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How can we embrace the sort of life we’ve been called to?

Hope statue in New York

There are times when I want to bless people’s hearts in my heart. This may make me one of history’s greatest monsters. it happens almost every time I see someone in a bookstore who picks up a book of a certain genre. A book adorned with the author’s beautiful and award winning smile. The eyes have a mild look of crazy about them. And a promise is given, often of achieving your best life sometime in the not too distant future.  Also, a Bible verse may or may not appear in the pages of said book.

This is when it happens. But I suppose it’s better than me slapping the book out of their hands, isn’t it? Maybe?

I wish people didn’t buy these books. I wish stores didn’t sell these books. And I wish more pastors spoke out against them. Why? Because these books don’t help us love Jesus more. They don’t tell us the truth. They tell us we’re to look forward to the good life now, when Jesus says, we should expect trials.

Hardship.

Opposition.

Maybe even persecution.

For “a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).

While we probably shouldn’t be seeking these things out, we should expect them to come eventually. After all, this is the sort of life we’ve been called to. And God will test “you in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10). As Spurgeon once wrote,

I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” This has long been the motto fixed before our eye upon the wall of our bed-chamber, and in many ways it has also been written on our heart. It is no mean thing to be chosen of God. God’s choice makes chosen men choice men.… We are chosen, not in the palace, but in the furnace. In the furnace, beauty is marred, fashion is destroyed, strength is melted, glory is consumed; yet here eternal love reveals its secrets, and declares its choice. So has it been in our case.… Therefore, if today the furnace he heated seven times hotter, we will not dread it, for the glorious Son of God will walk with us amid the glowing coals.

That last line is what makes all the difference to me. It’s not enough to say that we’re chosen for a life such as this. It’s not enough to say that we should expect trials and difficulties. What makes us bear it—what makes us embrace it—is not knowing this. It’s knowing that Jesus—”the glorious Son of God”—is walking with us through it all.


Photo credit: New York 2016 via photopin (license)

What I hope someone would say at my funeral

Misty Morning

Sometimes, the slightly morbid side of me wonders what would be said at my funeral. There’s a tendency to clean up people’s lives. I’ve been to, and known others who’ve had this experience as well, where you start to wonder if you wound up in the wrong memorial service. The person being spoken of doesn’t match your experience.

Then there are those people of whom what is said at their funeral is truly a celebration of that individual as they were. This is what I found myself considering today, which marks the anniversary of Charles Spurgeon’s death on this day in 1892.

Spurgeon was a celebrated man in his day—and indeed a celebrity of the sort that most of those desiring such things in our day could only dream. And yet, as impressive as all the statistics about him are, that which matters to me personally about him has less to do with any of it. For me, the most meaningful thing about him isn’t how many people he preached to, or how many of his books remain in print. For me, the most meaningful thing is what I’ve learned of the man’s character.

An imperfect man, to be sure, and one with a tongue as quick as his wit, Spurgeon was a man who loved his Lord, and loved the people to whom God had called him to minister. He was the “Prince of Preachers” to be sure, but he was a pastor above all else. This is what I’ve seen so consistently as I’ve read biographies of him, and what I hope shined through in Through The Eyes of Spurgeon,

Just consider the words spoken by Archibald Brown (his successor at Metropolitan Tabernacle) at his memorial:

“Beloved President, Faithful Pastor, Prince of Preachers, Brother Beloved, Dear Spurgeon,—We bid thee not ‘farewell,’ but only for a little while ‘good-night.’ Thou shalt rise soon, at the first dawn of the resurrection day of the redeemed. Yet is not the ‘good-night’ ours to bid, but thine. It is we who linger in the darkness; thou art in God’s own light. Our night, too, shall soon be past, and with it all our weeping. Then, with thine, our songs shall greet the morning of a day that knows no cloud nor close, for there is no night there.

“Hard Worker in the field, thy toil is ended! Straight has been the furrow thou hast ploughed. No looking back has marred thy course. Harvests have followed thy patient sowing, and Heaven is already rich with thine ingathered sheaves, and shall be still enriched through years yet lying in eternity.

“Champion of God, thy battle long and nobly fought is over! The sword, which clave to thine hand, has dropped at last; the palm branch takes its place. No longer does the helmet press thy brow, oft weary with its surging thoughts of battle; the victor’s wreath from the Great Commander’s hand has already proved thy full reward.

“Here, for a little while, shall rest thy precious dust. Then shall thy Well-beloved come, and at His voice thou shalt spring from thy couch of earth, fashioned like unto His glorious body. Then spirit, soul, and body shall magnify thy Lord’s redemption. Until then, beloved, sleep! We praise God for thee; and, by the blood of the everlasting covenant, we hope and expect to praise God with thee. Amen.”[1. C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Compiled from His Diary, Letters, and Records, by His Wife and His Private Secretary, 1878–1892, vol. 4 (Chicago; New York; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1900), 375–376.]

This is what I most admire about Spurgeon—and it is what I hope for myself. To be the sort of man of whom it could be said,”Hard Worker in the field, thy toil is ended! … We praise God for thee; and, by the blood of the everlasting covenant, we hope and expect to praise God with thee.” That is what I long for—not for the admiration of others, but to be a man whose life is celebrated by celebrating his Redeemer.


Photo: Freely Photos

I’ve found the secret!

secret-making-disciples

I know I probably shouldn’t, but I generally find Christian leadership conferences incredibly depressing. Don’t get me wrong: there are a lot of good principles that are espoused (even if I can see them more easily being applied in the business world than in a church). The difficulty for me is there always seems to be this underlying assumption that if we can find the right formula—if we can put the right elements together and give people the right experience—we’ll see more people come to Christ as a result.

This is why, if you pay attention, you’ll notice a pattern in the music at a lot of churches. It usually starts with something that gets people pumped up and excited (and usually inviting God’s presence among us). Keep the passion going with another fast-paced song, one that says we’ll live for him (often by saying, “We’ll live for you” or “it’s all about you”). Cool it down a notch after that with a power ballad-esque number and give everyone a chance to be reflective for a minute, throw in a verse or two of a classic hymn, and then move into the sermon. Later, as the sermon comes to its conclusion and the band takes its position, start the spirit keys, pray, and sing the final song, usually another uptempo one. And there you have it: an engaged, thriving, worshipping church.

Except you might not.

See there’s a problem with trying to figure out the secret formula—and that is, there’s no secret formula. You’re not going to be more likely to win someone to Christ if you do a teaching series based on The Force Awakens or a popular book series, any more than you’d be by talking about being gospel-centered, or missional, vertical, or whatever buzzword was cool before that one. You only win people to Christ by sharing Christ. And as Spurgeon wisely wrote, “To endeavour to save men by mere claptrap, or excitement, or oratorical display, is as foolish as to hope to hold an angel with bird-lime, or lure a star with music.”

He continued:

The best attraction is the gospel in its purity. The weapon with which the Lord conquers men is the truth as it is in Jesus. The gospel will be found equal to every emergency; an arrow which can pierce the hardest heart, a balm which will heal the deadliest wound. Preach it, and preach nothing else. Rely implicitly upon the old, old gospel. You need no other nets when you fish for men; those your Master has given you are strong enough for the great fishes, and have meshes fine enough to hold the little ones. Spread these nets and no others, and you need not fear the fulfilment of His Word, “I will make you fishers of men.” (Adapted from The Soul-Winner.)

That right there, friends, is the secret. If you want to reach people, preach Christ, and nothing else.