Precious in Life ... Precious in Death

In His infinite wisdom, God chose this past week to call Adria Ellis home to glory. I can't imagine anyone would disagree when I say that she was one of the godliest, kindest, strongest, most faithful, most humble people ever created. When I think of my own life I can fairly easily pick it apart and highlight a myriad of flaws, inadequacies, sins, and inconsistencies. But as I reflect on Adria's I come up pretty empty trying to find some glaring deficiency. Not that she wasn't a sinner ... she was, and in humility would be the first to run to the cross for forgiveness, grace, strength, and life. I would say the same about Joe ... a true man of God, full of faith, humble, godly character. 

So why didn't God answer their many prayers for Adria's healing? And not just their prayers but those of the entire CPC family and of the Ellis family's many friends and relatives. Why didn't God take away the cancer that eventually took her life? That's a question many of us ask, but knowing Adria I suspect we wrestle with it much more than she did. Adria's faith was real and she had total confidence in the sovereignty and goodness of God. She knew God had numbered her days and that she was in no position to argue with His perfect and gracious will. Adria's faith was and will continue to be a model for me and so many others. 

Psalm 116:115 says, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." It doesn't always seem very precious at first, but as we reflect on this truth perhaps it can begin to make sense. I borrow some thoughts from A.W. Pink as he comments on this verse. We tend to process everything in life from our own perspective rather than God's and most certainly we view death from our own point of view. But this verse gives us a tiny glimpse from God's perspective. He says that the death of His children is precious to Him ... how can this be? How can Adria's death be precious to the Lord when it seems so hideous to us?

First of all, Adria herself was precious to God. She was one on whom His love was set upon even before the foundation of the world. She was one for whom Jesus willingly left heaven for and who lived and died. She was one for whom Jesus shed His precious blood. Thus, everything about Adria, the number of her hairs that eventually fell out, her every breath, her life, and even her death are precious to Him.

Secondly, her death terminates her sorrows and sufferings. Scripture affirms that we will suffer in this life and that we must go through much of it as we move toward glory. Yet God is never unmindful of or indifferent to our sufferings. In fact, Scripture reminds us that Jesus is familiar with our suffering and that Jesus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. So in Adria's death, God brought an end to her pain and suffering. 

The death of His children also gives the Lord the opportunity to display His sufficiency. To quote Pink, "Love is never so happy as when ministering to the needs of its cherished object, and never is the Christian so needy and so helpless as in the hour of death." Our extremity is God's opportunity to display His amazing grace. As our shepherd, He carries us as helpless sheep in His arms. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. Adria's untimely death will force us to rest more securely in God's sufficiency.

Lastly, at death His saints enter into God's presence and He delights in having His children with Him. Jesus enjoyed having the disciples accompany Him on His journeys and as He left them He gave the assurance that He was going to prepare a place for them so that they would eventually be with Him forever. 2 Corinthians 5:8 instructs us that being absent from the body means we are present with the Lord. "Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord." As precious as it would be for Joe and the rest of us to enjoy many more years of life with Adria, her presence with the Lord is even more precious. 

None of this makes death easy for any of us. We will still mourn and grieve over Adria's death, and rightly so as death is a hideous enemy. But while we from our perspective experience sorrow, Christ is rejoicing! Remember His prayer in John 17:24 - "Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world."

 

An Amazing Rescue

What seemed essentially impossible only a few days ago has been accomplished. People around the world are celebrating the rescue of the 12 Thai soccer players and their coach who were trapped more than a mile deep in a flooded cave for 18 days. Divers and rescue workers from around the world worked together to pull off this stunning feat. After divers actually found this lost group there was a team of 3 divers and 1 doctor who spent a week with them in the dark, cramped cave. Others were able to bring them food, blankets, and other needed supplies while the boys waited. Hundreds of other workers were frantically working outside the cave - figuring out plans, pumping out water, assembling gear, prepping for medical care, etc. 

Apparently none of the boys, ages 11-16, knew how to swim. After getting them dressed in diving gear somehow the rescuers had to get them back out through very narrow, flooded sections of the oxygen-depleted cave, filled with razor sharp rocks, fighting against strong currents of cold water. But against all these odds, the boys and coach have all been saved. As I watched television coverage just after the last boys and coach were brought out, I heard an interview with a cave diving rescue expert. When asked what he thought was the key to this rescue being pulled off, he confidently said it was the installation of the rope that guided the rescuers and the boys back out. Each boy was tethered to a rescuer and was able to use the rope for his security and safety.

I try to imagine what that cave experience might be like, especially what it would be like having to get out. I know how to swim, but water scares me and I definitely would panic if I had to swim for a long distance under water in a cold, dark, flooded cave ... not sure I could do it! But the prospect of being tethered to an expert holding my air tank / life support and being able to hold on to a rope makes it a bit more possible in my mind. 

None of us are presently trapped in a dark, flooded cave deep underground. But nonetheless, many of us feel trapped in something ... addictions, fears, relationships, sinful patterns, isolation, depression, jobs, etc. We'd love to get out of these "caves," we've been told we need to get out, yet we feel absolutely trapped and know we can no more escape our situations than could those Thai boys trapped in their cave. We wish God would provide a rope ... something literal, material, and tangible to hold on to and lead us out. But that never materializes. So what are we to hold on to? What does God provide?

God gives us Himself ... Jesus is the "rope" provided for us to hold on to, to get us out of the deep, cold, dark place we find ourselves in. Yet we can only hold on to Him by faith. Yes, that's frustrating ... why couldn't God just give me the thing, the money, the circumstance, the stuff, etc. I want to fix my problem?  Because He knows our real need isn't stuff ... it's Jesus. And while we can only grab hold of Him by faith, God even gives us this needed faith as a gift as we read His precious covenant promises in Scripture, commune with Him in prayer, and feast at His table. And all this is done in community and fellowship with other believers who are struggling with the same matters of faith. 

Brothers and sisters, what cave do you find yourself in today? Do you realize you need to be rescued? Do you know that Jesus is the only way out? Are you aware that He is the secure, unchanging, and promised means of salvation? Are you availing yourself of the precious means of grace? Are you in community with other believers? Is your problem a matter of faith? Let's repent of vainly grabbing hold of other things for rescue and pray for that faith so we may cling tightly to Christ.

"I believe; help my unbelief." - Mark 9:24

"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and unearth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith - that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." - Ephesians 3:14-19

The Old, Old Story

I realize I've recently been watching several TV shows that feature old car restorations ... shows such as Fast n' Loud, Graveyard Cars, FantomWorks, WheelerDealers, etc. fascinate me. It's amazing to see these folks take old, beat-up, rusted-out, non-working, piles of junk and transform them into working cars, often even into show car quality! They'll go into old barns, junkyards, or granddad's garage to find these cars. Sometimes people just bring them a project and the car guys then do their thing. And by the end of the episode we see the result ... something worthless transformed into a thing of beauty.

But for many of us, cars aren't that interesting. So maybe we watch shows like Fixer Upper, This Old House, Extreme Makeover, or Property Brothers. Here the same principle applies ... old houses with lots of problems transformed into something new. Or maybe your thing is fashion. Shows like What Not to Wear, How Do I Look?, Guide to Style, or Style by Jury catch your interest. All of us could probably use some degree of a fashion makeover. And, of course, we have this fascination with body transformation ... workouts, diets, body-sculpting, etc. 

I suspect most of our interest in the world of make-overs and transformation is simply rooted in God's image in us working itself out in our longing to see things made right. In a sense, these TV shows are just a retelling of the old, old story of the Gospel ... how God Himself takes dead, worthless, run-down, abandoned, junk people like us and transforms us in holiness, righteousness, and knowledge, all in and through His Son Jesus Christ. 

So while we probably all watch a bit too much TV maybe our obsession with transformation, renovation, make-over, conversion, etc. is just a reminder to us of our longing for the good news and hope of the Gospel. God has converted us by giving us a new heart that trusts in Christ ... He is transforming us as we behold the glory of Christ ... and He will transform us completely when Christ comes again in glory. Let's be thankful for the many glimpses and re-telling of this story in various ways. And let's thank God for the hope, assurance, confidence, and joy this Gospel story gives us as we live our daily lives. 

But I Had Good Intentions

We were having some folks over for supper this past Tuesday night so there was a list of things we wanted to get done prior to their arrival. Anita's focus was on cooking and straightening up the house a bit. My intent was to get home a bit early and do some long overdue grass cutting. Well, I wasn't able to leave work quite as early as I wanted but still figured I had ample time to get some grass cut. I get home, change into some work clothes, go out to the mower to get started and notice it's almost out of gas. And, of course, we didn't have any at the house so off I went with the gas can to get some. I get back and fill up the mower, ready to get going! Click ... click .... click. Nothing. Dead battery. No worries, I'll just jump it off. Where are the jumper cables that I know were here this morning? They've apparently disappeared into thin air. Time is rapidly slipping away and marching on toward the arrival of our guests snd I still needed to grill the chicken and take a shower.

Looks like the grass is going to have to wait until another day. But I really did have good intentions and wanted to get it cut ... it just didn't work out this time! But guess what still needs to be done? The grass didn't shrink or cut itself just because I had good intentions. The need to mow the grass is still there ... in fact, with each passing day the need becomes greater and more urgent. 

While this is a story about my yard it could just as easily be a story about my heart and life. I have all sort of good intentions every day ... but things just don't always work out the way I thought they would. Something else comes up, something is broken, other stuff presses hard on me, etc. and I simply can't do what I intended to do. But I really did have good intentions ... surely that should be all that matters ... right? But here's the reality - the project still needs to be completed, the phone call needs to be made, the bill still needs to be paid, dishes still need to be washed, etc. "Anita, sorry those checks bounced. I really wanted to drop off that deposit at the bank but just got so busy I wasn't able. But my intentions really were good."

How often do our "good intentions" thwart real action and obedience in the church? How often do we say, "I really meant to do that, but you know how it is." And in the meantime ... that class still needs a teacher, that sick or lonely person still needs an encouraging visit or phone call, that struggling parent still needs help with his/her child, our hearts still need the encouragement we find in corporate worship and personal devotion, those church bills still need to be paid, that struggling married couple still needs the hospitality and friendship of more mature believers, that teenage student still needs a mentor, those work projects still need to be done, etc. We all have good intentions and "really mean" to call that person, attend worship/small group, go to the next work day, daily read the Bible and pray, serve in some capacity, etc. But the hard truth is our good intentions don't get the work done. 

How about next time we "really, really mean it" and try even harder? That's not going to work either ... we know that from experience. So what are we to do? I suggest the answer rests in repentance and believing the Gospel. For one, the Gospel assures us there is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ. There truly are times when we can't get done the things we want to get done. For whatever reason, even when it's due to our own sinful neglect, we are convinced that our right standing before God isn't a result of our own righteousness but rather is due to the finished work of Jesus Christ. Thus, we are free to own up to our sin, repent of it, and then move forward with the assurance of forgiveness and grace. Then also, when we are immersed in the Gospel, we are more compelled to live out our lives in conformity with that Gospel. 

While we do have a "doing" problem and often use good intentions as a cloaking device to hide our disobedience, our root problem is a "believing" problem. Today, seriously reflect again on the amazing love of God expressed to you in Christ and see what the Spirit will do with that in your life. 

 

The Unbelieving World

As most of you probably know I've been involved with the ministry of Evangelize Today for the past couple of years. This ministry aims to encourage Christians, especially pastors, to intentionally get involved with unbelievers, listen to them, hear and understand what they are saying, value them as actual people, identify with their hurts and questions, and look for opportunities to share with them the hope and good news of Jesus.  One of the reasons we target pastors is because it is incredibly easy for the average pastor to get so overwhelmed with the responsibilities of leading his flock and doing administrative tasks that he has little time, energy, or even desire to get into the messiness of the world of unbelievers. We know from Scripture and I affirm from my experience that the unbelieving world is very ugly, vulgar, and dishonoring to God. My evangelism trainer is incredibly bold in the mess he willingly ventures into - he speaks at Atheist Society meetings, gets invited to Tattoo conventions, is investigating the cross-dressing community, soon to head to Sturgis, SD for the yearly motorcycle rally, and other such stuff.  (Of course, the scariest group he works with is a bunch of PCA pastors like me!)

So if that world is so ugly and profane, why then would any God-fearing, Bible-believing, holiness-seeking, faithful Christian even want to get involved in it? Well, here's my answer to that ... it is precisely because we DO want to fear God, believe the Bible, seek after holiness, and be faithful to what God has called us to do. We're instructed by Jesus to "make disciples" of all peoples; our desire is to be more like Jesus who said He didn't come for the righteous but rather for the sinner; we even know that sanctification and growth in holiness will absolutely happen as we have greater trust in and reliance upon Jesus while engaging in the front line battle for the souls of men and women. 

There are some amazing theological truths that we have on our side as we engage with unbelievers. We know that every one of them bears the image of God and that image will show itself in various ways if we're patient and observant enough. We know that God's Spirit is continuing to draw sinners to Christ, giving them life, and granting them repentance and faith; thus, we are confident the Lord will continue to grow His church and give her ultimate success in mission and evangelism. We share many of the same hurts, disappointments, questions, fears, and problems with unbelievers; we have the same "back-narrative" - the unbeliever asks, "If your God is so good, why is my life so hard?" while our back-narrative is, "If God is so good, why is my life so hard?" Yes, unbelievers are messy,  but so are we!  Many of the unbelievers I'm encountering are stunned when they discover that my life is also hard, that I have unanswered questions, that I share many of their same fears and hurts, that I'm a real person just like them. I contend most unbelievers are hungry for Christians who are simply real people and honest about life. 

I recently asked an alternative-lifestyle, non church attending bartender what advice she would give for church-going folks like me. Her answer was simple - "Just get out and get to know people." So let me leave you with that same advice. And while my bartender friend's counsel may be given for a different reason, my reason in passing it along is for the sake of growing the Kingdom of God. Let's be intentional in building relationships with unbelievers for the sake of the Gospel ... let's seek ways to present the Gospel in word and deed ... let's not be afraid to get involved in the messiness of the unbelieving world ... let's pray that God would use us in our weakness, fear, inadequacy, and brokenness to build His church. He has used folks such as us for generations past ... He is using folks like us now ... He will use us in the days, weeks, months, and years to come! Believe it. 

Survey Says ...

If you've ever watched Family Feud you're familiar with the phrase, "survey says." The producers of that show survey audiences and rank the answers to some often rather ridiculous questions. So let's play a little "Church Family Feud" for just a minute. Here's the question - "Why are church members attending worship less frequently?"  Unfortunately, I don't have the answers ranked in any particular order, but here are the top 6 answers according to research done by Thom Rainer.  

  1. they are more mobile
  2. they are more affluent
  3. they have more options
  4. they consider church optional
  5. they have not been challenged
  6. they are likely not active in a small group

Obviously some of these answers run together ... the more affluent are much more mobile and have more options of things to do other than attend worship on Sunday mornings. But other answers reflect the condition of the heart ... often the heart of the leadership of the church itself! If a church member hasn't been challenged, considers church involvement to be optional, and isn't active in building relationships and studying God's Word in a small group then it says something fairly negative about the leadership of the church. (Yes, I realize I'm speaking of my own inadequate leadership here.) I suspect few believers would actually say that involvement in the body is optional, but it sure plays out that way in practice doesn't it? And yes, this lack of participation often is a fruit of the lack of personal commitment to the Gospel, but in many ways it also likely reflects the commitment and passion of the church leadership. 

Why am I writing this and pointing out a potential flaw in both the membership and leadership of the church? Refer to #4 above ... "they have not been challenged." Though a blog post such as this can't be considered sufficient to challenge believers in their walk with Christ, it's certainly a part of the process. I certainly need to do a better job of personally challenging the leadership of CPC to be more active and aggressive in ministry. The leaders (elders, deacons, ministry heads, etc.) need to be more active and aggressive in their roles. And all of us must take more seriously the implications of what it means to be identified as a follower of Jesus Christ.

But what's our motivation to do this? What will move us toward greater and more passionate involvement in the body of Christ? It's the Gospel ... the fact that Jesus lived the life we should have lived, that He died the death we should have died, that He rose again from the grave to secure for His people a home in heaven with Him for eternity. It's the amazing truth that though we are far greater sinners than we think we are, we are simultaneously far more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we could ever dare imagine. So perhaps Rainer gathered the answers that people gave, but I think he missed the bottom line answer = we no longer believe the Gospel. Morality, commitment, zeal, programming, dedication, re-dedication, being serious, proper scheduling, being challenged, etc. isn't enough ... Jesus is!

Paul says it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 - "For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised." This is the Gospel ... this is our motivation ... this is what should propel and motivate and move us to be an active part of His family and regularly worship Him. Have you bathed yourself in the Gospel today?

 

An Unsightly Group

This past Saturday, Anita and I were invited to attend a party here in Moody. It was an outdoor party and it was hot! Everyone there was sweating and trying to find whatever shade was available. But that wasn't the roughest part of the event; you should have seen many of those in attendance. Social skills were largely missing ... few seemed to grasp the concept of good manners ... their clothing was ill-fiting and somewhat out of date ... inappropriate language was commonplace ... there was plenty of food, but much of it in crumbs on people's shirts or smeared on faces because of lack of napkin use ... awkward behavior abounded.

In many ways it was an incredibly uncomfortable event. But in other ways it was a truly beautiful time. We expected all the messy, inappropriate, awkward behavior since the party was the 15th anniversary celebration of the Moody Miracle League. If you're not familiar with the Miracle League you should check it out - www.moodymiracleleague.org.  The Miracle League provides boys and girls of all ages with all sorts of physical and mental handicaps to play baseball in an organized league. Seth plays for the Braves - undefeated for the past 15 years ... but so is every other team! Seth's batting average is 1000 ... but so is every other player's. Every player hits, every player scores, every team wins - it is by far the best sporting event in the area!

This party featured folks in wheelchairs who can't use their legs and arms; those with various forms of mental retardation, Down Syndrome, extreme autism, etc.; boys and girls with Cerebral Palsy, who are blind, had life-changing injuries, have Muscular Dystrophy, born with deformities, etc. The handicaps are serious and many, but all these folks come together to play ball and experience the joy of the sport!

My favorite moment of the Miracle League party was when the DandyLion team arrived all together. Johnny, one of their players, probably around 30 years old, severely mentally retarded, broke away from his group and came to me wanting only a hug. I'd not met Johnny before but we stood there for 5 minutes just hugging each other. His smell, the drool from his mouth, his frequent coughing didn't bother me at all. I could only smile and reflect on the beauty of the moment as I felt his strong embrace and unconditional acceptance of me. I began to hug him a bit harder as I thought about it all.

I wonder what the average Christian expects when he/she attends worship on Sunday. I suspect that most of us don't want to get messy, don't want to get slobbered on, don't want to deal with brokenness, don't want to be troubled by someone else's problems, don't want to see any inappropriate behavior, don't want to feel awkward, etc. But the reality is that everyone in church will have a handicap far more serious than anything seen at a Miracle League game. Our handicap is the sin that resides in our heart ... and it's ugly, messy, offensive, inappropriate, and gross. Sometimes that sin even spills out, becomes visible, and makes us all very uncomfortable.  But where else should sinners be other than meeting with other sinners in the family of God, each pleading our need of forgiveness and grace, and clinging to the cross of Jesus as our only hope? We have something far more significant than baseball to bring us together ... we have the Gospel of Jesus Christ! 

So this Sunday come expecting to meet a "Johnny" and to get a little messy ... and don't be afraid to be "Johnny" either! Let's come with our mess, our lack of spiritual tidiness, our brokenness, and embrace one another in Christ!

Thank You Students!

I’m writing this during the midst of CPC’s annual youth beach retreat at Laguna Beach Christian Retreat in Panama City, FL.  And though the trip isn’t over, I must say these guys and girls have, and are, teaching me a valuable lesson … one I hope the Lord works into my own thoughts, words, and actions … and also our entire church family.

 

As I said, this is a beach retreat … the idea is to come away to the beach – sun, sand, water, fun! But as we loaded up the vehicles on Monday morning to leave, we knew good and well we were heading straight into a tropical storm. Yet I heard no moaning, groaning, complaining, or wavering of commitment to go … so off we went. And sure enough, we’ve encountered a good bit of rain thus far (though God has graciously spared us from anything too heavy or constant). But it has most definitely hindered everyone’s freedom and ability to go to the beach. Yet here again, I’ve not heard voices of complaint or discontent though it’s certainly not the “fun in the sun” type weather one would hope for on such a retreat. Consider the fact we have over 70 folks on this trip … lots of opportunity for trouble, mischief, or problems. So far, nothing even close to any of that. And in this large group we have 4 churches participating, plus a good handful of guests who attend even other churches. In addition to all this, we have a very diverse group in age, ethnicity, geography, and interests. Lots of potential in all this to find cliques, division, selfishness, and disunity. We have some very athletic kids and some who have severe physical limitations … some are extroverts and some are introverts … some are Biblically/theologically articulate and some are definitely not. But I have been amazed so far at how well all these students are getting along, welcoming one another, encouraging one another, helping one another, and becoming as one large group. I know the cause of all this is the grace of God, working in the hearts of these students. But I also know He uses certain means to accomplish His purposes and in this situation I’m seeing Him use Stokes to help bring this crazy group together.

This is a picture of what the church ought to be … of how I ought to be as a member of the Lord’s church. Diversity is a good thing. Diversity of ages, ethnicities, gifts, interests, preferences, styles, and knowledge is to be expected, welcomed, and enjoyed. And though we would all love for the “weather” of the church to be “sunny and warm,” it’s often not … in fact, it’s sometimes pretty stormy. There are times when the winds and rains of adversity come and we’re called to endure it together. When circumstances don’t match what we expect or what we “signed up for,” still we’re to press on without complaining or grumbling. Again, this group is teaching me something about the beauty of the body of Christ, what it is supposed to look like, and how it is supposed to function.

Yes, I know the week isn’t over and there is still plenty of time for trouble. But what else is new? This wouldn’t be the first time I would witness Christians acting out of accord with who they are in Christ. But right now I’m rejoicing in what I’m witnessing and I’m asking God to allow this to carry over into my own life and into the life of the entire CPC family. Would you join me in asking God to work His amazing grace in us and allow us to live with one another in a manner that is in keeping with the Gospel? And pray for Stokes and the rest of this group for the remainder of our retreat.

 

My Cat ... My Mentor

Every morning there's a ritual at the Boykin home ... the feeding of the cats! Most every time I walk out the door, Tobias and Sagwa are there to greet me and demand that I meet their needs before pursuing my own agenda for the day. Though they are brother and sister and are both really sweet, they are very different. Though they both remind me of their presence and neediness, their need and desire isn't exactly the same. Tobias, the brother, gives me this passionate meow and eagerly anticipates me dumping some food in his bowl. Sagwa, the sister and runt of the litter, also expresses passion and right behind her brother leaps up onto the table where I put their food. But while Tobias eagerly digs in to his food as if he hasn't eaten in a week (even though his chubby physique betrays this display of hunger), Sagwa watches me dump her food in her bowl but longingly looks at me and gently expresses her desire to be petted, stroked, scratched, and talked to. Then, finally, after I show her attention and affection, she begins to eat. 

Though in functional terms I'm more like Tobias, I long to be like Sagwa. When I wake up each day I'm typically not looking for attention or affection, but rather I'm more concerned with mere physical needs such as food, shower, and clothing. I wish I would wake up each day and long for, cry out for, even demand attention and affection from my Heavenly Father who has redeemed me, who is present with me, who has promised to care for me, who gives me my daily bread, who meets all my needs, who is in covenant with me.

I said when I started our current sermon series on prayer that it is primarily for my own benefit. Yet I trust all of us will grow in intimacy with our Father and rise up each and every day longing and crying out for His mercy and grace and affection. May God grant us the grace to be people who daily feast in His Word, finding assurance of His grace and love, and engage in intimate conversation with Him in prayer. 

Most Effective Preachers

A couple of weeks ago, Truett Seminary at Baylor University identified the 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world. The criteria for ranking these preachers involved exegetical and oratory skills, whether or not they were "relevant" to contemporary culture, theological orthodoxy, and personal life. I was eager to look over this list, primarily to see if perhaps I made it, but also out of curiosity to see who else might be included.

To my shock and dismay, I was NOT recognized as one of a dozen most effective preachers. But here's who made it: Dr. Alistair Begg, Dr. Tony Evans, Dr. Joel C. Gregory, Dr. Timothy Keller, Dr. Thomas G. Long, Dr. Otis Moss III, Dr. John Piper, the late Dr. Haddon Robinson, Andy Stanley, Dr. Charles Swindoll, Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor, Dr. Ralph Douglas West. 

Not only was I not included on the list, I was not even consulted as to who I thought should be on the list ... I've been doubly insulted and wounded. There are some on this list who I might possibly consider, but in reality I suspect the truly most effective preachers in the English-speaking world would be names none of us have ever heard.  I'm pretty sure that man who labors in the tiny church in rural South Dakota yet faithfully each week encourages his congregation in the gospel would be on my list. As would the pastor in the Florida retirement community who weekly gives Gospel comfort to grieving family members who've lost a loved one or friend. I'd likely include the military chaplain who preaches Christ to those service men and women in the Middle East who don't know if they'll live to see another day. I'd definitely include the college campus pastor who weekly proclaims the Gospel to students wrestling with intellectual, sexual, moral, and relational problems. That retired pastor who is willing to donate his time and energy to that little church who simply can't afford a paid preacher would make my list. I'd include that preacher who is faithfully proclaiming the historic and orthodox Gospel in a denomination that has slid far into theological liberalism. Surely the pastor who week in and week out expounds the covenant faithfulness, grace, and love of God to His people, despite the fact that his wife died of cancer 5 years ago and he's left raising 4 young children by himself would make my list. And that Gospel preaching pastor who stayed with his congregation for many years even though the neighborhood has gone through substantial ethnic, social, and economic change is on it. And that preacher who was parachuted into a pagan community, who constantly proclaims grace, yet hasn't seen a conversion in the past 4 years since he started is making my list. I could not leave out the preacher who went over and washed a church member's car so she would have a clean car to ride home in after a month-long stay in the hospital. 

There are many others who I would add to my list of "most effective" but likely none of them would be names any of us would know. They've not written or published books, their sermons are not available online, they won't be featured speakers at the next conference we attend, we wouldn't even recognize them if we sat beside them on a bus. But these are the ones I consider to be the most effective preachers. Sure, there's a part of me that would like to be known as a fine orator, exegete, theologian, and relevant ... and all that is very important and not to be ignored. But at the end of the day I think I'd rather be known as one who washes feet.