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How an awakened conscience speaks

Oct 30, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

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Pastor Steve Tompkins of Mars Hill Church, in a recent letter, gives voice to how an awakened conscience speaks, what an awakened conscience does, to make things right again.  We all owe him a debt of gratitude.  Without doubt, as Steve follows through with people in this beautiful spirit, the Lord will bless his ministry as never before.  Here is his letter:

Dear Former Members and Attenders of Mars Hill Church, especially those of you for whom I have had shepherding responsibility at Mars Hill Shoreline.

I am deeply sorry that so many people have experienced profound hurt over the years at Mars Hill. It breaks my heart that many continue to live with deep emotional and spiritual wounds, even long after leaving the church. I also realize that in my role as an elder, including as Lead Pastor at Shoreline, I share responsibility and complicity in some of the ways you have been hurt, disappointed, and sinned against at Mars Hill. For me this has been an ongoing process in which the depth of conviction and realization of my own sin seems to grow almost daily as does my sorrow over how people have been hurt. This has especially been so as I have had opportunity to sit down and hear people’s stories directly. My purpose in this letter is to share some of the ways my perspective has changed, to confess my sin, to spell out my ongoing process of repentance, and perhaps—should God allow—play some role in his work of healing. Let me tell you a bit about the journey bringing me to write this letter.

Eight or nine months ago as I was reflecting on Revelation 2-3 (the letters to the seven churches), I began to feel that Jesus was placing Mars Hill under discipline and calling us to repent. Over the course of these past months this text of scripture, especially the first and last letters (those to Ephesus and Laodicea), have consistently formed the paradigm through which I have come to view events, attitudes, and decisions at Mars Hill. In these letters we see Jesus walking among his churches. He knows what is happening. He speaks his words of commendation as well as rebuke. He calls the churches to have ears to hear. He calls them to repent, and puts them on a timeline of his choosing. If they prove to have ears to hear, choose to humble themselves, confess their sins and repent, then the corporate outcome is joy and fruitfulness. If however, they fail to repent then the consequences are serious and severe, including the removal of the lampstand of his presence and his light. What strikes me as significant is that our sovereign King places the outcome in the hands of the church itself. This has profound implications.

First of all it means that what has been happening at Mars Hill is the work of Jesus in our midst. It means that the root of the problem is not satanic opposition or attack, nor is it social media or vocal online critics, nor is it the members or attenders of the church (past or present). Nor is it elders, deacons, staff and leaders who have called for change from within. In fact the root of the problem has been the leadership of the church who have been blindly committed to maintaining the status quo as if we simply need to push through what has so frequently been referred to as a “difficult season.” All such attempts at crisis management and damage control are futile, foolish, and in fact create more harm since they are the polar opposite of repentance. I am convinced that Jesus is bringing his word of rebuke to the leadership (including me) through the Spirit. This is his word of loving discipline. In Rev 3:19 Jesus says, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” I personally must have ears to hear and a heart to respond.

I have been at Mars Hill for over twelve years, on full time staff for more than eleven, a pastor for ten, and served as Lead Pastor of MH Shoreline for more than eight years. Jesus’ call to repentance therefore is spoken to me as much as anyone at Mars Hill, for I have helped to build and perpetuate the culture of this church. Through sins both of commission and omission at various times I have been complicit. Recognizing this, I have been seeking over the last eight months to respond diligently and humbly. I have been asking Jesus to reveal my sin and show me where we have gone wrong as a church. He has proven faithful, progressively removing blinders and exposing my own MH-specific blind spots. He has been giving me new eyes and I now look back on my years at MH very differently. I see my sin in ways that previously I simply did not. It has been simultaneously painful and good.

For example, if the leadership and ministry culture at Mars Hill has been marked by arrogance (and it has), then I am coming to see how I have been marked by that same arrogance, and how I was blind to it, both in others and in myself. I now see how my own sin of arrogance within our arrogant culture therefore went unrecognized and unchallenged. In saying this, I am in no way blaming my sin on others or on the culture. On the contrary, my sin is my own sin which I freely confess. That is what I am now seeing with painful clarity. The same is true with the sin of domineering leadership. In fact, if you mix ministry arrogance together with top-down domineering leadership along with idolatry of church growth and numbers, then inevitably you create a ministry culture where many end up hurt, burned out, feeling used. I see this now, and I see how I helped to build such a culture. In fact, I am now beginning to see how my own idolatry of performance and ministry “success” played so well at Mars Hill. Again, I do not blame my sin on others or our culture. Rather, I am now seeing how I contributed to the hurt of faithful and trusting members, attenders and leaders. Please forgive me.

But there is another—and related—area of great sin and blindness that I need to address. In fact, I would say I consider this to be the darkest, most destructive and most hurtful aspect of Mars Hill’s ministry culture by far. I call it the “ad hominem” narrative. Ad hominem is the Latin term for a tactic used when facing off with an opponent over an issue, whereby one seeks to win by attacking and discrediting their opponent rather that honestly debating the issue at hand. In one form or another ad hominem narrative (which can sound very reasonable, especially because it can contain elements of truth), has been consistently used for years to discredit voices of dissent and to silence accusation of wrongdoing and sin. What I have seen on multiple occasions is that when a leader raises an issue with Mars Hill or Mars Hill leadership, they themselves soon become the issue rather than the issue they raised. What they said, for example, is invalidated by how they said it, or because they did not follow proper procedure or protocol. Then, almost inevitably it is not long before they are gone from their position, their job, or the church itself. Often, their integrity was then slandered and their character maligned. Resorting to ad hominem narrative as a response to conflict is horrible and devastating in the extreme. Ad hominem narrative is essentially to defend one’s own righteousness rather than to trust the righteousness of Another. It never confesses or takes responsibility for sin. It is inconsistent with humility. It resists repentance at any cost. It is therefore antithetical to the gospel.

Sadly, I confess that I bought into this narrative in many ways and for too long. I trusted our leadership and sincerely believed their words. I sincerely led others to believe their words. Perhaps our leadership believed their own words, but this consistent narrative over the years became woven into the core of the culture of the church. It is profoundly dark and ugly. I see that now, but for a long time I was blind to it. I am so sorry. I have frequently chosen, when things get hard, to put my head down with my eyes forward, and simply to work hard. As a result I have had almost no rear view mirror, which I now realize contributed to my blindness. There are so many things I frankly did not see. Looking back prayerfully however, I now realize there were also a few situations where I did see but did not speak up or stand up when I should have. My silence in those situations was sinful and cowardly. In our coercive culture of fear I gave in to fear of man. I am so sorry. Please forgive me. May God have mercy on us. With blind Bartimaeus I continue to call out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (see Mark 10:46-52). May God bring true repentance, redemption and healing to me, the church, and indeed all of us.

Some may wonder why I have stayed at Mars Hill if indeed these are my convictions. The answer is quite simple and brings me back to Revelation 2-3 where Jesus calls—not just individuals—but entire churches to repentance. And if Jesus is calling Mars Hill to repent, then it is incumbent upon the elders to lead the way as those who must give an account. Therefore, I must repent as an elder in the office of elder taking responsibility for my sin as an elder. I must also seek to lead repentance and call others—especially among the elders—to join me every chance I get. This is what I am doing within Mars Hill as Jesus graciously continues opening my eyes. In addition, I have felt conviction before Jesus that I need to apologize and repent personally, face to face when possible, to former members, leaders and staff. I have therefore been revisiting situations that are years old as well as recent. I have been seeing them with new eyes and coming face to face with my own sin. This includes, for example, the events in 2007 ensuing from the (what I now believe to be the unjust and unfair) firing of pastors Paul Petry and Bent Meyer. I was involved in the subsequent events which included the official investigation process, the trial conducted by the elders, and the official shunning of the Petry family which followed. These events were profoundly devastating and damaging to both the Petry and Meyer families. I deeply regret my actions. I sinned against them through my participation as an elder, and desire to publicly redress these wrongs. I have recently reached out and apologized, repenting to them and seeking the beginning of reconciliation. From them I have received only grace and forgiveness. I am so grateful and humbled.

In many ways I feel like I am late to the table, but I am grateful to be here now. I have been reaching out to and meeting with a number of other former members, leaders, and staff as part of this ongoing process. God’s grace has been profoundly present each time. Recently, I had the chance to stand on the stage at MH Shoreline, shoulder to shoulder with my fellow elders in front of gathered members as we each expressed our own repentance. I therefore intend to continue as an elder at Mars Hill as long as the process of repentance continues moving forward, and as long as there is hope for a more biblical and healthy plurality of elders to arise. In light of Mark Driscoll’s resignation I believe this is a crucial time, representing an opportunity to truthfully acknowledge the destructive elements of the legacy of Mars Hill’s leadership. Leaders need to confess sin specifically, taking full responsibility. Apologies need to be given in person where possible. Now is the time for genuine open-hearted face-to-face repentance. I would love to see healing come to thousands of former and present members, attenders and leaders so that we can all embrace a more healthy and joyful future. We have hope for this through him alone who is our loving and risen Savior. For this reason I intend to continue down this road inviting others to join me. It is because this is so important that I have decided to put my thoughts in writing at this time.

I intend to personally send this letter to as many people as I can. I freely give you permission to forward this to other former members and attenders of Mars Hill.

Brothers and sisters, I humbly ask your forgiveness for my sin in my role as a Mars Hill elder. I am deeply sorry for your suffering, and pray that Jesus will grant emotional, spiritual, and relational healing. I do realize that this letter represents a blanket confession, which in and of itself is inadequate. I do realize that confession and repentance needs to be specific and personal. So, I want you to know that I am not simply asking for blanket forgiveness from a distance as if that will result in the healing grace you need and long for. I do hope to reach out personally to as many as I can, but please know that you are welcome to contact me directly, or through someone you trust (just drop me a line on Facebook). I would be happy to speak with you or meet with you as soon as our schedules allow.

Sincerely,
Steve Tompkins
October 27, 2014

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Go back?

Oct 25, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

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“‘But wait a minute,’ says somebody.  ‘Are you saying that the passage of the years makes no difference?  Are you asking me to believe that I have got to go back nearly two thousand years, and that the truth is what these men taught then?’ . . .

Yes, I am, and this is why.  There can be no development in this truth, and there has not been, because this is not truth that man works out for himself, but is truth which God reveals.  Not one of the apostles was a discoverer of truth.  The mighty apostle Paul never discovered the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. . . . It is a revelation; it is something that is given by God, something that has been revealed by him supremely in the person of his only-begotten Son.”

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Love So Amazing: Expositions of Colossians 1 (Grand Rapids, 1995), pages 63-64.

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The ways of God are to be admired

Oct 24, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

“Research suggests that promiscuity is not associated with increased happiness and, in fact, that the number of sexual partners needed to maximize happiness is exactly one. . . . If sex makes us happy then surely, if variety really is the spice of life, having more sexual partners must make us happier.  Well it doesn’t.  People with more sexual partners are less happy than those who have just one.  People who cheat in marriage (10% of the married people in the sample have had sex with more than one person in the previous year) are less happy.  Men who use prostitutes are also less happy.  That is, promiscuous people are less happy.”

HT: Marina Adshade. Italics added.

One man, one woman, united for life in Christ — where the best sex happens.

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The Presidency of the Holy Spirit

Oct 23, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

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And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.  1 Kings 8:10-11

Our forefathers used to call this “the presidency of the Holy Spirit,” when the Lord himself would preside over the gathering of his people in such a way as gently, wonderfully to take charge.

I have seen this.  Doubtless, many of you have as well.

One Sunday morning at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena — we were a mainstream church of business people, school teachers, scientists, real estate agents, stay-at-home moms — my dad was preaching.  I was eleven or twelve years old, and not paying much attention.  But then, with no prompting from the pulpit at all — dad was minding his own business, preaching Christ, and he wasn’t even in the final, appeal section of the sermon — Ed Fischer quietly and with no self-display rose from his place in the choir, went down to the communion table at the front, and knelt in prayer.  He felt that he needed to get right with God.  Then his wife Lita got up from her place and quietly joined him there.  I thought, “That’s odd.”  But then I was surprised to see many people from all over the church going forward and kneeling as one there at the front in an overwhelming response to the ministry of the gospel going out in the power of God.  There was no emotionalism.  It was quiet, dignified, even solemn, but very beautiful.  Dad was caught off-guard.  He hadn’t planned on this or asked for it or even foreseen it.  God stepped in, filling the church with an unusual display of his glory, and dad yielded to the presidency of the Holy Spirit.  He stepped back from the pulpit and went to prayer.  The organist had the presence of mind to begin playing quietly, appropriately.  The service took a surprising direction, in the mercy of God.  And although this experience was no panacea, and the next morning everyone went back to work in the usual way, still, God had visited us.  God bent down and kissed us that Sunday, bringing us closer to himself, clearing away some problems, opening up new possibilities.

We could never be the same again.

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Faith and risk

Oct 22, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. . . . Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief.”

C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (New York, 1961), page 21.

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How blessed are those who care

Oct 21, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

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In Breughel’s Icarus . . . how everything turns away quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, but for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone as it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.  W. H. Auden

Auden is referring to a painting by Dutch painter, Pieter Brueghel, based on Ovid’s Myth of Icarus, the story of a boy who flew too close to the sun.  It hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels.

If you look closely, in the lower right hand corner of the painting you can see Icarus with melted wings falling into the sea.  Ovid’s point was the danger of hubris; Brueghel had another idea.

In Brueghal’s version of the myth, Icarus falls and no one cares.  Sailors on their ships, farmers and others are unconcerned, going about their own business, unaware of the calamity unfolding in front of their eyes.  All are apathetic in the face of appalling tragedy and heartbreak.

Few of us are aware of the sadness all around us; we go our way inattentive and unmoved, too busy with our own business to respond to human need.  Something amazing has happened: “a boy falling out of the sky”—right in front of our eyes—but we have “somewhere to get to and sail calmly by.”

You don’t have to go far to uncover tragedy and heartache: a young widow, stricken with loneliness; an anxious parent concerned for a critically ill child; a frightened man awaiting heart surgery; a care-worn checker in a grocery store working at a second or third job to make ends meet; a young boy who’s never had enough father; a single mother whose worries have washed her hope away; an old man who inhabits his bleak world alone; a needy soul behind our own front door—all right in front of us.  Perhaps we don’t have much to give, but we can see beyond what others see to the possibility of mercy, compassion and understanding.

I wonder how many times I’ve glanced at a grocery clerk, a bank teller, a waitress and failed to see the marks of woe, the drab, cheerless affect, the weary face, the downcast eyes, the mumbled response to my frivolous query, “How are you?”  I hear the splash but miss the forsaken sigh, the deep sorrow in their response.  I turn away from the disaster.  I feel no tug on my heart; I have somewhere to get to and sail calmly by.

John Newton said on one occasion, “If, as I go home, a child has dropped a halfpenny, and if, by giving another, I can wipe away its tears, I feel I have done something.  I should be glad to do greater things, but I will not neglect this.”  Nor should I.

“Oh, how blessed are those who care,” Israel’s poet mused (Psalm 41:1).  How rare and how happy they are.

David Roper

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Your church: where Jesus calms the storm

Oct 18, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

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“How wonderful it is to come every Sunday into a liberating church!  All week long we swim in an ocean of judgment and negative scrutiny.  We constantly have to comply with the demands of a touchy world, and we never measure up. . . .

Then on Sunday we walk into a new kind of community where we discover an environment of grace in Christ alone.  It is so refreshing.  Sinners like us can breathe again!  It’s as if God simply changes everyone’s topic of conversation from what’s wrong with us, which is plenty, to what’s right with Christ, which is endless.  He replaces our negativity, finger-pointing, and self-attack with the good news of his grace for the undeserving.  Who couldn’t come alive in a community which inhales that heavenly atmosphere?

Here is where every one of us can happily take our stand right now: ‘The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20).  Our self-focus was crucified with Christ.  The need to conceal failure and display false superiority no longer lives.  Christ is enough to complete every one of us, without adding anything of ourselves.

As we humbly keep in step with the truth of this gospel, people will find a new kind of community in our churches where sinners and sufferers can thrive.”

Ray Ortlund, The Gospel: How The Church Portrays The Beauty of Christ (Wheaton, 2014), pages 90-91.

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Coordinated effort

Oct 16, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

In 1836 Judge William Gould led a movement at First Presbyterian Church, Augusta, Georgia, to buy their first organ.   It was a break with tradition.  In a congregational meeting, one member rose and demanded chapter and verse where the Bible authorizes “the worship of God with machinery.”  But the members voted for the organ, and Judge Gould was appointed to raise the money.

Soon after the Judge ran into Robert Campbell, a member who had opposed the organ.  Mr. Campbell asked the Judge why he had not asked him for a donation.  Gould replied, “I knew you did not wish to have the organ.”   “That makes no difference,” said Campbell.  “When the majority of the members of the church have decided the matter, it is my duty to put aside personal feeling and assist as well as I may.”

Narrated in David B. Calhoun, Cloud of Witnesses (Greenville, 2004), pages 40-41.

Putting self aside, submitting to the Body, serving a higher cause . . . .

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Immanuel Presents: Peace in the City

Oct 13, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

If, like me, you’ve never seen a city with too much reconciliation, too much forgiveness, too much shalom, and your heart longs for unprecedented blessing from above for all alike, then you may be interested in three city-wide events coming soon to Nashville:

Paul Tripp: peace in relational intimacy, November 14-15

Rosaria Butterfield: peace in sexual identity, January 23

Russell Moore: peace in community involvement, April 18

All are invited. All events are free. You can register here.

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Exceeding cross to our pride

Oct 10, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

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“God proceeded in this work in a way that was exceeding cross to their pride.”  This was Jonathan Edwards’ observation from the Old Testament — how God’s obvious blessing might be dismissed by some people for unworthy reasons (Judges 8).  Obviously but importantly, God has the right to use faithful people we personally don’t warm up to.  Then Edwards offers this insight as a practical take-away for us during a time of strong gospel advance:

“As persons will greatly expose themselves to the curse of God by opposing or standing at a distance and keeping silence at such a time as this [the Great Awakening], so for persons to arise and readily to acknowledge God and honor him in such a work and cheerfully and vigorously to exert themselves to promote it will be to put themselves much in the way of the divine blessing.”

Jonathan Edwards, “Thoughts on the Revival,” in his Works (Edinburgh, 1979), I:385-386.

The next great movement of the Holy Spirit might come through people you and I are predisposed to dislike.  Let’s be ready to evaluate not only what’s happening in the movement but also what’s happening in our own hearts, lest we inadvertently exclude ourselves and our churches from a real blessing sent down from above.

It might come in a way exceeding cross to our pride.

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