Hank explains what it really means to have the favor of God.
Hank explains what it really means to have the favor of God.
A few days ago I tried to demonstrate how a church self-destructs. There is a sad progression that begins with the people growing weary and ashamed of truth. No longer able or willing to endure sound teaching, they get rid of the truth-tellers and accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions. Inevitably, they soon turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. All of this is laid out in chapter four of 2 Timothy. In the face of this kind of assault, Paul juxtaposes the simplest solution: Preach. It’s as simple as that one step, that one commitment. The church that remains faithful to God is the church that remains faithful to the Word of God. The healthy church is the preaching church. Here, as I see it in 2 Timothy 4:2, are Paul’s specific instruction for the kind of preaching that glorifies God and protects the church.
“Preach the word.” It is not enough to simply preach; we need to preach the Word. Preaching is only as powerful as its faithfulness to the Bible. There is no innate power in the form of preaching; the power in preaching comes from the source of the preaching. I believe the most faithful way to preach the Word is to preach expositorily or expositionally, to ensure that the point of the text becomes the point of the sermon. More than any other form of preaching, this constrains the pastor to God’s Word. Not only that, but it allows the congregation to ensure that every word is drawn faithfully from God’s Word. Expository preaching depends on a preacher with an open Bible, and a congregation with open Bibles.
“Be ready in season and out of season.” There is a call here for persistence in preaching. Preaching comes and goes in the church. There are times when preaching is loved and times when preaching is hated. Expository preaching comes and goes as well, and we are never far from the so-called experts telling us that this form of preaching will cause a church to collapse. “People don’t want to know what Philippians says, they want to know how to solve life’s problems!” But this kind of faithful, Word-based preaching needs to done in season and out of season, when it is popular and when it is woefully unpopular.
I want to pause here for one moment to speak to the New Calvinists. We love our preaching. We will tolerate nothing less than expository preaching in our pulpits and at our conferences. But I believe we need to ask whether we love it because God says it is good, or whether we love it because, at least for now, other people say it is good. When the trend runs its course and expository preaching has lost its lustre, will we still love it then?
“Reprove, rebuke, exhort.” Preaching is to have a practical dimension. Though preaching teaches us about God, it does more than that. It also teaches us how to honor God and how to live for his glory. Knowing about God is good, but insufficient. Preaching is meant to save souls, to transform lives, and to spur us on in holiness. Our preaching is to reprove, to confront and correct false doctrine; it is to rebuke, to confront and correct sinful patterns of living; it is to exhort, to train and encourage in those things that honor God. Preaching is not just lobbing holy hand grenades into people’s lives, but encouraging them and caring for them.
“With complete patience…” There is to be an element of patience for preaching, and element of patience in preaching. The pastor must be patient with the form of preaching, never grow tired of it and never losing his confidence in its goodness and effectiveness. And all the while he should preach with great patience for his congregation. The best teachers are the ones who are kind and forbearing, who know their students, and who will endure for a long time with patience and understanding. The best preaching comes alongside Christians, leads them on, encourages them in growth, week after week and year after year. The best preaching models the patience God has with us as we slowly, so slowly, grow in knowledge and holiness.
“… and teaching.” Our preaching is to be full of Christian truth. Paul insists that people who turn away from God will not endure sound teaching or sound doctrine, the very thing Paul calls for here. The best preaching is consistent with sound doctrine and teaches sound doctrine. This kind of preaching is not sermonettes for Christianettes, but the whole counsel of God, drawn from the Word of God.
Looking to a future in which people will not tolerate the truth, Paul tells Timothy to remain faithful to his central calling: To lead the church with and through the Word of God. It was Paul’s charge to Timothy 2,000 years ago and today that same charge goes out to you and to me. As God’s people living in that age of itching ears, we must remain confident in and committed to nothing less than the faithful, week by week preaching of God’s precious Word.
Anybody that knows me knows that I’m an avid basketball fan, so I am never too far away from what is happening in the NBA. The recent scandal involving Los Angeles Clipper’s owner Donald Sterling and the racist comments he made about not wanting his “mistress” to be associated or seen in public with black people has caused a firestorm in the NBA. Sterling’s racist rant received universal condemnation all around the league and all around the sports world for that matter; even President Obama while abroad in Malaysia interrupted one of his press conferences to comment on the matter. This of course is a good thing. Racism of any kind should never be tolerated. The problem with this story however does not have to do with race but with the new tolerance squad and the confusion over what precisely is civil rights.
The reason this story is relevant to the Christian Church is because of the postmodern rhetoric dealing with homosexual rights. I believe the day is coming when comments about homosexuality that are deemed inappropriate for example that homosexuality is a sin and that it is unnatural will be met with the same condemnation. In one sense of course this mentality is already here as is evidenced by Mozilla Fox CEO Brendan Eich recently being forced to resign for having supported Proposition 8 in the past. But the minute that our culture adopts a view that equivocates between race and sexuality and sexual orientation we will have a whole new level of hostility against the Christian Church on our hands. You have heard of the slogan “never waste a good crisis”, well this recent national controversy will surely not go to waste among aggressive liberals and homosexual agenda who will surely exploit this recent racial discrimination on behalf of one professional sports team owner for their own sinister purpose.
This is why we cannot confuse true civil rights true human rights ethnic rights and sexual orientation because the minute that we do anyone who speaks against a certain lifestyle will be condemned as a bigot and narrow minded racist.
So far, in listening to countless pundits and sports announcers on this issue, I have heard the repeated insistence that society has moved beyond that type of [bigoted] thinking. This is precisely what the culture is now trying to do with the homosexual issue claiming that we have moved beyond discrimination on this level as well. Of course the fallacy in this type of thinking is that the two are not the same in any way shape or form. That is not to say that someone cannot be wrongly treated as a homosexual person but that being a homosexual is not like being black. Being an African American person is not something that you decide to come out of the closet with its not a lifestyle that you test out it’s not an experiment, in fact, it is not optional at all. Homosexuality is a lifestyle choice something that a person of race simply cannot even conceive of. Unlike homosexuality, ethnicity brings glory to God, in fact it is part of the great gospel story that God will redeem people from every tribe tongue and nation and make a new humanity in Christ (Gal. 3.28; Rev. 5.9-11). But homosexuality speaks directly against God’s purpose and God’s design for mankind because it does not display the relationship that God has with the church it actually distorts that redemptive portrait (Eph. 5.22ff.).
While I am in full agreement in condemning Sterling’s recent unfortunate comments, I am also gravely suspicious that such comments and condemnation will continue to be applied improperly concerning gay rights and homosexual “marriage” further removing this culture from the biblical worldview which is always a concern and always carries dire consequences for any people.
Soli Deo Gloria
See more at: http://www.wretched.tv
A short time ago I learned of a church building in our neighborhood that was for sale. For years now Grace Fellowship Church has been looking for a building of our own, so we thought we should go and give it a look. This had once been a thriving congregation. Faithful Christians had given sacrificially to construct that building. They had consecrated it to the Lord and had worshiped there for many years. Yet now that building was deserted, decaying, and up for sale.
What happened? How did that church go from thriving to dying? How did it slide from healthy to sick to dead? I think I know. I think Paul tells us in his second letter to Timothy, the letter he wrote just days or weeks before his death. There, in chapter 4, he looks into the future, he sees a church being destroyed, and he warns us how it happens. It’s as straightforward as four simple steps.
Before we get to those four steps we need to see one critical piece of information: this church self-destructs. The church is not closed down through government persecution; it is not afflicted by cultural pressure and does not succumb to the attacks of another religion. This church is eroded from the inside, from within the membership. This church is destroyed by people claiming to act in the name of Jesus.
Here are those four simple steps that lead to a church’s self-destruction.
Paul warns Timothy that “They will turn away from listening to the truth.” The first step in destroying a church is turning away from what is true, losing interest in the truth as God reveals it, growing weary of what God says is true and lovely. What was once a love of truth becomes a dislike and then disgust toward truth; what was once a hatred of error becomes an intrigue and interest in error. Hearts begin to harden.
As they turn away from the truth, they necessarily turn against the truth-tellers. So Paul tells Timothy that in that day to come, “They will not endure sound teaching.” It’s not that people won’t know what is true, but that they won’t endure what is true. Because they have come to hate the truth, they will now hate those who proclaim the truth. The very teachers that once drew them will now repulse them.
This church has rejected the truth and those who teach the truth. Now what? It is obvious and inevitable: They will embrace false teachers. “Having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” As these people become hardened in sin, as they grow in their rebellion, they will want to be led by people who tell them those things they want to hear. Paul uses a great word-picture to describe this: itching ears. These are ears that want to be tickled by novelty, by something that will be respectable to society and palatable to a godless world. They will soon find this kind of teacher who will justify their turning away from truth and who will validate them in their rebellion.
Once they have rejected truth and truth-tellers, and once they have found teachers who will tickle their itching ears, “They will wander off into myths.” They will now embrace full-out error, full out heresy. They will become hardened in their sin so they will now believe error is good and true. They will become so deluded and rebellious that they will celebrate what God hates and do it all in the name of God. They will wander off, just like dumb sheep wandering away from their good shepherd. The narrow road to salvation has no room to wander, but that broad road to destruction has all the room they need to wander this way and that.
And they will die. In the end, those who claim to have acted in the name of Christ will be shown to hate Christ. That church, that congregation, will die.
What happened to the church that once worshiped in the building we visited and wanted to buy? The people developed itching ears. They would no longer endure sound teaching, and accumulated for themselves teachers to suit their own passions. They turned away from listening to the truth and wandered off into myths.
The evidence of those myths was plain to see. Their hymn book had songs like “Mother and God” which says, “Mother and God, to you we sing: wide is your womb, warm is your wing.” Their web site featured a video about a pastor undergoing gender reassignment with the full support of his church. Their literature explicitly denied that Christ is the only way to God, saying “God works in our world by a mysterious Spirit that knows no distinction at the doorway of a Christian chapel; Buddhist, Hindu, or Sikh temple; Aboriginal sweat lodge, Muslim mosque, or Jewish synagogue.”
We did not get that building. That building was sold and, if I understand correctly, will soon be torn down. In the end the denominational leaders charged with selling it did not want the gospel in that building, they wanted money out of that building. They needed the money to help support two more of their floundering congregations that will inevitably soon be gone as well.
Two thousand years ago Paul wrote to young Timothy and told him exactly how this church, and so many like it, would die. He also gave Timothy a charge that would keep his own church from experiencing similar destruction and from wavering through the time of itching ears. But I will save that for another day.
A short time ago I launched a new Sunday series called “The Bestsellers.” The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association tracks sales of Christian books, and awards the Platinum Book Award for books whose sales exceed one million, and the Diamond Book Award for sales exceeding ten million. In this series I will look at the history and impact of some of the Christian books that have sold more than a million copies—no small feat when the average Christian books sells only a few thousand. We will encounter books by a cast of characters ranging from Joshua Harris, Randy Alcorn and David Platt all the way to Joel Osteen, Bruce Wilkinson and William Young. So far we have looked at titles awarded Platinum status in 2005 and 2007; today we advance to 2008 and a book that served as the voice of a generation.
Donald Miller was born in 1971 and grew up in Houston, Texas. He left home at twenty-one and traveled across the country until he ran out of money in Portland, Oregon, and decided to remain there. In 2000 Harvest House Publishers published his first book, Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance, which told the story of his cross-country journey. The book made minimal impact until it was retitled Through Painted Deserts and re-released in 2005, following the breakthrough success of his second book.
Two years after Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance, while auditing classes at Reed College in Portland, Miller wrote Blue Like Jazz: Non-Religious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. It was published in 2003 by Thomas Nelson. Sales were slow at first, but they soon picked up, and eventually the book would make its way to the New York Times list of bestsellers. It would prove to have mass appeal both for what Miller said and for the way he said it.
Blue Like Jazz is a spiritual memoir, a semi-autobiographical account of Miller’s spiritual transformation. The catchy title is borrowed from the world of jazz and the characteristic freedom and ambiguity of that musical genre. “I was watching BET one night, and they were interviewing a man about jazz music. He said jazz music was invented by the first generation out of slavery. I thought that was beautiful because, while it is music, it is very hard to put on paper; it is so much more a language of the soul … The first generation out of slavery invented jazz music. It is a music birthed out of freedom. And that is the closest thing I know to Christian spirituality. A music birthed out of freedom. Everybody sings their song the way they feel it, everybody closes their eyes and lifts up their hands.”
Miller had been raised with a kind of cultural Christianity and had been tempted to walk away from it all together, thinking that Christianity was necessarily synonymous with fundamentalism and Republicanism. He had experienced the all-too-common moralistic therapeutic deism that marks so much of Evangelicalism. He had grown weary. What he comes to see is that Christianity is far wider and far better than what he had experienced as a youth. He comes to see that the Christian faith continues to be relevant even in a postmodern culture. He writes, “I don’t think any church has ever been relevant to culture, to the human struggle, unless it believed in Jesus and the power of His gospel.”
Through Miller’s time at Reed College, and through the relationships he developed there, he describes his arrival to a form of Christian spirituality that is imprecise and difficult to define, just like jazz music. Where jazz is nearly impossible to score, so the Christian faith is difficult to define, describe and limit. Where many Christians see life as a journey guided boldly by the Bible, he sees life as more of a meandering journey. “For me, the beginning of sharing my faith with people began by throwing out Christianity and embracing Christian spirituality, a nonpolitical mysterious system that can be experienced but not explained.”
This journey is told through skillful, self-deprecating writing, and an irreverent tone that draws many people, and young people in particular. In his memoir he arrives at an ambiguous relationship with many key doctrines of Christianity, with sin, with the local church. “At the end of the day, when I am lying in bed and know the chances of any of our theology being exactly right are a million to one, I need to know that God has things figured out, that if my math is wrong we are still going to be okay. And wonder is that feeling we get when we let go of our silly answers, our mapped out rules that we want God to follow. I don’t think there is any better worship than wonder.”
Sales of Blue Like Jazz began slowly, but began to increase after a couple of years. In 2007, three years after its release, the book had sold 500,000 copies and was awarded ECPA’s Gold Book Award. Just one year later it had crossed the one million threshold and was awarded the Platinum Book Award.
Blue Like Jazz was released at the dawn of what became known as the Emerging Church movement. Miller’s journey from fundamentalism to Christian spirituality quickly branded him as a leader in this movement even though he was not officially a part of any Emerging organization. His voice was a fresh and powerful one and extended through that movement and far beyond. His writing attracted many young people—primarily Gen-Xers—who were equally disaffected with the faith of their youth. In many ways, Miller became their spokesman, putting into words what many were feeling and desiring. Jonathan Leeman says it well:
I don’t have the exact quote, but Emerson said somewhere that great writers hold up a mirror to the world around them and say, “Here you are.” Blue Like Jazz holds up this mirror for the Gen X segment of 1980s and 90s evangelicalism—my own peer group. We grew up with one foot in the world of seeker-sensitive worship services and another foot in the world of MTV, shopping malls, and sitcom laugh tracks. We eventually discovered how much the first world borrowed from the second to keep us coming back. This realization in turn led us to be skeptical toward the whole Christian program, as if Jesus were just one more product. Many of us therefore left the faith, while those of us who remained insisted on something more real, more authentic, from our Christian spirituality. Often, this search led us outside the boundaries of conventional churches.
Where Miller’s diagnosis was insightful, many conservative Christians criticized his book on a number of counts, and especially for its postmodern ethos which led to a lack of grounding in the authority of Scripture. Miller often eschews firm answers to matters of life and doctrine and this concerned those who hold up Scripture as a clear and final source of authority. Miller was also critiqued for what many reviewers saw as a weak and man-centered gospel displayed in statements like this one: “I realized, after reading those Gospels, that Jesus didn’t just love me out of principle; He didn’t just love me because it was the right thing to do. Rather, there was something inside me that caused Him to love me.” Finally, many reviewers were concerned with his depiction of Jesus which emphasizes his kindness and gentleness while downplaying his justice and his wrath. Reviewers determined that while this is a Jesus Miller and his readers may want, it was not the Jesus of the whole Bible.
Parenthetically, one of Miller’s most memorable characters was “Mark the Cussing Pastor,” a Seattle-area preacher who was known for his foul mouth. One year later, this preacher—Mark Driscoll—would release a book of his own: The Radical Reformission.
Since Blue Like Jazz, Miller has written several books, including Searching For God Knows What, To Own a Dragon: Reflections On Growing Up Without a Father, and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Today he is Founding Director of The Burnside Writers Collective and hosts semi-annual Storyline conferences which assist people in creating life plans. He also travels widely and speaks at a variety of conferences.
In 2012 a film adaptation of Blue Like Jazz, directed by Steve Taylor, made its way to theaters. The film fared poorly at the hands of reviewers, with fewer than 40% of them reviewing it positively. It earned less than half of its production cost at the box office.
More recently Miller has ignited controversy through his admission that he no longer attends a local church and has found alternative ways to experience God.
Ten years ago the Emerging Church and other expressions of postmodern Christianity were surfacing as significant forces in Christianity. Donald Miller served as a much-loved, widely-respected, but controversial voice. I reviewed his book in 2005, just as it began to hit its stride.
I have long believed that the church growth movement and seeker-sensitive, big-box Christianity spawned a significant kind of rebellion shortly after the dawn of the new millennium. Some gravitated toward postmodern expressions of Christianity and found a voice in Donald Miller and other emerging voices. Many of those who did not gravitate toward postmodernism discovered Reformed expressions of Christianity and found a voice in John Piper and in others like him. In this way Miller’s book was polarizing. While most appreciated the diagnosis, only some took the cure.
Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 28, sermon number 1,653, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
“The resurrection of our Lord, according to Scripture, was the acceptance of his sacrifice.”
By the Lord Jesus Christ rising from the dead evidence was given that he had fully endured the penalty which was due to human guilt. “The soul that sinneth it shall die”—that is the determination of the God of heaven. Jesus stands in the sinner’s stead and dies: and when he has done that nothing more can be demanded of him, for he that is dead is free from the law.
You take a man who has been guilty of a capital offence: he is condemned to be hanged, he is hanged by the neck till he is dead—what more has the law to do with him? It has done with him, for it has executed its sentence upon him; if he can be brought hack to life again he is clear from the law; no writ that runs in Her Majesty’s dominions can touch him—he has suffered the penalty.
So when our Lord Jesus rose from the dead, after having died, he had fully paid the penalty that was due to justice for the sin of his people, and his new life was a life clear of penalty, free from liability. You and I are clear from the claims of the law because Jesus stood in our stead, and God will not exact payment both from us and from our Substitute: it were contrary to justice to sue both the Surety and those for whom he stood.
And now, joy upon joy! the burden of liability which once did lie upon the Substitute is removed from him also; seeing he has by the suffering of death vindicated justice and made satisfaction to the injured law. Now both the sinner and the Surety are free.
This is a great joy, a joy for which to make the golden harps ring out a loftier style of music. He who took our debt has now delivered himself from it by dying on the cross. His new life, now that he has risen from the dead, is a life free from legal claim, and it is the token to us that we whom he represented are free also.
Listen! “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again.” It is a knockdown blow to fear when the apostle says that we cannot be condemned because Christ has died in our stead, but he puts a double force into it when he cries, “Yea rather, that is risen again.”
If Satan, therefore, shall come to any believer and say, “What about your sin?” tell him Jesus died for it, and your sin is put away. If he come a second time, and say to you, “What about your sin?” answer him, “Jesus lives, and his life is the assurance of our justification; for if our Surety had not paid the debt he would still be under the power of death.”
Inasmuch as Jesus has discharged all our liabilities, and left not one farthing due to God’s justice from one of his people, he lives and is clear, and we live in him, and are clear also by virtue of our union with him.
Is not this a glorious doctrine, this doctrine of the resurrection, in its bearing upon the justification of the saints? The Lord Jesus gave himself for our sins, but he rose again for our justification.
I'm not impressed with the postmodern notion of transparency as a substitute for the old-fashioned (and biblical) virtue of humility.
The type of transparency I'm speaking of is that faux-honesty so often used as an excuse for voicing various kinds of complaints, doubts, accusations, fleshly desires, and other kinds of evil thoughts. This exhibitionistic “virtue” is often paired with a smug self-congratulatory sneer or a condescending dismissal of anyone who dares to suggest that propriety and spiritual maturity may sometimes require us not to give voice to every carnal thought or emotion—i.e., that sometimes discretion is better than transparency.
Here's a biblical case-study that goes against conventional postmodern “wisdom”: In Psalm 73, Asaph is rehearsing the confusion he felt over the reality that wicked people sometimes prosper while righteous people suffer. He says:
I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. (Psalm 73:3-12)
A note of resentment against God? A model of the very kind of transparency I decry? Sure sounds like it, huh? He continues:
All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.
Self-pity, too. Wow! Is that not a classic example of brilliant, transparent, postmodern confessional writing? The psalmist is venting his spleen, giving voice to his doubts, teaching us that it's OK to broadcast whatever doubts and resentments we maybe harboring against God. Right?
Well, not exactly. In fact, the point Asaph is making is precisely the opposite: “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,' I would have betrayed the generation of your children” (v. 15).
In other words, Asaph confesses that if he had broadcast his doubts before resolving them, it would have been a sinful act of betrayal against God and against the children of God.
Asaph is actually testifying about how he resolved those doubts and resentments: “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end” (vv. 16-17).
He has acquired a decidedly un-postmodern kind of confident faith. He reaches a settled certainty about the very things he was tempted to doubt. Then he goes on to explain to his readers that the state of the wicked is not as comfortable as it appears to carnal eyes. He's spreading his new-found faith; not soliciting companions who share his doubts.
So this psalm is not an apologia for the sort of “transparency” whose only aim is to vent in a way that aims to legitimize skepticism; it's a condemnation of precisely that sort of intemperance.
There's nothing vague or confusing about the point Asaph is really making. As a matter of fact, the whole psalm starts with an explicit statement of his main thesis: “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.”