A Story About the Church that Should Break Your Heart

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Thabiti Anyabwile is an African-American pastor, former Muslim, and a wise and truly biblical thinker for our age. God has raised him up and is using him to help the Church in America think rightly about itself. 

thabiti-book-coverIn his 2008 book published by Crossway Books under the title What is a Healthy Church Member? he begins his first chapter with a break-your-heart story. At least, I hope it breaks your heart.

Jenny surprised me when she started crying during our membership interview. The first twenty minutes of the interview were fairly routine. She recounted her childhood growing up in a Christian home, her high school years filled with fear, and a period of living as a prodigal during college. Then she recalled with some joy her conversion experience in a hometown local church.

So I did not expect her to sob at the question, ‘How was that church for you spiritually? Did you grow there?’

After pausing for a moment, she explained, ‘I expected that after my conversion someone would have helped me to grow as a Christian.’ She continued with a distinct trace of confusion and anger: ‘But it was as if people put me in a corner somewhere, as if they expected me to figure things out on my own. It was a terrible and lonely time.’”   [Bold emphasis added]

This breaks my heart because it is a clear example of a church that had no process of ministry for making disciples—which is the number one task of the church (see Matthew 28:16-20).

Babes in Christ need nurture to “grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). We can be busy doing a lot of things in the church, . . . a lot of good things, but if we aren’t multiplying disciples, we aren’t being faithful to Christ and the results are catastrophic:

  • People stay broken and stalled in their growth toward Christlikeness
  • The gospel’s power to change lives is muted
  • The Kingdom of God is anemically expressed
  • God does not receive the glory due His name
  • The world is not confronted with the truth of the gospel

People of God, 

 ..     Israel of God,

…          redeemed of the Lord …

…                      we must do better.

We simply must give attention and effort to caring for and loving the people of God with all their baggage and demands, with all their heartbreak and brokenness, with all their foibles and follies. If we don’t, we defame Him who died for us and rose for us and lives and reigns for us, and is coming back for us, because He has forgiven us and made us His own possession (Titus 2:14).

Beloved at Manchester Creek Community Church, we will. Looking forward to the year 2017 and the equipping of the flock for the works of the ministry. 

The Beginning of the End of Death

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That’s one way to think of Christmas. With the incarnation, with the God-man Savior, the plan of the Father to conquer sin and its effects, including death, is unleashed. Christmas is the beginning of the end for death. All those who rightly fear death can run to a Savior who rescues them from death and transforms death and its fears into celebration and life–eternal life.

Five months before he died, C.S. Lewis wrote a woman who feared that her own death was imminent. Lewis said, ‘Can you not see death as a friend and deliverer? … What is there to be afraid of? … Your sins are confessed. … Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind. … Our Lord says to you, “Peace, child, peace. Relax. Let go. I will catch you. Do you trust me so little?’ … Of course, this may not be the end. Then make it a good rehearsal” …

—quoted in Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven

For some time, I have been telling my children that if I ever show signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s, I want them to get me a one-way ticket to a Muslim country, say goodbye and let me go to preach the gospel and die a martyr before I lose my mind entirely! I will have a glorious end; I won’t be a burden on the family, and they will have great stories to tell my grandchildren!

How can I and others live that way?

Because Jesus came to die for me and death no longer has any power over me, because my sins (that would have condemned me) have been covered by the sacrifice of Christ, there is no fear in death. 

Which reminds me of another great truth underscored by C.S.Lewis. In the book, a Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken tells the story of meeting and developing a friendship with Lewis who presented the truth of the gospel in such thought provoking ways that Sheldon and his girlfriend, Davy, came to know Christ. Vanauken tells of the day they said farewell. Lewis and Sheldon, along with Davy were parting. Vanauken passed to the other side of the road at a street light and then above the din of the surrounding traffic, Lewis’s voice boomed out, “Besides, Christians never really say goodbye.”

That’s right. We are headed toward a great reunion. Death is swallowed up in the victory of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:50-57). Our death-conquering Lord forgives. And that is always a great message to remember and rejoice in at Christmas.

So, until God calls us home, let’s be a people filled with joy and let’s be found announcing the coming of the Kingdom of God. Our death-conquering Lord forgives. And that is always a great message to remember and rejoice in at Christmas.

How Harvard Shaped the Nation (long ago)

The following historical time-capsule is from Kairos Journal. It is a great reminder that great beginnings do not necessarily end well. Harvard had a great evangelistic thrust for the gospel at its inception but not so much anymore. Whatever the gain for the nation in terms of its present structure, it is a loss for the nation that such a spiritual heritage has been abandoned. 

All things spiritual tend to a downward spiral without constant spiritual and doctrinal vigilance. And that is a good lesson to learn for denominations, churches, and individual Christians too.

harvard-universityThe Rise of the Pastor-Scholar

When Sir Walter Mildmay founded Emmanuel College in Cambridge in 1584, he planted a seedbed for a new sort of minister: the preacher/scholar/pioneer. Wave after wave of committed graduates, who initially made vigorous attempts to reform the English church, soon set sail to settle colonies in America committed to the glory of God.1 The vision of Emmanuel College took root on the shores of the New World. Harvard College, the first university in North America, was greatly benefited by John Harvard. An Emmanuel graduate, John Harvard bequeathed half his fortune and his entire library to the school to ensure that an educated clergy served the needs of these intrepid pilgrims. The commitment of a university in service to Church and society contributed greatly to the brimming promise of the American experiment and ongoing renewal in England.

Emmanuel College emerged at just the right time. The Church of England was in dire straits at the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth I (1558). In the first full decade of her reign, an ignorant clergy often prevented the clear preaching of the gospel of Christ.2 Across England: “virtually everywhere preaching resources were inadequate and over-stretched.”3 Godly leaders drew attention to the need for able pastors. The problem was clear: from what well would the hundreds of competent preachers spring? The answer was simple: the universities.

For various cultural and political reasons, evangelicals gained control of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the 1560s. Realizing the importance of these institutions, they quickly placed their best theologians in teaching positions. Young men were schooled both in the Scriptures and in the budding theological writings of Calvin, Bullinger, and the confessions.4 Moreover, in Cambridge several new colleges were established to train godly clergy: Emmanuel (1584) and Sidney Sussex (1596).

The situation in England changed quickly and dramatically. In 1568, one bishop could write of the “abundant crop of pious young men in our universities.”5 By 1573 Cambridge could claim to have trained 450 preachers and by 1600 half the clergy in England were graduates.6

Of course, universities alone could not provide an educated ministry. Christians in Britain began schools to produce qualified candidates for ministerial service. Consequently, literacy increased dramatically; both pastors and people could actually read their Bibles. Their American counterparts took the project even further. When Second Church in Boston sought to call Michael Powell, a pious and literate but not academically prepared man, as their pastor, the Puritan town fathers opposed the move. “[I]f such men intrude themselves into the sacred functions [of the ministry],” they concluded, “there is danger of bringing the profession into contempt.”7

Thanks to the efforts of these 16th century English Reformers, pastors became the most respected thinkers in their communities. They realized that education matters, especially for those whose charge is to rightly divide the word of truth. Within a few decades, they turned England around and set sound foundations for America, in great measure because they harnessed the power of theological education. It is imperative that pastors today regain this ancient perspective—that they be dynamic, well-informed leaders of their churches and communities; if not, they risk being further marginalized to the boundaries of the culture.

Footnotes:

1  This exodus began to take place in the early decades following 1620.
2  For example, in 1560, a survey in the diocese of Peterborough revealed only nine competent preachers from 166 clergy. See Christopher Haigh, English Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society under the Tudors (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 268.
3  Ibid., 268.
4  For more on the expansion of Calvin’s influence in England and broader Europe, see Alister McGrath, A Life of John Calvin (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), 196-202.
5  Haigh, Ibid., 270.
6  In the words of Reformation historian Christopher Haigh, “the supply of educated evangelists boomed.” Ibid., 271.
7  Town father, Richard Mather, as recounted in Harry Stout, The New England Soul (New York: Oxford University Press), 57

A Call to Worship

One of my favorite “guys” is Anselm (A.D. 1033-1109), an 11th Century follower of Christ. Here is a call to worship from his pen. I love how he encourages us to see ourselves with humility with his opening four words, ‘Come now, little man.” 

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Stain Glass of Anselm

“Come now, little man,
turn aside for a while from your daily employment,
escape for a moment from the tumult of your thoughts.
Put aside weighty cares,
let your burdensome distractions wait.
Free yourself for awhile for God and rest awhile in Him.
Enter the inner chamber of your soul,
shut out everything except God
and that which can help you in seeking Him,
and when you have shut the door, seek Him.
Now, my whole heart, say to God,
‘I seek Your face,
Lord, it is Your face I seek.'”

Taken from Eerdman’s
Book of Favorite Prayers, a Treasury of Christian Prayers Through the Centuries.

I hope you will do this today. Why wait another day to seek the greatest lover in the universe?

Schoenleber Family Update

 

After 21 Miles on the Bike
Haven’t Been on My Bike in a Week But I Will the Road Tuesday

I’m sitting in the airport in Atlanta at the mid-point of a three-hour layover after a weekend in South Carolina, meeting folks and getting to know a community that might be our next stop in our journey of faith. It has been a good weekend. The church and its people are marvelously mature and spiritually healthy. The previous pastor had a good and appreciated ministry. (Sometimes, those don’t travel together, but they certainly did here.)

 

The congregation loves and reads their Bibles. They are poised for a new challenge and are yearning to grow with a new vision that will take them beyond the four walls of the church and out into the community. Stephnie and I have a lot to talk about and process and a lot more to research and pray over but we are encouraged.

One of the exciting things at this church is the number of engaged younger couples in the ministry and the number of young men who have or are pursuing theological education. The opportunity to step in and begin to mentor and extend these men’s and couples ministry into Kingdom service is thrilling. Architectural plans are already drawn up should God give the church the growth they are praying for and beginning to envision. 

So here is an updated prayer list:

  • I’m beat! Tired is not a big enough word. Pray that I can sleep tonight.
  • Pray for Stephnie as she drove down from West Virginia (caring for her mom after surgery), and now has another week or two before she returns to Watseka. Keep her safety in your prayers as well as her heart as we prepare for the future.
  • Pray for our children. That they would walk with the Lord and prosper in their parenting, jobs, and friendships.
  • Pray for our discernment of God’s will. Is God calling us to South Carolina, to Indiana, to southern Illinois, or to someplace else? We need wisdom.
  • Pray that our hearts would continually rejoice in Christ.

Last Sunday

Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching at the Chinese Christian Union Church in Chinatown, Chicago. The worship team was outstanding as they helped us to give homage to the King before my message from Galatians 6:1-10. One of the songs we sang as a congregation was “Christ is Enough”, (The acoustic version below is from Hillsong but the song is Maranatha written). 

The song is simple and borrows a few lines from the old hymn, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” But it also struck me as a good and corrective commentary on one of the most misunderstood and misapplied verses in all a Scripture, Philippians 4:13.

See what you think. Be blessed today as you do good to everyone you meet in the name of Jesus.

A Chapter Revision Excerpt

Marty at Outside Preaching EventAmong the many things I have been working on since leaving Trinity Church as its Senior Pastor is a revision of my 2012 book, Picking A President: Or Any Other Elected Official. Some might think it odd to revise a book that is only five years old. Let me tell you why I’m doing it.

  1. This election, more than perhaps any other, demonstrates a need for this book. We simply need better candidates to vote for. Period.
  2. The time to read and study a book like this is four years before the next election. That gives activists and political types time to find candidates with sound character and believable problem-solving abilities.
  3. Recognizing those candidates means a population that is tuned into asking the right questions long before candidates are placed on a ballot. That takes time, introspection, and hard work by each of us. If we want to recognize better candidates we need to be better and more informed people.

So here is part of the revised 21st chapter of a probably-differently titled book. (Front-runner for the new title? Mr. and Mrs. Candidate, You’re Fired!) All chapters in the book are based on a chapter in the book of Proverbs. As always, it is always best to read the chapter in Proverbs that corresponds to the same chapter in the book.

Proverbs 21   God Overrules Rulers.

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
     he turns it wherever he will. (1)

When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous
     but terror to evildoers. (15)

No wisdom, no understanding,
     no counsel can avail against the Lord.
The horse is made ready for the day of battle,
     but the victory belongs to the Lord. (30-31)

Proverbs 21:1, 15, 30-31

______________________________

Proverbs 21:15 echoes the things we learned in chapter 20. The role of the righteous leader is twofold:

1) to do justice and thereby bring joy to those who desire to do righteousness and

2) bring terror to those who delight in evil.

A good government is one that maintains a balance between personal freedom and the common good.

But if Proverbs 21:15 echoes chapter 20 (esp. Prov. 20:2, 8, 18, and 22), it also gives a powerful corrective to thinking that any human ruler’s power is ultimate. The point of the first verse is that the heart of the king is in God’s hand. This is both a mystery and a great comfort. Even if your candidate is not elected, even if according to your best judgment, the worst of two evils is elected, a believer need not despair. Listen to the wise words of another generation commenting on this passage:

God can change men’s minds, can, by a powerful insensible operation under their spirits, turn them from that which they seemed most intent upon, and incline them to that which they seemed most averse to, as the husbandman, by canals and gutters, turns the water through his grounds as he pleases, which does not alter the nature of the water, nor put any force upon it, any more than God’s providence does upon the native freedom of man’s will, but directs the course of it to serve his own purpose.

Even kings’ hearts are so, notwithstanding their powers and prerogatives, as much as the hearts of common persons. The hearts of kings are unsearchable to us, much more unmanageable by us; … but the great God has them not only under his eye, but in his hand. Kings [or Presidents and Congressman] are what he makes them. Those that are most absolute are [still] under God’s government; …49

A farmer (“the husbandman”) directs water by digging canals. So God directs the heart of rulers. And the Scriptures are filled with examples (Exod. 10:1-2; Ezra 7:21; Neh. 2:1-8; Isa. 10:5-7; Isa. 45:1-6). With absolute certainty, the writer reminds us of a great mystery. God is sovereign over all. The final two verses of the chapter come full circle.

30 No wisdom, no understanding,
      no counsel can avail against the Lord.
31 The horse is made ready for the day of battle,
      but the victory belongs to the Lord.

This is the perspective and the comfort we need in all our political involvement. Trust God. Even as you work to ensure that good people are elected, never forget that God is forever sovereign. There is no wisdom, no understanding that can stand against the Lord’s purposes. People can make their plans, but God can overrule all of them. Political operatives can wheel and deal, but in the end, God will “cause all things to work together for the good to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes” (Rom. 8:28). And that is comforting news in the midst of our sometimes frustrating (maddening!) political process.

Make sure that you are one who loves him, the sovereign God of the universe, above all things. We will not change the world through lots of political activity. We have responsibilities and duties in that sphere, but they are only one piece of a larger picture.

We will change the world by not “leaning on our own understanding, but in all our ways acknowledging him,” and watching him direct our steps (Prov. 3:5-6). In every election there is a candidate who is better for the country, county or city—always one that is better than the other. We have a responsibility before God to elect men and women who will lead wisely and well. But there is one Judge and Ruler who was never elected. He rules with might and power, with wisdom and righteousness, and his will is ultimately unassailable. Trust him. He, unlike every human governor, is always worthy of our complete trust.

Prayer:

Lord, Your word declares that You laugh at the folly of earthly rulers who raise up any plans against Your Anointed (Psalm 2:1-4). You warn the kings of the earth, all who govern, to show discernment and to bow down in worship of You as their sovereign Lord. And one day, Your word declares that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that You are indeed Lord of heaven and earth (Isa. 45:23; Phil. 2:10; Rom. 14:11).

Help me to trust You and Your word, not only for that future day, but for every day that I breathe between now and then. Help me to not be anxious over who wins or loses a particular election. But help me to do my part to ensure that worthy men and women have the opportunity to serve. Amen.

Questions:

  1. Are you anxious about the upcoming election? Have you taken your anxiety to God and asked him to calm your anxious spirit (cf. John 14:1-6 and 1 Pet. 5:7)? If not, do it now.
  2. Does the candidate feed your tendency to be anxious and “earth-bound” by the type of rhetoric he or she uses?
  3. Does the candidate’s platform give an indication that “the righteous will rejoice and evil-doers will fear” if their policies are implemented?
  4. Does the candidate have the support of knowledgeable men and women who you respect as being on the side of righteousness?