Karl Marx famously called Christianity the opiate of the people, but I think it’s actually the smelling salts. Because when you really understand God’s grace, you wake up to injustice, and you are moved by compassion.
The reverse is true as well: When you are blind to the needs of the poor, it raises the question of whether or not you’ve actually ever believed the gospel, because you are unaware of your own pressing need for God’s merciful attention to you in your sin.
If you serve as part of a church’s leadership, even if you don’t have an official position, you’re directing people’s attention to something. But it’s not only when you stand (or sit) in front of them. It’s when you tweet, post a picture on Instagram, write a blog, or put something on Facebook. Where are we pointing people’s attention, affections, and adoration?
As you listen to the pastor preach or read the Bible, doubt screams in your ear, “Do you really believe that?!” When trials have overtaken your family again, doubt always asks, “Does God even care?” For the millionth time, it seems, you have failed and you cannot help but wonder, “Does God still love me?”
Doubt is overwhelming, but it is not abnormal. Spurgeon once noted, “The heart that hath never doubted has not yet learned to believe. As the farmers say, ‘The land that will not grow a thistle will not grow wheat.’”
A few years ago, I took a pastorate with the goal of shepherding that flock faithfully for at least 25 years. I told them as much after an overwhelming majority of members voted for me to occupy the sacred office. It was a mandate, and I pushed offshore for what I hoped would be at minimum a quarter century of preaching God’s Word and leading God’s people.
But the seas of local church ministry were hurricane-rough from day one.
My goal was not God’s goal.
Recently, a fellow member of the faculty told me that a student in one of his classes this past semester displayed a negative attitude towards learning to write well. The student expressed the belief that, since he was called to preach, he did not have to do well in written communication. The only form of communication in which he had to do well was verbal communication. Christian ministers should learn to communicate the gospel as well as they can verbally and in print. Lacking the ability to speak well and to write well feeds the bias some persons in our society have against Christians and Christianity and such an inability reflects poorly on our Lord.
A favorite from the archives:
Eleven months ago, Emily and I were in North Bay, Ontario, for a family vacation. She was reading Luke’s gospel. I was reading Luke and Radical by David Platt. As we both read, we individually felt challenged when we came to (both in our Bibles and in Radical conveniently) Luke 12:35-40, particularly when Jesus says, “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.”
Were we “dressed for action”? Were we prepared for the Lord to come? Our answer was no.