May 20, 2019

“Do You Know About This?”

christstjohncross.jpgA story about why I am spending my life to preach the Gospel and laboring to help others do the same.

One of the things I’m known for around our school is my insistence that the preachers who share the chapel pulpit with me preach the Gospel. If you’re an IM reader, you’ve probably read On Christless Preaching. That essay is very much who I am and what I’m all about.

To the extent that I judge other preachers, I want to know one thing: do they proclaim Christ and the Gospel? Or do they spend their time with little lessons, morality tales and the law? I am not interested in the culture war. I am not interested in young earth creationism. I don’t care about Biblical principles for raising perfect children. The Bible is about the one who came into the world for us and for our salvation. I want my preachers to present the Gospel. Consistently, Biblically and compellingly.

As I was finishing a sermon series on basic Christianity this week, I spent some time preaching to my preachers. I was firm and earnest. Someone said I gave the best sermon that week not to the students but to the preachers. I’m happy for the students and preachers to hear me do this, and I want the preachers to know we’ve had a tradition for 107 years that if a student was with us for one day, they would hear the Gospel once that day. We exist to glorify Christ in evangelism through missions and education.

I’ve trained our staff, counselors and preachers in the Two Ways to Live presentation. I love “Two Ways” because it is the gospel, not religious pablum. My goal is to have every staff member at our school trained in using the presentation, every class going through it once a semester, and every preacher referencing it as “our” gospel presentation. We’re well on the way to reaching those goals.

There are lots of reasons the gospel is important to me. I believe it. It is my life and hope. It is the reason our school exists. It is the reason I preach, teach and minister to the staff here at OBI. It is the priority of our worship and our family life. It’s why we have a house church.It’s the one reason, the one ministry that God has given to me to carry out here on earth, and I am passionate about it.

There is another reason I care deeply about the gospel of Christ, and it has to do with my dad. It’s a story I want to share with you.

My dad had an unusual life. He grew up in Appalachian poverty. He had an 8th grade education. He made little money. He failed at a lot of jobs, but did well at some things that didn’t pay much money. He was friendly and funny most of the time, but also tended to be bitter, angry, short-tempered and depressed. After his health collapsed and depression took over, he had a lot of bad days and a lot of good days. You just never knew.

My dad grew up in a large family, and his younger brother became a very popular preacher. There was a lot of Appalachian mountain religion in him: emotional, fatalistic, mysterious, full of a God that couldn’t really be known or loved, but had to be dealt with anyway. He was converted, but he also left his first wife and family, living for years in shame, anger and dread over what that kind of failure meant. He wrestled with whether he was a Christian, and always wept at prayer. (Hearing my dad pray at night before he went to bed is a memory that always stays with me, especially knowing he was praying for me.)

Because my dad considered himself a sinner and a failure, he didn’t go to church. His brother was the pastor, and the church was nearby. But as fate would have it, his first wife and his daughter were also there. So he didn’t go to church. He sat at home, exiled from the preaching of the Gospel. (I really believe if he had been there much he would have lived at the altar.) he wrestled with issues of shame and self-righteous anger. He loved God, but there was something that kept his joy far away. He seldom experienced the kind of joy in the Gospel that should be the food and drink of the people of God. He never, in my memory, took the Lord’s Supper.

He heard me preach about 5 times in his life. Of all the things in my life I regret, that one is at the top.

To hear this next part of the story, however, it is important to know that my dad read the Bible and loved God. I never doubted that he was a soundly converted man who knew what the gospel was all about. He saw himself as a Christian, though a rather self-defined one.

My dad didn’t read books, though he was very smart. I never saw a Christian book in the house. I never heard him listening to a TV or radio preacher, though they were available.

That was my dad. So the story is quite simple. I hope you will see why it affected me, and why I carry it to the pulpit every time I preach.

It was 1986. I was working as an associate minister at a large First Baptist Church. I got to see my folks a few times a year. Dad’s mental health was better than in the past, but he was in his mid 70’s now, and starting to look and act more frail.

We’d come back to western Kentucky on a holiday, visited with our parents and were with my folks the morning we were starting home. Dad went into the back room and came out with a set of cassette tapes. Six in a set.

He handed them to me. “The Cross: Your Victory Today.” It was a set of sermons on the cross by Dr. Charles Stanley at First Baptist Atlanta, Georgia.

“Do you know about this?”

I thought he meant Dr. Stanley…or cassette taped sermon series that you could order. I started to answer along those lines.

“No…do you know about this…what he’s talking about?”

He meant the cross. Did I know about the cross. My 70+ year old dad was asking me if I knew about the message of the cross. It was a new discovery for him, and he wanted to share it with me.

I’ve looked at these tape titles many times since that day. The titles were about Jesus saving work on the cross. Substitution. Taking our sins upon himself. Giving us his righteousness. Setting us free from the penalty of sin and purchasing every benefit of salvation.

My dad was asking me if I knew about this. About the cross. He might have wondered if this could possibly be true, or why I hadn’t shared this with him. Maybe he just wanted my verification that such a thing could be true.

If you don’t know about Appalachian mountain religion, then you may not understand that it’s possible to go to church and be around Christians for years hearing about the devil, heaven, mama, the end of the world, sin, morals, family, miracles, prayer and twenty other things…and almost never hear about the cross.

But it’s not just mountain churches; it’s evangelicals and Christians of all kinds. You can be in church, around Christians and neck deep in a Christian culture and not understand the heart of the Gospel.

My dad, in his mid 70’s, after years of fearing God, praying to God and hoping that God would take him to heaven, finally learned about the cross and all that it means to the very heart of our faith.

How does that happen? Dad wasn’t in church much, so it’s no surprise, but that still doesn’t soften the blow. Dad didn’t know what I knew as a 16 year old boy. He didn’t know about the cross until Charles Stanley told him. When he did, it was good news. Good news for a man with many sins, many failures and many, many fears. Now he knew that the cross wasn’t just a bad event done to a good man. Now he knew the cross was for him.

This is why I tell my preachers that I want them to preach the Gospel. I don’t want their stories and anecdotes if they aren’t leading us to the cross. I don’t want to hear lessons from the Bible to help my students be better people. I want them to hear about, be moved by, be compelled to consider the God who was crucified for them.

My dad listened to those tapes a lot. They are now very close to me as I type. They are the good news he heard as an old man. I want the men who preach with me and to our students to take up the cross, and lift high the one on the cross. May the Gospel be preached so that in the light of the cross we can see who we are, who God is, and be in awe of all he’s done for us in his gracious Gospel.

Comments

  1. Michael,
    In 1986 I was 24 years old, down and out and admitted to participate in the addiction recovery program at the Keswick Colony of Mercy in Whiting, New Jersey. Keswick had been started many years before by a british man who had been gloriously saved and transformed by the gospel of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. The program was (and still is to the best of my knowledge) thoroughly biblically-based. I was taken under the wing of a middle-aged married couple early on in my stay there who put into my hands the very 6 tape series by Charles Stanley you have written about in your post. It thrills me to hear of the impact it had upon your Dad…that same series was used by the Lord to bring a clear presentation of what the Lord Jesus wrought on my behalf as well at Calvary…after hearing that message of messages (the message of the cross – it just happened to be preached by Dr. Stanley) I was transformed and have never been the same to the praise of the Lord God of heaven…Thank you for sharing about your Dad and about the cross of our lovely Savior…

  2. Michael:

    I once heard Charles Stanley tell a group of preachers that he came to a point in his ministry where he went through all his sermons and threw most of them out because they were not Gospel-centered.

    Your use of story in this post is very effective. I won’t soon forget it. Hopefully, it will remind me to make Christ and his cross the theme of all my preaching.

    Thanks.

    Peter

  3. I’ve been reading/listening for a while now, Michael, and just wanted to say thanks a lot for what you do and write. I resonate with a lot of what you say, and even when I don’t I appreciate the way you think and go about it. You are helping to enrich my walk with Christ, so thanks.

    Also, great personal story about your dad here. And it’s a good reminder to pay attention to the content of what we’re saying. In the day-to-day it can be easy to think “oh, I’ll present the Gospel this week because that fits into the flow of the series.” But unless we’re tying everything back to the Gospel and the Cross we’re sort of missing the point anyway. Morality tales and tips on better relationships are sort of useless if they arne’t tied to the Cross.

  4. The message of the cross is the most important message we have. Something I observe about Stanley’s preaching, is that no matter what the topic, he comes back to the need for Christ and His death on the cross.

    Even in our messages about wisdom for life from the Scriptures, the cross is what introduces us the power of God for living.

    May I continue to share on the cross as I preach and teach.

    Pastor Chris
    http://www.evangelismcoach.org