Vlog: Ask Me Anything

I always enjoy answering the questions that come in through my Ask Me Anything feature. I usually answer them in writing, but as I transition (at least for now) to a video format, I’ve decided to try answering them that way. Here’s the very first video edition of Ask Me Anything. I answer questions about wasting time on television; my most formative books; adopting children instead of having biological children; past sins and future ministry; Lord’s supper for children; baptism for people with cognitive disabilities; and church announcements.

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You’ve had some questions. I’ll take a shot at the answers. Together we’ll see how this goes. This is Ask Me Anything. Now roll that intro!

One of the things I like to do through the blog is to answer questions that come in from readers like you. Usually I write the answers. Today, we’ll take a shot at doing it through video.

The first question is this. It says: I’m 75 years old with a lifetime of TV watching behind me. Would you give me some practical insight as to how to stop this foolish waste of time?

So I guess the first thing I want to say is that television isn’t always a foolish waste of time. I do think there is a place, a time for entertainment and perhaps the problem is that, I think culturally  we may have gotten this a little bit backwards. So, culturally, we tend to think of entertainment as our right, as our privilege, as something that ought to consume an awful lot of our time. And so we want to work only as hard as we need to in order to enjoy entertainment or even worse, amusement—amuse, not thinking, shutting off your brain. I think biblically it’s the other way around. We should focus on our work, focus on the short little life we’ve been given and how we can make the most of it, make the best of the time that’s been given to us. Entertainment functions to refresh us, to help us, to recharge us, to renew us. Biblically, we should only have as much entertainment as we need in order to get us back to the work that God has called us to do. The focus of our lives is not entertainment. The focus of our lives is: what can I do with the time God has given me and how much entertainment do I need in order to do that well and to do it better?

If I can recommend a book to you, look up J.I. Packer’s Finishing Our Course with Joy. This is a wonderful book written by J.I. Packer in his later years, and he’s writing specifically for seniors, people 65 and up. But I read it as a 40 year old and was deeply, deeply challenged by what he had to say there. Perhaps more than anything else what stuck with me was his comparison to a racer. As somebody is running a long race, at the end of the race, hopefully, he’s held something back so his last mile can be his strongest, so he can finish strong in that race. That’s what he says to Christians: you need to ensure that the final lap you run is the strongest lap of all. Don’t ease off at the end. Carry on, and push hard! So read that book. I think it will shape you. It’s certainly helped me think better, and I hope biblically, about the final years, the 65 and up, that sort of last lap in the race.

Second question: What are the books that have been the most formative to you?

When people ask me this I usually point to three different books, and I’ll give you some context. Quite a few years ago now I was in a church. It was a church built very much on the church growth model. Flowing out of Saddleback Church and Rick Warren and Willow Creek Church and Bill Hybels, those kinds of models led to the church I was in at the time. I had been raised in a Dutch Reformed and Presbyterian background. I had this theological grounding, but now find myself in a very different kind of church. It was a church built on a very different kind of model and a different kind of theology. I was really grappling with this. What was I going to do? One day I went to the Christian bookstore, and there were tons and tons of terrible books there but I found two, at least, that looked interesting. I decided to buy them both. The first was James Montgomery Boyce’s Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace. I didn’t know it at the time but this book was going straight after the theology of this kind of church that I was in. It was calling me back to reformed theology, saying this really, really matters. It’s not just about Calvinism, this affects everything, it affects your whole way of looking at life and a strong church, a healthy church needs to return to this kind of theology.

The second book I picked up was John MacArthur’s Ashamed of the Gospel, and wouldn’t you know it, this book goes straight after the structure of the church, the foundation of that church growth model, that pragmatism—find out what people want and give it to them, and that’s the way to do church. I didn’t know it at the time, but I bought two books that directly challenged the church I was in and called me to do, what I learned was, obedience. Shortly thereafter I found Grace Fellowship Church. I realized that near to my home was a church that was built on the right foundation and had sound theology, and we soon went to that church and have been there ever since.

The third book I would point to is The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges. I’ve read it again and again. I don’t know if there’s any book that’s formed me more in terms of understanding how the gospel matters in life. I know that can sound like a cliche now, this gospel-centered thing that’s been going on, but Jerry Bridges really hones in on the centrality of the gospel in the Christian life. I’ve read it many times, and every time I read it there’s new riches to mine. I recently got rid of almost all of my books and just went all in with e-books, but I had to keep my copy of The Discipline of Grace just because it’s so marked up, so personalized, and it’s meant so much to me.

So, three books: Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace, Ashamed of the Gospel and The Discipline of Grace.

Next question: Is it okay for Christian couples to deliberately choose not to have biological children so that they can adopt children?

I was actually asked this question three or four times recently, and it’s because I wrote an article saying that the Bible doesn’t seem to know anything of couples, godly couples, who choose deliberately not to have children. So there’s this general expectation on Christian couples that they will marry and have children. It just seems to be the way God looks at it. You marry, you have children. There’s a little bit of a trend in the world today, even in the Christian world for couples to deliberately choose not to have children, and I don’t see that as being biblical. The question then came in: But if we choose not to have biological children and to adopt instead, is that okay? I think there’s a lot to think about, more than I can cover here, such as your view on birth control, other things like that. But generally I would say yes. I think that would be okay. We’re in perhaps a little bit of a grey area there. I don’t know that the Bible speaks to it directly but certainly if you feel convicted, you really feel this desire instead of having children biologically to adopt children knowing there are many children in the world waiting for parents like you. Then, yes. I think you can heed conscience there. I think you can speak to elders, and have other people pray for you as you seek wisdom, but I don’t think you can successfully prove that’s wrong biblically. Certainly, the Bible puts great emphasis on adoption as a doctrine and adoption as something beautiful that Christians perhaps ought to do. So, yes, I think you have freedom there if you so choose.

Another question, a very interesting one: Do the sins of my past disqualify me from certain leadership positions in the church?

So first I’d want to say when I’m thinking of leadership positions in the church I’m thinking deacon and elder, the two that are clearly laid out for the church of all time. Clearly laid out as positions and clearly laid out as qualifications. In both cases the Bible says here’s what a person must be in order to be a deacon, in order to be an elder. So do past sins perhaps permanently disqualify you from those offices? I would say, maybe. I’ll give you this solid maybe.

Here’s the thing. I think we need to distinguish between sins committed before you were a Christian and sins committed after you became a Christian. We can’t expect for unbelievers to act like believers. There’s a sense in which we can’t hold their sins against them in the same way we might as a Christian because once you become a Christian you receive the Holy Spirit. You’re now sinning against the Holy Spirit, you’re sinning against knowledge. As an unbeliever you have a lot less knowledge, a lot less light to sin against. So you think about the Apostle Paul, he was an apostle, he was a pastor, an elder. He was also a murderer. He had murdered many Christians, or at least had been involved in the murder of Christians. If he had done that as a Christian I think he would have been disqualified for ministry. If as a Christian he had committed murder again and again, how can we possibly qualify him for ministry? But he did that as an unbeliever, as a very zealous unbeliever who really thought he was serving God. He was murdering Christians. Once he became a Christian he saw the horror of that, he repented of that sin and was now qualified for ministry.

Okay, what about sins you commit as a Christian? That’s where I think we get into this territory of a lot of wisdom. Where we need to consider what was the sin that was committed. How did you respond to that sin? Have you gone through a season, a period of true repentance? If you’ve sinned against your wife has she fully forgiven you? Is she no longer holding that against you? Is she no longer scared or nervous that you’re going to commit that sin again? If you’ve sinned against your church does your church have full confidence in you again? See, the Bible says you must be above reproach to be in positions of leadership. If you’re not above reproach, if people are looking at you in such a way that they doubt you you’re not above reproach and so you should not be in leadership.

Similarly, the Bible says you must be well thought of by unbelievers, so if unbelievers are looking at you and all they’re thinking about is this sin you’ve committed, then it would seem that you’re not qualified for leadership. In the church today we are often far too hasty in restoring people to ministry. I’ve said before there seems to be this unwritten one-year-rule. When a person commits a grave sin we give one year. After that one year we quickly restore him to ministry as if there’s some great power in the passing of 365 days and nights, but there’s not. We have to give people a period, and it may be many, many years before they are restored, before we can believe that they have fully repented and are exhibiting new patterns of repentance and have put sins to death. So, can past sins disqualify you? Absolutely. In many cases I think they ought to for a long period of time or perhaps even permanently. Again, that’s a matter for churches to consider or denominations to consider prayerfully and biblically on a case by case basis.

The next question is about fencing the table. Here’s what the person writes: What is your view on fencing the table of the Lord’s Supper in light of your view on baptism? We are Baptists but we attend a Presbyterian church, our children have not been baptized because we’re in a Presbyterian church, but we do allow them to participate in the Lord’s Supper.

The traditional order in a Baptist church is that somebody would profess faith and on the basis of that profession faith be baptized. And then having been baptized they would become a member of the church, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes as a second step of the process, and then as members of the church they would participate in the Lord’s Supper. Traditional view is that you wouldn’t take the Lord’s Supper unless you have been baptized and become a member of the church. Within Presbyterianism it would be a little bit different. You would be baptized. Later, you would profess faith once you’re old enough to make a credible profession of faith. Then, you would become a member of the church and then participate in the Lord’s Supper. So I would say to you in both cases according to both traditions you’re doing something unusual and something that traditionally would not have been allowed. I understand that there are some circumstances where you have to be part of this Presbyterian church because of you’re geographical limitations. But I think what you’re doing is unwise, and I think that’s because your children are taking advantage of something that’s meant for professed Christians. It’s a family affair, the Lord’s Supper is, and yet your children have not shown that they’ve publicly joined that family by their baptism—baptism being a sign of their profession of faith at least in the Baptist tradition.

I really believe it would be very important to have your children be baptized before they participate in the Lord’s Supper. And one of the reasons, churches aligned it like that, it makes sense in a logical and in a chronological sense, it also allows the church to withhold Lord’s Supper from people who are under discipline or people who are in sin. You can’t do that if they’re unbaptized and they’re not members. I think the order was constructed very carefully and makes a lot of sense logically and scripturally. I would think about that quite carefully, and I certainly would not allow my children and do not allow my children to participate in the Lord’s Supper until they have professed faith and been examined by the elders to assure that profession is credible and then been baptized and become members of the church.

Second question about baptism is: I just wrote an article you wrote about how we should baptize our children. In regard to when we baptize—how would you approach children or adults with cognitive disabilities? Are they indelible to be baptized?

I think that’s a very good question. I can only answer from a Baptistic perspective. Again, Presbyterians would see it very differently, but I’m reformed and Baptistic which is to say baptism follows a credible profession of faith. That’s our standard for children, for teens, for adults. If you make a credible profession of faith then you’re baptized on the basis of that profession. So when you look at someone with cognitive disabilities, our first question is: Can that person make a credible profession of faith? Do they have the ability, the understanding to understand what Christ has done for them?

In our church we have a couple of people who have been baptized with significant cognitive disabilities. They’ve been able to profess faith. Not only have we baptized them, but we’ve welcomed them, invited them into church membership, so they’re fully church members, they attend our members’ meetings, they vote just like anybody else, they’re welcome into the full membership. We really believe we need to welcome the weak, as my friend Paul Martin says. That there’s a special place in the life of the church for people who are disabled. We don’t wish to hold them back. We wish to invite them in and invite them all the way in. Now, the question is, with people who are so severely disabled that they cannot make a profession of faith, do we baptize them? I would say, I don’t think so, because we don’t baptize on the basis of another person’s faith, like the faith of the parents. We baptize on the basis of the faith of the individual. If you can’t make that profession of faith, I don’t see how we can maintain the meaning and significance of baptism and yet baptize someone who’s unable. That might sound harsh but we need to remember that baptism isn’t some magic incantation. God isn’t going to keep someone out of heaven because they’ve been unable to profess faith and therefore been unable to be baptized. Such is life in a world stained by sin that we do have these difficult situations we have to consider, such as people who are so disabled that they cannot be baptized. We do believe God has grace even for them, and yet we need to maintain baptism as what it is and trust that the Lord is gracious and kind.

One more question: How does your church handle the making of announcements? Are they done publicly as part of the worship service? If so, where in the worship service do you insert them so they are the least disruptive and the most readily heard?

That is a good question. We’ve had to battle with this one a little bit, to find a way that we can get the announcements to the congregation in a way that they’ll hear them and at a time that they’ll hear them. One of the eccentricities of our church is that a large number of people don’t actually show up until several minutes into the service. There’s a lot of cultural things in a very multicultural church and just a lot of factors at play there. We used to do the announcements right at the very beginning of the service but found that they were missing many people so we moved them to the end of the service. But there’s a little more to it. We never say the word “announcements.” We never to stand up and say, “here are the announcements for this week.” We think that’s kind of boring language and causes people to tune out. What we want to do, and this is really a challenge for us as the leaders or people who are at the front of the room, is to consider the announcements as a commission. We’ve been in the service, we’ve rejoiced together, we’ve confessed sin, we’ve received God’s forgiveness, we’ve sung truth together, we’ve ministries to one another, we’ve heard the Word prayed, we’ve heard the Word preached, we’ve prayed together, now what? The announcements are actually the commission. The announcements are what send us out back into the world at the end of our worship services. We like to see them as a commission. We are not announcing things that are happening, we are commissioning people to go out and to do things. To go out and to serve. To go out and to find new opportunities to learn. And so we really try to frame the announcements as a commission that ties into the rest of the service: Here’s the truth we heard today. Take that truth. Here’s how you can live out that truth in the week to come. So, we don’t call them announcements. If you look at our order of service it will always say “commission and benediction” at the end. Typically we finish the sermon, and then we have a song and then we’ll have this commissioning: Church, you are commissioned to go and here are some ways you can serve your brothers and sisters, serve unbelievers, serve others in the week ahead. Then, we read the benediction, the final blessing, and our service is over.

Hopefully you found some of these answers to questions helpful. I’ll be back again with another video in a couple of days. In the meantime, you can do me a favor. You can hit the little Like button at the bottom. If you want to be reminded of new videos as they come you can hit the Subscribe button. I’ll see you again soon! Thanks for watching.