Although I first heard of Greg Koukl as an undergrad at Biola University in the mid 90s, we became good friends in the early 2000s as students in the M.A. Philosophy program at Talbot. Greg is one of the leading apologists of our day and has had a huge impact on my personal and professional life.
He gave me the honor of endorsing his recent book The Story of Reality, and I can honestly say that it’s fantastic. In the words of Tim Challies:
“Koukl promises to tell the story of reality. He does, and he does it beautifully. You’ll benefit by reading his telling of how the world began, how it will end, and all the important stuff that happens in between" ...
... The topic is work. Something important for all of us, and it’s one that has interested me in particular teaching already five years now a theology of work course for Biola’s Crowell School of Business MBA program. Work is also a topic that naturally engages the desire for kingdom impact in the culture, because, as Karl Barth says, “human culture is produced in work. So the Faith and Work movement is right on target for engaging a ready audience in a worthy endeavor. This of course isn’t the only good of theology of work ...
Dr. Kenneth Berding shares his wisdom on 10 simple ways to love your wife ...
Last year saw the release of the film “Me Before You,” a movie about a man who ends his life after an accident leaves him disabled. In response, Christian radio host Joni Eareckson Tada raised very serious concerns with the message of the film. An article on theblaze.com reports on her podcast interview with The Church Boys in which Joni expressed great concern over the danger of the film’s message, one which radicalizes individual rights while removing the moral component from those rights. Tada encouraged Christians to respond to the film by proclaiming that “life really is worth living,” so “face circumstances courageously.” She added that affliction is an unavoidable part of life.
In her critique, Tada drew attention to a sobering reality that most people never see: the virtue of suffering. “Because we live in such an entitlement society, we already see no virtue in suffering … already we believe that affliction should be avoided at all costs.” These two things—virtue and suffering—we rarely, if ever, associate together. Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic and founder of Joni and Friends, an organization that serves those with disabilities, knows of what she speaks.
Many years ago, an Austrian Anabaptist addressed the same issue. While awaiting execution in a cold Tyrolean prison in the town of Rattenberg, Leonhard Schiemer described God’s three-fold grace, a grace that includes suffering. God’s first grace, Schiemer said, is the law, given to us in order to convict us of sin. Upon receiving the law’s conviction, we despair and ask God for grace in salvation. God responds with a second grace: Christ’s cross of suffering.
Notice Schiemer’s assertion that the affliction that the cross brings is a gift of God’s grace—something to be received, not avoided. The cross’ pain is not only unavoidable; it is essential. Schiemer explains that salvation means loving nothing but God Himself. What is it that prevents us from loving God wholly? Very simply, it is sin, enjoying the “love, comfort, pleasure, and delight of creatures [worldly things].” Therefore, God must remove all loves and dependencies on everything except God alone. The application of Christ’s cross means that God purges sin from our lives, a painful experience involving both inward affliction—“the struggle of the flesh”—and outward suffering—“the renunciation and deprivation of the body.”
As Schiemer explains it, the virtue of suffering caused by Christ’s cross is that God’s grace works through inner and outer afflictions, eradicating sin from our lives and producing a single-minded love for and dependence upon God. However, the pain and affliction are not the final say.
Once someone embraces the suffering of the cross, God gives a third grace: the comfort of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s comfort overwhelms the suffering; however, the grace of the Spirit’s comfort cannot come until one first receives the grace of suffering. Schiemer knew this all too well. After a bitter seven-week imprisonment, he was beheaded and his corpse burned for his Anabaptist faith on Jan. 14, 1528.
Schiemer and Tada insightfully remind us of a profoundly hard biblical truth—the “virtue of suffering.” Jesus taught, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great …” (Matthew 5:11-12). On the night before His death, Jesus reminded the disciples of what awaited them: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. … If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you …” (John 15:18, 20).
Peter remembered this lesson and told his persecuted brethren not to “be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing … but to the degree that you share in the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing … you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (1 Peter 4:12-14). Likewise, Paul instructs that “we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:3-5). In a similar vein, James encourages his readers to “Consider it all joy … when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
More Scriptures could be cited, but just these few yield an impressive picture of the virtue of suffering. Suffering produces perseverance, a tried and true character, a non-disappointing hope, and spiritual and moral maturity. Also, suffering as Christ’s follower is both expected and an occasion of blessing and joy. In the midst of the affliction, God has promised great reward and the Holy Spirit’s presence.
God knows of what He speaks; He knows what it is to suffer. God did not remain distant and aloof from our pain and suffering. Jesus Christ came as God incarnate and faced the worst that evil could throw at Him. Jesus suffered physical pain beyond comprehension, the emotional pain of utter human rejection and hatred, and worst of all, the spiritual trauma of bearing humanity’s sin on the cross. He suffered as propitiation for sin to bring salvation for humanity, truly a gracious and virtuous act. Though our affliction is not redemptive, there is virtue in tribulation as it purges sin and produces a deeper love for Christ, whose virtuous suffering saved us.
http://www.theblaze.com/news/2016/06/16/we-live-in-such-an-entitlement-society-famed-quadriplegic-advocates-warning-about-why-this-new-hollywood-film-is-so-dangerous-and-her-powerful-message-about-courage/. The article also contains a link to Tada’s podcast interview with The Church Boys.
Leonhard Schiemer, “Concerning the Grace of God; Concerning the Bottle,” in Jörg Maler’s Kunstbuch: Writings of the Pilgram Marpeck Circle, ed. John D. Rempel, Classics of the Radical Reformation, vol. 12 (Kitchener, Ontario: Pandora Press, 2010), 203-34.
I have served as a pastor around six years now, and one reality I still cannot reconcile is the notion of preaching to other people the myriad texts (all of them, so far) I find exceedingly difficult to obey myself. I preach about slaying the deadly viper of pride, but then I am proud of the way I exposited and communicated the text. I tell my people that they should pray without ceasing, and yet my prayer life is too often as inconsistent as summer rainfall in Kentucky. I preach about seeking God’s grace to lower the thermostat on our tempers after I have fired angry darts at my wife and children on the way to church, “Shut up, we’re going to worship!”
You get my drift. For a man called to preach God’s Word each Lord’s Day, this creates an existential crisis.
A particular Sunday presented a prime example of the tension that grips me when preaching God’s Word, a tension that always morphs into a full-blown fear that each week behind the sacred desk I am a trafficker in unlived truth. The text was Matthew 5:9 from the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Great verse. Great opportunity to talk about selflessness in relating to others, displaying both love to God and love to neighbor and the like.
I made this application point: “When we are in conflict with others, we must talk less and listen more. We must learn to turn the other cheek in the way we respond verbally to others.” Ouch. I was getting paid to talk. And in conflict with others, sometimes I still struggle mightily to be like my Lord to turn the other cheek. On the way home that particular Sunday I kept thinking, I just preached on peacemaking and my own pastor (that would be me) falls miserably short of God’s glory in this area.
Dying men preaching to dying men
How are God’s undershepherds to come to grips with this daunting reality? How do we reconcile the all-too obvious truth that we are sinners preaching to sinners? How do we get some in our congregations over the notion that we are popes, we are monastics who descend from the cloister each week where we’ve been holed up all week, dodging the world, the flesh, and the devil? Sin dwells even in monasteries because sinners live there.
But many of the people to whom we are called to minister don’t really believe this about us, and when we sin—and we will—some of them write us off as phonies or Pharisees or worse. In the early months of my first pastoral ministry, a man told me I wasn’t qualified to be a pastor because I sinned. He seemed a bit stunned when I admitted that, though I believed his case for ministerial perfectionism unbiblical, I acutely felt the tension of of my standing as a saved-by-grace-sinner calling other sinners to walk God’s inspired line. I told him, “If you think that one thing you just mentioned is the worst weakness I have, you don’t know the half of it!”
Veteran pastor and counselor Paul Tripp, in his excellent book Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, rode to my rescue by reminding me again that I am, in the words of the great Puritan Richard Baxter, a dying man called to preach to dying men. I must sit under my own preaching and teaching. My weekly preparation must never be less than devotional. And for any pastor to survive this sanctifying meat-grinder known as the pastoral ministry, it must never become clinical.
Pastors differ from garden-variety pew-sitters only in this fact: we have the unique privilege—and profound advantage—of being called to study in significant depth God’s chosen sin-killing, heart-renewing, image-restoring agent: the Bible. Yes, we are our own pastors, and we must listen to our preaching each week, which is to say, we must do far more than “handle” God’s Word: it must handle us as well. Thus, we must ask difficult questions about canceled sin that still clings to our hearts like barnacles on an old shrimp boat. We must ask God to use his Word to expose our besetting sins and hidden weaknesses so that we become more and more like Christ.
Pastors are paper plates
And we must remind our people that, despite popular misconceptions about the perfections inherent in God’s ministers, the inspired witness says we are mere clay pots, Walmart crockery, weak men in the midst of our own sanctification—just like the hearers of the sermons we preach. We stand in desperate need of wave upon wave of grace to wash upon the shores of our lives every moment, and we must not hide that face from our people behind a mask of subtle perfectionism.
Best of all, I do not have to be paralyzed by the expectation of perfection—whether it arises from my mind or the congregation’s— because Jesus was perfect for me. I am not worthy to be a minister, but Christ was worthy for me. I do not and will not measure up, but Jesus perfectly measured up for me. The gospel is true for God’s people in the pew and it is true for me, his herald, as well.
May God grant his ministers grace to hear and heed their own preaching.
Jeff Robinson (M.Div. and Ph.D., SBTS) is editor of the Southern Seminary blog. He is pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in Louisville, serves as senior editor for The Gospel Coalition, and is also adjunct professor of church history and senior research and teaching associate for the Andrew Fuller Center at SBTS. He is co-author with Michael A. G. Haykin of To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy (Crossway, 2014) and co-editor with D. A. Carson of Coming Home: Essays on the New Heaven and New Earth (Crossway, forthcoming). Jeff and his wife, Lisa, have four children. This is adapted from an article that originally appeared at TGC.
Around this time each year we like to look back at the content we published over the past year to see what resonated with you, the reader. Our focus at The Southern Blog has been to produce content that serves the pastor, missionary, and/or church leader. As you serve the church, we strive to serve you with articles that stretch you theologically, encourage you personally, or assist you pastorally.
Here are this year’s most read articles on The Southern Blog:
Digital courses taught by a growing number of Biola’s professors are now available through Logos Mobile Education ...
I am a medical student from Norway, and first I want to say that I am very grateful for your work as it has meant a great deal to both my interest in philosophy and my faith.
Last week there was a small debate in Oslo about the Kalaam cosmological argument in which an atheist philosopher claimed that it may be possible that something began to exist out of nothing because that statement did not involve a contradiction and hence was logically possible. In watching your debates and reading some of your work I understand you to agree that it is logically possible, but that since it goes against both our intuition and experience it is in some other way impossible or at least an irrational view to hold ...
One of my worst moments in seminary happened when I missed two weeks of Church History class. Why? Because the day I got back to class, I had no idea what we were talking about! My timeline of a historical narrative was fragmented, and without taking that into account, understanding the latter part of history was made far more difficult. To properly understand a historical narrative, it is imperative that we take its entirety into account.
It is my fear that we, as a body of believers, have gravely misunderstood the historical narrative of not only Martin Luther King’s era, but also the current Black Lives Matter movement and our role in properly responding as Christians. Why do I have this fear? Because often, our response to modern riots, protests and civil disturbances has been to isolate the incident instead of taking into account its historical context. This has led to a misinterpretation of modern incidents within our country that entail highly charged racial tensions that further drive and validate division among us.
Let us, as a body of believers, objectively examine what has transpired over our country’s history and how we can better respond to the current climate.
In regard to the Negro-American, our country has a dark history, the consequences of which we are still facing today. To deny the modern-day effects attributed to this dark history is similar to denying modern-day effects Jews still endure from atrocities done by the Nazis. The reality is that we all suffer from consequences of choices made in the past.
In the early stages of our country, the U.S. Constitution regulated laws that devalued the humanity of much of the slave population. For example, at one point, the law denied the full humanity of slaves and restricted anyone from educating slaves. For almost a century, the first fight for slaves in this country was not for freedom; rather, it was a fight to be considered equally human. For generations, the damage these measures caused to slaves and their families far outweighed anything our country had done to right these wrongs.
This is not stated in an attempt to illicit any sort of apology or to demand any type of reparation for descendants of slaves. Rather, this is intended to accentuate that the perception of the Imago Dei in an entire people group—as far as others and even they themselves perceive it—has been damaged. Within the American church, one man sought to champion this fight for humanity and help the country rightfully perceive the devalued Imago Dei in a people group.
In April 1963, amidst his fight for civil rights, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was imprisoned in Birmingham, Ala. King, being a pastor at the time, did not separate theological aspects of his faith from social issues. In fact, King’s faith and his heart for people are what thrust him into his role as a civil rights leader. His heart from the pulpit and movement was to ultimately see the image of God within a people group—which had been largely disavowed in history—rightly perceived by those both inside and outside the group.
At the time of his arrest, a collective group of prominent, Alabama clergymen published an open letter reprimanding King’s philosophy of peaceful and immediate protesting. They condemned his view of change and his actions as both “unwise and untimely.” However, King was no stranger to staunch opposition, especially from other fellow believers. In King’s response to these clergymen, notice the language King uses,
Beyond this, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. … Just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Graeco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown. … Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
King called for immediate justice through peaceful demonstrations in this letter, and he received strong opposition even from those within the American church. Historically, we as a convention and body of believers at large have been behind the curve of justice. Oftentimes, we are so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. The reason we can look back on Dr. King and honor his path is that he did not separate earthly race relations from his heavenly theology.
Black Lives Matter
The controversy continues after the death of Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968, racial division continued in America. Since King’s death, there has not been a central figure within the American church (black or white) possessing a loud enough voice to stand up and continue speaking toward repairing perceptions of the Imago Dei in the descendants of slaves. There have been many who tried, but very few commanded a movement like Dr. King. That has been true until recently.
In 2012, #BlackLivesMatter began in response to the controversial death of Trayvon Martin. The following is taken directly from their website’s “About” page; notice the language this movement uses:
Rooted in the experiences of Black people in this country who actively resist our dehumanization, #BlackLivesMatter is a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society.… #BlackLivesMatter is working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. We affirm our contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.
In many ways, this is the same language used by Dr. King during the Civil Rights movement. BLM is seeking an immediate change, to affirm the humanity of black people, and to restore the brokenness in many black lives.
So what is the major difference between BLM and Martin Luther King Jr.?
While King operated through the church and uplifted God to restore the Imago Dei during the Civil Rights movement, BLM has little to no church involvement, especially within its leadership roles—a major reason being that several founders and prominent leaders of this movement have deviated from church involvement due to BLM’s stance on homosexuality and women leadership. While their goal is similar to that of King’s during the Civil Rights movement—to restore the misperceived image of God within a people group—they are doing so apart from God Himself. One can almost categorize it as seeking to attain the blessings of God detached from God.
This is in no way a critique, defense or advocacy of BLM and past/future actions regarding race relations. It certainly has many short comings, but since its inception, the movement has addressed an important issue within our country. My intention in highlighting BLM is to expose what happens when we as a body of believers fail to properly take up our charge from the Lord.
This is a historical fact: When the church steps back from a role it was designed to fulfill, the world steps in and responds. This is the case with soul care in America, political involvement, and properly addressing racial inequities that began hundreds of years ago. Unfortunately, we as a body of believers have not done our part to continue the work of Dr. King in rightfully repairing the perception of the Imago Dei within a people group. And just as we have seen throughout history, wherever Christians remain silent, others have spoken up. Where the church has dropped the torch, the world has picked it up.
As I write this, I wish I could appeal to a time in our country’s history where we, as an entire church body in America, “got it right.” Unfortunately, as far as the church in America is concerned, I cannot. So, instead of calling you to do what we “used to do,” I must plead with all of my brothers and sisters in the faith to be what the Bible has called us to be. We, as the body of Christ, are to rightfully love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39), to speak up for those who have no voice (Proverbs 31:8), to become a voice amidst a dark world (Matthew 5:14-16), and to show no partiality in our treatment of others (James 2:9). Our failure to collectively do these things at the national level is why we have the problems today that we do.
So who is to blame for all the civil unrest in the current climate? The “worldly people” in the streets fighting to restore that which was broken, or the people in the pew who condemn voices in a cause that they themselves should have upheld?
In a sense, one may be able to conclude that because of the American church’s nearly non-existent voice in this matter, Christians have forced the world to create its own answer that is separate from the teaching of the one true God. If we were the voice God commanded us to be, the world would not need to look for other answers. So the next time we as Christians see people who, apart from God, champion Gospel-centric causes—such as the acknowledgement of the Imago Dei in every individual, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or nationality—may our hearts be broken, and may our hands and feet become like those of Christ Jesus. This was the heartbeat of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and my prayer is that it rings deeply within the hearts of us in the body today.
 By this statement, I am not claiming that all riots, protests and civil actions are part of the grand historical narrative referenced in the article. There are certainly random acts of violence and disorderly conduct that have occurred all across our country throughout its history by all people groups.
 Systematized inequities, racial biases, etc.
 This is not to deny progress that has been made within our country—Brown vs. Board of Education, constitutional amendments, etc.
 That is, the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).
 It was not until 1995 that our Southern Baptist Convention as a whole acknowledged and publically condemned its historically racial past. www.sbc.net/resolutions/899/resolution-on-racial-reconciliation-on-the-150th-anniversary-of-the-southern-baptist-convention
 For more information, see “Reason No. 3: They’re not trying to mobilize the black church” in this article by CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/29/us/black-lives-matter-blowing-it/
 That is, the argument that black lives do hold value and significance, contrary to what our history has communicated. It is not a matter of whether we philosophically believe that all lives are of equal importance; rather, it pertains to the fact that, historically, black lives have been devalued and dehumanized which is a biblically inaccurate notion.
 At least in regard to the issue of race.
It’s official. The 2016 word of the year is “post-truth.” Last year it was an emoji. In 2014 the word was “vape.” And in 2013 it was “selfie.” With the truth twisting, emotional appeals, and personal attacks that characterized this past election season, Oxford Dictionaries selected “post-truth” as the word for 2016. According to the dictionary, “post-truth” means, “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
When I lived in Central Asia, it was very interesting to see how many of the young Muslims viewed their religion. They said that at their age, they could enjoy life and wait until an older age to get serious about religion. Their thinking was that God is more interested in the afterlife, and that only becomes an issue when you are close to the afterlife, which is where old people find themselves. Once you are of a grandparent-type age, they thought, you then need to prepare for the afterlife by doing religious activities. This is a very convenient way of seeing religion and allows for a position where God is able to fit into our way of thinking rather than us needing to fit into His way of thinking.
Is this religious worldview unique to the young people of Central Asia and to Islam, or is it also present in many of the young people of the U.S. who call themselves Christians? At the heart of this worldview is the idea that this earthly life belongs to me, and I get to decide how I live it. As long as I believe in Jesus and have my ticket to heaven, I can check the religion box and then live life as I see it. This line of thinking continues, “Sure, God is around and interested in me, but the way this looks is that He is there to bless me and make my life successful. In this life, I am not there for God, but God is there for me!”
It is interesting that in Matthew 6:9-13, as Jesus is teaching His disciples to pray, He does tell them to ask the Father for their daily provisions (bread). The context of this, however, is that He has just told them to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus is teaching that we pray and ask the Father to provide for us, even bless us, for the clear purpose of building His Kingdom according to His will. There is no way to interpret this prayer to mean that we ask Him for blessings so that we can build our kingdom our way in this life and then jump over to His Kingdom in the afterlife.
In American Christianity, we run the risk of lowering the bar for our young people, and whether intentionally or not, we end up offering a therapeutic Christianity that is careful not to offend or challenge them too much. We hope that as they get older they will mature into the right type of Christians, and so we reinforce the idea that “religion is for old people.”
But our young people can change the world now! I try to consistently extend this challenge to my four sons: “You can change the world or the world can change you—which will it be?”
If the answer is that young Christian people can change the world, then the Bible comes alive with meaning. Here are just two examples:
“And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me’” (Luke 9:23). This verse has no meaning for young Christians who have developed a worldview that God is there for them. But for young Christians who understand that they are there for God and His Kingdom, this verse is full of meaning and becomes a measuring rod for living out their faith.
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). For young people who live for themselves, this verse makes no sense and needs to be rephrased as follows: “For to me, to live is me and to die is religion.” But for young Christians who embrace God’s priority in their lives, this verse becomes a life focus. Jesus becomes the measure of success. Each day without a focus on Jesus is a day wasted.
Let’s raise the bar for our young people and live out a daily commitment to Jesus and His Kingdom.
You may call it something different, but every pastor knows it well. It is the mental, emotional, and spiritual crash that takes place on Monday as a result of pouring your heart and soul out in the proclamation of God’s Word to God’s people the day before.
Personally, it has affectionately become known as, “The Preaching Hangover.”
There is no easy remedy, medication, or quick fix that can prevent it. There are, however, several practical efforts I make every Monday that are tremendously helpful to fight through the fog. Here are five suggestions for your consideration:
1. Pray and read Scripture
I know this seems like a no brainer for a pastor. The fact is sometimes on Monday morning . . . I don’t feel like it. Yet, this is still what gives life to our weary souls and we must make ourselves continue to engage, even if we are struggling to want to think about anything, even God and his word. I find pushing through the fog by reaching for the bread of life is what gives a helpful kick start as we begin the weekly grind again.
2. Know your limitations
Many pastors take Monday as their day off. For those of us who choose a different day off to spend with our family, we have to proceed with Mondays carefully. I am in no condition to deal with any heavy, thought-provoking, emotional counseling or conflict situations, at least until after lunch.
You may be different, but the “hangover” affects us all in some way that requires discernment as we plan the day. Be careful you don’t put yourself in a position in your day that requires you to make a big decision when you are not nearly as sharp as you need to be to make it.
I exercise 4-5 times a week, but if there is a day when it is especially important to do so, it is Monday. If you only exercise one day a week, I recommend it be Monday. It hurts . . . many times more than normal following a Lord’s Day, but a good 30-plus minute cardiovascular workout is exactly what I need to help shake the preaching hangover.
4. Assign achievable tasks
The preaching hangover is by no means an excuse to be a sluggard and unproductive. Give yourself attainable tasks and make sure you push through to achieve them. If it is your day off, make sure you are working hard to perk up and engage with your family so your wife and children do not get your “sluggard day.” If you are trying to be productive in the office, but have a hard time studying for very long as I do, schedule other tasks that are within your frame of mind to accomplish.
For me, Monday is full of checking emails, simple administration, running errands, and meeting with folks that I know will be more light, encouraging, and less likely to be a blind-side confrontation. You may be able to handle more than I typically can. Just make sure they are tasks that are reasonable for you to accomplish in the day.
Do whatever you must to provide some silence and solitude for yourself. Sometimes I combine this with my exercise in the morning. I like to go to a park, run, then sit in silence for a little while away from people, just you and God. Silence can be life-giving when we are often bombarded with words and people the day before. This has become essential for my personal soul care and my ability to work through the Monday fog.
I hope in some way these suggestions will trigger ideas that will be of help to you to clear the cob webs of the preaching hangover. Just remember, when you do have to face a long, weighty, conflict full Monday because the needs of the congregation demand it. God’s grace is sufficient to walk through it.
Brian Croft serves as senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville. He is also senior fellow for the Mathena Center for Church Revitalization at Southern Seminary. A veteran pastor and author of numerous books on practical aspects of pastoral ministry, Brian oversees Practical Shepherding, a gospel-driven resource center for pastors and church leaders to equip them in the practical matters of pastoral ministry. His latest book is Biblical Church Revitalization: Solutions for Dying & Divided Churches (Christian Focus, 2016).
Poverty. It is no respecter of persons. It is a global reality that exists in Calcutta and Compton; Tokyo and Timbuktu; San Francisco and São Paulo. Poverty is seen in nations and neighborhoods. It ravages urban, suburban, and rural areas. And despite the enormous wealth of some areas, make no mistake: poor people reside in Beverly Hills, Dubai, and Midtown Manhattan. Destitution is not limited to places like Dhaka and Detroit. Quite simply, there are examples of poverty everywhere. That isn’t to say poverty is equally distributed or equally affecting. In some areas poverty is more relative and sporadic. In other places, it seems absolute ...
The Dec. 17, 2016, issue of The Dallas Morning News carried a shocking headline: “Conservative Belief Spurs Church Growth.” The story recounts the astonishing discovery of David Millard Haskell, associate professor of religion, culture and digital media and journalism at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada. Apparently, there is a connection between what conservative churches believe and growth patterns that are largely absent from more liberal churches. This happens even though conservative pastors often violate their own convictions and cast the sheep of their congregations into the spiritual equivalent of slaughter houses. Furthermore, not all conservative churches demonstrate growth, and one can still find some liberal churches that have experienced a modicum of increase.
But wait! This is not news. In 1972, Dean M. Kelley wrote a monograph entitled Why Conservative Churches Are Growing, published by Harper and Row. Some of his definitions were too broad, but who would have anticipated such a book from a United Methodist clergyman who, at that time, was working for the National Council of Churches? Kelley wrote:
If now the leaders of that organization expect to summon those members into the struggle for social improvement, they are simply calling the wrong collection of people. The churches and synagogues are not social-action barracks where the troops of militant reform are kept in readiness to charge forth at the alarums and excursions of social change. Rather, they are the conservatories where the hurts of life are healed, where new spiritual strength is nourished, and where the virtues and verities of human experience are celebrated. To rally those within to launch an attack on the status quo is like trying to lead into hand-to-hand combat a collection of nurses, teachers, physicians, and gardeners, people who are capable, responsible, and responsive—at something else.
Then in 1992, Rutgers University Press, hardly noted for being a vehicle for fundamentalism, published the work of Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, The Churching of America 1776-1990. These two sociologists used different examples, but the conclusions are identical. Now Haskell has followed suit. So every 20 to 25 years, people who are not particularly sympathetic with the narrow conclusions of conservative churches keep arriving at the same conclusions. Perhaps the third time will be a charm, and a firm grasp of the obvious will finally be achieved.
How is it that something this obvious seems to be absent from the thinking of so many? Well, let’s see if I might be able to help. I am not adroit with technology. So, I have decided to establish a new social order based on the rejection of technology. I remember with delight when I had to have a quarter and find a phone booth to make a call. At home, we had a tail attached to our phone so you could not wander far, but since it was a party line, you could still listen to what all the neighbors were saying. In this society, I suggest that we reject cell phones and inveigh against them. How many followers, even among the elderly, do you think I will have?
Everyone knows that technology is here to stay, and we all enjoy the freedom afforded by use of our cell phones. There will be little success in my new social order, even though it is not without its redeeming features. To critique technology and urge people to live simpler lives is going to gather precious little following. In fact, one would enjoy greater success in a boxing match with an enraged grizzly than to have a social order that rejects technology. By the same token, criticism of the Bible and churches that faithfully proclaim its truth, while always popular in the academy, in the liberal press, and in a few self-congratulatory elitist circles, is anything but profound.
Here is the stern truth of the matter. Among folks who are interested in attending church, there is little appeal in hearing an erudite minister give a lecture on understanding the ways Plutarch’s approach to biography will somehow help us dance around the “mistakes” in the Gospel accounts of Jesus so as to uncover the real message, which some “scholar” then must translate into our limited context. Since Porphyry launched his attack on Daniel in the late third century, fashionable scholarship has attacked the Bible. Eighteen centuries later, conservative churches are growing worldwide! In spite of all the foibles of its clergy, specious arguments sometimes advanced in its defense, internal debates about such things as style of music and inconsistencies in the lives of Christians, people still want to know if God has anything to say about this life and existence that we share.
Greater Vision Quartet has a song from the point of view of a parishioner: “Preacher, if you want to be my friend, don’t tell me what I want to hear.” The parishioner goes on to ask that the preacher tell him what God says. No one anticipates perfection from even the leaders in the church, but they know well that, in terms of ultimate answers, the universities have failed, the psychiatrists have moved the patients over to recline on their own couches, and the politicians have created such a muddle that any hope there perished long ago. On the other hand, the majority of people who follow Christ and invoke the Bible as a guide for life are a happy people, forgiving offences rather readily, loving one another and even their enemies, accepting the providences of God, and, when necessary, suffering and even dying for their faith with confidence. They tend to be good citizens, they neither steal nor murder, and, in spite of many miscues, they usually maintain the best in family life.
Usually, Christians of a conservative stripe do not spend an inordinate amount of time fretting over the end of the age, the status of dictators in the world, or the possibility of nuclear annihilation. The Bible has taught them how to live, how to think, and how to trust God by faith. These Christians are appropriately concerned, but they believe with all their hearts that the final chapter in human existence has been penned by God.
And by the way, there is a reason why conservative seminaries are holding their own in a day when most of the rest are on a downward turn. Of the 10 largest seminaries in America, almost all of them have a conservative persuasion. As Finke and Stark note, “Because most Baptist seminaries in the North were independently organized and thereby free of denominational control, they easily became a haven for the expression and development of liberal theology.”
With the millions of abortions taking place, coupled with the failure in the local churches to call out the called and the prevailing tendency among millennials to see little need of instruction, these conservative seminaries are attuned closest to the local churches and remain strong. The close pastoral relationship between these seminaries and the local churches that support them with prayer and funding results in a steady stream of students who hold them close to the Bible. How many more sociologists will have to recount this history before the social establishment notes the phenomenon and begins to ask why this is the case?
Dean M. Kelley, Why Conservative Churches are Growing (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), 151.
Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, The Churching of America 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press), 172.