John Chrysostom on Preaching to please God and not for human praise

In my ongoing efforts to re-learn pastoral ministry, I am turning to books commended through the ages about what it means to be a pastor. One of those I just recently read was St. John Chrysostom’s brief work, Six Books on the Priesthood. I share these comments that I found particularly helpful, from the end of that book, about preaching to please God and not for human praise.

Let the craftsman be the judge of his own handiwork too, and let us rate his productions as beautiful or poor when that is the verdict of the mind which contrived them. But as for the erratic and unskilled opinion of outsiders, we should not so much as consider it. So too the man who has accepted the task of teaching should pay no attention to the commendation of outsiders, any more than he should let them cause him dejection. When he has composed his sermons to please God (and let this alone be his rule and standard of good oratory in sermons, not applause or commendation), then if he should be approved by men too, let him not spurn their praise. But if his hearers do not accord it, let him neither seek it or sorrow for it. It will be sufficient encouragement for his efforts, and one much better than anything else, if his conscience tells him that he is organizing and regulating his teaching to please God. For in fact, if he has already been overtaken by the desire for unmerited praise, neither his great efforts nor his powers of speech will be any use. His soul, being unable to bear the senseless criticisms of the multitude, grows slack and loses all earnestness in preaching. So a preacher must train himself all else to despise praise. For without this addition, knowledge of the technique of speaking is not enough to ensure powerful speech.

– John Chrysostom, Six Books on the Priesthood, trans. by Graham Neville (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1977), 133.

Hungry for Peace

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No one wants to live feeling depleted and empty. We all want to live out of a place of abundance, satisfaction, and peace. We hunger to feel like our lives are on the right track and that everything is ‘right,’ in the best sense of the word. The biblical word for this is peace or, in Hebrew, shalom. Shalom means more than simply lack of conflict. Instead, it conveys a sense of completeness, success, welfare, and peace. A short definition for shalom is that all things are right in God’s world as they are supposed to be.

When Jesus begins His public ministry, he enters into an episode that would not be described as peaceful. Shortly after His baptism by John, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry” (Luke 4:1-2). This temptation is a power encounter between the prince of this world, the devil, and the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Messiah. From start to finish, the three temptations of the devil are classic temptations of humanity, described by Henri Nouwen as the temptation to be relevant, popular, or powerful. Hungry and tired, Jesus experiences all the raging temptations of a peace-less world thrown at Him.

Jesus overcomes the temptations of the devil, however, and we realize that He is a new sort of king with a new sort of kingdom that will move in ways different from the ways of this world. When Isaiah the prophet describes the Messiah as “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), we know this is exactly what we need. We need true shalom in the midst of our hunger for peace because we cannot ultimately satisfy it ourselves. This realization does not come quickly. Sometimes we must intentionally step back from some things, even normal things like the eating of food, to realize exactly what is going on in our lives.

It is no wonder that immediately before ascending to the Father, some of Jesus’ final words to His disciples are: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). The Prince of Peace has come to bring us peace, and that is very good news for us.

RESPOND THIS WEEK:
Each week’s practice will feature some aspect of the process Paul describes for us in Ephesians 4:22-24, where we are to TAKE OFF something from our lives that has become corrupted or distracting and PUT ON in its place something God wants us to do.

Take Off: Fast from food (in some form), perhaps for one meal a day or for an entire day. If you are physically prevented from completely fasting due to some health concerns, consider if there is a particular food, drink or “treat” you can deny yourself this week. Use the space below to take note of your experience this week.

Put On:In the place of eating the food you are fasting from, take time with God in solitude and silence to experience the peace that God brings. Consider how He provides for you all you need. Use the space below to take note of your experience this week.

[This a devotional I wrote with Jim Caler as part of the Eastbrook Church Lenten devotional, “Hungry for God.”]

The Weekend Wanderer: 16 March 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

Bishop of Loughborough“Church of England to hold first service in Farsi after a huge rise in Iranian converts” – “When the Bishop of Loughborough was 13-years-old, her brother was murdered for being a Christian. Born and raised in Iran, she was forced to flee her homeland in 1980 on the grounds of religious persecution – a story that is all too familiar for many Iranian Christians. Now, as the ordained Bishop of Loughborough, the Rt Revd Guli Francis-Dehqani is leading the Church of England’s growing community of Iranians who have found a home in the Anglican church. This unprecedented shift was yesterday marked with a “historical” service at Wakefield Cathedral in Yorkshire, where the Holy Communion scripture was delivered in Persian for the first time to cater for the growing – yet traditionally unusual – new Anglican congregation.”

 

china“China official says West using Christianity to ‘subvert’ power” – From Reuters: “Western forces are trying to use Christianity to influence China’s society and even “subvert” the government, a senior official said, warning that Chinese Christians needed to follow a Chinese model of the religion. China’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, but since President Xi Jinping took office six years ago, the government has tightened restrictions on religions seen as a challenge to the authority of the ruling Communist Party.”

 

St-Patrick“Who was the real St Patrick: an evangelist or a tax dodger?” – “Few national saints have the global reach of Patrick: it has been calculated that church bells ring out in 800 worldwide locations to celebrate the feast day of this Roman Briton who brought Christianity to Ireland in the early 5th century. Jewish bakeries in New York sell green bagels and horses run at Cheltenham in his honour. And everyone knows the legend that he banished serpents, since no snakes exist in Ireland (the Ice Age may have helped the banishment). Patrick is legendary but he was also a real historical figure, and Roy Flechner seeks to review Patrick’s story in the light of historical evidence — examining Patrick’s own autobiographical writings, as well as other sources from archaeology and Roman and medieval texts — to make ‘educated guesses’ about Patrick’s life.”

 

reparations“The Case for Reparations” – David Brooks has come to an interesting conclusion about the tensions with ethnic tensions in our country: reparations are necessary. Admittedly, Brooks is a late convert to this point of view, which makes his article a very interesting read. Of course, he is responding to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ original article in the Atlantic of the same name, which is also worth reading.

 

article_5c847db41bee5“Evangelicals and Zen Masters” – In First Things, Matthew Milliner, associate professor of art history at Wheaton College, reflects in a beautiful personal essay on the intersections and disjunctions between Christianity and Zen Buddhism. He travels a wide stretch of roads toward his conclusion, but the journey is fascinating. Alan Jacobs writes a reflection upon and response to Milliner here, including some references to the meandering relationship that Thomas Merton had with Zen Buddhism, that is well worth reading.

 

Michael McClymond“How Universalism, ‘the Opiate of the Theologians,’ Went Mainstream” – Paul Copan interviews Michael McClymond on the nature of universalism, and how it has become so popular in mainstream thinking today, by Rob Bell’s Love Wins. McClymond’s recent book, The Devil’s Redemption, engages critically with the historical theology of universalism in Christian thought, and this interview gives a taste of McClymond’s conclusions.

 

Obscurity

“The Disturbing Temptations of Pastoring in Obscurity” – I had the opportunity to write for Christianity Today‘s CT Pastors imprint this past week. In this article, I explore the ways in which temptations to celebrity is not necessarily remedied by hiding in obscurity. I hope it’s an encouragement to other pastors. Thanks to Kyle and Andrew from CT for working with me on this.

 

Music: “Were You There?”, Marian Anderson, from Marian Anderson in Oratorio and Spiritual, volume 1 (1936).

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Disturbing Temptations of Pastoring in Obscurity

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I had the privilege of writing an article for Christianity Today‘s CT Pastors imprint that was released today. There’s an excerpt below, but you can read the full article here.

Gregory the Great, so tradition tells us, was a reluctant pope. Well-educated and from a wealthy family, Gregory experienced inner tension between his longing for the contemplative life and his sense of calling toward secular responsibilities. After converting to the monastic life and transforming his house into a monastery—the happiest years of his life—Gregory often was called into service of the church in public ways, including serving as Pope Pelagius II’s legate to Constantinople. When troubles gathered around Rome, Gregory was called from his monastic life to the city to help. Soon afterward, Pope Pelagius died of the plague sweeping through Rome at that time, and Gregory was elected to succeed him. Gregory tried to refuse the office, preferring his monastic life, but once elected, he accepted his duties faithfully and worked hard to serve God in his new position. The best leaders, according to the old proverb, are reluctant leaders.

Of course, as my own story shows, reluctance is not an inherently laudable trait…[read the rest of the article here]