Richard Philips recalls a time when his father was in Vietnam. Even though he was thousands of miles away, he still provided leadership and discipline for his son.
“The year 1972 was big for me, for two reasons. That year I turned 12 and entered the sixth grade. More importantly, though, my father spent the entire year in Vietnam. He had often been away for maneuvers or short deployments of up to a month or so. He had even done an earlier long tour in Vietnam, although I was much younger then and hadn’t noticed his absence too deeply. But this time, my dad would be at war for one of my most formative years.
What a hole my father’s absence left in my life and the life of my mother and brother. I have many sad memories from that year. We lived in constant fear for my father’s life a fear made far more real by the fact that numerous friends’ fathers, hard already died in Vietnam. But not all the memories are sad. One of the most powerful memories is the thrill of the letter I would receive from my father almost every week. He and my mother wrote mostly every day, and our family would make a cassette recording to send to Dad every weekend. (What a difference the Internet must make for war families today!) Recalling my personal letters from Dad practically brings me to tears even now. He would begin simply by telling me about his life. Not big military issues, but “neat stuff” that happened or that he saw. Then he would talk to me about my life, writing things like this :
I heard you had a great baseball game and made a great catch. Your mother told me how exciting it was when you won. How I wish I could have been there, but I can see you making that catch in my mind……
Do you see what he was doing? My dad was telling me that I was his boy and that his heart was fully engaged with me, even from halfway around the world. I knew he meant it because those letters merely carried on the same close relationship we had shared before he deployed. But make no mistake – there we’re rebukes, too, for I was a 12 year-old-boy temporarily without a father in the home.
I was very displeased to hear that you have been talking back to your mother lately. You know that while I am serving our country, I count on you to be an obedient son ……
My father’s letters discussed everything in my life: school, church, sports, and home life, the details having been faithfully related to him by my mother. In the midst of a life-and -death war zone, with all the weighty responsibilities of a senior Army offer, my father truly absorbed in my life. and I knew it. So when he said to me, in effect, “My son, give me your heart,” he had already given every bit of his heart to me, his boy. I couldn’t possibly help giving my heart back to him.
I was close to my father until the day he entered heaven. I had the privilege of being at his side reading psalms aloud to him as he departed from this life. When he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, my brother and I gave a eulogy explaining what a privilege and blessing it had been to be the son of this fine man. I will never forget meeting with many of his old Army friends afterward. One of them , a general I had known well while growing up, looked me in the eye and said, “I would give anything to have my son speak at my funeral the way you spoke about Dave today.” I didn’t have the heart to respond honestly, because I knew him and I knew his son. His child would never speak about him the way I had spoken of Dad , because he had not given his heart to his son, and his son’s heart was bitterly estranged from him. There was no point in me telling the general this, but I pray I never forget it when it comes to my own children.” (Richard Philipps, The Masculine Mandate)
Can Gospel-centeredness become an idol? Can ministry, preaching, teaching, singing, counseling, discipling, and leading with a single-minded focus and reliance on Christ’s sinless life, substitutionary death, resurrection, and future restoration of all things, actually cause us think and act in ways that displease God? Possibly. Here are some signs that Gospel-centeredness is close to becoming an idol in our lives.
When We Think We’re The First To Discover Gospel-centeredness
No one would ever verbally make this claim, but the tone of our ministry and conduct can send the message that we’re the first ones to think of making the Gospel central to everything.
When We Judge Church Growth By Gospel-centeredness
This can work in two ways. You can look at other churches that are growing and always find sinful reasons behind their increased attendance. The people coming, you think, are shallow at best and unregenerate at worst. If they were preaching the Gospel, growth would not be occurring as it is. On the other hand you think that Gospel-centeredness is the new magic bullet for church growth. You center everything on the Gospel thinking it will move God’s arm to bless the church numerically.
When We Read Only Gospel-centered Books, Blogs, etc.
To be sure, there are Gospel-centered books releasing every month and blogs posted every day that you should be eager to read. There are tremendous writers paving the way for Gospel-centered life and ministry. But if you judge a book by its Gospel-cenetered cover and refuse to read it unless a particular group of men and women endorse it, you are likely doing yourself a disfavor. You will actually be working against Gospel-centeredness. You will not be able to communicate the Gospel to people who are not reading Gospel-focused books, blogs, and articles.
When Gospel-centeredness Becomes The Gospel
It is possible to replace the actual biblical Gospel with Gospel-centeredness. The Gospel saves us, Gospel-centeredness does not. Just because you put a Gospel label on everything does mean that you are being clear about the Gospel in your church or in your life. You can talk an awful lot about how glorious the Gospel is, but unless you live it, treasure it, and let it dwell in you richly, you have simply replaced the real Gospel with Gospel-centeredness.
When We Use The Gospel To Overpower People
People who are excited about the Gospel, as I am, can tend to overreact to people who are not as excited about it. Granted, they should be. The Gospel is not one niche alongside the many other niches in the Christian life (End Times, Creation Debate, Apologetics, etc.). The Gospel trumps all of those issues. However, some people are still learning that. Simply shouting “Gospel!” to them over and over will not make them treasure it more. The Gospel must be modeled, gently and faithfully taught, and worked into the lives of people. We must not use the Gospel as one more hammer to pound people.
When We Think We Have Mastered The Gospel
A child can understand the Gospel. A theologian can be baffled by the Gospel. The Gospel is simple and complex; difficult and easy. This means that we never outgrow the Gospel. There is always more of it to understand, more of it to treasure and ponder. We never move into a position where we only teach it to others. We must keep teaching it to ourselves and letting it rule in our lives. When we think we have mastered the Gospel just because we are Gospel-centered, we are on the edge of idolatry. The Gospel masters us; we don’t master the Gospel.
What is love? Here is what Paul Tripp says:
- Love is being willing to have your life complicated by the needs and struggles of your husband or wife without impatience or anger.
- Love is actively fighting the temptation to be critical and judgmental toward your spouse, while looking for ways to encourage and praise.
- Love is the daily commitment to resist the needless moments of conflict that come from pointing out and responding to minor offenses.
- Love is being lovingly honest and humbly approachable in times of misunderstanding, and being more committed to unity and love than you are to winning, accusing, or being right.
- Love is a daily commitment to admit your sin, weakness, and failure and to resist the temptation to offer an excuse or shift the blame.
- Love means being willing, when confronted by your spouse, to examine your heart rather than rising to your defense or shifting the focus.
- Love is a daily commitment to grow in love so that the love you offer to your husband or wife is increasingly selfless, mature, and patient.
- Love is being unwilling to do what is wrong when you have been wronged but to look for concrete and specific ways to overcome evil with good.
- Love is being a good student of your spouse, looking for his physical, emotional, and spiritual needs so that in some way you can remove the burden, support him as he carries it, or encourage him along the way.
- Love is always being willing to ask for forgiveness and always being committed to grant forgiveness when it is requested.
- Love is recognizing the high value of trust in a marriage and being faithful to your promises and true to your word.
- Love is speaking kindly and gently, even in moments of disagreement, refusing to attack your spouse’s character or assault his or her intelligence.
- Love is being unwilling to flatter, lie, manipulate, or deceive in any way in order to co-opt your spouse into giving you what you want or doing something your way.
- Love is being unwilling to ask your spouse to be the source of your identity, meaning and purpose, or inner sense of well-being, while refusing to be the source of his or hers.
- Love is the willingness to have less free time, less sleep, and a busier schedule in order to be faithful to what God has called you to be and to do as a husband or a wife.
- Love is a commitment to say no to selfish instincts and to do everything that is within your ability to promote real unity, functional understanding, and active love in your marriage.
- Love is staying faithful to your commitment to treat your spouse with appreciation, respect, and grace, even in moments when he or she doesn’t seem to deserve it or is unwilling to reciprocate.
- Love is the willingness to make regular and costly sacrifices for the sake of your marriage without asking anything in return or using your sacrifices to place your spouse in your debt.
- Love is being unwilling to make any personal decision or choice that would harm your marriage, hurt your husband or wife, or weaken the bond of trust between you.
- Love is refusing to be self-focused or demanding but instead look- ing for specific ways to serve, support, and encourage, even when you are busy or tired.
- Love is daily admitting to yourself, your spouse, and God that you are not able to love this way without God’s protecting, providing, forgiving, rescuing, and delivering grace.
(All quotes from What Did You Expect?)
Then Aslan turned to them and said: “You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.” Lucy said, “We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.” “No fear of that,” said Aslan. “Have you not guessed?” Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them. “There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadowlands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.” And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
Lewis, C. S. (2008-10-29). The Last Battle: The Chronicles of Narnia (Kindle Locations 2176-2187). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
Here’s a helpful list from Lou Priolo:
- Lack of marital harmony
- Establishing and maintaining a child-centered home
- Modeling sinful anger
- Habitually disciplining in anger
- Being inconsistent with discipline
- Having double standards
- Being legalistic
- Not admitting you’re wrong and not asking for forgiveness
- Constantly finding fault
- Parents reversing God-given roles
- Not listening to your child’s opinion or taking his or her ‘side of the story’ seriously
- Comparing them to others
- Not making time ‘just to talk’
- Not praising or encouraging your child
- Failing to keep your promises
- Chastening in front of others
- Not allowing enough freedom
- Allowing too much freedom
- Mocking your child
- Abusing them physically
- Ridiculing or name calling
- Unrealistic expectations
- Practicing favoritism
- Child training with worldly methodologies inconsistent with God’s Word
Until we realize that our good works are not good, they will not become good. In other words, until we realize that our good works do not move God to love and accept us more, we will not do them with a mind to please God and honor His Name. No one perhaps wrestled and wrote more on this issue than Martin Luther. He says:
So a Christian who lives in this confidence toward God, a knows all things, can do all things, undertakes all things that are to be done, and does everything cheerfully and freely; not that he may gather many merits and good works, but because it is a pleasure for him to please God thereby, and he serves God purely for nothing, content that his service pleases God. On the other hand, he who is not at one with God, or doubts, hunts and worries in what way he may do enough and with many works move God. He runs to St. James of Compostella, to Rome, to Jerusalem, hither and yon, prays St. Bridget’s prayer and the rest, fasts on this day and on that, makes confession here, and makes confession there, questions this man and that, and yet finds no peace. He does all this with great effort, despair and disrelish of heart, so that the Scriptures rightly call such works in Hebrew Avenama, that is, labor and travail. And even then they are not good works, and are all lost. Many have been crazed thereby; their fear has brought them into all manner of misery. (Martin Luther, A Treatise on Good Works (Kindle Locations 265-272). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.)
Doug Wilson’s blog, Blog & Mablog:
“I think good preachers should be like bad kids. They ought to be naughty enough to tiptoe up on dozing congregations, steal their bottles of religion pills, spirituality pills, and morality pills, and flush them down the drain . . . But preachers can’t be that naughty or brave unless they’re free of their own need for the dope of acceptance” (Robert Farrar Capon, The Foolishness of Preaching, p.14).
Pastors.com has compiled a great list:
- Due to the Rector’s illness, Wednesday’s healing services will be discontinued until further notice.
- Bertha Belch, a missionary from Africa, will be speaking tonight at Calvary Methodist. Come hear Bertha Belch all the way from Africa.
- The Rev. Merriwether spoke briefly, much to the delight of the audience.
- On a church bulletin during the minister’s illness: GOD IS GOOD; Dr. Hargreaves is better.
- Applications are now being accepted for 2 year-old nursery workers.
- The pastor will preach his farewell message, after which the choir will sing, “Break Forth Into Joy.”
- If you would like to make a donation, fill out a form, enclose a check, and drip in the collection basket.
- Next Sunday Mrs. Vinson will be soloist for the morning service. The pastor will then speak on “It’s a Terrible Experience.”
- Don’t miss this Saturday’s exhibit by Christian Martian Arts.
- We are grateful for the help of those who cleaned up the grounds around the church building and the rector.
- A worm welcome to all who have come today.
- Barbara remains in the hospital and needs blood donors for more transfusions. She is also having trouble sleeping and requests tapes of Pastor Nelson’s sermons.
- During the absence of our pastor, we enjoyed the rare privilege of hearing a good sermon when J.F. Stubbs supplied our pulpit.
- Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.
- The ushers will come forward and take our ties and offerings.
- The rosebud on the altar this morning is to announce the birth of David Alan Belzer, the sin of Reverend and Mrs. Julius Belzer.
- The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the church basement on Friday at 7 p.m. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.
- Don’t let worry kill you off – let the church help.
- Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person(s) you want remembered.
- Let us join David and Lisa in the celebration of their wedding and bring their happiness to a conclusion.
- Helpers are needed! Please sign up on the information sheep.
- Diana and Don request your presents at their wedding.
- The concert held in Fellowship Hall was a great success. Special thanks are due to the minister’s daughter, who labored the whole evening at the piano, which as usual fell upon her.
- The outreach committee has enlisted 25 visitors to make calls on people who are not afflicted with any church.
- Low Self-Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 to 8:30p.m. Please use the back door.
- The 1991 Spring Council Retreat will be hell May 10 and 11.
- The audience is asked to remain seated until the end of the recession.
- Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community.
- 22 members were present at the church meeting held at the home of Mrs. Marsha Crutchfield last evening. Mrs. Crutchfield and Mrs. Rankin sang a duet, The Lord Knows Why.
- The choir invites any member of the congregation who enjoys sinning to join the choir.
- At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be “What is Hell?”. Come early and listen to our choir practice.
- The third verse of Blessed Assurance will be sung without musical accomplishment.
- The music for today’s service was all composed by George Friedrich Handel in celebration of the 300th anniversary of his birth.
- A song fest was hell at the Methodist church Wednesday.
- Today’s Sermon: How Much Can a Man Drink? with hymns from a full choir.
- Hymn: “I Love Thee My Ford.”
- Miss Charlene Mason sang “I will not pass this way again” giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.
- Women’s Luncheon: Each member bring a sandwich. Polly Phillips will give the medication.
- Announcement in the church bulletin for a National PRAYER & FASTING conference: “The cost for attending the Fasting and Prayer conference includes meals.”
- The church will host an evening of fine dining, superb entertainment, and gracious hostility.
- Ushers will eat latecomers.
- Tuesday at 4PM there will be an ice cream social. All ladies giving milk will please come early.
- Weight Watchers will meet at 7 p.m. Please use large double door at the side entrance.
- Potluck supper: prayer and medication to follow.
Thanks: T. Wax