By Cade Campbell
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3 that each of us is assigned our own work, our own responsibility, our own calling. Some plant, others water. Both tasks have the same objective: a full harvest. They also have something in common. In their day-to-day labors they oftentimes do not see the fruit of their strivings until the end of the season. They work daily, having hope and faith that what they are doing will one day reap a reward in the future.
When I was in fourth grade my mom, Gail, went back to William Carey College (now William Carey University) in Hattiesburg, Mississippi to begin working on a second degree in Elementary Education. She began teaching fourth grade at West Marion Elementary, where I was in the sixth grade. She later went back and earned her Master’s degree from William Carey, and in 2001 she began teaching in the Vicksburg-Warren County School District.
Tomorrow is her final day as a full-time public school teacher. She’s retiring. For twenty-five years she has taught students in first through seventh grades and on Friday afternoon she will cut the lights off her in her classroom for the last time.
How do you measure a teacher’s impact and influence?
That’s a difficult question. For children a teacher’s life is lived in the background of nervous first days, loose teeth, school crushes, hard math problems, and spring afternoons that hint at coming summer breaks. Often a teacher’s work is only marked as a memory in the minds of children. Even more often what is remembered are not the nuts and bolts of facts and figures. Few students will have a striking memory of a specific Social Studies lecture. Instead a teacher’s legacy is found in the faint recollections of a smile, or an unexpected kindness – an encouraging note or a hug as they head to the bus at the end of a long day.
Because that is how teachers are remembered, the full impact they make and the influence they have in the lives of the hundreds of children they encounter is not always easily seen. In the exhausted afternoons of discouragement they may even seriously doubt the significance of their labors. Like the farmers and field hands that Paul spoke of in his letter to the Corinthians, they work oftentimes unnoticed, tilling the fertile fields of minds and hearts, then sending them along further along with hidden seeds of meaning planted deep in the furrowed ground of their hearts, hoping against hope that blooms will one day come.
A teacher is called to a future-focused vision, for it is only in the distant horizon, perhaps a horizon that they themselves will never reach, that their legacy will be seen and celebrated. Wendell Berry said it well when he wrote in What Are People For?, “A teacher’s major contribution may pop out anonymously in the life of some ex-student’s grandchild. A teacher, finally, has nothing to go on but faith, a student nothing to offer in return but testimony.”
And so beginning tomorrow afternoon my mother will come in from her fields, wipe her brow, smile, and rest in the evidence of things not seen – a faith that believes the last twenty five years have not been unfaithful nor unfruitful. Her service has not been in vain. Her labors will follow after in the decades still unformed in the lives of students and former students whose futures are still unfinished. Who knows? Someday a silver-haired grandmother may take a small child by the hand on their very first day of school, wipe away their tears, and whisper, “Have I ever told you about one of my teachers that I had when I was your age? Her name was Mrs. Campbell.”
And it will have been…as it is even now…a job well done…and well worth it.
Tonight Pastor Cade will kick-off our Midweek Summer Sermon Series titled, “Going Pro(testant): Living the Truths of the Reformation.” The series is being designed as a unique blend of church history, historical theology, and expositional sermons. Over the course of the summer we’ll be exploring the great themes and biblical doctrines that were central to the Protestant Reformation. Each week we’ll be digging into one specific passage of Scripture and using the background, narrative, and biographies of the Reformation as important illustrative and connecting anchor-points to how these truths apply to our lives today.
The first sermon (from April 27, 2016) introduces the series by making an explicit and expository case for the relevance of church history for the lives of Christians. Before we begin a series like this, we want to be convinced that the Bible demands this type of study for disciples. Below is Pastor Cade’s first “listening-guide” to the series. Be sure to listen to the audio on our website for the sermon itself.
And yet at the same time all of us are deeply rooted in history as well. We love good stories. We feed off of them. We cherish our memories. We like to talk about “old times.” Many of us would long to be able to return to the past to spend time with those who have gone before. For all of our aversion to history, we can’t seem to escape it. We’re haunted by it. And we’re made by it. We are the living products of yesterday.
So history is vital. Some teachers may have made it boring, but it is always relevant. We can never get away from it, nor should we try to. That’s especially true for Christians. We do not accept the worldview of a closed universe. We believe that the God who created all things has intimately involved himself in his creation – that he has acted within the history of our world – ultimately and definitively in the person of Jesus Christ and in the millions of mundane milliseconds in his relationship with his people. Not only that, but Jesus himself gives us the example of taking the history of God’s dealings with his people seriously (John 10:22).
II. “What’s past is prologue.” – William Shakespeare
And that’s not all. Not only does God work in history, and not only did Jesus model the significance of celebrating God’s work in history, but the Bible explicitly commands believers to be rooted and grounded in their history. Church History is not just an academic discipline and required seminary class for history nerds. Nor should pastors make the instruction in church history to their local churches a priority because it’s their personal hobby. The Bible explicitly commands us to take church history seriously. That means that our “topical series” in the coming months unfolding the riches of the Protestant Reformation isn’t merely interesting. It’s basic obedience. Hebrews 13:7-9 provides us with the prescription for historical discipleship. The author has been encouraging Christians to persevere and to continue steadfastly in their faith. He has given them the examples of the faithful saints of the past (Hebrews 11), he prompts them to not grow weary as followers of Christ by running their race with endurance, being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12), and he then provides explicit ways this encouragement is to be lived out. That’s where we find his command to learn from church history, and as we read his words we are told what to do and why this is good, gospel guidance:
1. Learning from church history overflows from loving and cherishing the Word of God. (v. 7a)
2. Learning from church history provides us with meaningful mentors to help us be faithful throughout our lives. (v. 7b)
3. Learning from church history demonstrates our confidence in the unchanging person, promises, and plan of Jesus Christ. (v.8)
4. Learning from church history guards us against Satan’s buffet of false-gospels. (v. 9a)
5. Learning from church history strengthens us in our love for and dependence on the grace of the gospel. (v. 9b)
Overcome: The Hope of the Christian in the Revelation of the Lamb
November 18, 2015
Armageddon: The Eve of Battle
I. Let My People Go
In the book of Exodus God’s people were imprisoned under an anti-God empire, enslaved physically and economically to a world power opposed to God’s reign. Then God came and personally delivered them. He humbled Egypt by breaking their resistance to rebel through a series of judgment-plagues culminating in the absolute destruction of Egypt’s military forces as the Red Sea was dried up and then the armies of Pharaoh were plunged into the depths. God displayed his glory over Egypt and the salvation of his people through his fierce judgment.
As John’s vision of the history-long conflict between the forces of Satan and the people of God moves into its final chapters, he echoes that Old Testament story by portraying the final climactic end-time judgment of God as an ultimate Exodus, an unleashed rapid-fire judgment of plagues that breaks Babylon (the metaphor for the fallen anti-Christian world) while hardening God’s enemies in their sin and refusal to repent.
II. Poured Out Plagues
These Exodus-like plagues occur one after another through the imagery of bowls filled to the brim with the fully fermented wine of God’s wrath. Unlike the seal-judgments and the trumpet-judgments, this final set of seven wrath-works is not a partial set of judgment culminating in the final end-time judgment (represented by the seventh seal and trumpet). This final series of judgments together represent the ultimate and full judgment of God on his enemies, poured out fully with no relief. No wonder the cosmic-conflict at the heart of reality reaches a crescendo with God’s wrath being deployed. As we consider, then, this judgment series as a whole we are called to consider the three major parties in this drama: the holy God who executes judgment, the rebellious world that receives judgment, and the suffering church rescued through judgment:
1. The Holy God unleashes judgment as the appropriate response to the world’s opposition to him and his people.
2. The Holy God sovereignly executes judgment over the whole world, ruling and reigning even over the rebellion of his enemies.
3. The rebellious world is hardened in unrepentance through their sinful and unbelieving response to God’s judgment.
4. The rebellious world is deceived unto destruction through their dedication to their idolatries and rebellion.
5. The suffering church is ultimately vindicated through God’s judgments on its enemies.
6. The suffering church, whose relief seems hopelessly distant, is strengthened to overcome by holding fast to the truth of the imminent return of Christ.
Overcome: The Hope of the Christian in the Revelation of the Lamb
November 11, 2015
It Will Be Finished
I. The Echo and the End
Revelation’s visions have been tumbling forward, bursting out of the initial throne-room vision of God the Father and the slain bug sovereign Son in chapters 4-5. We then read through the culmination of history, the judgment of God, and the victory of God’s people described in a series of visions in chapters 6-11:
– Chapter six displayed the completion of God’s judgment in seven seals of wrath.
– Chapter seven portrayed the complete people of God, the new Israel, the church sealed and secured for and by God.
– Chapters eight and nine thundered the building judgment of God in seven trumpets of wrath.
– Chapters ten and eleven unveiled the built temple of God, the faithful witnesses, the church persecuted but glorified by God over all its enemies.
Then, the story took a turn as we continued to see that same story from the vantage point of the grand-cosmic war between the forces of Satan and the people purchased by the Lamb of God.
– In chapter 12 we gazed into the heart of the long spiritual war between God and Satan (the dragon) that has spilled over into all creation.
– In chapter 13 we were introduced Satan’s beastly lieutenants that are unleashed to seize creation for the dragon.
– In chapter 14 we witnessed the Lamb and his army arrayed for battle and the six angelic messengers warning of God’s impending judgment and the promise of God’s glorious gospel.
Now as we walk through these next visions we find ourselves moving into the closing hours of history. Indeed, the final chapters of Revelation (15-21) most fully comprise the culmination and conclusion of time as we know it and the ushering in of eternity in God’s new creation. The end times began long ago on a rocky crag outside Jerusalem as a crucified king cried out, “It is finished!” That word of victory has been echoing throughout all of space and time, and we finally catch up to that echo as we reach the concluding scenes of Revelation. At the cross salvation was definitely accomplished and Satan’s demise was absolutely determined. Jesus’ words said so, and now we find the salvation of God’s people and the destruction of Satan’s rebellion reaching its ultimate end. That’s what the rest of Revelation is all about.
II. The View From the Edge
As we enter Revelation 15, then, we find that we are on the very edge of the end of all things. The final countdown to God’s climactic defeat of Satan is at hand. That is both a glad and grave truth: God will not allow evil to endure forever. He will most certainly bring history to a fitting conclusion, triumphing over all his enemies. As we stand on the edge of that endgame, we’re given a vision of what that final triumph will involve:
1. When all is finished, God’s people will be assembled together in the presence of God, victorious forever (vv. 1-2).
2. When all is finished, God’s praises will be sung loudly, vibrating throughout all of eternity (vv. 3-4).
3. When all is finished, God’s purposes will be completed by his holiness being vindicated and his enemies being vanquished (vv. 5-8).
Last night during our regular monthly business meeting the pastors and deacons put forward a statement (that will be voted on as coming from them in the form of a unanimous motion in November) beginning the practice of having pastors appointed from within the congregation to serve alongside the men who are our employed “staff-pastors” (Toby, myself, and Nick). They have unanimously put forward the current chairman of the deacons Allen Bottorff to be the first man to be added to this new role. With the affirmation of the church, Allen hopes to step-down as both a deacon and a trustee at the end of this year so that he can fully devote his time to the work of pastoral ministry to our church beginning in January 2016.
A full statement from the pastors and deacons was read during the business meeting and added to the official minutes, but I simply want to take a moment here to explain why I am personally excited about this new addition to our current structure, why I believe it is a very good thing for our local body, and why I hope that you will join us in our excitement.
As Pastor Toby walked us through 1 Timothy on Sunday mornings during this last year, we have all been confronted with the great charge to guard the gospel, to submit fully to the teachings of Scripture, and to do so for the good of the church and the glory of Christ. We guard the gospel by preaching the Word of God faithfully and by structuring and operating our church biblically. These are the two great means by which local churches remain chained to biblical fidelity.
We are convinced that for the most part our church is and has been faithful in both these ways. We are passionate about the gospel. We preach expositionally through scripture. We are devoted to teaching right doctrine. Membership matters. Accountability and church discipline are taken seriously. We are governed by the congregation of members, led by a plurality or pastors, and served by a body of deacons. All of this is both right and good.
The one area, however, where we could more biblically be in-line with the explicit and implied pattern of scripture is regarding the plurality of pastors that lead our church. Many churches have a single-elder/single-pastor model, meaning that they have only one pastor. We currently have three pastors: a senior pastor and two associate pastors (of which I am one) that are together all regarded as full pastors for our church. That is a very, very good thing. We believe, however, that the church can be better served and better protected by the intentional addition of men from within the congregation who are called by God and equipped and appointed by the local church to serve as “lay-pastors/elders.” A lay-pastor/elder is a man appointed from within the congregation who serves fully in the office of pastor and in the work of pastoral ministry, but whose income is not dependent upon the church; in other words, men who labor with and alongside the employed-pastors to shepherd the church, but who are not themselves employed by the church.
We believe this for three major reasons:
First, we believe this model of church-structure is fully biblical. First, remember that the Bible uses the terms pastor, elder, and overseer synonymously and interchangeably. They mean the exact same thing and refer to the exact same office. Then notice that the office of pastor is predominantly spoken of in the plural (Acts 20:17-38; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-5) in relation to the local churches where they serve. That tells us that there is the consistent pattern of local churches having multiple pastors. This isn’t to say that it is not right to have senior pastors, a first-among-equals. That is definitely necessary, and grounded in Scripture as well (men such as James in Jerusalem, Timothy (and later John) in Ephesus, and Titus in Crete). We need Toby as our senior pastor here, and yet the model of scripture presents senior pastors as serving among and alongside a group, or team, of pastors for each local church.
With that said, we also see in 1 Timothy a distinction between some within those groups of pastors who are employed by the local churches and some who are not. In 1 Timothy 5:17 we read this: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” Pay careful attention to the structure of the sentence and its implications. First, we see that there is the assumption of a plurality of elders. Second, we see the command to hold them in honor among the church. Third, there is the implied distinction that those who “labor in preaching and teaching” are in some ways distinct from within the larger group of elders. The “labor” that he refers to seems to refer those whose primary means of living and providing for their families comes from the church itself. That makes sense of his scriptural grounding in verse 18. Paul is saying in essence, “Hold your faithful pastors in honor, and especially be committed to meeting the needs of those pastors whose primary occupation is by being employed by the local church” (my own translation/paraphrase). This relates as well to Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 9:9-15 where he writes that local churches are commanded to meet the needs of the pastors they employ and employed pastors are right to expect them to, but that he and some of his associates have served as elders/overseers/pastors for the church without being paid so as not to be a burden on the local churches. In both of these passages there is the pattern of plurality among which there is the distinction between employed-pastors and lay-pastors.
Second, we are convinced that this model of church-structure is deeply grounded in the historic polity of local Baptist churches. Sometimes when the subject of elders or a plurality of pastors from within the congregation is mentioned, there follows an accusation of abandoning Baptist polity for a more Presbyterian model of church government. That simply is not the case, and that criticism is unfounded.
Although today many Baptist churches do not practice this aspect of polity, it is still rooted in our own tradition’s history. It is mentioned in documents such as A Short Treatise Concerning a True and Orderly Gospel Church for the Philadelphia Baptist Association (1743) by Benjamin Griffith, The Gospel Developed through the Government and Order of the Churches of Jesus Christ (1843) by W.B. Johnson, and Apostolical Church Polity (1874) by William Williams, who was one of the founding faculty members of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. These are just a few examples of the overwhelming majority of the many historic documents that have been authored and adopted by Baptists who teach this structure of church polity. Additionally, it is fully in-line with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 which has been adopted as our local church’s official statement of faith.
To have a plurality of pastors, and pastors from within the congregation specifically, is to be better Baptists. The pastors/elders do not rule the church or govern the church in the place of the congregation. The autonomy, authority, and governance of the church still resides in the congregation of members. Not only that, but only men who have been presented to the church and affirmed by a vote of the congregation will ever be placed among the body of pastors. This slight adjustment to our structure does not weaken the membership’s governance of the local church; it strengthens it. With this structure in place, the church is better equipped to be led by faithful overseers.
Third, and finally, we are confident that this model of church-structure is truly good for our church – the pastors, the deacons, and the members of the church as a whole.
We believe this is good for the current employed-pastors because it provides men from within the congregation who pastor them, it joins them to men who are pastors from within the community and congregation to help them better make key decisions for the good of the church, and it serves to prevent any one pastor from dominating a local church through an abuse of power and authority. It is meant to prevent employed-pastors from ever facing the temptation (now or in the future) of reigning as pastoral tyrants over the people they are called to shepherd. In that way such a structure provides a set of check-and balances for the overall pastoral ministry of the church.
It is also good for the group of men who are tasked with serving the church as deacons. It allows men from within the congregation who are called, equipped, and qualified to serve as pastors without forcing the deacons to attempt to function in both shepherding and servant roles. It frees the deacons to be better servants of the body. Additionally, it is intended to prevent any temptation that may arise over time for a small group of people to use the deacon body as a means to usurp the congregation’s authority.
And it is good for the church as a whole. It better serves to keep the employed-pastors accountable to the congregation. It shields the church from becoming too focused or entranced with one sole individual or leader or personality. It better serves for difficult pastoral decisions to be made without the employed-pastors being faced with the temptation to make a decision based on the fact that their income may be impacted. It also helps to provide pastoral stability if and when there is a vacancy of one or more of the employed-pastors. The truth of the matter is this: Toby, myself, and Nick will not always be pastors of FBC Henryville. Someone else must take our places in the future whenever we leave either through death or by transitioning into a new role of ministry in another church. None of us have any plans of going anywhere anytime soon! But, we believe that to be faithful pastors we have to prepare now for what will inevitably be a need of the church in the future. Having men who are pastors from within the congregation prevents a damaging pastoral vacuum from hurting the church whenever that time comes.
These are the reasons that we are united as pastors and deacons of FBC Henryville in taking this next step to be a local church that better guards the gospel. We hope you’re united with us. Over the course of the next few weeks we’ll be available to answer any question you might have, and you’ll be hearing from us as well as Allen as he has been placed before the church to be the first (although not the only nor last) lay-pastor for our congregation beginning in January after he steps down as a deacon and trustee in December. The formal vote of affirmation will be held at our next regular business meeting in November. Continue to pray for us as we seek to always be men who are more faithfully shepherding the church of God, which he obtained by his own blood, for our eternal good and his eternal glory.
Overcome: The Hope of the Christian in the Revelation of the Lamb
September 30, 2015
Look at the Lamb: God’s Response to Satan’s Rage
I. Seriously, Nobody Panic
If all we had to go on was what we see around us, then we may have good reason for panic and distress. If our only gauge was our own senses, then we might question whether or not we really have cause for hope. The world is filled with violence and uncertainty. The best of us face sufferings, sickness, and eventually death. Believers are persecuted, ridiculed, and maligned by our culture. Islamic terrorism is insurgent. Immorality is rampant. Then, if we examine our own hearts there is even greater cause for alarm. Our emotions are fickle. Our faithfulness is imperfect. Our commitment to Christ is sometimes callused. Our struggle with sin is so often unsuccessful. We are hard pressed on every side and struggling within ourselves at the same time. Facts, as John Adams once noted, are stubborn things. And sometimes they’re discouraging things. That seems to be the reality of our own lives.
And that’s also how believers might have felt after walking through Revelation 13. Satan is on the attack. His two custom-made monsters have been unleashed on the world. The anti-Christ is making war on the people of God. They are being persecuted. They are being slaughtered. The false-prophet is hoodwinking humanity. He is enforcing worship to a satanic death-cult through the dual threats of death and destitution. Darkness has descended on creation. So what can be done? Is there any hope? Why shouldn’t believers panic? How might God respond to Satan’s rage? Revelation 14 gives us the answer, and Revelation 14:1-5 is the believer’s clarion call for confidence.
II. Here Comes the Lamb (and His Army)
In Revelation 5 John’s sorrow at the absence of a worthy sovereign to break the seals was relieved by seeing the Lamb, the visual representation of Jesus Christ. In Revelation 7 John’s panic at the unbound fury of the Lamb was relieved by seeing the 144,000, the visual representation of the people of God, the church, arrayed and ready to conquer. Now, once again John and his readers have reached a crossroads of crisis. Once again there is a question of panic and sorrow. Where is the church’s hope in the midst of a world ruled by Satan’s monsters? God’s response is the dual revelation of the Lamb and the Lamb’s people, the 144,000 mustered against the monsters and assured of victory. This vision portrays the truth about the people of God and in so doing, provides them with the strength to persevere:
1. The people of God dwell in the presence of God’s King.
2. The people of God conquer through the power of God’s seal.
3. The people of God worship to the praise of God’s glory.
4. The people of God display the purity of God’s holiness.
5. The people of God live for the purpose of God’s salvation.
6. The people of God testify to the proclamation of God’s truth.
I. In the Kingdom of Beasts: Code Name “Babylon”
Revelation 12-22 portrays the apocalyptic conflict between the forces of Satan and the people of God in vivid and graphic imagery. We’ve already seen that in Revelation 12 where we found ourselves caught up in a cosmic conflict for all creation, a war between Heavens arrayed angelic armies and the dragon’s demonic legions. That chapter ends with the dragon, thrown out of heaven and foiled in his attempt to destroy the woman, assembling himself for a continued offensive against the people of God, an offensive that takes the form of three deadly enemies: A first beast (an Anti-Christ that represents the power and persecution of human rule and authority), a second beast (a false prophet that represents the poison of false teaching), and a prostitute (representing the world’s and the culture’s seductions of immorality). These three forces are the instruments that the dragon will use on earth to make war on the people of God, and to spread his own kingdom of darkness, a kingdom code-named Babylon.
II. The Monster at the End of the Book
The dragon’s offensive, with his three “armies,” is broadly the storyline of chapters 13-19, and in chapter 13 we encounter the first pawn in Satan’s cosmic game of chess. John sees a beast that rises out of the sea to attempt to overcome the world by taking his own place on a throne of power and placing himself as the center of humanity’s adoration and worship. This beast is symbolic of all the powers of humanity throughout the ages that seek to place themselves in the place of Christ and to persecute his people. The beast here points ahead to a final and climactic end-times embodiment of Anti-Christ and to the very spirit of Anti-Christ that is a present reality in our own world. Chapter 13:1-10 unmasks this monster, shows God’s people what he aims to do, and encourages believers with the shelter of their survival and perseverance:
1. The beast is granted the power and authority of Satan on earth (vv. 1-2).
2. The beast is adored by expressions of worldwide worship (vv. 3-4).
3. The beast is engaged in persecution against Christ’s people (vv. 5-7).
4. The beast is prevented from destroying Christ’s people (vv. 8-10).
Later this evening I’ll tell a good friend goodbye. Today is Logan Huff’s final Sunday as Associate Pastor for Students and Ministry at First Baptist Church Henryville. Tomorrow morning on Labor Day he, Lauren, Molly, and their family will leave Henryville and head to Dearing, Georgia where Logan and Lauren are moving to begin serving as the Senior Pastor and wife of Calvary Baptist Church. I, along with everyone else at FBC Henryville, will be praying for them diligently as they begin this new season of ministry.
As I’ve reflected on their transition to Georgia, I’ve thought a lot about how hard goodbyes really are. Even though I’ve been in the ministry in some ways all my life, they never get easier. Being a pastor’s son, I have experience. I know what it’s like on both ends. I know what it’s like to move to a new community and a new church. I know what it’s like to say goodbye to a local church that you deeply love. I also know what it’s like to see other pastors that you love and have served alongside move away. I’ve done this many times before.
But it’s still hard. I’m a good Baptist after all; I don’t do well with changes. And yet these goodbyes are an essential part of the labor of the gospel. It’s fitting, I suppose, that I’m telling Logan and Lauren goodbye on a Lord’s Day just before Labor Day, because laboring for the gospel means that times like these sometimes have to happen.
Paul understood that. Sometimes we think of the missionary apostle as a loner, a solitary mission-fueled church planter taking the light of the gospel to a dark world. The picture we see in Acts and his letters, however, is of a missionary and church planter who was deeply relational. Up until the last imprisonment he was never really alone. He was always surrounded by friends, colleagues, and apprentices. He lived his life in ministry fellowship with fellow workers. He loved them. They loved him. They all loved Jesus. And that’s why sometimes separation had to happen.
Paul valued friendships. He valued relationships, but those relationships and friendships were not ends in themselves. They were not his most prized possession. The gospel was. That’s why he had to see them go. Paul’s friendships were never placed above the passion for the gospel’s spread. Paul understood that gospel-friendships could only be lived out of relationships where the gospel really was the first priority. Paul loved his friends, and Paul truly loved his friends because he loved his Savior more. That meant he couldn’t hold on to them. The gospel meant going.
We see Paul showing us how to say goodbye in the gospel in letters like Philippians and Philemon. In Philippians he tells the church that he is sending Timothy to them (2:19-23). He says he is irreplaceable. There is no one else like him. He loves him like family. He has proven his worth to Paul. He has served alongside him in the gospel. Those are high accolades. That’s strong praise. That’s quite a relationship Paul describes. So we may be surprised at Paul’s implication. He loves Timothy so much and he is so helped by him, that he hopes to send him away to the Philippian church (2:23). Paul loves Timothy and the Philippians too much to keep him close to him. Their passion for the gospel means he must go.
In Philemon we have a similar commission. Onesimus had been Philemon’s slave. He had escaped to Rome. He had encountered Paul. He had then believed the gospel and served alongside Paul the prisoner. Then, after a period of time, Paul sent Onesimus back, just like he had with so many other coworkers and friends. Note the love and friendship that Paul has for Onesimus. He tells Philemon that “I would have been glad to keep him with me” (v. 13). Sending Onesimus back to his former owner was a sacrifice. He didn’t want to say goodbye, but he loved Philemon, and Onesimus, and their Lord too much not to. The gospel came first.
In these two snapshots of two gospel-fueled goodbyes we are shown how to say our own goodbyes in the gospel. First, we do so with love and longing. We dearly love our friends. We long for their presence. We pray for their good. Second, we do so out of a shared passion to see lives transformed by the power of Jesus Christ. Third, we do so knowing confidently that whatever separations we endure for the cause of Christ in this life are more than worth it. Indeed, as Paul would tell the Philippians, everything (even our most dearly held friendships) is loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus (3:8). As strong as friendships are, as sweet as the bond between friends may be, Jesus really is better, and he has given us our orders: Go and make disciples. The sacrifice of actually fulfilling that command is piercing. It really does demand going.
And so later tonight I’ll get in my car and come back home with Amy after we’ve told Logan and Lauren goodbye. As much as I may joke and pick, I do not look forward to their absence. It will feel like an amputation. Something valued will be gone, but we’ll say goodbye in the gospel. Like Paul bid farewell to Timothy and Onesimus, we’ll send them away in love from our fellowship in glad grief for the cause of Christ.
And we’ll do so with the encouraging truth that in the gospel no goodbye is ever final. The same gospel that demands earthly goodbyes, also promises eternal reunions. In Christ no goodbye gets the final word. Only the gospel does, and it promises Christ’s people a place with him and with one another forever, where partings have all perished in the past. As students together at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Logan and I know well the seminary’s hymn written by one of its founding faculty members, Basil Manly, Jr., “Soldiers of Christ in Truth Arrayed.” The final verse of the hymn places all of this in its proper perspective:
“We meet to part, but part to meet,
When earthly labors are complete,
To join in yet more blest employ,
In an eternal world of joy.”
Logan, Lauren, and Molly: Myself, Amy, and everyone else at FBC Henryville love you deeply. We would not dare let you go for anything less than the gospel of Christ. In that gospel, however, we bear to say goodbye – loving you always and praying for you continually, all while looking ahead with the eyes of faith to the eternal world that Basil Manly spoke of.
Til earthly labors are complete,
Over the last two months we have been confronted with an unrelenting display of the modern American holocaust. True, the horrors aren’t shown in black-and-white. There are no emaciated crowds, deadened camp courtyards, or ash stained smokestacks rising from the bricked and windowless death chambers. The medical clinics operated by Planned Parenthood don’t look like concentration camps. But then again, God isn’t fooled by clean rooms, bright lights, white coats, and sterilized surgical instruments. We know what we’re seeing.
And we know what we’ve been seeing all along. The problem isn’t an inability to make a moral judgment about what the videos show. The problem is our uncomfortable tendency to be all too comfortable not acknowledging it. It’s no wonder that pro-choice supporters in the mainstream media (and even in the mainstream White House) do not want to accept or acknowledge the contents of these videos. No wonder they have to retreat within the defenses of not watching the tapes. No wonder they have to continually claim that the videos are “edited” to the point of being unsubstantiated. The moment they are acknowledged the truth the films affirm has to be accepted: A beating baby’s heart really is a beating baby’s heart.
If we’re honest with ourselves, however, we know this is a dangerous tendency even among pro-life advocates. We can become so accustomed to horror, so accustomed to the unchanging status quo, and so accustomed to the cultural attention-deficit disorder of the newest “fad” sparked from social media, that we are always in danger of short-term shock. There really is a danger that the Planned Parenthood videos might merely come to be the Ice-Water-Challenge videos of 2015. Or the “Get Kony” campaign of a few years earlier. But they must not be. The stakes are far too high. As the twenty-first century inches closer to its third decade, we must not lose focus on this the moral crisis of our age.
We must never stop hearing the unending thudding of that baby’s heart. Like the haunted and maddened conscience of Poe’s guilty murderer, the beating hearts of our slaughtered children will never stop echoing their condemnation. Their blood cries out, perhaps not from the floorboards or from the ground, but certainly from stainless-steel disposal canisters, sinks, and lab trays, and freezers.
Earlier today, across the United States hundreds of peaceful demonstrations and protests were carried out to continue to raise awareness of the blood-stained nightmare that is abortion. The protests seek to continue to provide public pressure on both state legislatures and the federal government to begin to take steps to curb the actions of Planned Parenthood and to investigate and convict those responsible for their crimes.
That needs to happen. With as much zeal as the Nazi bureaucracy and military command was relentlessly hunted and brought to justice for their crimes, so must the criminal conspiracy of legalized abortion on demand be extinguished. And so must the American church never cease to place the stethoscope of truth on the seared chest of the American conscience. National protests are good. But they dare not stop until all the vestiges of this evil are expunged. If we deposit our outrage at abortion into the trash-bin of once popular protests that have now passed into history, we ourselves will be complicit in the guilt of disposing the dissected corpses of baby boys and girls who belong in a cradle into a trash can.
In the gospels Jesus prophetically condemned the hardness and unrepentance of the villages around Galilee like Capernaum and Bethsaida that had grown too complacent and comfortable with the witness of Christ’s miraculous power and message. He announces that on the final Day of Judgment the residents of Sheba and Sodom would rise up and bear witness against them, testifying to the guilt they were accountable for. If we stop working to end abortion’s reign of death, if we fail to be grieved until our children have ceased being slaughtered, then the living children of abortion’s slaughtered masses will rise up to bear witness against us on that day. Their bodies will be resurrected like Christ’s, and their hearts will beat like his on into eternity. Christ’s own silenced heart was restarted. Theirs will be also. And knowing that, we also know that we will not go unconfronted.
Today the loud voices of our protest are being heard across our country. May we never cease to pray and work and speak and lobby and plead for the masses being delivered to their deaths. May the rhythms of our rage beat with the same rhythms of the tell-tale hearts that will not allow our consciences to be absolved.
Hearing that prophetic pounding,
By Cade Campbell
I love a good story. I love the epic journey of the Fellowship to defeat evil in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I love the birth of the hero to defeat evil with the emergence of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. I love the magical power of sacrifice and love to defeat evil in Harry Potter. I absolutely love these tales. And you probably love them too; maybe not these particular ones (although they’re wonderful), but we all from childhood love stories where the danger is great, the stakes are high, the enemy is ruthless, the hero is an underdog, and yet evil is defeated. We love stories where the good triumphs and the bad loses. We long for stories that really do have a “happily ever after.”
This Wednesday evening at our Midweek service we’ll step into Revelation 12. This new chapter begins the second great “Act” of the drama that John’s apocalypse portrays. Following the story’s Prologue (chapters 1-3), Act I (chapters 4-11) portray believers triumphing in Christ as Christ, the sovereign ruler of all things, completes his plan, fulfills his promises, and unleashes the totality of his wrath on his enemies. We’re shown a vision of all of history (past, present, and future) in which Christ is victorious and his people triumph through the persecutions and sufferings that they endure at the hands of God’s enemies, being assured of their final victory and vindication as those same enemies endure fierce judgment at the hand of Christ.
Act II (Revelation 12-22) rewinds the story and portrays that same drama from a completely new vantage point. Readers are given special “glasses,” by which we are allowed to see the true intergalactic and cosmic expanse of the story that we find ourselves in. Reality is shown to be far deeper, far deadlier, far scarier, far larger, and far grander than anything we might have expected. The story that we’re caught up in spans all of heaven and hell, the physical and spiritual dimensions, earth and space, all creation. The veil is lifted to show us the truth about reality. We’re caught in the middle of a truly worldwide war.
That means the truest thing about your life is not necessarily what it appears to be. The most fundamental facts about who you are and why you are here is not limited to chores, deadlines, commutes, bills, school, housework, meals, and sleep. All of these parts of our lives are the environment in which and through which a much larger story is unfolding. The truth about who we really are is epic. We are real-life, living characters in a story far older, far stranger, far deadlier, far more dangerous, and with an ending far more delightful than anything we could ever imagine. Our greatest enemy is not our spouse, our boss, our job, our kids, our parents, our teachers, our coworkers, our friends, or our neighbors. Our greatest enemy is far worse than Sauron, Darth Vader, and Voldemort combined. And Revelation unmasks him. Our greatest enemy is “He Who Must Be Named.” He is the emperor of evil. He is the devilish dragon of demons. He is Satan himself.
And he wants to destroy everything good and bend it to his purpose. Allied with him is a host of forces: demonic spirits, sinful desires and rebellion, the power and prestige of the world, and the blindness that so often keeps this true story hidden from everyday view. This dragon and his allies are warring against his enemies. They have invaded God’s creation. They have flourished under creation’s curse. They are rabidly seeking to steal, kill, and destroy everything that God has created good.
But God, the good king of all that is, will not let the dragon be victorious. Standing against the dragon is a Lamb, not a small and timid farm animal, but a wild and roaring warrior, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The Lamb and his Army assemble against the forces of evil. They array themselves in bloodstained robes of Calvary’s clothing and they charge into the mighty throngs of demonic dominion.
And the Lamb wins.
That’s the story that Revelation 12-22 narrates, and that’s the story we find ourselves living in as participating characters. That is the reality behind all that lurks outside (and inside) our windows. That is the truth about who we really are and where we really are. Listen closely and you will hear the sound of tumult and feel the rumble of the battle that is raging all around us.
Awake from your drowsed stupor. Christians find themselves in the midst of what is truly the greatest story ever told. We find each day of our calendar to be just another page in the tale from this our perilous realm. We find ourselves living among forces far more powerful than comic book heroes. We are in league with a company, a community of men and women far larger and far greater and far more victorious than the Rebel Alliance or the Fellowship or Dumbledore’s Army. We find ourselves in the ranks of martyrs and missionaries, suffering saints, ordinary yet faithful believers all over the world who are allied with all creation into the Lamb’s Army.
Our universe is more compelling and more spectacular than anything Marvel or DC could ever conceive. The gospel is the heart and core of all story. In fact, all other stories (The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Avengers, etc.) are merely fictionalized and faint echoes of actual reality, reflections that point us to the True Story, the Real Story.
And that real story is no mere fiction, although it did begin “once upon a time.”
And that real story, through the Lamb’s conquering cross, will definitely have a “happily ever after.”
The epigraph of the short article above was taken from J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories.” In it he goes into great detail about the genre of fairy and fantasy, and at the end of the essay (in an epilogue) he brings the study of this literature to bear on the real world, actual history. What follows is the larger portion of that epilogue (itself only a small part of Tolkien’s full essay) from which the above quote was taken. It is worth reading in its entirety, especially for fans of fantasy literature, science-fiction, and superheroes!
Probably every writer making a secondary world, a fantasy, every sub-creator, wishes in some measure to be a real maker, or hopes that he is drawing on reality: hopes that the peculiar quality of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from Reality, or are flowing into it. If he indeed achieves a quality that can fairly be described by the dictionary definition: “inner consistency of reality,” it is difficult to conceive how this can be, if the work does not in some way partake of reality. The peculiar quality of the ”joy” in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth. It is not only a “consolation” for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, “Is it true?” The answer to this question that I gave at first was (quite rightly): “If you have built your little world well, yes: it is true in that world.” That is enough for the artist (or the artist part of the artist). But in the “eucatastrophe” we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater—it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world. The use of this word gives a hint of my epilogue. It is a serious and dangerous matter. It is presumptuous of me to touch upon such a theme; but if by grace what I say has in any respect any validity, it is, of course, only one facet of a truth incalculably rich: finite only because the capacity of Man for whom this was done is finite.
I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.
It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be “primarily” true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily losing the mythical or allegorical significance that it had possessed. It is not difficult, for one is not called upon to try and conceive anything of a quality unknown. The joy would have exactly the same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the “turn” in a fairy-story gives: such joy has the very taste of primary truth. (Otherwise its name would not be joy.) It looks forward (or backward: the direction in this regard is unimportant) to the Great Eucatastrophe. The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is preeminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.
But in God’s kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the small. Redeemed Man is still man. Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on. The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.” The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation. All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.