Results tagged “Faithfulness” from Reformation21 Blog

What You're For, What You're Against!

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"Be known for what you're for rather than what you're against." This statement--in various forms--has become something of a Christian cliche over the past decade. Nearly every time I hear it, I wonder if those who so often state it understand the irony of the potential false dilemma that they have inadvertantly created for themselves. Insisting that we should want to be known for what we're for rather than for what we're against includes being known for being against being known for what we're against. You may actually be making a statement akin to that which almost every unbeliever makes when they, in opposition to the Bible's condemnation of sin, misuse the only verse in the Bible that they know, "Judge not..."--which, ironically, is a quite judgmental response.

To be fair, I strongly sympathize with the well intentioned sentiment behind the adage, "Be known for what you're for." I want to be known as a pastor who is for the gospel, for the church, for the Kingdom of God, for life, for marriage, and for a whole list of other God-ordained, and spiritually beautiful things. I'm also for gourmet food, all natural ingredients, and fancy restaurants. But for the good of humanity, I'm against kale chips and turkey bacon. Likewise, for the good of souls and for the good of the church, I'm against false gospels, false worship, false doctrine, and false teachers. Being for biblical things means that we must necessarily be against non-biblical ideas and practice.

Some people have made a career out of controversy. Watch blogs, conspiracy theory websites, and gossip media are all the rage. While the feel-good news stories get circulated around social media with comments such as, "THIS is real news," or "It's about time we see something positive," anyone looking at blog statistics can tell you the most read articles aren't filled with heartwarming testimonies or affirmations of true doctrine. Humans like drama, and even if we say we don't, our Netflix history proves otherwise. It's why the Bible warns us to, "Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths" (1 Timothy 4:7). Those who devote the better part of the life determining what everyone else is doing wrong and saying improperly are a danger to their own soul--and, I would add, aren't much help to others. More often than not, the controversies we allow into our hearts don't serve the great end of conforming us to the image of Christ.

However, in 2017 we celebrate 500 years of protest--something for which I and deeply thankful. The Protestant Reformation was perhaps the most important era of church history since the founding of the church, and it was an era of incredible opposition. Just as the Apostle Paul wrote, "If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:9), it was good and right that men like Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli took on the Roman Catholic Church with its false gospel and practice in order to recover the truth. Yet, the writings of the Reformers weren't entirely polemical. Today, the five Solas of the Reformation are positive affirmations of truth thrown against the background of falsehood. There were certainly times when Luther needed an editor (for instance, the time he wrote against some of his opponents with words like, "For he is an excellent man, as skillful, clever, and versed in Holy Scripture as a cow in a walnut tree or a sow on a harp"1) Nevertheless, the best the Church has offered throughout history has rightly balanced being for what we're for with being against what we're against--rather than to the exclusion of one or the other.

Those who believe that Christians too frequently voice opposition often make reference to the tone or manner in which certain matters are addressed. We cannot forget the biblical imperative to, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted..." (Ephesians 4:32) and to remember that our speech (and writing) should be, "Good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29). We must speak "the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). I confess that I have hammered out emails, blog articles, and social media posts that--while even today I can say were true in content--were a far cry from living up to what Paul exhorts in Ephesians 4. This is the case not just in how I wrote what I wrote, but more grievously, in the intentions of my heart.

The Bible is filled with warnings and prohibitions, and sometimes the best way to understand what is true is to understand and reject what is false. The Church has solidified much of orthodoxy by standing against false teachers and their doctrine. While the Western world moves further down the road of insisting that tolerance (read: "as long as you agree with me") be our battle cry, the growing temptation for Christians is going to be to win friends and influence people by only stating what we're for. However, faithful, God-glorifying Christianity isn't frilly and soft, and our spokesmen aren't supposed to be motivational speakers pumping us full of positive sunshine. I love preaching peacetime sermons full of true, positive affirmations from God's Word. But sometimes the reality of war is present in the text, and if we don't get in the trench and fire back, we're going to die.

[1] Martin Luther, Luther's Works, Vol. 41: Church and Ministry III, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 41 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 219.

To Be A Diaper Changer

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I recently happened across a picture online, in which a group of young adults were linking arms at a well attended Christian Conference. The person who had posted the picture wrote a caption underneath it that said something along the following lines: "I don't just believe in these young men and women; I believe that they can change the world." A few days later, I came across the self-designation of a girl who termed herself a "world changer" in her Twitter bio. One doesn't have to look far these days to see how ready the better part of young Christians are to embrace grandiose visions about their futures. On one hand, this seems so very noble. After all, as image bearers of God, shouldn't we desire excellence and seek to be a blessing to as many people in the world as possible? On the other hand, it comes across as supremely naive and somewhat narcissistic to think that I am so important that the entire world needs me and that I will most certainly be a change agent for the entire planetPerhaps we need a reevaluation of our own personal worth and calling. 

A "change the world" mentality often ironically serves as a catalyst for discontentment or undue guilt. The common failures and frustrations experienced in the mundane day-in and day-out aspects of life tend to leave those--who had hoped for more importance--jaded or callused as the years progress. Like the person who gains weight over the years and cannot seem to lose it (I know this so well experientially!) has the peculiar temptation of thinking back to the days when they were younger and thinner, the disappointments embraced by those who have misplaced expectations about their own influence can lead to a nostalgic paralysis in later years. 

Such a mentality also has the adverse effect of inadvertantly leading others to dismiss the importance of the work of the mother who faithfully changes her children's diapers, drives them to sporting and music practices, takes them to the doctor, keeps up the organizational aspects of life at home and serves with her husband in many unnoticed capacities at church. It tells the man who humbly hangs a sign for a church plant each and every Friday night and takes it down every Sunday night that what he is doing is insignificant. It implicitly disrespects the man who gets up at 5:30 every morning and who comes home at 7:30 every night (and who then repeats that process 6 days a week for 25 years) from his job in a factory.

A friend once told me the story of a Christian garbage man whose hands were worn from his work. Someone once asked him about his callused and blackened hands. The man responded, "I'm thankful for these hands because they serve as a reminder to me that I believe that I have been called to do the work that I do and that I can pick up garbage to the glory of God." This is what a "change the world" attitude misses. It fails to embrace Paul's admonition, "Whatever we do in word or deed do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Col. 3:17). 

To be a diaper changer to the glory of God is a glorious thing. Jesus said, "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much" (Luke 16:10). Among the many things that I regret in the early years of marriage is that I was far to eager too be out with people "doing ministry" and was not home enough helping my wife change diapers and put the kids to bed. I say this without any hesitation whatsoever: Any fruit I have in ministry is directly correlated to my wife's faithfulness in doing what is least to the glory of God.  

The reality is that there was only one true and lasting world changer; and, He had to be mocked by men, nailed to the cross, subject to the powers of hell and fall under the wrath of God in order to bring about permanent and lasting change in the world. Whenever we are tempted to want to "think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think," we must remember that the way up is the way down, that he who would be greatest must become least and that the way to the crown is the way of the cross. We must seek to become a "will of God doer" rather than a "world changer"--even if that means changing dirty diapers for the glory of God.   

Faithfulness and Fruitlessness in Ministry?

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A couple of weeks ago a friend asked a question: "How would you encourage a faithful brother who had been pastoring for several years and has not, in that season, seen a conversion directly from his preaching, though the church is growing and health with saints being built up and believers joining the church?" 

It is a good question, and one which many faithful men might face. In itself, the question makes a number of what are good and proper assumptions, as well as wrestling with some significant issues that cannot be avoided. Here are some thoughts for pastors and preachers in such a position: 

1. Do not underestimate the work of building and equipping, for this is fruit, and it can be - as well as an end in itself - a means to the end of reaching others with the gospel. 

2. Do not presume that what you are preaching is not the gospel, but do not presume that you are preaching that gospel as clearly and pointedly as you might. Go back to your Bible to ensure that you are preaching truths rooted in the person and work of Christ, but also preaching the person and work of Christ in themselves - preach Christ, not just about him! 

3. Are you preparing the way by a thorough and plain explanation of the problem of personal sin and impending judgement? Are you preaching the law in the good old-fashioned sense? 

4. All your preaching should be evangelical, but consider whether regular and specific evangelistic sermons might be an extra avenue of pursuing this end. 

5. Is the church actively and specifically praying for conversions in its public meetings (Lord's days and prayer meetings) and its private occasions (personal and family worship)? 

6. I think it is worth considering whether or not there is any sin in your life or the life of the church that might be a reason for God to withhold a blessing. I say this not to cripple you in conscience, but because it is worth taking into account. 

7. Do not fall into the mentality that 'the nation is under judgement' and that therefore, in effect, your labours are doomed to failure - the gospel remains the power of God to salvation for those who believe. Preach it in that confidence. You must cultivate this confidence actively. 

8. Consider whether and to what extent these growing members are personally engaged in making Christ known in their families and among their friends and neighbours and colleagues. 

9. Consider whether there are specific evangelistic avenues that could be pursued e.g. home and personal (1-2-1) bible studies, door to door, open air preaching. As we engage in such, the Lord sometimes sends blessing by another route. 

10. Are you setting a personal example of evangelistic endeavor (not merely pastoral-professional duty)? 

11. Are you equipping the saints for this work in your public ministry? Is this one of the areas in which they are being built up? 

12. Are you giving the impression that the church is a place for those believers to come and rest (it is) but not also to work (that too)? Some believers who seek out a faithful ministry do so because of weariness. They need, under God, to be healed, equipped, stirred up and sent out.

13. Are you yourself given to prayer for God's blessing upon your ministry in all these respects? 

14. Consider that Satan will particularly assault the church and ministers who particularly pursue this. Expect it to be hard, and to bring hardships. 

15. Are you prepared to accept that this could be a testing time in which the Lord is challenging your faith as to whether you believe God's promises, and so will go on relying upon God's means to accomplish God's ends in God's time? Such patient persistence is one of the hardest things to maintain. 

In offering such counsels, I convict myself over again. None of them are accusations, but examples of the kind of questions I would ask and continue to ask myself. When you do so, preach in the prayerful expectation that God will bless his gospel.

Press on for the "Well done!"

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Another snippet from Fuller, this time from an ordination sermon from Matthew 25.21, concerning the work and encouragements of the Christian minister. As he does often in such writings, Fuller fixes his eye on the last day and the great prize:
Place yourself in idea, my brother, before your Lord and Master, at the last day, and anticipate the joy of receiving his approbation. This is heaven. We should not study to please men so much as to please God. If we please him, we shall please all who love him, and, as to others, they are not on any account worthy of being pleased at the expense of displeasing God. It is doubtless gratifying to receive the "Well done" of a creature; but this in some cases may arise from ignorance, in others from private friendship; and in some cases men may say, "Well done," when, in the sight of Him who judges the heart, and recognizes the springs of action, our work may be ill done. And even if we have done comparatively well, we must not rest satisfied with the approbation of our friends. Many have sat down contented with the plaudits of their hearers, spoiled and ruined. It is the "Well done" at the last day which we should seek, and with which only we should be satisfied. There have been young ministers, of very promising talents, who have been absolutely nursed to death with human applause, and the hopes they inspired blighted and blasted by the flattery of the weak and inconsiderate. The sound of "Well done" has been reiterated in their ears so often, that at last (poor little minds!) they have thought, Surely it was well done; they have inhaled the delicious draught, they have sat down to enjoy it, they have relaxed their efforts, and, after their little hour of popular applause, they have retired behind the scenes, and become of little or no account in the Christian world ; and, what is worse, their spirituality has declined, and they have sunk down into a state of desertion, dispiritedness, and inactivity, as regards this world, and of uncertainty, if not of fearful forebodings, as to another .... My brother, you may sit down when God says, "Well done!" for then your trust will be discharged; but it is at your peril that you rest satisfied with any thing short of this. Keep that reward in view, and you will not, I trust, be unfaithful in the service of your Lord. (Complete Works, 1:499-500)

Faithfulness, Shame, and Where the Wind Blows

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I don't pretend to be an expert in Bunyan's classic Pilgrim's Progress. I doubt I've ever mentioned it in a sermon. But quotes like the one below (passed along to me by one who recalled it from memory) make me want to reread it with a fine-toothed comb. 

To set the context, Christian has just reunited with his fellow townsman, Faithful, who reports on his earlier encounter with a certain Shame (who attributes to the truly churched what he should feel about himself). It was Shame, Faithful recalled, who

"objected against religion itself. He said it was a pitiful, low, sneaking business for a man to mind religion. He said that a tender conscience was an unmanly thing; and that for a man to watch over his words and ways, so as to tie up himself from that hectoring liberty that the brave spirits of the times accustomed themselves unto, would make him the ridicule of the times. He objected also, that but a few of the mighty, rich, or wise, were ever of my opinion; nor any of them neither, before they were persuaded to be fools, and to be of a voluntary fondess to venture the loss of all for nobody knows what. 1 Cor. 1:26; 3:18; Phil. 3:7-9; John 7:48. He, moreover, objected the base and low estate and condition of those that were chiefly the pilgrims of the times in which they lived; also their ignorance and want of understanding in all natural science. Yea, he did hold me to it at that rate also, about a great many more things here than I relate; as, that it was a shame to sit whining and mourning under a sermon, and a shame to come home sighing and groaning home; that it was a shame to ask my neighbor forgiveness for petty faults, or to make restitution where I have taken from any. He said also, that religion made a man grow strange to the great, because of a few vices, which he called by finer names, and made him own and respect the base, because of the same religious fraternity: And is not this, said he, a shame?"

From an emphasis on science to sermon apathy, from an affinity for social acceptance to an adjustment of sin, this pretty well captures the prevailing currents of our age, even within many quarters of the church. 

I am both comforted and stunned that Bunyan wrote these words in 1638. Comforted because it is more evidence that there is nothing new under ther sun and that 1 Cor 10:13 spans ages, not just continents. Stunned because of how so many--including me--fail to "imbibe" (to borrow from Dr. Oliphint's article on this site) what Bunyan is delivering. 

All of which brings me to some wisdom I once heard from a real Faithful that may fortify those confronted, or perhaps tempted, by the "hectoring liberty" of the "brave spirits of the times": though all be with you, you may still be wrong; though all be against you, you may still be right.