I once read that the ministry of preaching seems to be a fertile ground for discouragement. It is easy at times to feel disheartened and short sighted in thinking that one’s labor is fruitless even at times behind the pulpit. One great preacher John Stott stated that, “Discouragement is the occupational hazard of Christian ministry.” Most rarely know or experience the heavy burden of a preacher and all that he must endure and carry upon his heavy heart behind the scenes of church ministry.
Being the son of a Pastor along with having numerous friends who are preachers and preaching myself behind the sacred desk for many years I know the back stories of many preachers who have gone through such seasons of discouragement in their ministry and life. It has its ups and downs and sometimes it can be frustrating an a lonely place.
I always recall Paul’s written words in his epistle to the Church of Corinth in I Corinthians 15:58 where he states, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Paul states with endearing but challenging words that we should keep in our minds that no labor in the Lord is ever in vain. C.T. Studd the British missionary poet said it like this, “Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Luther offers some encouraging counsel to discouraged preachers here which I found even after all these years being separated from his time still so very relevant to us today. He express emotions, fillings, and experiences I know I and many others have been through.
‘If Peter and Paul were here, they would scold you because you wish right off to be as accomplished as they. Crawling is something,even if one is unable to walk. Do your best. If you cannot preach an hour, then preach half an hour or a quarter of an hour. Do not try to imitate other people. Center on the shortest and simplest points, which are the very heart of the matter, and leave the rest to God. Look solely to his honor and not to applause. Pray that God will give you a mouth and to your audience ears. I can tell you preaching is not a work of man. Although I am old [he was forty-eight] and experienced, I am afraid every time I have to preach. You will most certainly find out three things: first, you will have prepared your sermon as diligently as you know how, and it will slip through your fingers like water; secondly, you may abandon your outline and God will give you grace. You will preach your very best. The audience will be pleased, but you won’t. And thirdly, when you have been unable in advance to pull anything together, you will preach acceptably both to your hearers and to yourself. So pray to God and leave all the rest to him.’”
(Roland Bainton, “Here I Stand – A Life of Martin Luther”, Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, New York, 1950, p.348-349)
For over twenty-seven years now pastor John Piper has been provoking Christians with the simple but paradigm-shifting truth which is not only the theme of this book but is found running through all his ministry the truth that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Piper builds and supports his message upon numerous texts of scripture from the Bible echoing the voices the apostle Paul and Christ Jesus. Along with them one will find the supporting words of influential Christ followers throughout the timeline of history like Blaise Pascal, Jonathan Edwards and C.S. Lewis.
Noted author John Piper uses the term Christian hedonism frequently in this book a term which goes back to a section of the Westminster Catechism. The Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes the “chief end of man” as “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Piper has suggested that this would be more correct as “to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” John Piper points to figures such as Blaise Pascal and Jonathan Edwards as exemplars of Christian hedonism from the past, before the term was current.
The question as to what is Christian Hedonism is Piper’s shortest summary is God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. As people we all make into a God that which we take the most pleasure in. Christian Hedonist though wants to make God their God by seeking after the greatest pleasure which is pleasure in Him.
“The overriding concern of this book is that in all of life God be glorified the way He Himself has appointed. To that end this book aims to persuade you that the chief end of man if to glorify God by enjoying Him forever” (p. 18).
Piper provides a compelling and liberating case where we are finally free to enjoy Christ not only as our Lord and Savior, but also as our all surpassing, supremely soul-satisfying Treasure. He begins his case with the premise that happiness and pleasure are the motivations for everyone. This is illustrated through Pascal in the introduction and that God is the ultimate pleasure available to us. He further provides answers to the questions like, what is the connection between pleasure/happiness and the Christian faith and What should my motivation be for following God? We follow God out of delight not out of mere fear or duty. This delight is found in the deepest pleasure available in God alone. Also that this pursuit of pleasure in God is not only permissible but it is essential.
This is a weighty book with priceless truth in which Piper who admittedly writes with a Calvinistic bent provides a number of important insights into living life with a focus on chasing after the heart of God with the hedonist’s abandon. I can’t overstate the tremendous impact this book has had on the structuring my theological view of God and how it weaves together my happiness and pleasure in God. So this book is a must read in my opinion full of Piper’s gift of meshing logic, theological insight and passion.
I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Thanks to the people at Christian Audio who are not offering for the month of August a free download of John Stott’s classic book “Basic Christianity”. You can go to there website and download it here. Thanks to Christian Audio for this wonderful gift. You may want to consider if there are believers or unbelievers in your circle of influence who might benefit from this free audio book.
This concise classic written by Stott who in 2005, Time magazine ranked him among the 100 most influential people in the world, discussed if Jesus was not God in human flesh, Christianity is exploded, writes John Stott. John Stott’s clear, classic statement examines the historical facts on which Christianity stands. Here is a sound, sensible guide for all who seek an intellectually satisfying explanation of the Christian faith.
I have also added a link to some additional small group resources (here). These resources have been created to support John Stott’s classic work. They are ideal for churches who would like to use Basic Christianity as an introductory course, or for use in small group & home group settings as a group of people read through and study Basic Christianity together.
In recent years one of the biggest debates in the marketplace of ideas within the church is the question of how when it comes to family ministry. How does the church minister and meets the spiritual needs of the family. As their area variety of different views and methodologies on how this should be done (ref. Perspectives on Family Ministry) author Dr. Tim Kimmel in this new book “Connecting Church & Home” offers up his own perspective. Dr. Tim Kimmel is the founder and Executive Director of Family Matters whose goal is to see families transformed by God’s grace into instruments of restoration and reformation by equipping families for every age and stage of life.
The author in the first part of the book drags out onto the floor what he finds to be the crippling church paradigm that so many within the church have abdicated the spiritual education of the their children to the professions at the church. Being a youth pastor for many years I found the author’s words to ring true as he challenges the church to review this method of partnership between the family and church. As Kimmel states the consequences are young people are leaving the church in large numbers, parents are disconnected, churches are overwhelmed, and children are growing up without an example of God’s grace in the home.
In turn Tim Kimmel offers up his own comprehensive strategy to churches for family ministry as well as a plan for parents seeking to promote generational faithfulness to their children. He lays out a plan called grace-based parenting between churches and parents. Kimmel suggests that grace is the missing element as the role of a parent is to connect the heart of their child in such a way that prepares the child to more easily connect to the heart of God.
“Strong churches don’t make strong families. Strong families make strong churches.” – Dr. Tim Kimmel
Kimmel’s book does the job of shedding light on the problem I don’t think he is the final word on the resolution but offers up a very usable option. I recommend this book to parents and church leaders alike as it is a short but concise easy read that strikes at the heart of the issues facing the church and home today.
Disclaimer: Thanks to the associates at LibraryThing and Randall House I received a free copy of this book for the purpose of an honest review as the opinions about the content and value of this book are solely my own.
The first time the term Christian was used in describing the followers of Jesus Christ was in the city of Antioch in Syria (Acts 11:26). Prior to this time the followers of Jesus Christ were known as “people of the Way”. Take for instance the many references found in the book of (Acts 9:2; 19:9; 19:23; 22:4; 24:14; 24:22) which was in reference to their lifestyle. “People of the Way” was the name given to members of the movement around Jesus in the earliest Christians. The term “the Way” denoted a pattern of living which consisted of instruction and training required for discipleship.
In other words, it was their lifestyle that identified them as being followers of Jesus Christ, not their words. Christians were associated with a particular and discernible way of living and relating that both grew out of their faith and gave testimony to that faith.
“I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-2).
It is when Christianity is understood primarily as a “way” of life not just a doctrinal system or promise of eternal life it begins to change the spiritual climate of its culture. Reading Diana Butler Bass’ book “A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story” the author makes note how through the history of the church Christianity has succeeded because it transformed the lives of people in a chaotic world. Christians are more than just individuals who had a changed religious position, they were now a new people, a new community embarking on a new “way” of life — a life worthy of their calling. Their proclamation that in Jesus Christ the reconciling and transforming reign of God had become an historical reality was more than an intriguing idea, it had become visible in a people whose life together was the first fruit of the new social order intended by God for the whole of creation.
Rodney Stark an American sociologist of religion, who is co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, in his study of the growth of Christianity in the ancient world suggest that:
The power of Christianity lay not in its promise of other worldly compensations for suffering in this life, as has so often been prop0sed. No, the crucial change that took place in the third century was the rapidly spreading awareness of a faith that delivered potent antidotes to life’s miseries here and now! The truly revolutionary aspect of Christianity lay in moral imperatives such as “Love one’s neighbor as oneself,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” and “When you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it unto me.” These were not just slogans. Members did nurse the sick, even during epidemics; they did support orphans, widows, the elderly, and the poor; they did concern themselves with the lot of slaves. In short Christians created “a miniature welfare state in a empire which for the most part lacked social services.” It was these responses to the long-standing misery of life in antiquity, not the onset of worse conditions, that were the ‘material’ changes that inspired Christian growth. But these material benefits were entirely spiritual in origin. Support for this view comes from the continuing inability of pagan groups to meet this challenge.
Practicing hospitality and ministering to the sick, they offered simple practical solutions to deal with the miseries of life. Early Christians shared their resources and were known for their hospitality towards the stranger and those in need. More than that, Christians found their lives changed by the new values they upheld. Justin Martyr, who lived in the second century, spoke of the impact of Christianity: “We who formerly… valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possession, now bring what we have into a common stock, and communicate to everyone in need; we who hated and destroyed one another, and on account of their different manners would not live with men of a different tribe, now since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them, and pray for our enemies.” This radical spirituality that dealt with social realities and injustices won new and unlikely admirers.
In his Apology, Aristede, a second century Greek philosopher describes the early Christians as follows: “They appeal to those who injure them, and try to win them as friends; they are eager to do good to their enemies; they are gentle and easy to be entreated; they abstain from all unlawful conversation and from all impurity; they despise not the widow, nor oppress the orphan; and he that has, gives ungrudgingly for the maintenance of him who has not. And when they see a stranger, they take him in to their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother; for they do not call them brethren after the flesh, but brethren after the spirit and in God.” The concern also extended to families of the dead, those who were persecuted or imprisoned and of course, the poor. “And whenever one of their poor passes from the world, each one of them according to his ability gives heed to him and carefully sees to his burial.
By followers enacting Jesus teachings, Christianity changed and improved the lives of its adherents and served as a practical theology and bettered the existence for countless ancient believers. Christians were practicing a Way that was inclusive, breaking down social barriers by bringing people of diverse backgrounds together. The love of God fleshed out in there love for people being more than a new religion transformed people like woman, peasants, and slaves by giving them the ability to change their lives.
1 Rodney Stark, Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome. pg. 30
At first the author provides a gentle but theological critique of the methodology of getting people saved through the use of “The Sinner’s Prayer’. He shares his own experience recounting the multiple times he asked Jesus into his heart and getting baptized a number of times also.new book “Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart” we have author J.D. Grear, who is the Lead Pastor at the Summit Church of Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, provides for the reader a look at assurance of salvation.
Which leads to his premise which is “assurance is not found in remembering a prayer that you prayed, however but by continuing in the posture of repentance and faith that you began at your conversion.” In turn Grear explores and explains what the bible says is true belief, faith and repentance. He explains how everyone’s conversion experience is many times quite different but the truths of faith and repentance are the same. He further show how the “sinner’s prayer” is not some sort of magic incantation that saves. Our assurance is only in the finished work of Christ. Grear writes:
The Bible depicts the moment of salvation differently. Instead of asking Jesus for a “certificate” of salvation, you start believing what God’s Word says about His Lordship and His completed work at the cross. You understand that you have lived in rebellion against the rule of God and have no hope of escaping God’s wrath on your own. You “kneel” in submission to His claim on your life, and rest your hope of heaven upon Him. Picture this as hopping up into His arms, submitting to go wherever He takes you, and trusting in Him to carry into heaven.
Grear writing from a moderate Calvinist perspective assures readers they cannot lose their salvation as he goes through texts of Scripture showing three primary bases for assurance which are; a present posture of faith and repentance; perseverance in the faith; and evidences of eternal life in our heart—a love for God and a love for others. He states these three combine to provide us with a great sense of assurance that we belong to God.
I found this book delightful to read and a great resource. It would be quite helpful both to Christians concerned with if they are saved or not or the unsaved who have been propped up with false assurance that they are. It is a quick and easy read written with biblical truth and sprinkled with good humor.
The death of Magdalena
Reading on the problem of pain within the pages of “Be Still My Soul: Embracing God’s Purpose & Provision in Suffering” a book edited by Nancy Guthrie. It consist of 25 classic & contemporary readings on the problem of pain. I was reading the chapter titled “Dying Well” contributed by Dr. D. A. Carson and I found the story of Marin Luther’s experience with the problem of pain and suffering offered its readers a unique look into the great reformers own struggles with personal loss.
It concerns the heartfelt loss of a child particularly his 13 year old daughter Magdalena who died in Wittenberg in her father’s arms after a prolonged illness in September of 1542. According to his writings this was a difficult and trying time for him.
Luther’s resolve and devotion to biblical truth is evident even in the midst of this time of personal suffering. It during these seasons that are spent in the valley that one must cling on the hope found in God’s word and one’s faith in its promises ring true for people to see.
We read below in his writings his grief that is turned into glory for those who have trusted in Christ. As Paul states in I Corinthians 15:55-57: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Luther writes:
The beloved child, Magdalena, is sick. Her portrait, painted by Cranach, is seen still in the room where she was lying, a lovely child, with large eyes, clear and deep. Near the bed is now Luther, he prays: “I love her a lot, but good God, if your will is to take her, I will give her to you with great pleasure. Then, addressing her: My little Magdalena, my little girl, soon you will not be with me, will you be happy without your father? The tired child tenderly and softly answered: Yes, dear father, as God wants. Soon, we put her in the coffin. Luther looked Ah! Sweet Lenchen, he says, you will rise again and you will shine like a star, yes, like the sun! I am happy in the spirit, but my earthly form is very sad. You have learned, he wrote to Justus Jonas: I believe the report has reached you that my dearest daughter Magdalena has been reborn into Christ’s eternal kingdom. I and my wife should joyfully give thanks for such a felicitous departure and blessed end by which Magdalena escaped the power of the flesh, the world, the Turk and the devil; yet the force of our natural love is so great that we are unable to do this without crying and grieving in our hearts, or even without experiencing death ourselves. The features, the words and the movements of the living and dying daughter remain deeply engraved in our hearts. Even the death of Christ… is unable to take this all away as it should. You, therefore, give thanks to God in our stead. For indeed God did a great work of grace when he glorified our flesh in this way. Magdalena had (as you know) a mild and lovely disposition and was loved by all… God grant me and all my loved ones and all my friends such a death – or rather such a life. 
 Hendrix, Scott H. Martin Luther: a very short introduction. pg. 76.
Pride has a very long history and if one looks deep and long enough in the pages of Scripture and history you will find that it was the very first sin. You ask, “Where does it say that?” I am glad that you asked. Let us look at the text of Isaiah 14 which speaks of the downfall of a king, but not just a mortal earthly ruler.
The language in this chapter references the rebellious fall of Lucifer the fallen angel known also as Satan. If we zero in on the words of Isaiah 14:13-14 we see the five “I wills” manifesting the pride behind Satan’s motivation behind his rebellion. The “I wills” statements in the text bellow ring true to the old saying that the center of Pride and Sin is I.
You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”
John Stott states, “Pride is more than the first sin; it is itself the essence of all sin.”1 This makes pride one of the greatest enemies in every aspect of the Christians discipleship. C. J. Mahaney put it best when he says, “The real issue here is not if pride exists in your heart; it’s where pride exists and how pride is being expressed in your life.”2 The Bible is full of biblical warnings to harness the sin of pride. Especially in the Book of Proverbs 16:16 – “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before the fall.” Scripture is clear is not God in opposition to the proud (James 4:6; I Peter 5:5)? In my reading of the book Humility: True Greatness the author poses the question to his readers, “Why does God hate pride so passionately?”
Here’s why Pride is when sinful human beings aspire to the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence upon him.”3
I found the author’s answer to be concisely accurate as I believe it sheds light on the heart of the problem. Pride is when one lifts up his own heart against God and contends for supremacy with Him as we see in the example in Isaiah 14. John Calvin wrote, “God cannot bear with seeing his glory appropriated by the creature in even the smallest degree, so intolerable to him is the sacrilegious arrogance of those who, by praising themselves, obscure his glory as far as they can.”4 Lastly I would want to share the authors comments which expand on why God opposes the proud who attempt to be contenders to God’s supremacy. C. J. Mahaney states:
Pride takes innumerable forms but has only one end: self- glorification. That’s the motive and ultimate purpose of pride-to rob God of legitimate glory and to pursue self-glorification, contending for supremacy with Him. The proud person seeks to glorify himself and not God, thereby attempting in effect to deprive God of something only he is worthy to receive.5
1 C. J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness, pg. 30
2 Ibid. pg.29
3 Ibid. pg. 31
4 John Calvin, Commentary on the book of psalms.
5 Ibid. pg. 32
Humility even though at times attracts the world’s notice the more astonishing thing is that it gets God’s attention. We see this clearly in the text of scripture. Let us read the words of Isaiah from the Lord in chapter 66 verse 2: “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
This text gives great motivation that is rooted in the amazing truth that humilty draws the gaze of our God. This brings to mind the familiar words of 2 Chronicles 16:9: “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless towards him.” Our God is searching for something particular that captures his attention. Plainly stated the one who is humble is the one who draws God’s attention. Then the question to ask is what is humility? A definition that I found concise and accurate was one given by C. J. Mahaney in his book Humility: True Greatness.
Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness. – C. J. Mahaney (Humility: True Greatness)
A sincere awareness of these two truths God’s holiness and our sinfulness will give us an honest self evaluation. Otherwise our view will be marred and skewed preventing us from practicing true humility. This definition I find has much biblical merit as it originates with God. The Swiss reformer John Calvin wrote, “It is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself.” To grow in humility what we most need are not thoughts of self or more innovative church programs but loftier thoughts of God. That we would draw His gaze as we strike to walk humbly. This is the promise of humility.
As an avid fan of the martial arts and a practitioner of couple of martial arts in my spare time at a local gym, I have always been a devout fan of mixed martial arts and the various organizations that have put on these events. One of my favorite fights has always been the Ultimate Fighting Championship‘s Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort. I have enjoyed him not only for his skill and intensity that he brings to the ring but for his outspoken faith and proclamation of the name of Jesus.
This Brazilian brawler believes that regardless of wins or loses he’s always earned victory through Jesus Christ. Belfort has shared his testimony of his conversion with I AM Second which is available online at their website. Belfort talks about how he came to faith in Jesus through the devastating experience of the loss of his sister who apparently was kidnapped and killed in Brazil. “My heart is so peaceful,” Belfort said in the video of the time after his conversion. “I can see that through the tribulation, I’m a new man, I’m a strong man and I’m mature.”
In his latest appearance recently Vitor appeared with his Pastor Steven Futrick as he goes head-to-head with this former UFC light heavyweight champion to talk about faith. As we all experience moments of doubt and defeat in our relationship with God. Why am I not growing? How does the Enemy keep backing me into a corner? Where is the victory over my flesh? As it turns out, it has a lot to do with our approach. To introduce part three of the New Rules of Resolution, Pastor Steven sat down with his friend, and former UFC champion, Vitor Belfort, as they discussed the parallels between MMA training and the Christian life Christ called us to live.
You can check out this video at the link here Vitor Belfort, MMA, and Your Relationship with God from Elevation Media on Vimeo.