Friday, April 10, 2009

"Better to Light a Candle" - Pierre-Charles Toureille (1900 - 1976)

From Kairos Journal (an excellent online resource):

Pastor Pierre-Charles Toureille risked his life during World War II to keep Jews out of Nazi death camps.(1) At the beginning of the war, before many people could fathom Hitler's true intentions, he served under the Protestant Federation of France (FPF) as chaplain for refugees in southern France. His job was to make living conditions in the internment camps as comfortable as possible. When it became clear the Jews were not being merely relocated but killed, Toureille pushed his colleagues to adopt a more aggressive stance. They refused, preferring instead to maintain their cordial relations with German authorities. Thus rebuffed, Toureille began secretly hiding Jews in his own church-members' homes or smuggling them to safety in Switzerland. He finally resigned in frustration from the FPF in 1945.

Some years later, Toureille wrote about the Christian Church's mission in the world. In true evangelical fashion, he pointed to a fate even worse than physical death in a German gas chamber--spiritual death. In the face of an enemy so terrible as that, he said, the Church simply cannot afford to stand on the sidelines.
There is a Buddhist saying, adopted by the Quakers as a motto for their aid to the needy: "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." It is in passing the light to others that one disperses the shadows . . . I often see boxing matches on television where the boxers lose because they only defend themselves without ever attacking. The same is true today for the Christian Church. It is by going on the offensive that the Mission will save the world.

Please understand me: it is not uniquely the church's mission to save men socially, economically, politically. But above all else, it is the church that must save men's souls. If the church does not accomplish this task, nothing else will. A church that does not evangelize is useless on earth. If the Church does not go to the front, with zeal and faith, the world will die, however it might be magnificently equipped technologically, monstrously rich and developed, endowed with superior social legislation and possessed of the best possible material conditions for living comfortably--this world will die because it has no soul. Unless the world has this peace of the soul that authentic conversion and the assurance of eternal life can give, all is useless and in vain. The night comes, when no one can work. Let us work, then, without cease. (2)


(1)For other examples of pastors being faithful to their calling during the Holocaust, see Kairos Journal articles, "The Pulpit at Le Chambon" and "The End - A Beginning."

(2)Tela Zasloff, A Rescuer's Story: Pastor Pierre-Charles Toureille in Vichy France (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003), 211

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Doing the work of an evangelist at UPS

You must read Timmy Brister's post about an encounter he had this week during his graveyard shift at UPS in Louisville. Determining how to honor one's employer by giving a full day's work for a full day's pay while not overlooking opportunities to speak of and for Christ can be tricky business. Sometimes we don't speak because we are intimidated or fearful. Sometimes we do speak when we should remain silent and our job.

Tim's story points the way forward through his own example of faithful, evangelistic zeal that is wedded to a humble, genuine desire to honor his employer.

Read it and be encouraged and challenged.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Southern Baptist Evangelists lament the recovery of Calvinism

Baptist Press reports the gathering of 15 "prominent" evangelists in Jackson. The meeting was initiated by Jerrry Drace to discuss issues that they judge vital to their ministries. Unfortunately but not unexpectedly, the growing recovery of our denomination's doctrinal heritage is one of their great concerns. The other is the seeker-sensitive approach to ministry.

I have classified some of the reported comments of participants into 4 categories.

1. Concerns that every Southern Baptist Calvinist I know would share, assuming the scenario that is described is accurate (Calvinists in the SBC have been so long and are so often caricatured that this caveat is understandably necessary).
Drace told the group he currently is working with some young pastors who are "so leaning in this morphed Calvinism that they almost laugh at evangelism. It's almost to the extent that they believe they don't have to do it. So [Calvinism] gives them an excuse not to do evangelism."
Anyone professing Christian who laughs--or "almost laughs"--at evangelism should be sharply rebuked. I hope brother Drake will do exacdly that.
Sammy Tippit of San Antonio, Texas, asked if some of the seeker-friendly approach could be attributed to a backlash against the type of manipulation people see in televangelists.
I think he is partially correct. More and more serious pastors and churches are growing weary of seeing people emotionally jerked around by well-intentioned but biblically shallow preachers. Such manipulation is not limited to televangelists.

2. Concerns that leave me wondering exactly how Calvinism got implicated.
Wayne Bristow of Edmond, Okla. added that he's distressed about having to "tiptoe" around terminology for fear someone will misunderstand or take his comments another direction. For example, he said he has always told people who have asked that he can preach and give an invitation with authority and confidence because he believes in the sovereignty of God.

"When I preach I know the Holy Spirit is at work in the hearts of people in that congregation -– arresting them, convicting them, convincing them and drawing them to Christ," Bristow said. "If I didn't believe that, I have no authority; I have no confidence. All I did would be in my own strength, and I would be forced immediately into a ministry of manipulation. But we live in a time now where [Calvinism] has come so much to the forefront that when you say something like that then … you've got to be labeled."
I am not certain where the Bible teaches that one's authority is based on being certain that when he preaches the Spirit is arresting, convicting, convincing and drawing the hearers to Christ, but that is beside the point (to say nothing of a "ministry of manipulation"). Is the concern that Calvinists will question that kind of thinking or label it? I just don't understand the concern.

3. Concerns that sound like the greatest problem with the seeker-sensitive "system" is that it prevents vocational evangelists like those at the meeting from being invited to preach in churches that employ it.
"When the pastor preaches on Sunday morning in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and tennis shoes, do you think he's going to bring in this fire-breathing evangelist who wears a tie and black suit and have him stand up there and tell people that they are going to hell?" Michael Gott of Keller, Texas, asked rhetorically.

"Do you think he's going to change that whole user-friendly approach to have somebody like you or me tell people that they must recognize there's something wrong, and what's wrong must be changed, and the only one to change it is Jesus Christ.
We're not even within the system," Gott said. "It's not like [leaders] are rejecting evangelists, but the system has eliminated the role of the vocational evangelist. That is going to have to be changed by seminaries, by denominational leaders who challenge churches to use an evangelist.
These comments speak for themselves.

4. Concerns that puzzle me in the way that they are expressed:
"Southern Baptists neglected serious Christian education from the early 1960s, and that's when all the trouble started. From discipleship training we went to the amorphous youth groups, whose only real good was to keep kids happy until they graduated from high school and graduated from church. Now, you have a generation [of college students] who have come along and want something deeper and they have latched onto Calvinism" [emphasis added].

Poe said the "greatest missionary" for Calvinism in the local church is John Piper, a Reformed Baptist theologian, preacher and author who currently serves as pastor for preaching and vision of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. Two of his most popular books are "Desiring God" and "Let the Nations be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions."

"He's effective because he's so passionate," Poe said. "He holds huge, stadium-type events that are rip-roaring. There's nobody else doing anything like that so he becomes [Calvinism's] expositor. But John Piper's version of Calvinism is not something John Calvin would espouse, or even that Charles Spurgeon [British reformed Baptist preacher] would espouse.

"Calvinism has an appeal because it tends to have an answer for everything -– you can explain everything [by saying] that God predestined it."
Is the rise of Calvinism really "trouble?" No one questions John Piper's passion. But to attribute his effectiveness to that one quality is naive at best. There are lots of passionate arminian preachers. I dare say that most if not all of those gathered for this meeting would be classified such. Could it be that Piper's effectiveness stems from his Christ-centeredness and biblical fidelity? To declare that Calvin and Spurgeon would not espouse what Piper teaches (on the doctrines of grace) is debatable, though not really that important.

To claim that Calvinism's appeal is its tendency to "have an answer for everything" borders on hubris. I don't know what type of "Calvinism" Poe has been observing but whatever it is, it is foreign to me. Furthermore, and more troublesome, if his assessment is accurate, then it is an indictment on the thousands and thousands of young leaders who are coming to embrace the doctrines of grace, suggesting that their motivation stems from wanting "to have an answer for everything" rather than wanting to know and believe whatever God has revealed in His Word.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Tom Brady, your questions have answers

Tom Brady, the 3-time Super Bowl champion quarterback of the New England Patriots was featured the week in a 60 Minutes interview with Steve Kroft on CBS. Brady is already a sports legend in one of the citadels of professional sports in America, Boston. His current team is 15-0 and is poised to finish the season undefeated, something that hasn't been done in the NFL in 35 years. He has won the Super Bowl MVP twice and been named to the Pro Bowl 4 times. He also was recently named the Associated Press' "Male Athlete of the Year."

He has dated actresses and supermodels and makes millions of dollars a year. He has been called America's most eligible bachelor. By most popular standards, he has it all. That is why I was struck by hearing him make the following statement during the interview:
"Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there's something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, 'Hey man, this is what is.' I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me, I think, 'God, it's got to be more than this.' I mean this isn't, this can't be what it's all cracked up to be."
When Kroft asked him, "What's the answer?" Brady responded, "I wish I knew. I wish I knew. I love playing football and I love being quarterback for this team. But at the same time, I think there are a lot of other parts about me that I'm trying to find."

Here is what I would say to Tom Brady, if given the chance to discuss this with him.

Tom, I appreciate your honesty in admitting on national TV that Super Bowl championships and Pro Bowl appearances do not ultimately satisfy what you long for from somewhere deep inside. What you feel is not unique. And your questions really do have answers. Others have asked them throughout history. Many have found the answer in what God has revealed in the Bible.

Augustine, an African Christian leader from the 5th century is an example. During his years of pursuing sensual pleasure and knowledge, he experienced that longing for something more that you described. Later, as he reflected on it, he expressed it like this in a prayer, "Lord, you made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."

The 17th century mathematician, Blaise Pascal, also understood this longing and wrote about it in his famous, Pensees. "All men seek happiness...without exception," he wrote. "Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves."

That is why you play football. You, like every other person, are on a quest for happiness. Like very few people, you have experienced all the happiness that the pinnacle of success in your field can offer. Yet, like everyone else, you have discovered that such happiness is fleeting. As Pascal goes on to explain, that is the inevitable result of every quest that does not recognize that God himself is the only object that can fill the emptiness that we all experience.

One of the books in the Bible specifically addresses the futility of trying to find satisfaction apart from God. Ecclesiastes says that everything is "vanity." Solomon, the author, pursued wisdom, knowledge, success and pleasure, but nothing could ultimately satisfy. Yet the quest to find satisfaction is inevitable because, as he put it, God "has put eternity into man's heart" (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

So, the reason that your 3 Super Bowl rings leave you thinking that there is still something greater out there for you is because there is. You were made for something far greater than football, wealth, fame and success. You were made for God.

Genesis 1 and 2 teaches us that God made people in his own image. Originally, men and women were in a joyful and harmonious relationship with their Creator. But, as Genesis 3 tells us, that peaceful relationship did not last. The first man, Adam, disobeyed God with the result that the whole human race became separated from God and liable to His judgment.

The Bible calls this disobedience, sin. And sin has left every person spiritually opposed to God. So, our predicament is this--we were made by God, for God. Yet, we are no longer able to know and enjoy God because our sin has separated us from him. That leaves us in a spiritually lost condition. Our only hope is to be rescued.

That is exactly what God did by sending his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world. Jesus came on a search and rescue mission. He came to reconcile people to God. And he accomplished this mission by living on earth as a representative of sinners like you and me. Though he had all kinds of opportunity and lots of pressure to disobey God, he never did. He lived the kind of life of complete obedience to God that you and I are obligated to live. Then, in an act of incredible love and sacrifice, he stood before God a substitute for any and all sinners who are willing to trust him as Lord. He exchanged his life for theirs by enduring God's wrath against sin in his death on the cross. That is what enables God to forgive us of our sins.

Jesus put it like this: "The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). And this: "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus was born in order to save people who are lost. And he has accomplished that salvation by giving up his life on the cross.

When God raised Jesus from the dead after 3 days, it was a clear demonstration that everything Jesus came to accomplish had been achieved. By his life, death and resurrection, a way has been opened for God's fallen image-bearers to be brought back into a life-changing relationship with their Creator. That is the meaning of one of the best-known verses in the Bible, John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

The key, then, for us, is faith. We must place our trust in Jesus Christ. That means that we must bow to him as Lord, commit ourselves to him and become his followers. When you trust Christ you receive eternal life here and now. You come to experience life that is abundant and full of joy (John 10:10; 15:11).

You see, there is more to life than great success. There is God. Until you come to know him, your heart will never be satisfied, no matter how many Super Bowls you win. So, keep being honest with yourself. Keep thinking about the "something more" that you have been created for. And go read your Bible to discover for yourself what that something is. When you find it, humble yourself before Jesus Christ, and become his follower. Trust Him. Ask him to make you right with God.

Then, and only then, will your heart find the rest that it craves.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

AP and MTV on the Happiness of Young People

In what is being hailed as a "landmark" study, MTV and the Associate Press are reporting that both family and faith have a significant impact on the happiness of 13-24 year olds.

The two entities collaborated on a 7 month, in-depth study of how sex, money, race, faith, family and technology affect the happiness of American young people.

Here is part of the reported findings:
Religion and spirituality are an integral part of happiness for most American youngpeople. 44 percent say that religion and spirituality are either a very important or the single most important thing in their lives, with more than one in ten reporting the latter. And those for whom religion and spirituality play a bigger role in life tend to be happier. 80 percent of those who say spirituality is the most important thing in life say they are happy with life in general, compared with 60 percent of those who say that spirituality is not an important part of life at all.
Complete findings from this study are available here and here.

Though it has often been clouded over and misrepresented in various contemporary expressions of the Christian faith, God is very concerned with our happiness. Not the cheap and fleeting varieties that come in quick thrills that dissipate faster than they arrive. But the kind of joy and gladness that go deep and give life. The kind that David sang about in Psalms 16 and 36:
"In Your presence is fulness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (16:11)

7 "How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. 8 They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures. 9 For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light" (36:7-9)
The Westminister Divines understood this as they framed the answer to the first question in the Shorter Catechism.
What is the chief of man?
The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Note that it is not two chief ends (plural) but one end (singular). This is why John Piper says that "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." God's glory and our joy are bound together.

C.S. Lewis' oft-quoted words from The Weight of Glory are very appropriate to help us think clearly about how serious God is about our happiness:
If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and to earnestly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I suggest that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Those of us who are experiencing this joy in God through faith in Christ must do two things. One, we must not settle with whatever degree of joy we have already attained. Since it is "unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Peter 1:8) we must keep pressing on to know more of it--to drink more deeply from those rivers of pleasure that God has for us in Christ--throughout our lives.

Second, we must become increasingly promiscuous in telling others about this joy and helping them discover it through the good news of Jesus Christ. The fact that studies are indicating that young people are discovering happiness through "religion and spirituality" does not necessarily validate Christianity, since all kinds of beliefs and nonbeliefs can fall under that heading. But it does provide a point of contact for communicating what the Creator of joy has to say about the path to it. If we are walking that path, then let's joyfully persuade others to join us for God's glory and their happiness.

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