Saturday Links

Links for your weekend reading:

God Doesn’t Want Matt Chandler to Be Your Pastor

God doesn’t want Matt Chandler to be your pastor (unless you happen to be in his church). God has placed your pastor in your church to care specifically for you.

9 Marks of an Unhealthy Church

Here are nine marks that your church–even one that believes the Bible, preaches the gospel, and embraces good ecclesiology–may be unhealthy.

How to Be Happy When Someone Leaves Your Church

When another church prospers, I rejoice in God’s grace to them.

5 Things People Blame The Church For ... But Shouldn’t

Here’s the challenge: Be part of the solution. And the solution is not to walk away or be endlessly critical.

12 Ways to Overcome Fear and Confront like a Master

Excellence requires confrontation.

MLK on Creative Street Sweepers

Anything you do with emotional investment and creativity is a type of art, and all work is to be done in an artful — rather than merely utilitarian — way.

Under My Skin

The emerging church was all the rage, and I had just picked up Don Carson’s book Becoming Conversant with the Emergent Church. I noticed that he mentioned a church I’d never heard about before: Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. Speaking of Redeemer, Carson wrote, “It displays all the strengths of the emerging church movement, while avoiding most of its weaknesses.”

I began to look into Redeemer, and soon discovered a world of gospel-centered renewal that I never knew existed. My own soul was changed through Keller’s preaching, and then by discovering others like Jack Miller. My ministry approach changed as I began to see the centrality of gospel doctrine for the life of the church.

It feels like the other shoe dropped last year. When I picked up The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ by Ray Ortlund, Jr., I expected a good read about gospel doctrine. I didn’t expect that it would go deeper and describe something I'd never really considered, never mind experienced: the importance of a gospel culture. It's a manifesto. Ortlund writes:

The current rediscovery of the gospel as doctrine is good, very good.  But a completely new discovery of the gospel as culture — the gospel embodied in community — will be infinitely better, filled with a divine power such as we have not yet seen.

From a distance, I’ve been sensing some of that culture through Immanuel Church in Nashville. It’s made me jealous that we experience that here as we plant a church in Toronto. “A gospel culture is not easy,” Ortlund writes. “But it is possible.”

There are a handful of books that have gotten under my skin. This is one of them. I’m forever grateful the current focus on gospel centrality. I’m so hungry now that we experience what Ortlund describes as gospel culture, or die trying. Maybe you’ll join me.

Answering Life's Two Most Haunting Questions

I’m in the middle of reading Russ Ramsey’s excellent book Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ as we come to Easter. It’s good, but I had a moment yesterday when I recognized myself in the book, and it wasn’t pretty.

Ramsey retells Jesus’ one of Jesus’ many confrontation with the Pharisees:

When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:8-11 ESV)

It’s a familiar story. Ramsey’s commentary, though, exposed a little of my own heart.

But they were not unlike the rest of the world who wanted so badly to know the answers to life’s two most haunting questions: “Am I valuable, and am I lovable?” The world has historically measured such things based on possessions, reputations, influence, or family name. When power tells the story of worth, everyone postures themselves for the best possible seats at the table of life. But Jesus proposed another way. What if people didn’t find their position in this world according to how they compared to others, but rather by what God said of them? What if this were all that mattered— the Father’s affection for his children?

A lot of life and a lot of ministry is spent trying to answer the questions, “Am I valuable, and am I lovable?” As a result, life and ministry can be about trying to establish our place before men, rather than joyfully accepting the lowest positions as we rest in what God has said about us.

This isn’t a new concept, but what’s new is recognizing how powerful this is in my own heart. I’ve long known the importance of living out of God’s approval rather than earning approval from others through my efforts. How quickly, though, I forget.

When it comes to the questions, “Am I valuable, and am I lovable?” we no longer have to look to our reputation or ministry success. Those question have been answered. We just have to remind the Pharisee within us of that daily. The gospel frees us from having to validate our worth through our ministries.

Saturday Links

Links for your weekend reading:

3 Ways to Be a Friend of Sinners

Given the priority of scripture, and specifically the life of Jesus, I would prefer to come down on the side of being a friend of sinners. How do we do that, though, in a way that is faithful to his word, and honors God all the while?

Seven Ways We Can Guard and Repair Relationships

  1. Let’s rejoice in one another, because the Lord rejoices in us.
  2. Let’s create an environment of trust rather than negative scrutiny.
  3. Let’s judge ourselves, even as we give each other the benefit of the doubt...

Parenting Means Wrestling Demons

There is a war on children, and we are all, in one way or another, playing some role in it.

3 Well-meaning (but Unhelpful) Approaches During Grief

Through the years as a pastor, and now as a husband more intimately involved, I have seen at least three well-meaning but unhelpful approaches to a grieving person.

Preaching: 3 Questions for Managing the Heart

What we, and our churches, need most is for us to be engaging our hearts as we prepare to preach, after we preach and as we work through our own emotions in the days following.

How the Local Movement is Revitalizing Church

Thousands of Christians are reclaiming the ancient idea of the “parish” and weaving together a shared life in the place they call home.

Are You Ready to Minister in the Cities?

Consider cities. They are the next last frontier of Christian missions.

Spurgeon's Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression

“I used to think that the book of Job is in the Bible because this story of suffering is so extreme, so rare, improbable, and unusual,” said Ray Ortlund in a recent sermon. “I don’t think that anymore. Now I think that the book of Job is in the Bible because this story is so common and typical.”

I suspect that Charles Spurgeon, the famous Baptist preacher of the 1800s, would have agreed. Zack Eswine’s book Spurgeon's Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression is a gift in a world in which suffering is so pervasive, both for the depressed and those of us who have a hard time understanding why depression is so hard.

The Suffering of Spurgeon

Spurgeon was unique. He was one of the first megachurch pastors ever. He was British, Victorian, and Baptist. He was uniquely gifted and accomplished. He was renowned for his quick wit and sense of humor. Yet, he also suffered with poor health and recurring depression.

In October of 1856, Spurgeon preached at Surrey Hall to a crowd thousands when a prankster yelled, “Fire!” In the ensuing panic, seven died and twenty-eight were left seriously injured. Spurgeon, only 22 years old, was ten months into his new marriage, and one month into parenting twin boys in a new house full of unpacked boxes. “The senseless tragedy and the public accusation nearly broke Charles’ mind,” writes Eswine, “not only in those early moments but also with lasting effects.”

As a result, Spurgeon knew what it was like to suffer. He could say:

I have endured tribulation from many flails. Sharp bodily pain succeeded mental depression, and this was accompanied both by bereavement, and affliction in the person of one dear as life. The waters rolled in continually, wave upon wave. I do not mention this to exact sympathy, but simply to let the reader see that I am no dry-land sailor.

Because of this, Spurgeon is qualified to help us. Switching metaphors, Spurgeon compared himself to someone who has been in the dark dungeon, and knows the way to bread and water. He is able to help both those of us who have encountered depression, and those of us have a hard time understanding what it’s like.

A Friend for Sufferers

“The fact that such a prominent Christian pastor struggled with depression and talked so openly about it invites us to friendship with a fellow sufferer,” writes Eswine. Depression is horribly lonely; Spurgeon’s Sorrows is a reminder that while the feelings of loneliness may persist, we are not alone. It is a relief to read a book that describes depression and speaks truth, but without glib answers. It’s more of a travel guide about someone who has been there too.

While there are no easy answers for the depressed, there is company.  “Broken hearted one, Jesus Christ knows all your troubles, for similar troubles were his portion too,” said Spurgeon. Other great Christians also struggled with depression. “You are not the first child of God who has been depressed or troubled…Do not, therefore, think that you are quite alone in your sorrow.” Others may not understand your depression, but God does, and he is compassionate.

A Help to Friends of Sufferers

For those who have never been depressed, it’s hard to understand the sufferings of the depressed. Ironically, Christians can sometimes be the least prepared to understand or help. Spurgeon’s Sorrows helps us here too. Depression is “neither a sign of laziness nor a sin,” Eswine writes, “neither negative thinking nor a weakness…No saint or hero is immune.” Having never experienced depression ourselves, we should be slow to judge. “We should feel more for the prisoner if we knew more about the prison,” said Spurgeon.

Spurgeon also helps us understand that Christians can continue to struggle with depression. “We do not profess that the religion of Christ will so thoroughly change a man as to take away from him all his natural tendencies.” Because of this, “Depression of spirit is no index of declining grace.” Depression is a “misfortune not a fault,” and therefore it does not merit our condemnation.

Spurgeon helps us understand how dark things can get. “I wonder every day that there are not more suicides, considering the troubles of this life,” he said. Indeed, he believed that some miseries we experience are worse than death. Spurgeon reasoned with those who felt suicidal, believing that while suicide is not the unpardonable sin, the temptation should be resisted. Still, Eswine says, “We must take great care before judging someone who tries to overcome miseries that we ourselves have never encountered.”

Finally, Spurgeon also helps us see that our words often fail when it comes to helping the depressed. Right theology, trite sayings, and quick fixes are not enough. Depression is complex, with circumstantial, biological, and spiritual contributors. “There is a limit to human power,” said Spurgeon. “God alone can take away the iron when it enters into the soul.” A Christianity that is only prepared for sunshine and positive thinking is a counterfeit Christianity.

This message is especially important for those of us who preach. We should be careful in how we address the complexities of life, and preach with understanding and compassion to those who are hurting.

Thankful for This Book

As a young pastor, I was ill equipped to deal with depression. Years later, I am better acquainted with the weight of suffering that many — indeed, most — carry. But I still need help. I still need to grow in my capacity to care for others, to resist easy answers, and to learn from the suffering that I would rather avoid.

Zack Eswine has served us well by helping us learn from Spurgeon’s sorrows. It’s a book that deserves to be read widely, both by those who suffer with depression, and the rest of us — especially pastors — who want to care for those who suffer.

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