Books

Faithfulness in Ministry

The dark side of talking about ministry in terms of faithfulness is that people can use it as an excuse for accountability and to justify a ministry style that is overly defensive, cautious, fearful, and perhaps even lazy and defeated. This is not always the case, of course, but sometimes Christian leaders hide their incompetence behind a smokescreen of ‘faithfulness’. Often what we call faithfulness isn’t faithfulness.

It’s worth double-checking to make sure that our faithfulness really is faithfulness and not self-deception. Faithfully preaching sermons week after week that are boring or unclear without taking steps to improve your preaching isn’t actually being faithful. Nor is faithfully doing the same things in the same way over and over again and never reaching anyone in the neighborhood around your church. Never trying to do anything better or differently is not being faithful.

Our job as Christian leaders is to faithfully do everything we can think of, taking some risks and enduring some pain, to explain the gospel, love people, and preach the whole counsel of God to everyone we can, as best we can. Genuine faithfulness isn’t a front for complacency or laziness. Faithfulness in doing everything God’s word requires of us is our job. Be faithful and God will help you. Then let him do his job. Let him focus on the results.

You focus on doing your job and let God do what only he can do.

– Craig Hamilton, Wisdom in Leadership, p. 64.

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Jesus Didn’t Come to Abolish the Law

[T]here are many thoughtful and intelligent persons, and not altogether destitute of piety, who imagine, that Christ has lowered the demands of the moral law, and purchased for us the liberty of being saved by a new law of sincere obedience: they think that for his sake our sincere obedience will be accepted, instead of perfect obedience: and that the defects of our obedience will be made up by the merits of Jesus Christ.

To such persons I would say, Read the words of our text. Christ says he did not come to destroy the law; and you affirm that he did; that he has softened its rigours, and dispensed with those high attainments which the perfect law of God requires. You will reply perhaps, If these things be not dispensed with, how are we to be saved? I answer, They are not dispensed with, no, not one of them: it is as much our duty to fulfil the whole law of God as it was Adam’s duty in Paradise: nor, if we would be saved by the law, can we be saved on any lower terms. But of salvation by the law we must not entertain a thought: we are condemned by the law, and must flee as condemned sinners to Jesus Christ, that he may wash us from our sins in his blood, and clothe us in his own unspotted robe of righteousness and salvation. Some will exclaim, What new doctrine is this? I answer, this was the way of salvation revealed to Adam after the Fall; and it has been continued in all successive ages, till Christ himself came. Then was this mystery more clearly revealed to the world; and from henceforth the voice of God to every human Being is, “He that believeth on the Son of God hath eternal life; but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

Lay aside then your erroneous notions respecting a mitigated law and sincere obedience; and seek salvation in God’s only dear Son, in whom alone it can be found.

– Charles Simeon

God Is Wrathful because God Is Love

I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and every creature. That’s exactly why God is wrathful against some of them. My last resistance to the idea of  God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry. Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandparently fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators basic goodness? Wasn’t God fiercely angry with them? Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.

– Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace pp. 138-139

The Danger of Real Love

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in the casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.

– C. S. Lewis

Of Churches and Cakes

[T]he church consists of people who are incorporated into Christ and each other like the ingredients of a cake: none for himself, but instead each is blended with the others in the fellowship of love. Luther himself depended on the “consolation of the brethren” (consolatio fratrum) whenever he suffered inner turmoil and temptation – especially in the year 1527, when he was plagued by illness, the loss of friends, and various forms of Anfechtung. Communion meant true communication with Luther, through word and sacrament, in the giving of oneself to Christ and to one’s neighbor. Just as Christ emptied himself for the world on the cross (Phil. 2:5-11), so the Christian is to empty himself to his neighbor in love.

– Erich W. Gritsch, quoted in Embodied Hope, p. 132.

If One Member Suffers, All Suffer Together

God freely employs the faith of others, expressing itself through prayer, to sustain and uphold the faith of the suffering Christian. Faith is not simply the means through which a person becomes a Christian but also the essential manner of the Christian life. The wounded believer often depends on other saints to sustain them through seasons of suffering…Yes, the individual was called to believe, but the faith can in fact only be lived within an organic connection to the locally constituted church. One of the regular ways the body of Christ maintains its health, even as parts of the body are attacked with disease, is for the other parts to carry some extra weight. When a person’s ankle is broken, they instinctively place more weight on the strong leg. This is not because they despise the weak leg but because it can only return to full health if its burden is borne by the other limb. Similarly, Christians bear one another’s burdens (cf. Gal 6:1-5)….Thus in our own distress, when we find it easy to doubt God’s grace and provision, the body of Christ gives shelter and sustenance under the canopy of their faith. As the body of Christ we can together face any worries about divine apathy, judgment, or abandonment. The flame of individual faith weakens when it is alone, but in true community the fire of faith illumines the night.

– Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope, pp. 126-127.

It’s Not That They Didn’t Mean Well

Far too often we sound like Job’s friends when we encounter those who suffer, whether from tragic events or physical pain. We start out strong, offering our sympathy and support. Job’s friends sat silent with him for seven days and seven nights. They even lay there in the ashes with him, trying to show him “sympathy and comfort” (Job 2:11). Yet after the accepted time of mourning was over, they clearly had expectations of progress and resolve. After that accepted period, however, Job did not finally speak into the silence as a calm stoic. No, he spoke as a frustrated believer who laments his birth, which has now led to heartbreak rather than happiness (Job 3). He lives in pain:

For the thing that I fear comes upon me,
   and what I dread befalls me.
I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
   I have no rest, but trouble comes. (Job 3:25-26)

With this break in the silence his friends begin to speak, even aware that their words may provoke his impatience (Job 4:1-2). But they speak, and so do we. As time moves on, we expect the wounded person to get better; we expect their frustrations and questions to turn into stoic acceptance. We expect denial or victory – ongoing struggle is the option we are most uncomfortable with, yet that is exactly where most who live with ongoing pain and suffering actually are.

– Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope, p. 65.