Who is Upholding Who?: Preaching in the Face of Adversity

Sunday by Sunday, faithful pastors labor to uphold the glory of God in the face of Christ, but such labors can often be overwhelming.  I have garnished much encouragement that this wearying task is not something that only a few experienced.  Rather, any who desire to walk faithfully with Lord will wrestle with sorrow, fatigue, feelings (and realities) of inadequacy, and the like.

David experienced this.  In Psalm 139, he is undergoing some sort of adversarial assault.  Those who surround him are accusing him, attacking him, and/or perhaps questioning his leadership, integrity, or faithfulness.  Maybe some pastors can relate.  What does he do?  He spends eighteen verses recounting the glorious truths of God’s knowledge, presence, and power.  Only then does he ask God for protection and deliverance from these enemies.  In the end, he lets the trial he is facing to be a source of purification.  He once again submits himself to God’s opinion and judgment.  He is a man whose center holds, because he has made God the center of his life.

As I prepared Psalm 139 last week I remembered John Piper’s words to pastors taken from his biography of Charles Spurgeon.  Ten years ago, I was given a cassette tape (remember those) of that Spurgeon message.  I listened to it numerous times, long before I ever was in ministry.  However, the words heard many years ago still resound in my mind and have more relevance and weight to them today then they did then. Pastor, let his words remind you that as you uphold the gospel, God himself upholds you!

Preaching great and glorious truth in an atmosphere that is not great and glorious is an immense difficulty. To be reminded week in and week out that many people regard your preaching of the glory of the grace of God as hypocrisy pushes a preacher not just into the hills of introspection, but sometimes to the precipice of self-extinction.

I don’t mean suicide. I mean something more complex. I mean the deranging inability to know any longer who you are. What begins as a searching introspection for the sake of holiness, and humility gradually becomes, for various reasons, a carnival of mirrors in your soul: you look in one and you’re short and fat; you look in another and you’re tall and skinny; you look in another and you’re upside down. And the horrible feeling begins to break over you that you don’t know who you are any more. The center is not holding. And if the center doesn’t hold—if there is no fixed and solid “I” able to relate to the fixed and solid “Thou,” namely, God, then who will preach next Sunday?

When the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “By the grace of God, I am what I am,” he was saying something utterly essential for the survival of preachers in adversity. If, by grace, the identity of the “I”—the “I” created by Christ and united to Christ, but still a human “I”—if that center doesn’t hold, there will be no more authentic preaching, for there will be no more authentic preacher, but a collection of echoes.

O how fortunate we are, brothers of the pulpit, that we are not the first to face these things! I thank God for the healing history of the power of God in the lives of saints. I urge you for the sake of your own survival: live in other centuries and other saints.

Father, let those who uphold the word tomorrow do so upheld by the power of your Spirit and the promise that your word NEVER EVER returns void (Isa 55:10-11).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Matt Papa’s Prophetic Take on Christian Radio

Christian singer-songwriter, Matt Papa, has begun a series of posts on Christian radio that will be worth watching.

Since my earliest Christian memories have DC Talk’s Jesus Freak and Smalltown Poets Prophet, Priest, and King playing as background music, I will be very interested in what he has to say.  With Mr. Papa, I am one who is frequently sickened by the shallow, trite, and godless banter that fills Christian radio.

Just this week I heard a K-Love disc jockey preach a gospel of self-salvation: “When I encounter hard times, I remember all that I gone through before and I endure.”  What kind of non-Christian non-sense is that?  It would make Paul stand up and say, “Oh, you foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?!”  Or perhaps, it would incite a conversation like this, imagined by Matt Papa:

Imagine with me: The apostle Paul, John the Baptist, the prophet Isaiah, St. Augustine, Martin Luther, and Hudson Taylor all sitting in a room together.  The year is 2012, and they’re listening to a mainstream christian radio station.  After listening for an hour, someone finally speaks up:

Isaiah:  um….

Paul:  wow.

Luther:  THIS IS CHRISTIAN?!?!

Augustine:  Did that song just say ‘God you are super neat’?!?

Taylor:  Haven’t heard a song about the cross yet.

John:  This is embarrassing.  (bites into a bug)

 Over the next month or so, I’ll be writing a series of posts about the current state of the christian music industry, more specifically, the current state of that which spearheads it, namely christian radio. . . .

Mr. Papa continues,

As you might have gleaned from the title, what will follow will be a hard, honest, word of rebuke.  I have no idea if anything I say in these posts will mean anything for the sake of change, but someone has to say it:  Mainstream christian radio is altogether banal and shallow in both a musical sense and a spiritual sense.  The songs are man-centered and the DJ’s and radio programmers are man-pleasers…..they play the songs that will attract the most listeners to their station, period.  Christian radio is like Joel Osteen in musical form….safe, happy, and untruthful.  It is the TBN of music…a large-scale, embarrassing presentation of Christianity to the world.

After this, he lists seven caveats that promise to make his posts not simply angry rants, but thoughtful examinations of a broken system.  See his seven reflections.

I look forward to seeing what Mr. Papa will say, and what will be said in return.  I am sure it will ruffle feathers, but I pray for good.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Operation World Wednesday: Asia

If you are reading Operation World today, you will land in the continent of Asia this week.  For Westerners, this may be the most distant and unknown of all the continents, but with more than half the world’s population and ninety percent of the people being lost, it needs our attention more than ever.

Here is an introduction by numbers.

  • Over 4.2 Billion People
  • 254 cities of more than 1 million people
  • 11 cities of more than 10 million people
  • 28 of the world’s fifty largest cities are in Asia
  • The two largest countries in the world are in Asia; China and India both have more than one billion people
  • Tokyo, the world’s largest city (37 million), is in Asia
  • 4,860 ethno-linguistic peoples reside in Asia
  • 80% of the world’s least reached people groups reside in Asia
  • The number of evangelical believers is approximately 150 million people.
  • Christian totals, which include Catholic and Orthodox churches, extend to over 350 million.  This is only 8-9 percent of the total population.
For more information on getting the gospel to Asia, see Gospel for Asia.

Pray for Asia today.  Let you imagination ponder the number 4.2 billion people.  All of these are made in God’s image.  Most have never met a Christian; many have never heard the gospel.  Pray that in our generation, God these numbers would see massive changes.  

Lord, send self-less laborers to Asia, those who are willing to take up their cross and follow you for the sake of making Jesus Christ famous among the most unreached people on the globe.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Pro-Life Resources

On Sunday our church, along with many others, celebrated the Sanctity of Life.  In my message I asked the question: What makes our defense of the unborn and our fight against abortion specifically Christian?  I argued that our knowledge of God our Maker, our motivation that comes from his love and kindness to us, and that our message of forgiveness make Christian pro-life advocates fundamentally different than atheists for life or any other humanitarian or non-Christian religious cause to preserve the unborn.

For those who want to think more about the issues of the gospel and the call to save human lives, see the following resources.

Books Arguing Against Abortion

The Case For Life by Scott Klusendorf

Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments Expanded & Updated by Randy Alcorn

Answering the Call: Saving Lives One Woman at a Time by John Ensor

Abortion: A Rationale Look at an Emotional Issue by R.C. Sproul

Books Ministering to Those Suffering From a Previous Abortion

Innocent Blood: Challenging the Power of Death with the Gospel of Life by John Ensor

Healing After Abortion: God’s Mercy is For You by David Powlison

Testimonials

Hand of Hope The Story Behind The Picture by Michael Clancey (Michael took the picture featured above).

Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line by Abby Johnson

Online Resources

John Piper’s three-sermon, pamphlet-sized Exposing the Dark Work of Abortion is a great little resource to read and ponder.

Abort73 is ministry that strives to inform and advocate against abortion.

LifeTraining Institute is the ministry of Scott Klusendorf which seeks to “persuasively communicate the pro-life message.”

Other recent articles on the subject include:

Five Questions for Pro-Life Advocates (Scott Klusendorf),
The Unbearable Wrongness of Roe (Michael Stokes Paulsen),
Advancing Pro-Life Legislation: The Need for Prudence and Civility (Scott Klusendorf and Jay Watts),
A Month for Life (Kathleen Nielson),
“Abortion is as American as Apple Pie” — The Culture of Death Finds a Voice (Albert Mohler)

I hope these will help you.  If you know of other indispensable resources, please pass them along or add them in the comments.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

In the Fight Against Abortion, Truth Shall Set You Free

In his recent FREE online ebook, Exposing the Dark Work of Abortion, John Piper lists 15 critical ‘truths’ about abortion.  As many churches celebrate life this Sunday and call an end to the genocide that is abortion, may these truths spur you on to fight the good fight of faith to protect life and proclaim eternal life whose guilt over a previous abortion leaves them scarred for life.

1. Existing fetal homicide laws make a man guilty of manslaughter if he kills the baby in a mother’s womb (except in the case of abortion).

2. Fetal surgery is performed on babies in the womb to save them while another child the same age is being legally destroyed.

3. Babies can sometimes survive on their own at 23 or 24 weeks, but abortion is legal beyond this limit.

4. Living on its own is not the criterion of human per- sonhood, as we know from the use of respirators and dialysis.

5. Size is irrelevant to human personhood, as we know from the difference between a one-week-old and a six-year-old.

6. Developed reasoning powers are not the criterion of personhood, as we know from the capacities of three- month-old babies.

7. Infants in the womb are human beings scientifically by virtue of their genetic makeup.

8. Ultrasound has given a stunning window on the womb that shows the unborn at eight weeks sucking his thumb, recoiling from pricking, responding to sound. All the organs are present, the brain is functioning, the heart is pumping, the liver is making blood cells, the kidneys are cleaning fluids, and there is a fingerprint. Virtually all abortions happen later than this date.

9. Justice dictates that when two legitimate rights conflict, the limitation of rights that does the least harm is the most just. Bearing a child for adoption does less harm than killing him.

10. Justice dictates that when either of two people must be inconvenienced or hurt to alleviate their united predicament, the one who bore the greater responsibility for the predicament should bear more of the inconvenience or hurt to alleviate it.

11. Justice dictates that a person may not coerce harm on another person by threatening voluntary harm on themselves.

12. The outcast and the disadvantaged and exploited are to be cared for in a special way, especially those with no voice of their own.

13. What is happening in the womb is the unique person-nurturing work of God, who alone has the right to give and take life.

14. There are countless clinics that offer life and hope to both mother and child (and father and parents), with care of every kind, lovingly provided by people who will meet every need they can.

15. Jesus Christ can forgive all sins, and will give all who trusts him the help they need to do everything that life requires.

God in heaven, maker of life and limb, may you be pleased to end this murderous “right” in our generation.  More than that, would you make abortion so ugly, so hated, so despicable to Christian and non-Christian alike, that to endorse, support it, or seek it would be as awful as the thought of lynching a man because of his skin color.  Oh Father, you have given our country equal rights according to race; might you do the same for age.  Use these truths and the sermons preached this month advocating life to spur us on towards loving life, and protecting the innocent.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Via Emmaus: A Christ-Centered Walk Through the Bible

Yesterday, The Gospel Coalition ran an article on how to teach through the whole counsel of Scripture in a year.  It was something that I wrote based on the things I learned when our church walked through the Bible together in 2010.  For those who are interested in what those lessons looked like, here are the lessons I shared with our people each week.

Introduction: An Overview of the Bible

Pentateuch
Genesis 1-11: The Beginning of It All
Genesis 12-50: Four Families Under the Faithfulness of God
Exodus 1-15: Salvation Through Substitution & Conquest
Exodus 16-40: Moving Into the Presence of God 
Leviticus: Sinners in the Presence of a Holy God
Numbers: In the Wilderness
Deuteronomy: God’s Royal Covenant with Israel

History

Joshua: Into the Land

Judges: A People in Need of a King
Ruth: A Painful & Pleasant Providence
1 Samuel: The Good, The Bad, and the Ruddy
2 Samuel: The Rise and Fall of King David
1 Kings: Redemptive History is a Royal Mess–Part 1
2 Kings: Redemptive History is a Royal Mess–Part 2
Ezra: Return, Rebuild, Renew, Repent
Nehemiah: Rebuilding God’s City and Reforming God’s People 
Esther: Seed Warfare

Wisdom
Job: Knowing God In The Crucible Of Satanic Suffering

Psalms: Redemption in the Key of D(avid)
Proverbs: Wisdom is the Way to the Obedient Son
Ecclesiastes: To Work Wisely is Futile, To Fear Faithfully is Wise
Song of Songs: More Than Just an Old Fashioned Love Song

Prophets

The Prophets (1): Hearing the Spirit of Christ in the Days of Elijah

The Prophets (2): Putting the Prophets in their Place: Before the Exile
The Prophets (3): Putting the Prophets in their Place: During and After the Exile
Isaiah: The Servant-King Will Lead His People Into a New Creation
Jeremiah: A New Heart For An Idolatrous People
Ezekiel: That You Might Know the Lord
Daniel: Keep the Faith! The Sovereign LORD Reigns In History
The Twelve: Judgment and Salvation is a Major Theme in the Minor Prophets

Gospels-Acts
Matthew: The King and His Kingdom
Mark: Seeing the Christ of the Cross
Luke: The Messiah Must Go To Mount Zion
Acts: Taking the Gospel From Zion to Zimbabwe
John: Jesus, The Son of God, The Messiah of Israel, and The Savior of the World

The Letters and Revelation
Paul (1): The Apostle to the Gentiles
Paul (2): The Prison Epistles and Philemon
Hebrews: Believe and Draw Near, For Jesus Christ is Greater Still
General Epistles: James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude
Revelation: The Revelation of Jesus Christ

A Biblical Theology of Business (and Church Growth)

A few weeks ago I came across this video from the Gospel & Culture conference in NYC.  It features Jeff Van Duzer, dean of the business school at Seattle Pacific University giving a message entitled, “A Theology of Business.”

I have watched it a few times now and gleaned much.  It it is a great biblical-theological treatment of business that grounds itself in the four-fold movement of redemption history–Creation, Fall, Redemption, New Creation.

However, it is more than just a good presentation for businessmen who want to follow in the footsteps of Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-Fil-a.  It is a good paradigm for church leaders and churches to apply to the local church.  Usually, I am slow to make such claims because I think too many popular business practices have shaped churches.  Too little attention has been given to what the Bible says.  (Yes, I have drunk the punch served by 9Marks).

This is where Jeff Van Duzer is different.  He builds with the Scriptures and he gives a good model for business and for those doing God’s business in the local church.  Tonight our church leaders are going to watch the video and discuss.  I encourage you to do the same.  Spend an hour thinking through Van Duzer’s main points, and how, if they were implemented in your business, Bible college, or area of ministry, they would glorify God by producing good fruit.

If it helps here are a number of questions to consider

  1. What does Jeff Van Duzer critique?
  2. Some people say business is bad, others that it is good, even messianic.  What is wrong with these polarities?
  3. I would propose that his comments about “business” could easily be translated to “church growth.”  What is church growth?  And what should we think about it?
  4. He speaks of two issues: The PURPOSE and PRACTICE of business.  What are the two purposes for business that he mentions?  How do these contrasting visions of business relate to Mark 10:44-45?
  5. According to Jeff Van Duzer, should profit be the means or the end?  Translating to the church, should “numbers” be an end or a means?  What does it mean that numbers are a means in the church?
  6. In the church, who are the “shareholders”?  Who are the “customers”?  Who should we serve? Who are we serving?
  7. Using his illustration of blood circulation, what does a church that only circulates blood look like or do?  What characteristics does it have?
  8. What does a living and healthy church have?  What are the metrics of a healthy church?
  9. When leaders make decisions, Van Duzer says that they ask one of two questions:         (a) Which of these choices will maximize my return or investment?  Or, (b) Given our core competencies, how can we best employ them to serve others.  When we make decisions in the church, which are we asking? 
  10. When we make decisions are we making them to (a) increase our numbers or (b) increase our faithfulness?  Do we trust that if we focus on being “boringly biblical” that God will bless our church?  Or do we need to add to the message?
  11. Using the illustration of levies, Van Duzer speaks of limitations on pursuing capitol.  What limits do we have / should we have in our ministries?  Can we do anything or are their delimiting factors?  What are they?
  12. What in our day and age do we need to guard against?   What temptations do churches face who want to grow?
  13. What was the difference between the Gold Medal and Silver Medal companies surveyed by Jim Collins?
  14. What should a mission of the church include?

Now, go do God’s business (John 15:1-8).

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

 

Crash Helmet or Christ Helmet? Reflections on a Paragraph

I do not know who Annie Dillard is, but by her impressive CV and the list of honors she has received for her writing, I feel like I should. From her self-description, I suppose there are many things I would disagree with her about, but her singular quote is so striking that I would love to talk to her about her experience with Christianity, Christians, and Christ. One more qualification: Since I have never read her work (Teaching a Stone to Talk), I am completely in the dark as to the context of this quotation, still it is worth citing and thinking about.

On the whole I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs [Annie, might you include Chinese believers who suffer under Communist rule or Middle Eastern Christians who willingly accept beheading rather than forsake Jesus?], sufficiently sensible of the conditions.  Does anyone have even the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke?  Or, as I suspect, does no-one believe a word of it? . . . It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church, we should all be wearing crash helmets.  Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.  For the sleeping god may awake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to a place from which we can never return (Quoted by Bruce Milne, The Message of Heaven and Hell, 32).

Do we Christians really have a clue as to what we are talking about, when we speak of heaven and hell?  Why do we live with such urgency in this life, and so little care about the next?  Do we really know the God of the Bible?  These are penetrating questions.  If we take the Bible seriously, we learn quickly: God is the One who created you and me and everything else; who consumes mountains with raging fire, who causes the earth to swallow men and the sea to drown the world’s strongest army, who disembowels dictators with worms, who demands perfect holiness from all men, such that without it, no man shall enter his presence.  This is the One, True, and Living God. He is the God who is full of wrath against man’s sin.  Your sin!  My sin! And thus Annie Dillard is right, we should wear helmets when we come to church.  Too often Christians make church a social club, a fellowship of the moral, instead banqueting hall for beggars, addicts, pimps and whores.

Still, God is patient!  That doesn’t mean that he has changed from the days of the Old Testament.  The most powerful images of judgment are found in the New Testament, after all.  It simply means that in this age of evangelism, God is patient with his world, in order to redeem his sons and daughters.

And yet, he is the God who also poured out his wrath on his Son, so that men and women who pay too little attention to him, might still find grace in order to stand in his judgment.  Indeed, the kingdom is not entered by religious zealots–liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican–it is entered by those who are born again.  Those who have been born from above trust not in their religious works nor fear their spiritual lethargy; they trust in the Son and exalt in his work alone.

Heaven and hell are realities that those in church and out of church take too lightly.  But Christ has a message for both groups. If you have the Son, you have eternal life in heaven; if you don’t have the Son; then hell awaits. Annie Dillard is right that such a God demands that we wear crash helmets when we come to church or go anywhere, but indeed a crash helmet will do nothing to protect us from the blast of God’s nostrils.  We need a Christ helmet, and indeed that is exactly what God offers us in Jesus.  Ephesians 6 says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God . . . the helmet of salvation.”

Today,  may Annie Dillard’s words make us think soberly about heaven and hell, but instead of putting on a crash helmet, may we put our trust in Christ, the one whose sacrifice protects us from the wrath of God, and whose resurrection promises his imminent return.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

The Light of the World Never Fades

[This article was originally featured in our hometown newspaper, The Seymour Tribune].

The weeks that follow Christmas present a unique challenge. For all the holiday highs, there often comes an unforeseen holiday hangover.

As the lights come down and the daily grind resumes, a wintry chill easily replaces Christmas cheer.

But is that how it must go? Isn’t there anything lasting about Christmas besides credit card bills and an unwanted fruitcake? Such naïve hope is often shoved aside because like everything else in life, what goes up must come down. To get through it, we tell ourselves, life is short and so are most of its pleasantries.

However, it is different for those who know the child born in the manger. For Christians, there is just as much light on Jan. 13 or Aug. 27 as there is on Dec. 25. Indeed, if January blues follow the red and green of Christmas, it probably is the case that you are paying too much attention to the flickering lights of this world and not enough attention to the true light of the world.

In truth, Christmas is much more than a festive season; it is the announcement that the light of God has entered the world to stay. Those who know this know that the light has come to dwell among a sin-darkened people and will one day remove all darkness.

In fact, the gospel of John says as much. It reads, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming to the world” (1:9). In a word, this is Christmas. However, this luminescent arrival is only the beginning.

Christ gives light for all seasons. In fact, John later records the words of Jesus: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (8:12). In context, Jesus says these words during the festival of booths, a season in Jerusalem when the whole city was covered with lights. Jesus intends for his audience to know that he is the superlative light, one that will never fade away.

The same is true today. He is the true light today, and all those who follow him, walk in the light of his truth, beauty and goodness. His radiance is able to outshine the darkest winter night, and his love is able to fill the emptiness caused by another Christmas past. For, he is the light of the world, and his light will never fade or disappoint those who look unto him for light and life.

Operation World Wednesday

If you are not familiar with Operation World, you should be!  It is the resource for praying with knowledge for all the peoples of the world.  Last year, our family used this resource to focus our prayer each morning at breakfast.  This year, we will continue to do this at home, but I am hoping to add it to our Wednesday evening prayer group and on this blog each Wednesday.

Here is a five-minute video with Operation World’s founder Patrick Johnstone, and the current leader/editor, Jason Mandryk, chronicling the origins and history of Operation World.  Take ten-minutes to watch this video.  Give thanks to God for this blessed book and its many editions.  And then if you don’t have a copy, go buy one now!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss