Why is it that when catastrophes happen - tsunamis, terrorist attacks, typhoons - Christians seem intent on attributing them to the wickedness of the victims? Jesus takes us in a completely different direction:
There were some present at that very time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:1-5).
Our instinct is to think that the fundamental operating principle of God's universe is a performance principle: “Bad things happen to bad people. Bad things haven’t happened to me. Therefore, I’m not a bad person.” The assumption is that the victims must be "worse offenders" than the survivors. "No," says Jesus. Instead, these calamities are signs of God's grace. The catastrophe is an invitation to repent.
So the next time there is a tornado at a meeting of a theologically liberal denomination or a hurricane that leaves people homeless in a region known for its debauchery, do not say, "It's because they are really bad people. Since I’m not like them, something like that will never happen to me." Instead, say, "Thank you, Lord, for another cordial invitation to repent."
Eleven years ago today, Dec 2 was the Monday after Thanksgiving. It was also the day my father died. Here's the eulogy I gave at his funeral:
“My Dad Is Bigger than Your Dad”
A Eulogy in Honor of
Robert Wayne Marler (1945-2002)
Most eulogies given by sons in honor of their dads end up amounting to nothing more than the perennial playground argument between boys: “My dad is bigger than your dad.” And as you know, this line of reasoning is the same kind that informs every parent’s belief that his or her children are “so bright, so gifted, so sweet, and so cute.” Of course, I wouldn’t want this eulogy given in honor of my father—the man I affectionately referred to as “Bobby Mah-ler”—to be reduced to the category of kindergarten lore. Nevertheless, in the case of Bob Marler, the simple truth is that my dad is bigger than your dad.
It is difficult to think of my father without remembering his almost clairvoyant ability to understand and even to anticipate contemporary fashion trends. Perhaps his most powerful fashion statement came when he coupled cotton sweatpants and a leather belt with a Fruit-of-the Loom T-shirt, carefully lifted up to expose his wash-barrel stomach. He finished this combination with a 15 year-old terrycloth bathrobe (sans the terrycloth belt). Clearly, my dad is bigger than your dad.
There are two Christmas memories that are indelibly written in my mind, both testifying to his astounding resourcefulness. When I was between 8 and 10 years-old, we made a practice of buying potted Christmas trees, so that when they were done fulfilling their Yuletide duties they could be carefully planted in our yard. We made three purchases, which, strangely enough, resulted in the production of four years of Christmas trees. Allow me to explain.
One of the four years we were short on funds. This made things abundantly clear to my father. To him it meant “dig up last year’s Christmas tree and put it in our living room.” Somehow I’m sure that my mother never would have been as resourceful to think of such a procedure.
The second Christmas memory comes after we had long since abandoned the practice of planting our old trees; instead, we bought one that had been freshly cut. On this particular occasion we realized that the one we purchased was too tall. So naturally, my dad decided to—how shall I say this—he decided to “prune” the Christmas tree. After the pruning had taken place, he put the tree in its stand and although it was the right height for our house, it had not (properly speaking) been pruned—“butchered” is a much more accurate term.
Aware of his overzealous pruning and the almost bald condition of the tree, he made a decision that is a shining example of his resourcefulness: use duct tape to restore the branches to the trunk. It should be obvious by now that my dad is bigger than your dad.
My dad was not only a resourceful thinker and a paragon of high fashion, he was also exceedingly eloquent. I have never heard anyone who spoke the way he did. Let me give you an example of some recent advice he gave me. I’ll try to be as exact as I can:
I got news for you, Bobby, that guy’s bark is worse than his bite. I’m gonna go out on a limb for you and say that he doesn’t know his right hand from his left hand. You need to be wise as a serpent here and keep an ace up your sleeve. Don’t get yourself all worked up into a lather and bent out of shape. If you do, it’ll go over like a lead balloon. What you need to do is put your nose to the grindstone and work your fingers to the bone. At the same time you have to remember that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket because it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.
Is there any question whether or not my dad is bigger than your dad?
I loved my father. I loved everything about him. And I miss him terribly.
Now with all this talk about my dad those of you close to the family will know that Bob Marler wasn’t my biological father. He was my step-father. Yet since he and my mom were married three months before my 5th birthday, humanly speaking, he is the only true father I have ever known.
He is the man who taught me to tie my shoes and to shoot a jump-shot. He is the man who comforted me when I was scared and made me my favorite foods. He is the man who attended every concert and play and graduation and official ceremony in which I had been involved. He is the man who beamed with pride at my ordination to the ministry and never ceased to encourage my every endeavor. He is the man who reached into his pocket on my every visit to hand me ten dollars saying, “If I had more, I would give it to you.”
Some would say that Bob was like a father to me, but he wasn’t. He was my father and I was his son. He loved me as I loved him and didn’t fail to tell me so. I am forever grateful to the Lord for allowing my mother to marry Bob Marler, my dad.
So then, it should be clear that there is only one conclusion to be drawn from these remarks: my dad is bigger than your dad.
My five year-old son, Isaac, was born fourteen weeks early. Being a preemie puts you at a bit of a developmental disadvantage. So today, when we learned that following many hours of physical therapy and educational interventions he has caught up with his peers, we were thrilled! We are so thankful for what God has done not only in sparing his little life, but also in using the public education of our state and city to help Isaac in ways that we never could have otherwise.
And this is just one example of the public school's positive effect in our children's lives. All four Glenns, ages 17 to 5, have been educated in the public school to their great advantage.
And yet I can't tell you how often I've heard Christians, even well known, respected, usually thoughtful Christians, bash the public school as merely an engine for the indoctrination of our kids in all things anti-Christian. I find myself wondering whether or not their negative characterization of public school is based purely on ignorance. Although I don't doubt that school boards in places like San Francisco, CA or Providence, RI are pursuing an agenda to normalize ways of thinking and behaviors that are at odds with the Christian faith, the lion's share of public school teachers and administrators love kids, love teaching, and love their city. Their dream for their students has far more correspondence with Christianity than points of departure from it.
But please don't misunderstand.
I'm not saying that public education equals Christian education. But what I am saying is that public school is a legitimate option for Christian families provided that they are active rather than passive in their kids' education. Of course, this is true for any form of schooling we choose for our children. Educating your kids at home, in Christian schools, or in non-Christian parochial schools requires proactive parental involvement just as much as public school does. A particular form of education does not guarantee the fulfillment of our biblical call as parents to educate our children.
I'm also not saying that public school is the right choice for every Christian family. One of the options I've mentioned above may be what's best for your kids given your particular situation. All I am saying is that public school should be added to the list of possibilities for Christians and not ruled out for an alleged conspiracy to poison our children's minds with teaching aimed at derailing their faith in Christ.
Christian parents are called to educate their kids. This is true. But the Bible is silent on the nuts and bolts of how to get it done. We have chosen the tool of public education. And we are thankful that we did.
In the piece, "It Matters Who You Hang Out With," Warren Bird reported,
According to a three year study of pastoral leader participation in peer groups initiated by the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence (SPE) Initiative of the Lilly Endowment, Inc., congregations with Pastors who are regularly involved in a peer group 1) are more likely to promote a "culture of involvement" that actively assimilates newcomers and involves members in leadership, 2) have more active youth programs and activities, and 3) are more involved in community service and positive community change.
In my mind, there is a reason for this: the power of the gospel. The gospel creates a spirit of cooperation among churches. No longer defined by the righteousness of self-made, home-grown ministry success, the gospel frees church leaders to get their identity from an unassailable source - their union with Christ. Pastors matter because Jesus matters, not because their church matters.
The connection, therefore, between a culture of involvement, active youth programs, & community service and pastoral participation in peer groups is not pastor + peer group = healthier church. Instead, it works like this: pastor + growing faith in the gospel = fellowship with other pastors + healthier churches.
Unless pastors continually appropriate the gospel of grace, not even the dangling carrot of a healthier church will propel them outward to seek ministry peers. Only by steeping in the undeserved, unassailable identity given to us as a gift do we have any hope of moving beyond our parochialism and territorialism for the health of our churches and the good of our cities.
After a one year hiatus to remodel and significantly expand our building, I am more than excited to see our annual pastors' conference return to Redeemer.
The conference is called, "The Praying Pastor: The Heart of Gospel Ministry," and it will feature Paul Miller, author of the best book on prayer I have ever read, A Praying Life.
So if you're a pastor, elder, or seminary student, bring your wife with you to our intimate, sweet, helpful conference for pastors.
In 2 Cor 5:15, the Apostle Paul says that Jesus died not so that our sins could be forgiven or that we could go to heaven when we die (though both of those things are certainly true); instead, he gives a purpose for the death of Christ that is a much more "present tense" reality. He says that Jesus died so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
What does this imply about who you are and what you need to be rescued from? It implies that you are selfish and that therefore you need to be rescued from you.
As I thought about this, six types of selfishness in my own life came to the surface, which, if I wasn't confident that Christ died to kill the, might leave me in despair. But since I know that Jesus, because of his great love for me, died so that I would no longer be shackled to my little life, I am free to admit my selfishness to him (and to you). Hope this helps:
- Self-focus: I start to lose interest in a conversation that's not about me or in a story that I'm not telling.
- Self-glorification: I do what I do to make a name for myself, to get noticed, to get recognition, or to be seen as someone important.
- Self-obsession: My internal dialogue is all about me. How do I look? How do I feel? What should I do? Why didn't so-and-so acknowledge me?
- Self-rule: Me determining the rules of my life, silently or not so silently demanding that others keep my commandments.
- Self-righteousness: Not thinking that I'm better than others in the traditional sense of the term, but looking down my nose at people who don't realize they're bad like me.
- Self-reliance: Living as if I don't need divine intervention to do life, which especially manifests itself in pockets of prayerlessness.
I have been very forthcoming, now how about you? You are selfish, too. There is at least something about your life that you can describe with the prefix "self" attached. And if you're a Christian, you can admit it. The Lord Jesus died for it, no longer holds it against you, and gives you power by his Spirit to say no to it even in the throes of your most self-indulgent binge. What a savior! The loving savior of the lamentably selfish.
An recent interview that's worth every minute of your time.
Of the many tragic consequences from the Connecticut elementary school massacre that can be named is that the shooter, Adam Lanza, in an act of colossal cowardice, shot himself. And what makes this so tragic is that because he is dead, he can never be brought to justice, never made to pay for his crimes in this life. The nature of the case is that the state is not able to prosecute and convict and sentence and execute someone who is dead.
Now what is interesting about this principle is that it also applies to the Christian's relationship to God. Romans 8:1 says, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." The reason for this is that every Christian died with Christ on the cross (Rom 6:2-3), which means that the Judge of the Universe is now unable to condemn you to hell precisely because you have already died.
Of course, the amazing truth of the gospel is that the Lord put himself into this predicament. He is unable to condemn you because he was unwilling to condemn you. Unwilling to condemn you, he sent his son Jesus Christ to die to sin so that you might die with him. Now that you're dead, he simply cannot execute your sentence.
So if you've ever struggled to believe the truth of Rom 8:1, that there really is no condemnation for you in Jesus Christ, remember that the reason there is no sentence is that the perpetrator (you) is immune from prosecution. In Christ, you have already been prosecuted, sentenced, and executed. You're already dead. And no dead person can be executed. Not even by God.
I know you feel it. The pressure to accomplish something in 2013. To do those things you ought to have done in 2012. To get back up on the horse of the things you failed to accomplish last year. To really make a difference...unlike 2012. Or to top last year. You made it to the top of K2; this year it's Everest. You got your first book published; this year, it'll be two - and better sales, too! The New Year pressure is upon us. This post is to help you resist it.
How about instead of aiming high, aiming low? Aim for the boring stuff, the humble stuff. Aim for the mundane. Aim that you would live in 2013 cognizant that your life isn't mainly lived in the world of your great accomplishments or big decisions; instead, it's lived, 99.9 percent of the time, in the thousand small decisions you make moment-to-moment and in the tiny accomplishments of grace that no one but God ever sees. Aim for this, and you'll be all there for your 17 year-old son as he downloads his day to you as you climb into bed, exhausted. Aim for this, and you'll celebrate the small victories. You repented of your lust this afternoon faster than you did this morning. You emptied the dishwasher for your wife just because you loved her. And you stopped yourself from lashing out in traffic when you were late for an appointment.
Aim for this because this is where Jesus meets you. Everywhere. Every day. He doesn't care if you accomplish something great in 2013 because he already accomplished for you the only truly great thing in all of history - on the cross of Calvary.
So this year, you don't need to try to make yourself matter. Say goodbye forever to the New Year pressure and rest in the finished work of Christ.
Anyone who has worked with me knows how much I value vision-casting, strategizing, and executing on tactics in order to realize our church's vision. But here's a word from Paul Tripp's, Dangerous Calling, which understands pastoral priorities:
There have been very few pastors whose ministries have been damaged by poor strategic planning. There are very few pastors whose ministries have been compromised by poor staffing. There are very few pastors who have lost their way in ministry because they didn't budget well. But there are thousands of pastors who have damaged or destroyed their ministries because they lost sight of what ministry was really about and did not protect themselves against temptation.
Perhaps the real problem isn't that pastors have given themselves to strategic planning while their souls languished. Perhaps the real problem is that the same care, attention, thought hasn't been given to being strategic about the cultivation of their own spiritual lives.
Ministry is war. And without a strategy you will be a casualty of it. Let's just make sure we're fighting the right one - the war for our own hearts' devotion to Jesus Christ.