation is, “…not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 Jn. 4:10).

Regardless, whether you agree with and understand the doctrine of “election” or not, I write for you.  It is certainly not required that you share my theological convictions in order to read (and hopefully enjoy!) reading what I post on this blog.  I strive to not limit my reading to only authors with whom I agree at every point.  In fact, reading beyond our own convictions helps to stretch us, and sharpen our convictions in what we do believe.

That’s actually where the “Echoes” part of my title comes in; We need to continue listening to the great ministers of the past, and benefiting from the knowledge and biblical wisdom that their writings impart.  We must allow their voices to “echo” right into our contemporary setting, and help us remember how to stay faithful to the teachings of Scripture.  So, please feel free to read, post a comment (Please be considerate and kind with your remarks!), and perhaps even grow a bit in your theological knowledge.  I am hoping to post excerpts from classic Christian writings, write some reviews of books that I feel have something significant to teach us, and possibly even feature some brief articles by other “theologian” friends of mine.  I certainly hope that you will benefit from what is written, and that it will truly glorify the One who has called me to use my gifts and abilities for His glory.

Welcome to my new “blog”!

I am so pleased to welcome you to my brand new “blog” site!  This is certainly new to me, but I’m very excited about (finally) venturing into this new web-based territory.  I am passionate about writing, and my deepest desire is to write things that will bring glory to God and will help others grow closer to Him.  So, please, come on in, share your thoughts with me, and let’s read, think, study, and grow as we travel together in our Christian journey, and consider what the great ministers and theologians of the past still have to teach us.  Thanks for visiting the site….and may we have many great conversations ahead of us on here!