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Posts Tagged ‘failure’


Weakness is not something we tend to spend much time thinking about. We usually spend time avoiding it or trying to get out of experiencing weakness. Thankfully there are men like J.I. Packer who don’t (or can’t) run from it. Recent health problems have provided him with the opportunity to consider his own weakness. More importantly it gave him the opportunity to consider 2 Corinthians and how Paul, when faced with his own weakness, found strength in Christ.

The fact that weakness is not option is found in the title of the book that resulted: Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength. This is a short book with only 4 chapters. Size should not be confused with significance. This is no Knowing God, but it is a balm for the soul plagued by weakness, which will eventually find all of us.

“The memory of having fallen short in the past can hang like a black cloud over one’s present purposes and in effect program one to fail.”

Many of us live with such black clouds. It could be moral failure. It could be vocational failure. I was the pastor of a church that closed. That black cloud hung about me for years. It still shows up  at times seeking to distract & deceive me. For Packer, his childhood accident and its consequences have hovered over him his entire life: weakness, alienation, left out…

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I guess it was the Super Bowl that reminded me of a gift I once got for Christmas. It was a Patriots’ uniform, with pads, helmet, jersey and pants. It wasn’t really designed for a real game. But in my young mind I looked cool. I would put it on and play in our finished basement. I would toss a football to myself, trying not to skid it off the suspension ceiling. I imagined playing in the big game (at this point in time the Patriots hadn’t even been to a Super Bowl, much less won one). In my fantasy, I never failed.

It was the same when practicing baseball or basketball. I always caught the final out. If I missed the jump shot, miraculously there were another few seconds to hit the game winner. I suspect I was no different than any other kid growing up. That is the nature of fantasy- you always win the game. As we grow up the fantasy changes- you always get the girl or the really cool job.

But real life was different. When you were playing for real you were afraid you would strike out, miss the shot, or drop the ball. Not all of us are as crippled by that fear as one of the kids in the movie Parenthood. Steve Martin’s character was vexed by his son’s struggles, probably because he didn’t want his son to grow up like him- living in fear of failure and settling for a life of minimal risk.

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I must confess that I have never read an Alister McGrath book, until now.  Three years ago a friend recommended The Journey: A Pilgrim in the Lands of the Spirit while I was on one of my journeys to the RTS Orlando Bookstore for a sale.  At some point I started to read it, but got stuck along the way.

Fast forward to my trip to PA earlier this month.  Seemed like a good book to bring.  I’m wondering why I put it down in the first place.  It was very appropriate for the place in life where I find myself.

Alister McGrath confesses that it is too easy for him to intellectualize his faith.  Here he is not advocating an anti-intellectualized faith, but internalizing the truth of our faith so it produces hope in the midst of life’s journey.  To do this he spends some time advocating biblical meditation (see my post on this).  This is part of the map he provides for us to persevere on the journey.

He takes Exodus as his template with alternating stages of wilderness and oasis.  To promote trust and hope in the midst of the suffering that will often mark this journey, he talks about remembering what God has done and anticipating what God will do.  These are essentially the past and future aspects of biblical meditation.

“The present was thus sustained by the memory of past events and the hope of future events.”

Along the way the introduces a series of landmarks from a biblical theology (creation, fall, redemption), and some companions for the journey.  He recognizes the need to learn from those who have gone before us.  He chooses men like Jonathan Edwards, J.I. Packer, C.S. Lewis, John Bunyan and more.

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I made a joke on a friend’s Facebook wall the other day.  He lamented playing too much ping-pong in seminary.  I joked that his ministry would be more effective if he hadn’t.  It’d be more like mine …

I figure he’s having a pretty effective ministry.  The church I pastored closed (lots of reasons for that).  I, by no means, took Winter Haven by storm for the Gospel.  But I had some meaningful ministry over those 9 years, and in the 1 1/2 years since then as I’ve done pulpit supply.

Lest we make too much of that (failure), let’s consider the Apostle Paul.  I did while trying not to wake up this morning.  Paul didn’t take every town he visited by storm.  Yes, he saw conversions- I saw a few of those.  He saw Christians grow- saw some of that too.  But he was run out of more than a few cities.  There were riots, a stoning, death threats and more.  Being run out of town might say something about you, but it also says something about those who ran you out of town.

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As a result of Paul’s discussion of his own ministry, we also learn much about his adversaries in Corinth- the “super-apostles.”  This is important because their errors are found in many pulpits today.  Just as the Corinthian Christians were drawn to the “super-apostles,” many contemporary Christians are prone to follow their progeny.

Paul’s ministry, like Peter’s, was characterized by humility, knowing that this too was due to God’s mercy (2 Cor. 4:1; 1 Peter 5:1-4).  This stands in direct opposition to the self exaltation practiced by the “super-apostles.”  They carried letters of commendation and gloried in their abilities.  Brimming with self-confidence, they thought themselves competent for any task.

Paul boasted not about himself but in God Who chose to use this fragile jar of clay (2 Cor. 4:10-11).  He knew success did not depent upon himself, but upon the power of God.  Therefore, Paul felt no need to rely upon himself, but upon the power of God.  Therefore, Paul felt no need to rely upon half-truths or manipulation in order to further the Gospel.  He taught the truth plainly.  This is rooted in Paul’s convictions that God does not lie and His word can be trusted (v. 13).  The “super-apostles” used Scripture to further their own agenda and maintain their power.  They told the people what they wanted to hear, and not what they needed to hear.  This furthered their popularity and power, lining their pockets with money (2 Cor. 2:17).

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I came across The Gospel According to the Old Testament series some time ago.  I’ve picked up new books when they have come out.  I think I have most of the series, and hope to use them at some point for a sermon series or teaching series.  But I haven’t read one in a few years as other matters distracted me.  But yesterday I was showing them to a friend who hadn’t heard of them.  So I decided now was the time to resume some of my reading.

I had read some of Living in the Gap Between Promise and Reality: The Gospel According to Abraham by Iain Duguid for some earlier sermons.  I picked up where I left off.  Let me say that I met Dr. Duguid last June.  He left Westminster West to teach at Grove City College.  In the process he transferred to the ARP with hopes of planting a church near the college.  He seems like a stand up guy.

In the gap between promise and reality, we find Abraham failing in Egypt.  I like what Duguid has to say about failure for Christians.

Now, in this chapter, we will see- not for the last time- faith dealing with that failure.  That’s a very important lesson for us to learn, isn’t it?  There seem to be plenty of books telling you how to be a success, but few write about what to do when you find that you aren’t.  Yet what you do when you are at your lowest ebb, when everything has gone wrong and you have failed God and your neighbor utterly, says a great deal about the kind of person you are and the kind of faith you have.

Thankfully the Bible is about real life, and how faith engages real life.  God knows we all fail and made sure we hear about how other faithful followers have gotten up, dusted themselves off (by the blood of Christ) and kept going (by the grace of God).  This is encouraging to me.  I need to hear this.

Does failure drive you away from God, or does it drive you back to square one, back to where you started, back to the altar, the place of sacrifice, so that you can call on the name of the Lord?  The builders of the Tower of Babel made no room for offering sacrifices to God and calling on the name of the Lord.  Their motto was “In man we trust.”  For that reason, when their building project fell apart, so did they.  They had no means of dealing with failure.  There was no room in their hearts for repentance, and consequently their religiousity could not survive the exposure of their own inadequacy.

Have you met those guys?  I have.  It is not pretty.  By God’s grace I’m not one of them.  I’m pretty inadequate.  As Paul told the Corinthians, any competency I have comes from God.  That’s true for all of us, but not all of us realize it.  So, failure means you are a failure.  I heard a great line about Isiah Thomas when he was FINALLY fired- “putting the ‘L’ in losing since 200_”.  I joke with CavWife that I’ve put the ‘L’ in losing since 1965.  I’m not a “super-apostle” or an uber-Christian.  I’m an ordinary guy with an extra-ordinary calling.  But that doesn’t mean I’ll be successful in all I put my hand to.

Good people, people of faith, fail just as others do.  The difference is that when they fail, they do not fall, because they return to the Lord in repentance, calling on his name and seeking forgiveness.

So, what do you do when you fail?  Do you give up or get back up?  Don’t beat yourself up, but recognize that Jesus was beaten (and crucified) for all your sin and failure.  Get up, and get going just as if God has made all things right (because, well, He has in Christ).

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The first “official” chapter of Confessions of a Reformission Rev. is entitled Jesus, Our Offering Was $137 and I Want to Use it to Buy Bullets.  He talks about having 0-45 people in the congregation.

I had one of those Sundays recently.  The general fund giving was $1.  Yes, $1.  Not enough to buy the bullets for the gun I don’t own anyway.

In his coaching corner, Driscoll says “In the infancy phase, the church and the leader are one and the same because the leader is essentially the only person holding the church together and doing most of the work.”

Lots of pressure is on the planter/pastor.  There really can be a sense that if you aren’t there, no one is.  At times this feels unbearable, and lots of counterfeit guilt can pile up.  While you focus on keeping it alive, you really should be doing something else- “the hard part was figuring out how to get my vision into the minds of other people so that together we could build the church God had put in my imagination.”

Driscoll develops the Missional Ministry Matrix with 4 focal points or questions.  1st is Christology- who is Jesus, what has He done for us, and what does He send us out to do?  2nd is Ecclesiology- what church structure will be most faithful to the Bible & enable us to fulfill our mission?  3rd is Missiology- who can we most faithfully expand God’s kingdom where He has sent us?  4th is Ministry- how does Jesus us want to serve His mission in our culture thru the church?

The 1st focus of the matrix was developed as Mark visited a wide variety of churches on Sunday mornings (his plant met in the evenings).  He witnessed plenty of selective presentations of Jesus.  They were not wrong, but only part of the story.  As someone once wrote (Packer?) “A half truth put forward as the whole truth is a lie.”  That would be a rough approximation.

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