Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Where the Gospel Wins Out

I don't wish to deadhorse stuff around here, but I wanted to highlight a couple of blogospheric compositions related to topics discussed in these parts recently, because I found them extremely touching and poignant, and because I think they cut through the conversational smoke and exalt the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I was thankful to have read them, so I am honored to share them.

First, this from a pastor named Scott Eaton in the comment thread of this iMonk post:
Permit me a moment of transparency. As an overweight, 40 year old (in October), graying, unathelic, not so cool pastor who loves Jesus and people and finds his only hope in the gospel, the cross, and grace, your post encouraged me deeply.

Many times I get so discouraged in ministry precisely because I am “not cool.” How stupid is that? Yet, this is the message communicated today. If you are not cool - wearing cool clothes, cool glasses, with cool facial hair, having a cool staff, a cool building, a cool sound system, a cool band, a cool (fill in the blank here) - then you are irrelevant, washed up and ineffective for Christ. It has been enough to make me wonder if, being rather “uncool,” I should continue on in ministry.

But this is foolish and silly. I will not quit the ministry for that reason (I am not that pathetic!). I was called into the ministry by the one who “had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” Additionally, “he was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Sounds completely “uncool” to me.

And I hope I do not have a “cool” ministry, but a minstry that is empowered by the Holy Spirit, centered upon Christ, focused upon the cross, and glorifying to God. A ministry where the “cool” and “uncool” alike can gather together to worship our crucified and risen Lord. A place where people of diverse social, econcomic and racial backgrounds can come together. A place where the Bible is faithfully taught and Jesus is enthusiastically praised.

Now that would be cool.

Ooo, how I wish more ministers had this same conviction in their calling, that they felt this strongly about things this important.
Relevant ministry is being professionalized into irrelevance, and we need more Scott Eatons, whether cool or uncool, who will live and lead with the Gospel. Who will exalt Jesus above pastorpreneurship.

Secondly, this post at Promises Kept reflecting on the recent revelations about Mother Theresa really struck a chord with me. A long excerpt, attempting to do it justice:
But in all the discussion and debate I have read over the last few days I have two other concerns; both of which point, I believe, to our tendency towards self-righteousness or gracelessness. The first concern has already been discussed many times: there is the loud cry of many that Mother Teresa must have been a true Christian, because look at all the amazing self-sacrificing work she did.

Forget about how this relates to any particular individual, including Mother Teresa. Simply look with me at where that statement points. We are pointing at her work. Her labor. Her sacrifice. Her earnestness.

Her merit.

The Gospel points us to Christ’s work, Christ’s sacrifice, Christ’s merit. There is a great difference.

Jesus told us to “let your light so shine before men that they may see your good work and glorify your Father who is heaven”. So we do draw attention to our deeds (they see our good work). Well, then, how do they glorify our Father, and not us, for the good work? There must be words accompanying our workings, words full of the gospel, words full of how our work is a response to his work, how our faith is a response to his Promise, how our fruit is the fruit of the cross and the resurrection and the hope brought to birth and life in Jesus Christ. If, at the end of our lives people are amazed at our endless self-sacrifice and pouring out of ourselves for others, and this what they see and talk about… we will have failed the gospel.

The second concern is perhaps even more serious: there is a tendency in us — if we are honest — to rejoice in the weakness and failings of others. There are some that are quick to draw attention to this soul-struggle that is highlighted, and to say, “I told you so.” We spend our lives comparing and contrasting our standing with that of others. Pastors look at other pastors leading bigger churches and having a “more successful” ministry, and privately think “I’m actually better than he is, if only I had an opportunity to preach to thousands, they would know that. But I face evil opposition instead. My people don’t realize how blessed they are.” And with that mindset, we actually have inner rejoicing when that “more successful” pastor is caught in a scandal. “See, I knew I was better all along. Now maybe my people will appreciate me more.” Others must fall if we are to be raised. And our masks and robes must be carefully worn so that the status we have achieved is not defaced or lessened.

Our merit must be recognized.

I know all too well of what I speak. It’s the idolatry that has run amok in my own life and soul, causing so much destruction; the idolatry that still visits far too often.

It is Pharisaism, pride, and self-righteousness.

Our people need to appreciate Jesus more. His merit. His grace. Not us, not me, not you…and not any other saint. And there is no joy in the sorrows of others. The fact that Mother Teresa struggled in her faith says nothing about the quality, for good or ill, of our own doctrine or the positioning of our ministry. Do those who encounter our ministry encounter the God of mighty works who defeats all our idols and draws all our love? This is the question for us.

Draw attention to the gospel, to the God who is with us in Jesus Christ. Draw out the redemption, the Rescue, that is achieved for souls in darkness when Christ calls from the cross, “Why are you so far from saving me?” and thus achieves for his people the sure hope that they are heard, they cannot be forsaken, they are transplanted into the kingdom of light.

To God be the glory.

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