Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Category: Preaching (page 1 of 7)

Preaching Reality

When George Whitfield was asked for the reason behind his impassioned preaching he gave this reply.

“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.’”

“Therefore,” added Whitefield, ‘I will bawl [cry aloud], I will not be a velvet-mouthed preacher.” (Harry S. Stout, The Divine Dramatist: George Whitfield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism, 239–240)

Preaching in Pain

In 1 Kings 18 we have the marvelous account of Elijah’s mighty encounter with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. What a victory! What a vindication of the Lord’s name!

In 1 Kings 19 we have Elijah’s breakdown. He is threatened by Jezebel and flees for his life.

On day #1 of his depressed flight, he prays, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” (19:4)

On day #41 of the same distraught struggle (v.8) Elijah has reached Mt. Horeb and prays, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” (v.10)

At least the prophet is no longer asking God to kill him! But he isn’t much better off—full of self-pity, myopia, and wounded pride.

So here’s my question: If Elijah had been a local church pastor, what would have done on those intervening five Sundays?

What would he have preached on those Sundays? Could he have preached on those Sundays? With what spirit would he have done so?

The average senior pastor has to preach at least every seven days, if not multiple times a week. He doesn’t have the time or the freedom to process freely some of life’s harder issues without needing to stand before God’s people as “the man of God.”

How is the pastor to keep pastoring when in the way of Elijah?

Here are a few questions to continue our exploration of this difficult topic:

  • How authentic is a pastor to be in the pulpit?
    • To what degree and at what depth is a pastor to publicly acknowledge or share his own struggles—be they personal, spiritual, emotional, mental, relational or otherwise?
  • What is the precise calling of the preacher/prophet?
    • When does one’s personal struggle disqualify one from fulfilling a responsibility to faithfully preach the word of God?
    • Is a pastor in the midst of a personal crisis being faithful when he chooses to forge ahead in expounding the word to his people without dragging those struggles into the pulpit? Or is he being hypocritical in failing to acknowledge his own struggles and appearing to be something that he, in that moment, is not?
  • What role do the preacher’s emotions play in his faithfulness as a preacher? What about his doubts? His depression?
    • Are they irrelevant and to be ignored so he can be faithful to God and His Word?
    • Are they signally relevant and to be at least acknowledge publicly lest he be hypocritical and phony?

Paul could say to Timothy, “Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me!” (2 Timothy 3:10)

How could Timothy have “followed” Paul’s “faith” and “patience” and “perseverance” and “persecutions and sufferings” without being witness to his struggle as well? And how could he have been witness to how “out of them all the Lord rescued” Paul?

How does the local church pastor “preach the word” and “be ready in season and out of season” to do so when those seasons include things like Elijah faced? (2 Timothy 4:2)

There are few easy answers here, but it would seem that wisdom is found somewhere in the tension of holding these two points together:

  • If I am struggling significantly, someone needs to know. That is not the same as everyone needing to know. In my struggles I need the fellowship of solid, mature believers. But the exhibitionism of “telling all, all the time, to everyone” is helpful neither to me nor my people.
  • My people need to see me struggling in faith. What I show them needs to be a model of how they too can handle honestly and authentically their challenges as those living yielded to God and under the authority of His Word.

I’m sure there is a great deal more to be said on this topic. Please feel free to weigh in and share your thoughts.

Incomparable!

“To me …  grace was given, to preach … the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8)

“There is no language, ancient or modern, like that of the gospel of the grace of God, pronounced by the Holy Ghost to one’s heart, and of heaven-born souls to God under his influence; no history like that of Jesus Christ, redemption through blood, and effectual application of his grace; no science like that of beholding the ‘Word made flesh,’ and beholding the infinite perfections of JEHOVAH in him, and through him, in every creature,—as from eternity manifested, and to be for ever manifested in our inconceivable happiness, ‘to the praise of the glory of his grace;’ no pleasure like that of ‘fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ,’ and all that joy and peace with which the ‘God of hope’ fills men in believing,—that joy which is ‘unspeakable, and full of glory.’” –John Brown (1722-1787) The Life of John Brown, pp.67-68.

Something Different

At the height of WWII RAF Officer Tom Allan, seeking peace and solace for his soul wandered in to a service in London where Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was to preach. Allan spoke of the inauspicious beginning of the service and the earnest, unadorned demeanor of the pastor. As Allan explains, things changed when the word of God was opened and the pastor began to expound the Scriptures.

“Then a curious thing happened. For the next 40 minutes I became completely unconscious of everything except the word that this man was speaking – not his words mark you, but something behind them and in them and through them. I didn’t realize it then, but I had been in the presence of the mystery of preaching, when a man is lost in the message he proclaims.” (The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 258)

Oh! for that unction again in our day! Oh, that God would so visit our services and that His anointing would fall upon me and all who speak His Word in these tumultuous days. May God come in mighty expressions of self-disclosure as His Word is opened, read, and expounded in simple clarity!

When Darkness Falls

Summer is turning to autumn. In fact, as I type these lines, today’s the day. For some time now darkness has been stealing the light from us. Here in Northeast Ohio we lose forty-nine minutes of daylight during the month of September. Since summer solstice we’ve lost three full hours of each day’s light.

Had you noticed? Perhaps by now you have, but it happens so incrementally that it is nearly imperceptible. Then one day you awaken asking where the sunrise has gone. One evening you have to head inside sooner than you’ve been accustomed to.

Darkness falls. It’s the way the world works.

dark-way

Darkness falls. It’s the way some lives unfold. Darkness encroaches, and I’m not speaking only of the celestial kind.

If statistics prove true—and we have no reason to believe they won’t—the darkness of depression has already fallen on about ten percent of the people that moved in and around your life today. Did you notice? If your life intersects in some way with twenty other people today the probabilities are that two of them are currently experiencing some significant level of depression. Did you see them? Notice them? Detect their struggle?

Maybe you find yourself asking, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”  (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5).

Depression is a reality that inserts itself into every life—if not in personal experience, then in the experience of someone in your family, school, workplace, neighborhood, and, yes, even your church. It’s true: followers of Christ deal with depression too. Sadly, some feel shame for even being in the struggle, which only serves to deepen the darkness.

Depression is a wide river. In places it narrows into angry rapids, and in others it broadens into slower moving doldrums. It is deeper in some places, more shallow in others. It is fraught with hidden snares and snags hidden beneath an otherwise serene surface. Powerful currents remain unseen by most, but they grip and refuse to release those caught in their power—dragging them ever downward, deeper into despair.

All that is to say, depression has commonalities wherever it is found, but it is experienced personally and uniquely. Depression may manifest itself differently in each life, but it is darkness all. Solomon was right: “The heart knows its own bitterness” (Prov. 14:10a) . . . and the rest are left only guessing and trying to imagine.

Beginning in November I’m going to begin a series of six messages on Sunday mornings that address the all-too-common reality of depression. I would surely appreciate your prayers. Pray not only for me, but also for the other two men–a psychologist and a trained clinical counselor–who will each take one of the messages. Pray that these weeks and our messages will truly be healing for the wounded, burdened folks who will be present.

Here’s how I’ve outlined the series:

When Darkness Falls: Walking Through Depression

  • Fading Light: When Darkness Sets In (John Kitchen)
  • Failed Light: You’re Not Alone in the Dark (John Kitchen)
  • Shared Light: Help for Those Who Love the Depressed (Mr. David Teare, M.Ed., Ed.S., LPCC-S)
  • Seeking Light: Help for the Depressed (Dr. Donald Lichi)
  • Finding Light: Helps Along the Way (John Kitchen)
  • Full Light: The End of all Depression (John Kitchen)
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