Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Humility and Ministry

Charles Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students is one of my all-time favorite books on ministry. Recently, I re-read a portion of his chapter on the call to ministry. The section I quote below relates a humorous encounter between Spurgeon and a prospective student at his school:

One young gentleman with whose presence I was once honoured, has left on my mind the photograph of his exquisite self. . . . He sent word into my vestry one Sabbath morning that he must see me at once. His audacity admitted him; and when he was before me he said, "Sir, I want to enter your College, and should like to enter it at once."

"Well, Sir," said I, "I fear we have no room for you at present, but your case shall be considered."

"But mine is a very remarkable case, Sir; you have probably never received such an application as mine before."

"Very good, we'll see about it; the secretary will give you one of the application papers, and you can see me on Monday."

He came on the Monday bringing with him the questions, answered in a most extraordinary manner. As to books, he claimed to have read all ancient and modern literature, and after giving an immense list he added, "this is but a selection; I have read most extensively in all departments."

As to his preaching, he could produce the highest testimonials, but hardly thought they would be needed, as a personal interview would convince me of his ability at once. His surprise was great when I said, "Sir, I am obliged to tell you that I cannot receive you."

"Why not, Sir?"

"I will tell you plainly. You are so dreadfully clever that I could not insult you by receiving you into our College, where we have none but rather ordinary men; the president, tutors, and students, are all men of moderate attainments, and you would have to condescend too much in coming among us."

He looked at me very severely, and said with dignity, "Do you mean to say, that because I have an unusual genius, and have produced in myself a gigantic mind such as is rarely seen, I am refused admittance into your College?"

"Yes," I replied, as calmly as I could, considering the overpowering awe which his genius inspired, "for that very reason."

"Then, Sir, you ought to allow me a trial of my preaching abilities; select me any text you like, or suggest any subject you please, and here in this very room I will speak upon it, or preach upon it without deliberation, and you will be surprised."

"No, thank you, I would rather not have the trouble of listening to you."

"Trouble, Sir! I assure you it would be the greatest possible pleasure you could have."

I said it might be, but I felt myself unworthy of the privilege, and so bade him a long farewell. The gentleman was unknown to me at the time, but he has since figured in the police court as too clever by half.
The story always makes me laugh—and pray that God would deliver me from my cleverness and pride! Humility causes us to repent of our self-sufficent and useless ministry and drives us to the grace that God generously supplies.

By His Grace,

Pastor Daniel

Monday, March 21, 2011

Are You Ready to Worship

Mike Chambers is guest blogging for me today...thanks, Mike!

Occasionally after a morning service, I will hear someone say, “Hey Mike, great worship this morning!” After thanking them and walking on it hits me: what did they mean? Did they like the music? Did the band sound good today? Were they impressed by my trendy new sweater vest? All I know is something affected them. They had a good experience in the service. What is a good experience? Is it God-focused?

One of the statements in our church’s worship philosophy says this: Our worship will be God-centered; a high priority of the vertical focus of our Sunday morning service; the ultimate aim is to so experience God that He is glorified in our affections.”

Recently as I read through a Christian bookstore flier, I noticed an ad for a new worship CD that mentioned the term “experience” six times. We all love “worship experiences” with God. Experiences aren’t evil. But the concept of worship as an “experience” is fairly foreign to Scripture. I say “fairly” because there are times when worshipping God was definitely an experience! (2 Chronicles 5:11-14; Acts 4:31; 1 Corinthians 14:23-25)

The goal of gathering as God’s people is not to feel something but to acknowledge and remember something. That “something” is the Word, works, and worthiness of God, especially as He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6) If I pursue goose bumps or heightened emotion during a meeting, God becomes simply one of numerous options I can choose to seek them from. This doesn’t minimize the importance of pursuing encounters with the living God characterized by profound emotion and awareness of the Holy Spirit’s active presence. Scripture is filled with examples of longing for, pursuing, and delighting in God’s presence. (Psalm 84:1-2; 1 Chronicles 16:11; Psalm 16:11) I become aware of God’s nearness by dwelling on His nature, promises, and acts, not by pursuing an emotional fix. This week may our hearts fight for God’s glory, may our minds focus on God’s truth, and may our lives exemplify God’s joy and faithfulness.

I am already looking forward with excitement to Sunday as we will focus our worship on God. My prayer is that as we come together to worship on Sunday, you will be able to “magnify the Lord with me and . . . [we will] exalt His name together.” (Psalm 34:3)

Mike Chambers

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hell, Universalism, and the Evangelical Church

This week, a book is being published that may have a monumental impact on the Evangelical church over the next few years. I pray that its impact will be minimal but, based upon the initial reviews, my fear is that large segments of the church will be influenced by the age-old heresy of universalism—the belief that all will go to heaven, whether or not they ever placed their faith in Jesus Christ during this life.

The book is entitled, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, by Rob Bell. I encourage you to check out this review of the book by Kevin DeYoung: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/03/14/rob-bell-love-wins-review/.

That so many would consider this book part of mainstream Christianity is appalling. It reveals much about the lack of theological and biblical understanding of the Evangelical church.

I look forward to talking more about this book with you in the future.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Do Evangelicals Hate Jesus?

The Huffington Post recently published an article by Dan Cady that was provocatively entitled, “Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus.” If the article’s title didn’t tip you off, let me clue you in: Cady really seems to dislike Evangelicals, particularly what he views as their hypocrisy.

Here is the central argument of his article, which is based upon a recent Pew survey:

White Evangelical Christians are the group least likely to support politicians or policies that reflect the actual teachings of Jesus. It is perhaps one of the strangest, most dumb-founding ironies in contemporary American culture. Evangelical Christians, who most fiercely proclaim to have a personal relationship with Christ, who most confidently declare their belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, who go to church on a regular basis, pray daily, listen to Christian music, and place God and His Only Begotten Son at the center of their lives, are simultaneously the very people most likely to reject his teachings and despise his radical message.
It is an audacious claim, and Cady backs it up by first summarizing his understanding of some aspect of Jesus’ teaching and then how Evangelicals violate it by their actions and political stance (paragraph breaks added for clarity).

Jesus unambiguously preached mercy and forgiveness. These are supposed to be cardinal virtues of the Christian faith. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of the death penalty, draconian sentencing, punitive punishment over rehabilitation, and the governmental use of torture.

Jesus exhorted humans to be loving, peaceful, and non-violent. And yet Evangelicals are the group of Americans most supportive of easy-access weaponry, little-to-no regulation of handgun and semi-automatic gun ownership, not to mention the violent military invasion of various countries around the world.

Jesus was very clear that the pursuit of wealth was inimical to the Kingdom of God, that the rich are to be condemned, and that to be a follower of Him means to give one's money to the poor. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of corporate greed and capitalistic excess, and they are the most opposed to institutional help for the nation's poor -- especially poor children. They hate anything that smacks of "socialism," even though that is essentially what their Savior preached. They despise food stamp programs, subsidies for schools, hospitals, job training -- anything that might dare to help out those in need. Even though helping out those in need was exactly what Jesus urged humans to do.
In short, Evangelicals are that segment of America which is the most pro-militaristic, pro-gun, and pro-corporate, while simultaneously claiming to be most ardent lovers of the Prince of Peace.
Before I address the problematic aspects of Cady’s article, let’s begin with confession. Is there anyone among us who would claim to follow our Lord completely? I hope none of us would be so arrogant. I am certainly guilty of loving this material world too much. My prayer, of course, would be that when confronted with my failure, I would respond with repentance. May each of us have the grace to acknowledge that our critics are right on one point: we fail to perfectly practice what we preach. 

I would hope that we find that more dismaying than they!

That being said, I take several issues with Mr. Cady’s argument. First, there is not a single citation of Scripture throughout his work. Cady is not a theologian and cites no Scripture or even other sources as he attempts to summarize the totality of Jesus’ teaching. It is shocking that he fails to mention the centrality of repentance and faith in Jesus’ teaching. Jesus preached a coming theocracy...does Cady wish Evangelicals to work to implement that into public policy?

Second, Cady presents a worldview that he has hand-crafted using absurd twists of logic. “Evangelicals” are a gross caricature that seem to march in lock-step on various positions. I believe that Cady actually fails to understand the study he is citing to make his argument. The study he cites is about the beliefs of the Tea Party not about the beliefs of Evangelicals. The Pew study notes that many Evangelicals support the Tea Party and that many Tea Party activists have similar moral views, but nowhere does it delve into the beliefs of Evangelicals. In fact, the Pew study notes that only 42% of Tea Partiers indicate an agreement with Conservative Christians.

Third, another logical fallacy consists of the false dichotomies he presents. According to Cady, I either support the democratic tax policy or embrace corporate greed? I must either embrace a national health care system that will expand access to abortion or I hate poor people? Can I have a third option? Please?

Cady has created an idolatrous Jesus, one that agrees with him on policy, and Cady seems upset when Evangelicals don’t bow down to it.

I have expressed concern before that Evangelicals believe that the Republican party or Conservative movement is synonymous with Christianity. It is not. There is a love for the material world that is damning for the soul within the Republican party. No matter how much it talks about moral values, that does not mean that it has embraced the repentance and faith that the gospel demands. Don’t be deceived.

At the same time, don’t be deceived by those who deny the deity and lordship of Jesus Christ. Just because a party talks about helping the poor doesn’t mean that it rightly understands the life-transforming and God-exalting compassion to which we as believers are called.  Simply proclaiming that you are trying to help people doesn't make it so.