Category: Misc

A Gift to Be Shared

Keith Urban has a song called “Under the Influence of Love.” The reality is that all of us today appear to be under the influence of love. Love is at the center of our popular culture – books, movies, TV shows. Love of some kind appears to be the underlying theme of most of our entertainment.

Just look at the love themes found in popular music: young love, falling in love, maturing love, love betrayed, lost love, longing for love — and that’s just one Taylor Swift album!

Seriously, our popular music is filled with the idea of love. Whitney Houston sang about The Greatest Love of All, Josh Groban sings You Are Loved, while Adele kept it simple and recorded a love song entitled “Love Song.” How many movies can you think of that don’t have love as a recurring theme – Titanic is about lost love, Avatar is about alien love, Twilight is about vampire love, My Big Fat Greek Wedding was about cross-cultural love – and it’s also about Greek food, but what’s not to love about Greek food?

This time of year you’ll hear a lot about love in connection with Christmas. Be with the ones you love on Christmas, give a gift to the one you love. The core truth behind the Christmas story is almost lost in a combination of emotion and consumerism that drives the Christmas season these days.

But that’s not to say love is a bad thing. Love is a wonderful thing – I love my wife, I love my sons, I love my family – well, most of them. I am sure that right now you can think of someone they love. Love is a wonderful gift of God.

In fact, love is also the recurring theme of the Bible; no wonder it has so often been called God’s love letter to us. Recently I had the privilege of speaking at The Bridge (the church plant where I serve as one of the teaching pastors) about 1 John 4:7-12:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (ESV)

Although this passage doesn’t talk about babies in a manger and wise men and shepherds, it’s hard to imagine a better verse for the season of Christmas, because this passage tells us why there is a Christmas. It tells us about a God who loves us – a God whose very nature is love. And that love drove Christ to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins – to pay for our sins with His own life. And because of what His love did for us, we can share that love with others in His name.

Over the next couple of weeks, you and I are going to be very busy. For students, there are final exams and papers to finish – but rest in the knowledge that your professors have to read all those exams and papers, so they’ll be busy too. For many of us there will be end-of-the-year activities in the office, getting things wrapped up. Then there’s the holiday rush – a blur of decorating and shopping and wrapping, parties and receptions and egg nog. There will be so much to do.

So right now, just stop and think about the greatest gift you will ever receive. Think about the Creator of the universe, who can calm the storm with a whisper, and think about how He emptied Himself of all that and came among us in the most vulnerable way possible, as a tiny baby. Now think if Him again, this time not as a child but now grown and hanging on a cross, shedding His blood for my sin and yours. Giving Himself for you because you could not pay the price that was required by God’s justice.

That is the most amazing gift you will ever receive, could ever receive. And God’s love is a gift to be shared.

Thank You Calvin Miller

Even though we rejoice when a beloved friend passes from this life into the presence of the Lord, from our human perspective we sorrow at their loss. That is the way I feel at the loss of our dear brother Calvin Miller.

Calvin passed away unexpectedly Sunday after complications from heart surgery. I was shocked – I had only recently been corresponding with him about upcoming articles for his regular column in Preaching, and he was scheduled this fall to speak for my Master of Ministry preaching class and then to preach in chapel for us at Anderson University. But all of our plans are dependent on the greater plan of the Father, and in His knowledge and providence He had other plans for Calvin Miller.

Calvin was pastor of the Westside Baptist Church in Omaha when I first wrote to him in 1984, asking him to become one of the original Contributing Editors of Preaching. He was the best-selling author of The Singer, one of the monumental Christian literary works of the 20th century, and had led that Omaha church from 10 members to more than 3,000 during a 25-year pastorate. Yet over the years, whenever we had a chance to visit, he would thank me for allowing him to be part of that group, as if we were honoring him rather than the reality, which was that his presence blessed us and our ministry.

We became good friends over the years, though separated by many miles. He loved pastors – speaking to them and writing for them – and that shared mission linked our hearts. I recall being in his home years ago and seeing his great loves: his love of art and literature, his love for the American Southwest, and most of all his love for his wonderful wife Barbara, and for his children.

Once I was invited to provide an endorsement for one of his books, and in that brief text I referred to him as the “poet laureate of the evangelical world.” He loved that phrase – he didn’t think he warranted it but he was tickled by it nonetheless, and I noticed it showed up on the backs of several of his books after that! He kidded me about it several times, noting that I had given him one of his favorite endorsements. I’m glad he enjoyed it, but he was wrong about one thing: Calvin Miller was the poet laureate of the evangelical world, a pastor-poet whose love for Jesus and His Word and for the art of preaching made him one of the most captivating preachers of his day.

Calvin Miller’s newest book is called Letters to Heaven, and if you visit his website (www.calvinmillerauthor.com) you can watch a brief DVD in which he talks about the book. If I could write a “letter to heaven” today, I’d like to write Calvin to thank him for his friendship, his encouragement, and his faithfulness to God’s call on his life. Of course, he won’t have time to read it for awhile; he’s going to be busy sharing stories with a whole new audience.

Planting New Churches is Key to Reaching Our Nation

Although it may not look like it from the streets of Upstate South Carolina – where there seems to be a church on every street corner – but the church in America is declining in proportion to the population.

Gallup reports that 78 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians, compared to about 95 percent a half century ago, and 85 percent as late as 1998. The fastest-growing sector in the religious identification category in 2011 was “none.” And a substantial number of those who self-identify as “Christian” are without any meaningful connection to a church or other body of believers – that “functionally-unchurched” label may include as much as 70 percent of the population of Anderson.

There are many reasons for such a trend, but one reason is that churches are not even keeping up with population growth. Early in the 20th century, there was one church for every 430 Americans. Today there is one church for every 6,194 Americans. (That number in South Carolina is one church for every 2,184 people.) Every year approximately 4,000 new churches are started, but another 3,500 churches close their doors. That net increase of 500 churches a year is not enough to even equal population growth in the U.S.

If you are a Christian who believes that it is important to reach others for the gospel, then these numbers produce an unacceptable scenario. There are many things that can be done to counter these trends, but one of the most valuable things we can do is to start new churches, and lots of them.

Why are new churches so important? As Rick Warren points out, “The single most effective method for fulfilling the Great Commission that Jesus gave us is to plant new churches! Two thousand years of Christian history have proven that new churches grow faster, and reach more people, than established churches. The growth on any plant is always on the newest branches.”

The numbers are clear. Among Southern Baptists, for example, established churches average 3.4 conversions per 100 resident members; among new churches, however, that number jumps to 11.7 people reached and baptized – almost three times the average.

Why do new churches reach people more effectively than established ones? In their book Viral Churches, Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird explain: “New churches today tend to remain focused outward and in tune with their communities, which helps explain their higher ratio of conversions and baptisms. They also have the advantage of being at the front end of their life cycle, not yet struggling with mission drift.

“Mission drift occurs as a church is established and new ministries are formed that serve the needs within the congregation. . . . These ministries may be effective but they are often inwardly focused; they are more about keeping churched people comfortable than about reaching out.

“Unfortunately, many churches have not only experienced mission drift but have redefined their mission according to where they have drifted. We know we’ve drifted when church planting becomes about expanding an earthly kingdom or making church more comfortable and convenient for believers. New churches typically have fewer programs and therefore less to distract them from the main thing” – reaching people for Christ.

That’s why the reality of existing churches with empty pews is no justification for failing to plant new churches. Ideally, we should focus not on addition but on multiplication – planting reproducing churches that will also plant churches, which will also plant churches, and so on. We need to be about planting churches in our area, our state, in other parts of the nation, and around the world.

One way your established church can experience a new vision and have a new lease on life is to become a reproducing church – launching and supporting new church plants. The healthiest churches are those who are helping produce new churches – it is a way to revitalize your established church as well as to be part of the most effective evangelistic strategy of the early 21st century.

 

Preaching on Mission

In a recent blog entry, Timothy Tennent (president of Asbury Theological Seminary) writes: “The Millennial generation self identifies as approximately 7% Christian. This is only 2% from being eligible to be classified as an unreached people-group. This means that all churches in North America must regain their missional footing. We are a people on a mission.”

“North America is the fastest growing mission field in the world. This, of course, involves social action, healing, evangelism, apologetics, radical service and much, much more. But, we can no longer assume that we are at the center of Western culture. We are now on the margins prophetically helping this new generation imagine the even greater realities of the inbreaking kingdom.” (www.timothytennent.com)

I have no question that God will continue to build His church, but if we are to have a dynamic renewal of the church in the U.S., it will involve a new commitment to serve and share in a mission spirit. And if that is going to happen, it must involve those who preach and lead.

That’s one reason our theme for this year’s National Conference on Preaching is “Preaching on Mission.” As those who proclaim the Word, we must call the church to fulfill its biblical mission as the Body of Christ in the world. I am hopeful that our outstanding team of speakers will help us all better understand how to engage that urgent task.

I hope you can join us in Atlanta in a couple of weeks (www.ncp2012.com), but even if you can’t I pray that we will all rededicate ourselves to preaching and teaching our Kingdom mission.

NCP 2012 Atlanta

Easter: The Unexpected Event That Changed History

Don’t you just love a good joke?

As a culture, we sure seem to enjoy humor. Many of the top TV shows and movies are ones that make us laugh. Newspaper editors confess that they can change news coverage with barely a whimper from the public, but mess with the cartoons and there’s an outpouring of opinion!

What makes a good joke? During my doctoral studies, I had an entire seminar on humor in literature – no, it wasn’t very funny – analyzing why some things are amusing and others are not. It appears that humor typically arises from the unexpected. A story progresses normally, then suddenly takes an unexpected turn. A good joke involves a surprising twist; a great joke catches you flat-footed.

In that sense, Easter is the greatest joke in history – not because it isn’t an authentic historical event, but because it caught everyone by surprise. The resurrection of Jesus was the surprise ending of Holy Week – the unexpected twist that caught everyone off guard.

His disciples certainly didn’t see it coming. In the hours after His crucifixion, they huddled together behind locked doors, fearing they would also be arrested by the religious authorities. Three years with Him had come to this: fear, loss, despair.

Then, suddenly, He was there among them! The one who had died and been buried three days earlier now stood in their midst, and they were shocked – then, in the words of C.S. Lewis, they were “surprised by joy.” The joke was on them!

That’s the way it is when we experience Christ in our lives. Bound by sin, we are suddenly freed by God’s grace. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann calls it “the laughing of the redeemed, the dancing of the liberated.” If you have given your life to Christ, then you have also been “surprised by joy.”

Easter was also a joke on His accusers. They thought it was over, and that they had won. This would-be messiah was out of their hair, never again to question their authority or ridicule their self-righteousness. So they laid their heads on their pillows Saturday night, secure in their confidence that this Jesus movement would soon be forgotten.

Perhaps Satan himself laughed with devilish glee as he watched Jesus’ head fall onto His chest, the last breath leaving His body on that terrible Friday afternoon. “We have won!” he cried, and the demons echoed his victory shout. On the battleground of the cross, they had defeated God’s love.

But the joke was on them, for early on that first Easter morning, the forces of evil that sent Jesus to a cross now encountered a glorious, risen Christ who had conquered death. It was the great 4th century preacher John Chrysostom who, in an Easter sermon, portrayed the risen Christ laughing at the devil. On Friday, evil chuckled at its apparent triumph, but on Sunday the tables had turned. The Divine Surprise had been revealed, and history would never be the same.

            During World War II, a London church was celebrating the harvest season and a time of thanksgiving. In the center of a decorative display were some ears of corn. The services were not held, however, because before the time of the service the air raid sirens sounded, and German bombs left the church building in ruins.

Months went by, and as spring arrived onlookers noticed among the ruins a patch of green shoots. As summer approached, those shoots grew taller, and soon there was a flourishing patch of corn growing amidst the rubble. Not even bombs could destroy the life in those seeds.

The forces of sin and death and evil thought it had all ended that dark Friday at Calvary. As He was buried, they dusted their hands and said confidently, “Well, that’s that.”

Come Sunday, though, the joke was on them. God’s great surprise exploded into history as the risen Christ walked from the grave, laughing and victorious.

This Easter, He invites you to share His laughter and experience His joy.

 

Michael Duduit is Dean of the College of Christian Studies (www.auministry.com) at Anderson University, and Executive Editor of Preaching magazine (www.preaching.com).

   

Get the latest updates via email!