In his book Why Government Can’t Save You John MacArthur lists four concerns about Christians overemphasizing political activism. These are well worth considering as we get closer to the election this November.
First, by looking to human means to reform society and establish Christian values we’ve denigrated God’s sovereignty over human history and events.
Second, seeking to bring biblical values to our culture by changing it through fleshly means is a selfish pursuit. The truth is, God never intended for us to be at ease with our culture.
Third, by trying to establish Christian values through earthly methods, we risk creating a false sense of morality. Forcing people to adopt our biblical standards of morality only brings superficial change and hides the real issue—sin and their need for rebirth in Jesus Christ.
Finally, by making activism our priority, we fashion a reputation as rabble-rousing malcontents and foster hostility toward unbelievers that alienates us from them, and them from us…It’s simply wrong to blame our country’s moral disintegration on political parties, liberal conspiracies, or biased media. They have never been the root of the problem. They are the mission field, not the enemy.
I think one of the most difficult lessons to learn in ministry is the importance of patience. In a recent podcast John MacArthur had this to say about patience in ministry:
If there’s anything young ministers need to learn it’s to learn to deal with the learning process [of the church] with great patience. You know much more than the people know, and you know you know more than they know. And the test of your grace, the test of your shepherding will demonstrate itself in whether or not you exhibit great patience; mega-patience as they follow along. And if you need a model, follow Jesus who’s dealing virtually with the same stupid block-heads at the end of his ministry that he had at the beginning. So three years doesn’t seem to be long enough to get them where they need to be. – John MacArthur
Patience is one of the most important virtues for any shepherd because working with people is extremely difficult and time consuming. It’s not uncommon to spend 3-5 years or more ministering to an individual, simply to have them take all of your love, all of your care, all of the hours spent in counseling and trample it to the ground in a single day. What’s required in those moments, more than anything else, is patience.
In other words, the quality of your shepherding ministry is directly proportionate to your patience and long-suffering with the sheep. I think one of the foremost sins of young ministers and seminary graduates (and I say that as a young minister and seminary graduate) is a lack of patience with the sheep. We tend to think that since we’ve graduated from seminary and preached a couple of good sermons, our sheep should be miraculously sanctified. But the truth of the matter is that sanctification takes a long time, therefore shepherds must exercise the utmost patience with the sheep.
In the fall of 1997 I began my first semester of college at The Master’s College (TMC). Ironically enough, I knew next to nothing about TMC before I arrived there. I had heard the name John MacArthur before, but knew next to nothing about him. To be honest, the reason I chose to attend TMC was mainly because of the financial package they offered me and the fact that I knew it was a good school.
My first days at TMC were difficult at best. I had become so comfortable in Bakersfield with my friends, family, church, etc. that leaving and starting over was nothing short of terrifying. In fact, the first weekend of college I actually went back home to Bakersfield, which is only an hour away from TMC.
In the sovereignty of God, He used my discomfort to take me down a path I had not expected to travel. I was so uncomfortable and out of my element during those first few weeks that I almost withdrew and went back home, but after thinking things through I decided to stay and make the most out of the year by taking all of the Bible classes that I could and foregoing any general education classes for the time being. This turned out to be one of the best decisions that I have ever made in my life.
While my teenage years had been filled with lessons on having a servants heart, one thing that was sorely missing from those years was any serious Bible Study. I understood that the Bible was a good book, that it was important for me to read it, but I really didn’t have a working theology, nor any understanding of the overall story of Scripture. My devotional life consisted mostly of flipping my Bible open and searching for a verse that would warm my heart and prepare me for the day.
I was confronted with this lack of Bible knowledge immediately in the classes that I was taking. I will never forget sitting in my first systematic theology class where the professor (CW Smith) was talking about “exegesis” (BTW: Exegesis refers to the study of Scripture). He kept using the word “exegesis” over and over and every time he did I wondered to myself “What does Jesus have to do with this topic?” I was, to say the least, behind the curve of my fellow students.
This obvious lack of knowledge thrust me forward in a hot pursuit of understanding. I read the Bible like I had never read it before and with each class period my eyes were opened wider and wider to the great story of Scripture. To this day, I would classify that year as the greatest year of spiritual growth that I have ever experienced as I fell in love with God’s Word in a way that I had never done before.
One of the great lessons that I have taken away from this season of my life is the unmitigated power of God’s Word to change a person’s life. The professors at TMC are of the highest caliber, the chapel services were moving, and the campus life was very good, but what changed my life in college was the power of God’s Word being unleashed in my soul in a way that it hadn’t been before.
On a side note, this is one of the reasons that I have such a deep love and respect for the ministry of John MacArthur. I knew virtually nothing about him going into college, but time and time again he helped me to understand the Bible through his preaching, his commentaries, and his administration of the school.
My time at The Master’s College yielded many benefits in my life. I met my future wife while at college, I made many good friends, and I grew like never before. All of this was preparing me for the next stage of my life where God would take the investment that was made into me at TMC and use it to develop me into a shepherd.
I’ve concluded that it is almost impossible to write an adequate book review for “The Gospel According to Jesus”. This is, by far, John MacArthur’s best known work and also his most controversial work. I was first introduced to this book in High School by my youth pastor, however until recently I had not read it again. This is significant, because until my recent re-reading of this book I had not realized how deeply it had affected me, even though I read it as a Sophomore in High School. This book has left a deep impression on my soul that I am eternally grateful for.
The essence of the book is the controversy over what is known as “Lordship Salvation.” MacArthur is not particularly fond of this phrase, however he does use it because it helps to define the terms of the argument. The heart of what MacArthur is saying is that faith in Christ is about more than believing a set of facts or saying a prayer at some point, in order for a person to truly exercise saving faith he must be born again resulting in a changed life.
The book is very simple in its approach. MacArthur simply does what he does best, working his way through a series of passages (primarily in the gospel of Matthew) and explaining the text, especially as it applies to what it means to be saved. The book is, in short, outstanding.
If you haven’t read “The Gospel According to Jesus” before, I would encourage you to put it on your reading list and get to it sooner, rather than later. You will be glad that you did.
Lately, I have been giving a lot of thought to what it means to be “in God’s Will”. The best resource that I have ever found on knowing God’s will is “Found: God’s Will” by John MacArthur, which in large part is about finding the specifics of God’s will (i.e. what college to go to, what career path to follow, etc.). However, I have been thinking a lot lately about how to know what my place is in the will of God in my life. Because God is sovereign His will will ultimately be done, but how am I to understand my place or my role in that process. The best way that I have found to think of my place in God’s will is positionally. Specifically, it seems to me that I can fall into one of 3 categories in my approach to the will of God. I can find myself “behind” God’s will, “in front of” God’s will or resting peacefully “in” God’s will.
Behind: What I mean by being behind God’s will is really just a matter of faithfulness. I find that I am behind God’s will when my own sloth, laziness, or fear prevents me from acting. For example, a man who is trying to sell his house but refuses to hire a realtor, or to even put the house on the market is clearly behind God’s will because of his own laziness. This is obviously, not the place that I want to be when it comes to God’s will.
In Front of: A second option is to be “in front of” God’s will. This is the place where I think that I have figured God out and begin to demand that He give me the thing that I have decided is His will. This is the young couple who finds their dream home, but it’s $100,000 higher than they can afford, but since they’re convinced this is God’s will they go ahead and buy the home. It may be God’s will for them to own a home, but they are trying to “pigeon hole” God by making an unwise decision and this too is obviously not a good place to be when it comes to the will of God.
In: The final option is to be “in” God’s will. I see this as a place where I can confidently step forward in wisdom, knowing that God has a plan and that he will use my faithfulness to bring it about. This is the family who prayerfully asks God where He would like them to live, who does their homework on the market, creates a balanced budget to live within and pursues legitimate options with an open heart to what God would have for them. I think the key word to being “in” God’s will is “openness”. I must find myself open to what God would have me do or where God would have me go and this is the place that I will find peace in knowing His will.
BTW: Amy was watching HGTV while I wrote this, which is where all of the real estate illustrations came from .
One of the greatest privliges of my life has been the education that God provided for me through the ministry of The Master’s College and The Master’s Seminary, both of which are John MacArthur’s schools. I recently found an article on Dr. MacArthur, which gives some wonderful personal information about him. If you don’t know much about John MacArthur, this is a great place to go to learn a little bit about his heart. You can find the article here.
In 2004 I attended the Shepherds’ Conference at Grace Community Church where Pastor John MacArthur spoke on the subject of the gospel being “Hard to Believe.” I still remember those sermons, as if I had listened to them yesterday. I wanted to stand up and shout “Amen!!!” throughout each message as Pastor John laid out the exclusivisity of the gospel and called us pastors to preach a faithful biblical gospel. Over the course of this semester I, along with the rest of my youth staff, have been reading the book “Hard to Believe” which is based on that sermon series. It has been such a joy to watch us all grow together in a deeper love and appreciation for the gospel through the study of this book.
“Hard to Believe” is definitely written to a lay audience. You will not find any fancy theological language in the book. MacArthur’s intention appears to have been to reach as broad of an audience as possible. In that same vein, this is one of the most straight forward, no holds barred explanations of the gospel that I have ever come across. MacArthur writes:
Following Jesus is not about you and me. Being a Christian is not about us; it’s not about our self-esteem. It’s about our being sick of our sin and our desperation for forgiveness. It is about seeing Christ as the priceless Savior from sin and death and hell, so that we willingly give up as much as it takes, even if it costs us our families, our marriages, and whatever else we cherish and possess.
I love this book because it reminds me of a truth that is very easy to forget: the gospel is hard to believe. It’s hard to repent of our sins, to come to the cross naked with nothing of our own to offer in exchange for salvation. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.