Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Velvet Mouthed Preaching

While I don't know that I would agree with all of John Piper's theology, I must say that I have been blessed by his biographies which he gives each year at his pastor's conferences. A fellow pastor turned me on to them, and I have a link to them below. I am a big fan of Christian biography and of the power of the testimony. I believe that there is tremendous power (and a Biblical mandate) in recording and passing on the hand of God in the lives of people. Testimony builds faith as we realize that the God in "their" life is the God in ours, and He does not change. It is truly awesome to study the "great cloud of witnesses" which surrounds us.

Last week Mary Ann and I listened to Piper's teaching on George Whitefield. Whitefield was an amazing 18th century evangelist/preacher, and a contemporary of Jonathan Edwards and the Wesleys. John Piper's teaching is over an hour long, and the written copy has almost 90 footnotes, so clearly I can't talk about a fraction of it here. But there was one part of it that really spoke to me above the others and I will try to capture it.

In the teaching Piper addressed the accusations that Whitefield was just an actor on stage—an accusation made because of his drama and energy and oratory. According to Piper, a fellow by the name of James Lockington was present at a sermon which Whitefield gave and he recorded the following words by Whitefield:
“I’ll tell you a story. The Archbishop of Canterbury in the year 1675 was acquainted with Mr. Butterton the [actor]. One day the Archbishop . . . said to Butterton . . . ‘pray inform me Mr. Butterton, what is the reason you actors on stage can affect your congregations with speaking of things imaginary, as if they were real, while we in church speak of things real, which our congregations only receive as if they were imaginary?’ ‘Why my Lord,’ says Butterton, ‘the reason is very plain. We actors on stage speak of things imaginary, as if they were real and you in the pulpit speak of things real as if they were imaginary.’”
After quoting this John Piper then writes:
“Therefore,” added Whitefield, ‘I will bawl [shout loudly], I will not be a velvet-mouthed preacher.”

This means that there are three ways to speak. First, you can speak of an unreal, imaginary world as if it were real—that is what actors do in a play. Second, you can speak about a real world as if it were unreal—that is what half-hearted pastors do when they preach about glorious things in a way that says they are not as terrifying and wonderful as they are. And third is: You can speak about a real spiritual world as if it were wonderfully, terrifyingly, magnificently real (because it is).
This really spoke to my heart, probably because I often ask myself, "Erick, do you really, deeply believe what you say, because if you do your life should look a lot differently." These words of Piper and Whitefield pierce my heart the way the words of a song do which I listen to now and then which says, "I don't want to talk about You [God] like You're not in the room."

If Piper's assessment of Whitefield's heart is accurate, Whitefield did not need to drum up passion or drama—he simply expressed what burned in his soul at the level it burned in his soul. To Whitefield the reality of heaven and hell and judgment and the return of Christ and the blood of Jesus and the love and power of God were so real, so tangible, so present that he did not need to fake anything, but simply to speak truth with the passion he felt for it.

I wonder, beginning with me, where are those who are so aware of the presence of God, of the spiritual war we are in that wages around us, of the casualties of war and of the victory of Jesus' blood, of heaven and of hell, that their speaking of it, and of Him, burns with the passion of that truth at the level it deserves? After all, no one would have to fake drama or passion if they were screaming about an oncoming truck about to hit an unaware pedestrian, nor would one need to fake emotion or passion talking about someone who jumped on a grenade to save their life—the reality of those truths would naturally evoke passion when spoken of.

I long for God's Word, and God's truth, and God's love, and God's presence, and eternity, and spiritual war, and the awe and holiness of God, and the hatred of sin (not sinners), to be so real to me that I would naturally talk about them (and act on them) with a passion so deep, and a present awareness so real, that others would have to question if I was acting because only burning passion, or stage drama, could explain my body's words and cry.

Note: To listen to, or read, Piper's biographies, click here. From there you can buy the mp3 CD with them on it, or you can click on the name of the person you want and it will take you to a page where you can download the mp3 or read the text for free.

You can get to the Whitefield teaching by clicking here.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Who Says? — Part II

I read an article in the online New York Times yesterday by Op-Ed Columnist Frank Rich titled "Smoke the Bigots Out of the Closet." It is hard to capture the whole article in a few sentences, but it uses the Pentagon's move to possibly repeal the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy of the military towards gay soldiers as a platform to happily advance that the majority of Americans now see gay as an immutable identity and not a "lifestyle." He talks about the "progress" we are making on the issue (its greater acceptance) and uses words to describe those who oppose the homosexual agenda like "homophobic" and "prejudice" and makes the homosexual issue a civil rights issue.

I found the article catching my attention because of the post I had just made (2/7/10: "Says Who?," or "Who Says?") in which I asserted the need for an absolute standard for defining right and wrong. Whether it is the homosexual issue, the abortion issue, racism, prostitution, etc., unless there is a standard defining point for right and wrong there will always be arguments on both sides. In his column, using words like "bigotry," Mr. Rich talks about the court arguments about California's Proposition 8 and he attacks the arguments of those who testified of the danger to marriage of its being repealed and gays being allowed to marry.

Really, we can make all the arguments we want for how gays in the military will affect morale, or what it would do to other soldiers, or for how gay marriage will threaten the institution of marriage, and how it will advance the homosexual agenda in schools, etc., but the reality is that the supreme reason we stand against any of it (or against abortion or prostitution or . . . ) is because God's Word says it is wrong. Just like we would tell an adulterer that they are wrong, and still love them as we do it, we declare homosexuality wrong and abortion wrong—because God says it is.

Every argument we can advance will have a counter argument. Every fact will have a counter fact. Whoever has the best lawyers and the heart strings of the majority of the voters will stand the best chance of having their position ratified . . . unless, and until, Jesus is embraced by our nation as God's Son and the Bible as God's Word. In the absence of an absolute standard there is, simply, argument against argument. Who has the most believable expert witnesses? Who has the best commercials? We have lost the point, which is who has truth? If the people of America who profess to be Christians simply stood—lovingly and humbly, but firmly—on the standard of God's reality and His Word as supreme truth, this wouldn't even be an issue. Until we do we will probably lose more battles than we win.

Note: You can read Mr. Rich's complete article by clicking here.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

"Says Who?," or "Who Says?"

With Superbowl kickoff only hours away I must say that I am truly glad to hear that CBS has decided to not air an ad from a gay dating service showing two men making out. Their decision to air an ad from Focus on the Family with Tim Tebow and his mom (which I am personally happy for) brings up an important point, however, and that is, "Who says what is ok and what isn't?"

CBS has their own standards and criteria which they subjected the ads to. But what if they had made a different decision? What if they had shown the two men making out and not run the Tebow ad (which is reported to have a pro-life message from his mom's own decision not to abort him despite doctor's recommendations)? Would they have been right or wrong?

The obvious point here is how right and wrong is defined or determined. If anyone is asked how they determine right and wrong and their answer is a non-absolute (something like getting their values from family, teachers, own opinion, what hurts the least people, experience, the Bible as simply a "good book of morals," etc.) then they are on shaky ground. The problem is, what happens when they meet someone else whose values are in opposition to theirs, and in fact infringe on theirs, and who has an equally non-absolute basis for choosing them? Who is right? Who prevails?

The logical extreme of everyone picking their own values and right and wrongs is obvious if one simply spends a little time thinking about it. In fact, in the absence of absolute right and wrong, even fascism, racism, abortion, elderly elimination, elimination of the sick and weak, etc., are all equally justifiable to people believing them—and with no absolute standard to judge them against, who is anyone to say they are wrong? In fact, wouldn't evolution (which denies God) tell us that the strongest has every right, and is even admired for, asserting him/herself over the weaker and insuring the continuation of his own?

When we are devoid of an absolute standard for right and wrong, or good and bad, we are on a slippery slope in which the slightest shift or collision can bring the whole thing down in an avalanche of chaos and destruction. That is why we, as Christians, must be absolutely convinced in our hearts that the Word of God is truly that, and that Jesus is who He says He is, because He says He is the way and the truth, and the Bible displays God as the absolute defining point of good and evil. Praise God that we have a God who does not change, and that we have in Him a sure anchor in these days of shifting winds and currents where nothing seems sure or steady.

Note: If this post intrigues you then you might want to read my September 2, 2009 post on world view and politics which talks about the need for a standard as well. You can read it by clicking here.


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