Mother Teresa’s “Dark Night of the Soul”

Posted August 28, 2007 by promiseskept
Categories: Gospel, Grace, Great Rescue

I know far too little about Mother Teresa. I have no pronouncements to make about the state of her soul. I cannot see around or through or under or beyond her crises of faith. God surely can.

I do know that true, faithful saints can experience long dark nights. Though the cry “Why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22) was ultimately owned and redeemed by Jesus Christ, it was a true Davidic expression.

But in all the discussion and debate I have read over the last few days I have two other concerns; both of which point, I believe, to our tendency towards self-righteousness or gracelessness. The first concern has already been discussed many times: there is the loud cry of many that Mother Teresa must have been a true Christian, because look at all the amazing self-sacrificing work she did.

Forget about how this relates to any particular individual, including Mother Teresa. Simply look with me at where that statement points. We are pointing at her work. Her labor. Her sacrifice. Her earnestness.

Her merit.

The Gospel points us to Christ’s work, Christ’s sacrifice, Christ’s merit. There is a great difference.

Jesus told us to “let your light so shine before men that they may see your good work and glorify your Father who is heaven”. So we do draw attention to our deeds (they see our good work). Well, then, how do they glorify our Father, and not us, for the good work? There must be words accompanying our workings, words full of the gospel, words full of how our work is a response to his work, how our faith is a response to his Promise, how our fruit is the fruit of the cross and the resurrection and the hope brought to birth and life in Jesus Christ. If, at the end of our lives people are amazed at our endless self-sacrifice and pouring out of ourselves for others, and this what they see and talk about… we will have failed the gospel.

The second concern is perhaps even more serious: there is a tendency in us — if we are honest — to rejoice in the weakness and failings of others. There are some that are quick to draw attention to this soul-struggle that is highlighted, and to say, “I told you so.” We spend our lives comparing and contrasting our standing with that of others. Pastors look at other pastors leading bigger churches and having a “more successful” ministry, and privately think “I’m actually better than he is, if only I had an opportunity to preach to thousands, they would know that. But I face evil opposition instead. My people don’t realize how blessed they are.” And with that mindset, we actually have inner rejoicing when that “more successful” pastor is caught in a scandal. “See, I knew I was better all along. Now maybe my people will appreciate me more.” Others must fall if we are to be raised. And our masks and robes must be carefully worn so that the status we have achieved is not defaced or lessened.

Our merit must be recognized.

I know all too well of what I speak.  It’s the idolatry that has run amok in my own life and soul, causing so much destruction; the idolatry that still visits far too often.

It is Pharisaism, pride, and self-righteousness.

Our people need to appreciate Jesus more. His merit. His grace. Not us, not me, not you…and not any other saint. And there is no joy in the sorrows of others. The fact that Mother Teresa struggled in her faith says nothing about the quality, for good or ill, of our own doctrine or the positioning of our ministry. Do those who encounter our ministry encounter the God of mighty works who defeats all our idols and draws all our love? This is the question for us.

Draw attention to the gospel, to the God who is with us in Jesus Christ. Draw out the redemption, the Rescue, that is achieved for souls in darkness when Christ calls from the cross, “Why are you so far from saving me?” and thus achieves for his people the sure hope that they are heard, they cannot be forsaken, they are transplanted into the kingdom of light.

Praise Jesus!

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More “Total Church”

Posted August 27, 2007 by promiseskept
Categories: What is church?

Two of my favorite bloggers, Darryl Dash and Dan Cruver, have encountered this book and are blogging about it. While I wait for my replacement copy to arrive, I’ll enjoy it vicariously. Check out Darryl’s first quotation here, and Dan’s here.

Without money and without price

Posted August 26, 2007 by promiseskept
Categories: Gospel

I hope to get back to regular posting within a day or two more. In the meantime, here’s a must-listen opportunity for you: I heard, today, a great sermon upon this, one of my favorite passages of Scripture. Amazingly, I heard this text expounded by Spurgeon!

Well, by someone (Tony Reinke?) reading Spurgeon’s message.

It was glorious!

There’s a wince-worthy point about a half-hour in, but Spurgeon’s point is that we are all worthy of despising, and all equally in need, and all equally invited to eat.

“You believe there must be some special entrance for you, so proper and moral are you. But the gate is so narrow that you must rub shoulders with drunkards and with murderers and with thieves and harlots to enter…”

“…you are feeling in your pocket and you find nothing there; you don’t need anything, come without money! You look into your heart, and you find nothing there…you find nothing of redeeming character…come, you don’t need anything, the gospel is without price!”

“Everything for nothing, and Christ for the asking!”

Head on over to The Shepherd’s Scrapbook, and scroll down the right-hand side in the list “Now on my iPod.” You’ll see this sermon, available as a Flash recording.

Give it a listen, you won’t regret it. And God willing, I’ll be back soon.

Faith, miracles, and the Word of God

Posted August 23, 2007 by promiseskept
Categories: Faith, Gospel

We’re going through some stuff here that has slowed me for a couple of days and will for a couple more.  In the meantime, a quote from Total Church, written down before I — ahem — lost it (still a trauma).  Still in the section “Why Gospel?”:

In John 2 the disciples put their faith in Jesus when they see his first miraculous sign — turning water into wine at the wedding of Cana (v. 11).  This story is followed by the cleansing of the temple and Jesus’ declaration that he is the temple.  John comments, “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said.  They they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken” (v. 22).  There is a kind of faith that comes from seeing miraculous signs, but true faith comes through the words of Scripture and the words of Jesus.  John goes on:  “Now while he was in Jeruasalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.  But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men” (vv. 23-24).  Jesus does not trust the kind of faith that comes from seeing miraculous signs.  It is not difficult to imagine why.  Such faith is likely to be fair-weather faith.  It will believe when signs are performed, prayers are answered, things are going well.  But it is not the sort of faith that will survive the loss of a child, a period of illness or some other trauma.  Persevering faith comes through the word of God. 

The Holy Spirit doesn’t need our help

Posted August 22, 2007 by promiseskept
Categories: Gospel

Nobody who has located the tiny outpost that is this blog needs any pointers to the vast metropolis that is iMonk (population: bazillions).

But he writes in such a way that, when he’s right, he makes you want to cheer and weep at the same time. He just wrote an example of such; find it here.

A favorite line:  “Wrong to believe the Holy Spirit needs all the help we moderns can give him in getting the attention of the bored.”  It’s the kind of thing we say all the time around here.  I need to say it more humbly, but it’s important to say.

“Wrong to think that the gospel is ever cool.” I agree with what he means, here. I do think that when we “get it”, sometimes our reaction will be, “That’s cool!”

No more nitpicking; head on over.

As if you haven’t been there a thousand times already.

Facebook Church

Posted August 21, 2007 by promiseskept
Categories: Christ-centered preaching, What is church?

I’m starting to feel old. I’m old enough to remember when the Muppets had a hit TV show. My favorite sketches had to do with the two old grouches that sat in gallery and criticized and complained about the quality of everything the younger Muppets were doing. Those old codgers have probably gone on to puppet purgatory, but no fear, I’m coming along to step into the old curmudgeon’s role. How did this happen to me?

I feel old when I hear about things like Facebook Church. I’m no Luddite. I’m on Facebook, where I have more than two friends (take that, Josh Harris!*). I’ve got this blog. I’ve set a couple of churches up with community forums and groups. I was one of the earliest adopters of email (told you I was old!). I see advantages and opportunities in Internet use. I’ve got credentials in IT and in ministry. And like Ricky Mokel, I think about stuff.

But I can’t get my head around Facebook Church.

I think I understand that Facebook offers ways to make contact and foster communication within an exponentially growing group of people — I haven’t found it particularly useful that way, but others say they have. OK, I’ll grant that’s a good thing to take advantage of.

But the developers of Facebook church are thinking large:

“It is an application that will leverage our new Internet Campus technology to allow people to “attend” and be a part of a church community in Facebook. We are extremely excited about the opportunity to connect with people inside this explosively viral environment.”

They are serious about calling it “church”.

But I’ve not seen any genuine community on Facebook, to say nothing of the unique community that is church. How will the members of this church learn to bear with each other, growing in patience, handling each others’ hearts, if all the relationships are virtual? How will they sing to each other the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs that rise from Holy Spirit filled hearts? Will “smileys” and avatars replace hugs and holy kisses?

One lifechurch.tv member raises this set of questions:

Does engaging people “right where they are” carry the risk of _leaving_ people right where they are? Do we face the risk that members of the Facebook Campus will think of the Almighty–like much of facebook–as just something to entertain them while they procrastinate on a term paper? Are we just making it easier for people to be lukewarm Christians?

Those are good questions; I would think they’d be worthy of great discussion. Here’s one answer he was given:

From my perspective you raise a great question. However, I think it is the same question pastors ask themselves every week when they look out at their congregation and ask; are we just here entertaining our people while they procastinate on life?

Might I offer this suggestion? To any pastor wondering if, perhaps, you are just entertaining people while they procrastinate on life, fiddling while Rome burns… stop. Don’t go to Facebook. Turn around. Go back to the gospel. Plunge in; explore what it is, and how it speaks to us, to all of us, in all of our cultures. Soak this in until every spiritual pore is saturated. Stay, and soak. Don’t go back into the pulpit until your heart is about to burst with wonder at the glory of God; until your mouth is overflowing with Jesus, Jesus and the gospel, the cross, and the resurrection and hope and love and unspeakable joy; until your desire is no longer to please men (or your fear to displease them) but to share the awe and majesty and ecstasy of God and his mighty works in Creation and Redemption; until your heartbreak is that men and women are wasting their lives, sucking desperately at broken cisterns of small, useless, temporary pleasures while the towering waterfalls of God’s grace and mercy and pleasure and delight roar within his church.

Don’t fiddle with Facebook, at least not right now. There may be a place for that, and no doubt good things can be done there. I’m sure we’ll all learn more about that. But rather than trace out the ever-growing contours of Facebook, help your people trace out the infinite — and satisfying — contours of the gospel.

Him we proclaim

Posted August 20, 2007 by promiseskept
Categories: Christ-centered preaching, Gospel

My review of Total Church has been sidelined by a calamity: I’ve lost the book. I can’t begin to tell you how embarrassing and disastrous this is. I’ve never done such a thing before — to lose a book! I can’t believe this. I would have thought I’d sooner lose a finger. And to lose a book I was enjoying so much. If it was some mediocre drivel, I wouldn’t care…but it was outstanding! This is utterly humiliating and shaming.

Not to mention the extra mortification of having to re-order it from Europe, as it’s still not sold here.

Arrrggghh!

I think I might have left it at a coffee shop where I met with one of the pastors here. I hope somebody is getting a good read out of it.

Ahh, it’s amazing that such self-frustration can live with the egocentrism that is I (actually, understanding idolatry, it isn’t that amazing after all; my self-idolatry just keeps letting me down… as all idolatries do).

Anyway, to hold us, two things this morning:

1. Head over to The Gospel Driven church and read Jared’s 5 Reasons for Sermon-Centric worship. Many of these thoughts seemed to me to harmonize with thoughts I was reading in the first section of Total Church. Once again, Gospel Driven is a good resource!

2. A great quote from Whitefield:

When a poor soul is somewhat awakened by the terrors of the Lord, then the poor creature, being born under the covenant of works, flies directly to a covenant of works again. And as Adam and Eve hid themselves… and sewed fig leaves… so the poor sinner, when awakened, flies to his duties and to his performances, to hide himself from God, and goes to patch up a righteousness of his how. Says he, I will be might good now — I will reform — I will do all I can; and then certainly Jesus Christ will have mercy on me.

–“Select Sermons of George Whitefield” (London: Banner of Truth, 1958), pp. 81-83, as quoted by Dennis Johnson in “Him We Proclaim” footnote p.57.