Calm down. Be still.
We’ve got plenty of time to kill.
No hand writing on the wall:
just the voice that’s in us all.
And you’re whispering to me,
time to get up off my hands and knees,
’cause if I beg for it, it won’t come.
I find nothing but table crumbs.
My hands are empty. God, I’ve been naive.
From now on, the national news and your social media friends will remind you that Gene Wilder died on August 29, 2016, but another man died that day who had far greater influence on my life. He wasn’t visible to national news writers, but his work was arguably more important than 95% of those who will be profiled this week and next. He was Dr. Wayne Barber, pastor of Woodland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Wayne emphasized God’s grace for as long as I knew him. I studied the book of Romans with him in a class at Precept Ministries, which took two years and required reading that epistle several times–a great way to study the Bible. I believe he said his favorite song mirrored his favorite topic: Jesus be Jesus in me.
I wish I could say I will never forget one of his messages on Romans 6, but the truth is I can barely remember any of it, but the effect of the whole moved me. It was essentially an extended illustration. He even paused after fifteen minutes to say he was not just winging it to burn time but would come to a point soon. That point, bringing with it all the power of a good story, was that we cannot outrun God’s grace nor can we abuse it. If God intends to save us, we can’t force him to forget us, but if he has saved us, he won’t let us forget him either. If we are truly free of sin’s bonds, he will not allow us to continue to submit to sin’s authority.
But the other side of that message is what Wayne apparently saw in many congregations, the desire to live free of sin in our own power. We recognize that we have been made in the image of a hand, designed to hold, pull, touch, and lift things, but we are only gloves. We can’t grab anything without an outside power within us, but that hasn’t stopped us from trying.
Wayne was easily the kind of pastor you’d want to see in a quarter of all of the churches in the world. He was funny, loving, and wise. May the Lord continue to bless us with men like him.
Kirsten Powers describes her history with Christmas and how the Lord brought her to himself in Christianity Today.
Ironically, after all of this, Christmas lost its luster for me. The rank materialism became too much to bear, and the Christmas season morphed from being a time I savored into something I tried to survive each year. Santa Claus, Christmas trees, the holiday jingles—they all felt like pagan oppression. When people complained about a war on Christmas I often smirked and thought to myself, Where do I sign up? Honestly: When a sale at Crate & Barrel gets entangled with the birth of Jesus Christ, something has gone horribly wrong.
She doesn’t leave it there. It’s a marvelous story.
Also out of New York City today, columnist Nicholas Kristof asks pastor Tim Keller whether one can be a Christian while rejecting the virgin birth and resurrection. Keller says many good things, and on this question the main point is that Christ Jesus was not a good teacher whose ideas could be taken out of the context of his life. He came to give us life through his resurrection. It was on this basis that he taught what he did.
Buried in this twenty-minute podcast of stories of Christian faith is a moving story of two soldiers and what the Lord did to spare their lives. One of the men was Ira Sankey, a singer who would go on to prepare spaces for Dwight L. Moody to preach.
In his review of Richard Rohr’s new book, Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, Fred Sanders explains how it isn’t about the Trinity at all. It’s about the divine flow, a dance within the Godhead that ends up being more important than the Godhead.
The flow is a self-giving exchange of love and life. If you were to ask Rohr whether the flow is primarily something about God, the world, or the human person, he would no doubt answer with an enthusiastic “Yes!” and his twinkling Franciscan eyes would twinkle Franciscanly. The flow overflows the distinction between the Creator and the creature. It flows from God as God empties Godself; it circulates among creatures and binds them together with each other and the absolute; it flows back to God, enriching and delighting that Holy Source who loves to see finite spirits awaken to their true, divine selves. The flow sounds like a noun, but it’s really a verb. Flow verbs all nouns as they flow with its flowing.
That looks like some good verbal dancing on Sanders’ part, but it isn’t the flow. It’s more like keeping his footing solid while the room shakes, which makes for entertaining reading.
Among the things that could be said to be rocking the American church in 2016 are writers and teachers who have claimed a Christian mantle to teach decidedly unchristian things. Jen Pollock Michel writes for Christianity Today about Glennon Doyle Melton’s recent announcement that she was dating another woman.
Melton is as modern as she boasts—even if her effusive references to “love” and “joy” are reassuringly offered to confirm that her choices are in everyone’s best interest. From the public announcements both of her divorce and her new dating relationship, she wants us to understand this: The greatest gift any of us gives to the world is our true self. Let’s not look to anyone else for permission or feel any obligation for explanation. Humans flourish as they obey their desires.
She goes on to contrast this with the marvelous story Augustine tells of his conversion, but I want to jot down a thought on this idea of being our true selves.
“Humans flourish as they obey their desires.” No one really believes this. They only believe it for themselves, that they will flourish if they are allowed to do their own thing. Follow your dream, kid; just don’t let your dream interfere with mine.
Politicians live high on public money by obeying their desires. Thieves follow UPS trucks to pick up their deliveries before the owners do. Rioters destroy their neighbors’ businesses. Poachers kill off animal life. This is the flourishing we can expect when humans obey their desires.
Lars said this earlier this year:
It is Christians, after all, who (almost alone in our present age) recognize that “there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Our confessions declare that we are not good people but evil people, saved not by our golden deeds and noble aspirations, but by the work of Someone Else.
Human beings will only flourish when they recognize themselves as servants and stewards on the vast estate of the Governor of the Universe. Our kindness, love, hope, and courage are defined by him, not our own desires, so yes, humanism can do a lot of good when it runs parallel to the goodness Christ has taught us, but that’s the only time.
We weren’t made for self-fulfillment. We were made to be filled by Christ.
We may have read about some of the nutty things happening at colleges these days, things that rival The Babylon Bee for loony satire, and we’ve seen student ministries oppressed by acolytes of the spirit of the age. But Owen Strachan talks about some of the inspiring work God is still doing in American schools.
I read Adira’s testimony with lightning running down my back. At my alma mater, a college I warmly remember, God is at work. Through diverse means, including the heroic efforts of Rob Gregory and the McKeen Study Center, he’s moving. I can scarcely say how encouraging this is. We sometimes approach secular schools as if they are fortresses, but they are not. They are filled with people–flesh-and-blood people made in God’s image. The university is filled with humanity, teeming with purpose, loaded with promise. No person on campus is without worth. No resident is without value. And it must be said: no one is beyond the reach of God.
“When I started to realize that I was attracted to Yoko as more than just a friend, I freaked out. Seriously.”
This is how Kevin Frye begins his frank story of the first year or two of his marriage on a new website focused on helping and connecting Christians who resist the pull into same-sex attraction. The founders of Your Other Brothers say:
Beyond our fellow same-sex attracted believers, we also share our stories for our heterosexual brothers and sisters. We are here to say that this “issue” of homosexuality exists as people here in your midst, and like anyone else in your pews, we are yearning to be heard, known, and loved.
We never chose our sexuality, but we aren’t content to pursue it either. We are locking arms with each other in the belief that our Father has something better intended for His children.
Frye’s story is a hopeful one, but not one that spells out how all of the pain is behind him. It’s the kind of raw testimony I hope every church family has provided a place for, stories of current addiction, recent failure, and dimming hope for recovery. In present-day America, this feels radical, but our society has been sex-crazed for years now. We can’t wish away ugly subjects like pervasive racism, the idolatry of wealth, and homosexuality. We must face them in the beautiful light of the gospel.
I have often chafed at appeals to 2 Chronicles 7:14 for American health, but I have wanted to believe them too.
The context is Solomon’s dedication of the temple. The Lord comes to him at night, saying, “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:13-14).
Many Evangelical voices tell us that if we, the church, will humble ourselves and pray, then our Lord will heal, bless, rebuke, correct the American people, but as Dr. Moore explains, interpretation like that is corrupt.
When God said to [the original readers], “If my people who are called by name,” he was specifically pointing them back to the covenant that he made with their forefather Abraham. At a specific point in their history, God had told Abraham about his descendants, saying “I will be their God” and “They will be my people.” That’s what “My people” means. God reminded a people who had been exiled, enslaved, and defeated that a rebuilt temple or a displaced nation cannot change who they were. They were God’s people, and would see the future God has for them.
We can’t blur the line on who God is talking about here and attempt to claim divine blessing that isn’t offered. The straightest line to draw from this verse to us will not lead to America, but to Christ.
Faith is a root from which may grow all that can adorn the human character. So far from being opposed to good works, it is the ever-flowing fountain from where they proceed. Take faith away from the professed Christian and you have cut the sinew of his strength. Like Samson, you have shorn him of his locks and left him with no power either to defend himself or to conquer his foes. “The just shall live by faith”—FAITH is essential to the vitality of Christianity and anything which weakens that faith weakens the very mainspring of spiritual power!
Brothers and Sisters, not only does our own experience teach us this, and the Word of God declare it, but the whole of human history goes to show the same Truth of God. Faith is force! Why, even when men have been mistaken, if they have believed the mistake, they have displayed more power than men who have known the truth, but have not heartily believed it. The force that a man has in dealing with his fellow men lies very much in the force of conviction which his beliefs have over his own soul. Teach a man the Truth of God so that his whole heart believes in it and you have given him both the fulcrum and the lever with which he may move the world.
To this very moment the whole earth is tremulous like a mass of jelly beneath the tread of Luther, and why? Because he was strong in faith! Luther was a believer in the Word of God and the schoolmen with whom he had to contend were mere disputers. The priests, cardinals and popes with whom Luther came into contact were mere traders in dead traditions! Therefore he smote them hip and thigh, with great slaughter. His whole manhood believed in what he had learned of God—and as an iron rod among potters’ vessels, so was he among the pretenders of his age! What has been true in history all along is most certainly true now. It is by believing that we become strong—that is clear enough.
Whatever supposed excellencies there may be in the much vaunted receptive condition of the mind, the equilibrium of a cultured intellect and the unsettled judgment of “honest” disbelief, I am unable to discern them. And I see no reference to them in Scripture. Holy Writ neither offers commendations of unbelief, nor presents motives nor reasons for its cultivation. Experience does not prove it to be strength in life’s battle, or wisdom for life’s labyrinth. It is near akin to credulity and, unlike true faith, it is prone to be led by the nose by any falsehood.
From this sermon on Hebrews 6:17-20, delivered May 21, 1876.
What is the origin of the anchor as a Christian symbol, and why do we no longer use it? Apparently, it relied on a play on Greek words, so as Greek lost its hold as a language among Christians, so did the symbol.
“The genius of African American preaching, I have learned, can transform not only individual believers but our entire country.”
I’m sure Frank Thomas could makes many good points on how “African American preaching, in all of its beauty, depth and history, can once again change the perspective of this nation,” but I fear we may have fundamental disagreements–particularly how it isn’t the style but the Word of God itself that transforms. Still, I don’t doubt that if the Lord would lift up many Black pastors to proclaim the gospel to our nation, we would be renewed.
Perhaps, this message from Pastor H.B. Charles Jr. would be a good example of the style Thomas is talking about.
Pastor Andy Stanley has been making headlines by questioning what he calls “The Bible says” preaching. He says we live in a post-Christian world, and many people have already dismissed the Bible’s authority. How can we reach the lost, he asks, with sermons that appeal to the authority of Scripture if our audience doesn’t already trust that authority?
You’d be shocked by how many students and adults in your church view the Bible as a spiritual book that says true things to live by as opposed to an inspired collection of documents documenting events that actually happened. This is why I will continue to insist the foundation of our faith is not an inspired book but the events that inspired the book; events that inspired writers, born along by the Holy Spirit, to document conversations, insights and events—the pivotal event being the resurrection. While it’s true we would not know these events occurred had they not been documented, two other things are equally true. First, they were documented years before there was a Bible (i.e., New Testament bound together with the Jewish Scriptures). Second, it is the events, not the record of the events that birthed the “church.” The Bible did not create Christianity. Christianity is the reason the Bible was created. The reason many Christians struggle with statements like these is they grew up on “The Bible says” preaching. And that’s fine as long as one first believes the Bible is inspired.
Stanley compares this faith in the Bible’s inspiration to Muslims’ faith in the Quran. If you don’t already believe the Quran speaks to your life, why should anyone appeal to it as an authority?
Jared Wilson points out the huge problem with this statement.
There is zero room here for the actual reality of the Bible as God’s living Word. There is zero room here for the supernatural reality that the Bible carries a weight with lost people they don’t often expect it to! But this inadvertent nod to materialism and pragmatism is certainly expected from those with a proven track record of treating the Bible like an instruction manual rather than as the record of the very breath of God.
If preachers are trying to Christianize people into acting like Christians because the Bible says they should, then yeah, they will have problems motivating people to do what they want. But Christianizing people isn’t the gospel. We can’t justify recommendations found in Scripture based on unbiblical worldviews in an effort to make non-believers look like believers. What we can do is tell them about Jesus, to talk about life in the light of Christ, and to marvel at the Son of God in their presence. What we want to do is demonstrate our preeminent love for the Father by how we love our neighbor, all the while speaking of the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16).
How is anyone going to believe the Bible if we do not preach the Bible?
John Mark Reynolds reviews Disney’s new movie, Queen of Katwe, which has many great things going for it, except that the “based on a true story” part can’t find a way to articulate the Christian motives of its characters.
Anybody want to bet whether a Ugandan evangelical ministry ever talks about Jesus? Why is this offensive? . . . Disney shows that it can get Uganda sort-of-right, but Uganda’s pervasive Christianity must be minimized. We should ask: “Why?”
Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research surveyed three thousand Americans on their theological beliefs. The results show a great need for godly churches to reach their communities with the gospel.
Many self-professing evangelicals reject foundational evangelical beliefs. The survey results reveal that the biblical worldview of professing evangelicals is fragmenting. Though American evangelicalism arose in the twentieth century around strongly held theological convictions, many of today’s self-identified evangelicals no longer hold those beliefs.
You can browse the findings yourself on their website.
The same percentage of respondents (62 percent) agree or somewhat agree with the statement, “By the good deeds that I do, I partly contribute to earning my place in heaven,” as well as “Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.” Slightly more of them (64) would say “everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature,” but 73 percent disagree or somewhat disagree that “even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.”
That conviction is fundamentally a conviction about the character of God. If he is perfectly holy and just, he cannot let sin go unpunished. But God is no longer holy—in the minds of six out of ten Americans.