Imperfect Leaders

Having sat under the excellent ministry of Dr David Coffey for a few years, I must say his wealth of wisdom and depth of insight is unsurpassed.

There’s more.

The primary gift of Dr Coffey (UK and world Baptist Supremo – my phrase not his) is in his pastoral integrity and love for the Church of Jesus Christ.  He is a leader of leaders and is in himself a most excellent example of what a leader, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, is like.David Coffey preaching Congress 05

David spotted something within the pages of Scripture that few people would dare to see.  That when God calls a person, they are incomplete, imperfect, sinful, even rebellious.

He writes, “It seems God only calls people who have struggles with faith.  Having called them, he gets to work on the parts of their lives that are not yet perfect.”  

Here are the examples he cites:

  • Moses the reluctant leader (Exodus 3 & 4)
  • Esther the courageous leader……eventually (Esther 4:12-17)
  • Jonah the reluctant missionary
  • John the Baptist – the preacher with doubts (Mat 11:1-3)
  • Mary the homemaker with a ministry (Luke 2:19; 41-52)
  • Martha the manager whose work was a distraction (Luke 10:38-41 & John 11:17-27)
  • Peter the fisherman who nearly threw everything away (Mat 16:13-20 & 26:69-75)
  • Apollos the gifted preacher who needed deepening (Acts 18:24-28)
  • Philip the fisherman who lacked confidence (John 6:7; 12:20-22; 14:9)
  • Paul the great Apostle to the Gentiles who battles with his thorn in the flesh (2 Cor 12:7-10)

My dear Christian brothers and sisters, God doesn’t call perfect people because He doesn’t save perfect people.  He calls sinners because He saves sinners.  Our job is to say ‘Yes’ to God and see what He does with our lives.  Perfectionism has no place in the Christian life.  Making us perfect is His job, and ‘He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Christ Jesus’ (Phil 1:6).

Christian ministry and the Christian life is Cross-shaped for a reason.

The reason is Jesus Christ.  Perfect people need not gather at the Cross (because they don’t exist)!

The only Perfect One was on the Cross.

He was broken so we would never have to be.

He is Perfect, for that is what we will be.

Sideways Cross

The Denial of God in Western Culture

SICK-nietzscheI’ve been wondering if Friedrich Nietzsche’s denial of God and his own subsequent madness is not a potential parable of the present state of Western “civilisation”.  I know, I know, that’s probably way too simplistic.  Those who quite like Nietzsche and his philosophy will no doubt take great offence.  But, in some ways, many ways, he does represent that culmination of philosophical Enlightenment thought that simply wants to do away with God (and by ‘God’ I mean the God of the Bible, Old and New Testaments, fully and finally revealed in Jesus Christ).

YAZThe upshot of a cultural trend, the imperialist triumph of so called rationalism, empiricism, scientism and so on, not to mention their bastard offspring, secularism, militant atheism, capitalism and so on, is what we in the Western world are experiencing today, in our own culture and sub-cultures.  The decline of Christendom (thank God – Christendom is not to be confused with Christianity), the emergence of a post-modern age, and a whole lot of study on what the hell is going on.  Everyone keeps telling us we are free; that we are  enlightened and less superstitious; wealthy and healthy; that the only way is up (thanks Yaz and the ironically named Plastic Population).  Perpetual progress!  But we instinctively know it’s not quite like that don’t we?  We have been set adrift from our cultural moorings into a vast sea of economically driven secularist mumbo-jumbo.  Nothing on the horizon.  Where is the Superman that Nietzsche wrote about?  Even he has let us down, and we’re surprised!

I came across this great comment by well known critic Leslie Fiedler, who commented on the post-Christendom shift. fiedlersm He said we are “the more desolating because there’s no God to turn to.  God has been abolished by the media pundits and other promoters of our new demythologised divinity.  We continue to insist that change is progress, self-indulgence is freedom and novelty is originality.  In these circumstances it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that Western man has decided to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, himself blowing the trumpet that brings the walls of his own city tumbling down.  Having convinced himself that he is too numerous, he labours with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer, thereby delivering himself the sooner into the hands of his enemies.  At last, having educated himself into imbecility and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keels over, a weary, battered old brontosaurus, and becomes extinct.”

Some may say that is a tad too pessimistic, but it isn’t.  It’s the kind of realism we need to hear if Fiedler is even half right.  If anything, I think he’s being poetically kind and prophetically insightful.  This is what a culture inevitably becomes when it believes “God is dead!”  Nietzsche would turn in his grave if he were still alive!  I think even he would be shocked at our soulless arrogance.

I’m tempted to wheel out the brilliant critic of Nietzsche, G. K. Chesterton, because they were very close in time.  But I will resist and plumb for someone that Nietzsche should have read (maybe he did but no-one told me), Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), who wrote,

Pascal“It is vain of men that you seek within yourselves the cure for all your miseries.  All your insight only leads you to the knowledge that it is not in yourselves that you will discover the true and the good.  The philosophers have promised them to you and they have not been able to keep their promise.  They do not know what your true good is or what your true state is.  How should they have provided you with a cure for ills which they have not even understood.  Your principle maladies are pride, which cuts you off from God, and sensuality, which binds you to the earth.  And they have done nothing but foster at least one of these maladies.  If they have given you God for your object, it has been to pander to your pride.  They have made you think you were like him and resemble him by your nature.  And those who have grasped the vanity of such a pretension have cast you down in the other abyss by making you believe that your nature is like that of the beast of the field and have led you to seek your good in lust, which is the lot of animals.”

If only Nietzsche had read Pascal.  If only we would, I feel it would be a cure for many ills, not least the most problematic of all human conditions:  The desire to be God, whilst denying the possibility He even exists making demands (that all people everywhere repent), and promises (I am with you always).  This desire to be gods is the very desire that we need saving from, and saved from it we have been if we will trust in Jesus Christ and believe what he says about Himself, us and the world.  Therein lies salvation and a whole pile of joy.

We don’t do grace too well

selfrighteous-art

We are in a bind are we not?  I mean, a church is a community of mixed people, at every conceivable stage of life and experience, but together never-the-les.  The bind though, is that we are in this community as individuals gathered to love and serve the Lord and each other – and by-and-large, we want to do that, yet not without the occasional burp of dysfunction.

It would be fair I think, to take the hit on the proverbial chin, that the church is where one finds more hypocrites than anywhere else on the planet.  I know I am a hypocrite and I’m the minister!  But that is also the very reason why I am a Christian.  I am a sinner, I do sinful things, I think sinful things, I desire sinful things.  But thanks be to God there is a cure for sin, and that is salvation, a Christ-won salvation!

Salvation of sinners, hypocrites, liars, murderers, God-deniers, and the like, is God’s direct and effective self-revelation….in Christ….always and only in Christ……that opens the eyes of sinners, that they see him as a loving Father who has invited them into the joy and fellowship of His own self, the God-head of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And this should, I say should, set us free.

Most of the time, for many people, we respond to grace as we respond to a generous gift from a friend, “Oh you shouldn’t have.”  We take the gift and immediately the plotting starts on how we are to pay the person back for their gift.  That’s because we don’t do grace too well at all.  And this then leads to a fruit, a product, a worldview, a consequence of thinking about grace wrongly:  we become workers, doers, activists, organised, efficient.  In theological language we become nomians, law makers and law keepers and often law-seekers, the more laws the more po-faced we become, and the more po-faced the more righteous and religious -right?  It’s as if the whole book of Galatians was written for us, and we simply deflect verses such as 5:1 as being for others, them…out there….and certainly not us!!

When there is a law, what need of grace?  Grace language becomes a part of our religious discourse for sure, but its power, its truth, its vitality is simply not grasped.  Oh how we must nod sagely as we read in Ephesians 2 “…by grace you have been saved…” but inwardly shudder, maybe even mumbling something about the book of James balancing out all this nonsense about grace language with a works language.  After all, isn’t activism, busyness, practical-ness a contemporary virtue of our present day?  Now a works language we get, “Tell me what to do?”  It’s all a bit mixed up.  We don’t know what to do with Jesus’ own words about works:  “The work of God is this: believe the One He has sent…”  (John 6:29).

When we truly do get this kind of work, believing the God-man Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, the Word of God with skin on, the eternally begotten, the One who holds the universe in the palm of His hands and sustains it with the word of His power, this Jesus, is the One who offers salvation by grace to wayward sinners.  How on earth can that salvation offered by such a God ever be skewed to the degree that we think we’ve got to add to it or earn more favour (like what? What could we possibly add to that?).  Jesus died for you.  Your sins curse has been trumped and trashed by God’s salvation cure!  “Oh you shouldn’t have!  For me….really…..Oh I must pay you back….”

I’d like to end with a personal account from the 17th century of what I’m trying to say.  It’s about 1653 and a man named Humphrey Mills, who believed Christ – but under law, until one day he heard the sweet gospel preaching of the great Puritan Richard Sibbes.  Humphrey writes,

“I was for three years together wounded for sins, and under a sense of my corruptions, which were many; and I followed sermons, pursuing the means, and was constant in duties and doing; looking for Heaven that way.  And then I was so precise with outward formalities, that I censured all to be reprobates, that wore their hair anything long, and not short above their ears; or that wore great ruffs, and gorgets, or fashions, and follies.  But yet I was distracted in my mind, wounded in conscience, and wept often and bitterly, and prayed earnestly, but yet had no comfort, till I heard that sweet saint….Dr Sibbes, by whose means and ministry I was brought to peace and joy in my spirit.  His sweet soul melting gospel sermons won my heart and refreshed me much, for by him I saw and had much of God and was confident in Christ, and could overlook the world….and my heart held firm and resolved and my desires all heaven-ward.”

That’s what salvation does because salvation is from Jesus, the Saviour of the world.

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