I receive lots of feedback from readers of this site, and now and again attempt to answer some of the questions that come my way. Here’s a new batch that offers brief answers to questions on Logos, posting pictures of children to social media, the Great Sermon Series of videos, celebrating the Lord’s Supper online, and submitting to the government. I hope you find them helpful.
I wanted your insight about how to start a personal library for preaching. I was reading your blog post about how you migrated to digital, and that you use Logos. Some friends suggested I try OliveTree since they have cheaper prices on commentaries, though I also thought about the idea of only buying the commentaries in Amazon to use them in my kindle app. What do you suggest? (Samuel R, Tampico, México)
You cannot make a 1:1 comparison between Logos and other systems such as OliveTree or Kindle. It is true that Logos editions of commentaries and other books typically cost more than the alternatives, but there is a reason for that: the books are adapted so they become part of the Logos system. This means they are tagged by topic, Scripture text, and so on, which leads to a very deep level of integration with the wider system. If you buy a commentary on Kindle you can read it or do basic searches through it, but not much more. If you buy a commentary on Logos, you have far greater capabilities when it comes to searching, cross-referencing, and so on. The most important part of the Logos system is its power to find and relate information across an entire library. Within seconds of typing in a keyword or a Scripture reference, it will search an entire library, organize the results, and show the best ones; one more click will begin a deeper search. It also makes it easy to do word studies and to find basic or advanced information about the original Greek and Hebrew. It allows notes and easily formats footnotes. It is rich in features that display the unique strengths of software.
You pay a premium for the books because of all you get with them. (In the past I’ve used this comparison: It is less like adding a printed book to a bookcase and more like adding a new Christian with his spiritual gifts to your congregation–it improves and strengthens the entire system.) That said, Logos isn’t for everyone and you will do just fine purchasing commentaries through other systems. Remember, of course, that any digital purchase comes with the risk that some day that system or software will become defunct and you will lose access to your expensive, carefully-built library. That said, printed books are prone to fire, flood and other disasters, so nothing in this world is certain.
Would you mind writing an article on social media and posting pictures of your kids online? Many people are very public about posting pictures of their young kids—even pictures they may find very embarrassing later in life. I feel this is not really fair to the young children. (Chris L, USA)
I think we all understand why parents love to share photos of their kids online—they want to share the joy and pride they feel in their children. Well and good. But I’m not convinced that enough parents consider the simple fact that these photos may never go away. What they post online when their children are 1 or 6 or 12 may haunt them when they are teens or adults. It’s one area where parents may not yet have adapted to this new, digital world.
Our children begin their lives as an extension of us as their parents. They do this in a very literal and physical sense, but also in a social sense. For a time, children experience life alongside of us and through us, almost indistinguishable from us. But they grow and keep growing, and as they do, they become their own people. They turn 8 or 9 and develop social consciousness and awkwardness. They turn 13, and get their own Facebook account, and suddenly some of what was so cute to us is a liability to them. The cute photo of your toddler in the bath—do you really want that photo there when she turns 13 and her friends start looking through her Facebook account? Or when she is 16 and applies for a job and the prospective employer immediately does an Internet search for her name? Will she really want that photo there?
As much as we are eager to share those photos of our children, we should be as eager to protect their right to privacy, not just now, but also in their future. At the very least, parents should consider how their child may feel about that photo in 5 or 10 or 20 years and whether, at that time, it will prove an asset or a liability.
Do you intend to continue the Great Sermon Series of YouTube videos? I really enjoyed them and hope there are more.
I really enjoyed doing the Great Sermon Series a couple of years ago. Unfortunately I don’t see myself adding to that series or doing a similar one, and the reason is simple: money. At that time I had an extremely skilled videographer who was in a “in-between time” in his immigration to Canada, and it prevented him from doing paid work. He gladly volunteered his time to shoot the videos and create the excellent graphic elements. But once his paperwork got sorted he took on a full-time position at a church and was no longer available for such kind volunteer work. Meanwhile, I’ve never figured out how to monetize video content to the point where I can break even on it, or, frankly, come even close. If there is someone out there who wants to sponsor them, I’d be glad to try to do more!
The coronavirus pandemic has given me time to pause and evaluate the systems I have in place for getting things done. I stumbled across your articles on getting things done and the tools you use, but noticed they are pretty old at this point. Would you consider creating an updated article on the tools and systems you use to get things done?
The articles are fairly old as these things go, though they were refreshed and adapted for the book Do More Better, so I’d probably point you there. My recommended system still uses exactly the same tools in exactly the same way. I continue to use it every day and have heard from many others that it has benefitted them as well as they’ve adopted and then adapted it to suit their purposes.
As the lockdown for COIVD-19 lengthens, what discernment framework should local churches use for the practice of baptism/communion? I am in instinctive agreement with a comment you made in passing—that the current “virtual” form of church gatherings is not a true replacement for in-person worship. This especially impacts decisions about whether or not to celebrate communion/baptism. However, as time lengthens, I am having more intense conversations/debates about implications of the lockdown for the sacraments (ordinances in my tradition). I am not very aware of resources that thoroughly or convincingly present the biblical and theological reasoning for making a wise decision. Would you be willing to take a crack?
I think it’s important to acknowledge that this is very much a tertiary issue, which means different churches will come to different convictions on it, and that is just fine. It’s wise and good for Christians to develop convictions here, but I think it’s the kind of thing where most Christians could follow the lead of the elders of their local church, unless what the elders decides clearly violates their conscience.
As for the elders of Grace Fellowship Church, we came to the agreement early on that there were certain elements of Christian worship that demand not only gathering, but also something “tactile.” For us, the presenting issue was ordination—we have men who are ready to be ordained, but ordination seems to demand a physical laying-on of hands. We could think of no way to do that or simulate that in a quarantined world. So once we submitted ourselves to God’s providence in that matter, it allowed us to think with similar clarity and convictions about Lord’s Supper and baptism. To this point we have not celebrated Lord’s Supper since we last gathered; we will certainly do our best to celebrate it on the very first Sunday once we are given the green light.
For a different defense, I’d point you to this article by 9Marks.
In your article “Thankful for Government“, you stated that we as Christians are to obey and honor our leaders when they act within their mandate, even if we disagree with them or see their mistakes. What if their errors are in effect acting outside of their mandate? There are governments, including ours at times, that act in oppressive, harmful, evil ways towards their people. Do we still honor and obey them? Is it ever ok to protest actions we think are harmful?
As this situation has developed, it has made me more aware than ever of some of the differences between America and Canada (and hence, between Americans and Canadians). Of course both nations are diverse and not all their citizens think the same, but as I’ve read different articles and spoken to different people, it seems clear that the average American and average Canadian think differently about our relationship to government. So when I wrote “Thankful for Government” the average response I got from an American was quite different from the average response I got from a non-American. While granting we have different forms of government, the differences still surprised me.
That said, I’ll maintain that we are bound to obey governments when they act within their mandate. That’s true even if the government is oppressive, harmful, or evil in other ways. I say that because when Paul wrote the book of Romans, he was writing to a church that was in the capital city of an oppressive, harmful, evil regime. Still he said, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” Peter was writing to people under the same government when he said, “Honor the Emperor.” And remember, little had changed since this governmental system put Jesus to death; even now it was persecuting Christians for their faith.
Now, I understand those were not democratic governments that were “of the people, by the people, for the people.” But I think a high view of God’s providence allows us to say that even while we may elect our governments, those who are elected are still instituted by God and carry his authority. That being the case, we owe them our honor and respect.
Here’s how John MacArthur said it in a Q&A about submitting to government during this pandemic:
The clear demand of Scripture is to be subject to the powers that be because they are ordained of God. … God has set them in that authority. … The Apostle Paul tells Timothy that we are to be good citizens, and we are to live a quiet and peaceable life. We aren’t rebels, we don’t start protests, we don’t defy the government, we conform, we are submissive to the government as basically ordained by God.
In another Q&A he said this about churches that defy government orders and continue to meet:
What should mark Christians is mercy, compassion, love, kindness, sacrifice. How are you doing that if you flaunt the fact that you’re going to meet; and essentially you’re saying, “We disregard the public safety issue.” You don’t really want to say that. That does not help the gospel cause.
What helps the gospel cause is to say, “Of course, we don’t want to be the cause of anyone’s sadness, anyone’s sorrow, anyone’s sickness, and certainly anyone’s death. So we will gladly comply. This is consistent with what Scripture says, that we are to live quiet and peaceable lives in the society in which we live. We don’t rebel, we don’t do protests, we don’t fight the government, we don’t harass and harangue, we don’t march, we don’t get in parades, we don’t stop traffic; we lead quiet and peaceable lives, and we pray for those in authority over us, and we submit ourselves to them.
In Romans chapter 13, Paul says, “You submit yourself to the government, the powers that be.” But Peter adds to that, “You submit yourself to the governor and the king,” whoever that personal authority is. I’ve heard people say, “Well, this isn’t constitutional.” That’s irrelevant. That is completely irrelevant. When you’re told by an authority to do something and it’s for the greater good of the society physically, that’s what you do because that’s what Christians would do. We are not rebels and we’re not defiant, and we don’t flaunt our freedom at the expense of someone else’s health.
Is there ever a time we can protest? I believe there is. When the government acts outside of its authority (such as when a government infringes on the rights of parents toward their children), we can call the government to obey their God-given mandate. When the government violates law by throwing aside the constitution (such as if a president tried to overthrow the whole system and claim absolute authority for himself), we can call government to abide by its own laws. When the government singles out the church, allowing everyone else to meet but forbidding churches. Depending on the circumstances, there could be an escalation of measures, from respectful appeals to full-out protests and civil disobedience.
But these are all very complicated issues that depend upon a host of factors and are particularly difficult to write about authoritatively when in an international setting like this. So perhaps I’ll simply have you consider this: Read Romans 13:1-7. Then prayerfully consider, “What does it mean for me to obey the thrust of this passage right here and right now?” There are lots of ways we look for the exceptions—when do I not need to obey government? When must I defy it? But I think there, like everywhere else, it’s best to lay a groundwork of obedience before seeking out the exceptions.