The Constantinian Problem and Opportunity

Constantine Bust from Nish (Germany)

Yesterday I read a quote by John Howard Yoder, that prior to the conversion of Constantine and the Roman Empire, “it took great conviction to stand for Christ. After Constantine (A.D. 272-337), it took great courage and conviction to not stand for Christ.” The Church grew rapidly from the resurrection to Constantine but when Christianity became the norm, fake Christianity began an accelerated growth.  

Our culture is fast-moving toward a pre-Constantinian status. That is, in the foreseeable future, it will take “great conviction and courage to stand for Christ.” What does that mean? Well, in the years prior to Constantine and even after he became the emperor, persecution of Christians occurred in many places. Even as Constantine was consolidating his power, some of his rivals continued to lead large armies and persecuted Christians regularly. 

The following account comes to us from that period.

March 9, 320 (traditional date): Roman soldiers leave Christian soldiers naked on the ice of a frozen pond in Sebaste, Armenia.They placed baths of hot water around them to tempt them to renounce their faith. When one did so, a pagan guard—inspired by the fortitude of the remaining Christians—converted and joined the freezing Christians. They were all killed and made famous by Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa.

(see issue 27 [of CHRISTIAN HISTORY magazine]: Persecution in the Early Church).

Will Christians be called to render such testimony in America? Will it happen soon? Will it happen in our lifetime? Will it happen in our children’s lifetime? Will Christ return before it comes to that in America?

I have no answers to any of those questions. 

This I do know.

As the culture declines, as it loses its Christian memory, as it drifts further and further from Christ and the call to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, as the culture works to shame our beliefs, and change long established biblical norms, and erase Christian influence from the public square—the cost for standing for Christ will grow steeper. 

It will be a new day and a new opportunity to show the world the difference the gospel makes and the beauty of the cross of Christ and wonder of our Savior. Let us be ready to stand by standing today and living passionately for and like Jesus every day that we draw breath.

Days Without Grace

grace-x

She was being interviewed on National Public Radio (NPR). An American actress playing the mother of a special needs child in a new play from London now touring the USA. The play is getting rave reviews as it explores the inner workings of a 15-year-old boy whose parents love, but can’t touch because of his relational/physical/social discombobulation.

I have forgotten her name and the name of the play, and the director’s name (who I do remember also directed/produced the play, “War Horse”), but she used a phrase that I haven’t been able to forget. She was speaking of those times in a mother’s life (a father’s life too) when a parent seems, . . .  overwhelmed.

When it seems that nothing you do is right
Nothing you think is quite enough
Nothing you can say is said right
Nothing you can do is going to protect your son or your daughter
Those times when you can’t help
Those times when you are completely spent
When you feel that there just isn’t enough of you
When you feel that you are not enough
That your family would be better off without you
When you are completely beside yourself with a combination of sorrow and frustration, and anxiety and the deepening darkness chokes all hope from your soul.

“Parenting”, said a famous counselor, “is not for cowards.”

Maybe not, but that is how we parents feel sometimes.

“Those days,” she said, “those days that are days without grace.”

gracelessHave you been there in one of those graceless feeling days?

I have.

Too often to recount. So often, it might shock everyone who knows me.
And the chances are high, that if you are a parent, you have been there too.

You have been in that place where grace, unmerited favor, seemed as far away as Jupiter.

Farther.

Like, the end of the Hubble telescope’s ability to see farther.

It is crushing to feel that way. It is a soul-crushing, tear-dripping, sorrow-without-light, unadulterated pain to feel that way.

And yet,
if we are Christ followers,
it is not true.

It is real, all too real, but it is not true.

It can paralyze us. It can consume us. It can threaten to completely undo us.

But if we are part of God’s family (John 1:12), if we have received the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15), if we have been purchased by the blood of a sinless Savior (Acts 20:28: 1 Corinthians 6:19), if we have been sealed by the indwelling Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), if we have become inheritors of the promises of God (Ephesians 1:11) there is never a graceless day, never a moment when we are abandoned, never a millisecond that we are without hope, or light, or direction (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5).

It just feels that way sometimes.

And those “sometimes” are when you need the word of God hidden in your heart (Psalm 119:11). Those “sometimes” are when you need a deep pattern of significant meditation in the heart of the gospel and the greatness of what it means to belong to Christ (Psalm 119:9-10). Those are the times when you need the word of Christ to “dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16) so that the world, and you too, will see the beauty of Christ and promises of God as your strong tower and the place you can run to for rescue. 

Getting Away for a Prayer Retreat

Marty at Outside Preaching EventI have been looking forward to January 13th.

Tomorrow I am getting away for a long over-due time of prayer and reflection and a bit of planning. The day will be warm. The place I have booked looks inviting and offers lots of locations to walk and pray and I am turning my phone off.

Pray for me.

I need your prayers. Pray that God would refresh my heart, guide my thoughts, and purify my motives. But most of all, pray that I would draw near to Him.

“Our prayers often resemble the mischievous tricks of town children, who knock at their neighbor’s houses and then run away; we often knock at Heaven’s door and then run off into the spirit of the world; instead of waiting for entrance and answer, we act as if we were afraid of having our prayers answered.” 

–anonymous quote

Pray that I wait patiently on the Lord for “entrance and answer.”

Great Thoughts on Heaven

From J.C. Ryle

J.C.-Ryle_1-256x300“The man who is about to sail for Australia or New Zealand as a settler is naturally anxious to know something about his future home, its climate, its employments, its inhabitants, its ways, its customs. All these are subjects of deep interest to him. You are leaving the land of your nativity, you are going to spend the rest of your life in a new hemisphere. It would be strange indeed if you did not desire information about your new abode. Now surely, if we hope to dwell for ever in that ‘better country, even a heavenly one,’ we ought to . . . try to become acquainted with it.”

A voice of wisdom from another time.

Questions:

  • What are you learning about your next and eternal home?
  • If heaven’s joys are enhanced by seeking “His kingdom and His righteousness” now (Matthew 6:33), how are you preparing for the best that eternity has to offer?

Giving Leaders Authority

TrustingThe following insight comes from a Quora question. The specific question was Why was the German military so successful during early-WWII?
A questioner was interested in finding out why the hideous Nazi scourge was so successful militarily at the beginning of World War II.  Eduardo J. Belgrano, Polymath, Economics, Business, Military History, Quantitative Risk Analysis gave a long detailed answer. the following is excerpted from his answer.

Apart of great discipline and esprit de corps, in WW II, the Germans had a ‘secret’ weapon from the very beginning of the war, namely their Auftragstaktik philosophy, as the base doctrine explained in the Wehrmacht manuals as a blended strategic coherence and decentralized decision making with a simple principle: Commanders were to tell subordinates what their goal is, but not how to achieve it. It has been loosely translated as “mission command”. Clarifying it further, it essentially means that from the lowest soldier to the highest officer it is expected they will act improvising, according to the situation in the war theater. This is not the way most people think of the German army.

The Auftragstaktik doctrine is the reason for a great number of the Wehrmackt’s spectacular victories, not only when they were winning but also when they were retreating.  [Bold emphasis added.]

Leaders need the ability to make decisions. This is not just a personality issue or willingness issue. It is an institutional issue. Any organization, but especially churches, need to give lay and pastoral staff leaders the freedom to make decisions, to improvise when plans need to be adjusted by the need of the moment.

When Sunday School workers have to check with higher ups for every little decision in the classroom, when pastors are handcuffed from saying anything in the pulpit that has not been vetted by staff, when office personnel must refer all facility questions to someone else, the “mission command” principle is violated. Make sure that in the design of your church’s decision structure, people are given the freedom to get the job done. Give a job description and let good people figure out HOW to get it done. Trust your people. Trust the Holy Spirit. Get out of good people’s way and watch what God does.

Make sure that in the design of your church’s decision structure, people are given the freedom to get the job done. Give them a job description and let good people figure out HOW to get that job description done. Trust your people. Trust the Holy Spirit. Get out of good people’s way and watch what God does.

Five Questions for Multi-Site Churches

Thursday is for Preaching

Multi-site Church Venue SignI want to do a bit of non-technical research on what is happening beyond my experience with our campuses related to what is happening in my circle of friends and their multi-site churches. Here are five simple questions related to preaching and recording of messages for alternative sites.

  1. What day of the week do you tape the message for your satellite sites? 
    • Friday evening?
    • Saturday evening?
    • Sunday morning?
    • Other?
      • When? (day and time)
        ….
  2. Is the audience a live service or a studio audience?
  3. Do any of your campuses live-stream the message?
    ….
  4. Do any of your campuses get the message on a delay?
    • One week
    • More than a week
      ….
  5. Do you “capture” the message as is or is there some post-production involved before it is “ready” for other sites?

 

Bonus question:
What is the percentage of live teaching versus video teaching at additional sites?

Thanks in advance for any help you can give.

Preparing to Preach Easter

Thursday is for Preaching

authenticityThe language is from another time.

The spelling is from another place. 

The truth behind the quote is trans-cultural and timeless.

“A man preacheth that sermon only well unto others which preacheth itself in his own soul. And he that doth not feed on and thrive in the digestion of the food which he provides for others will scarce make it savoury unto them; yea, he knows not but the food he hath provided may be poison, unless he have really tasted of it himself. If the word do not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us.”

The Works of John Owen, ed. William Goold, 23 volumes (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1965, this edition originally published 1850–53). , XVI, p. 76. See also on justification p. 76.  (cited from John Piper’s essay on John Owen)

Before a man can preach a word of truth with power, he must preach that same word to himself. He must be a man who traffics in the truth he espouses to others. He must be a man who is practicing the truth and living the truth that he would commend to others.

Owen said it perfectly.

“If the word do not dwell with power in us,
it will not pass with power from us.”

Pray that the pastors and elders in your church would be men who meditate deeply on the Scripture that they teach others. Pray that they would be men who yearn to be obedient to every word they read. And while you are at it, pray for me. Pray that I would never speak a word that is not being processed through my own spirit as seek to call others to follow Him. You would do well to pray for yourself just as fervently.