Getting at the Heart of God-Focused Ministry, Session 2

North Hills Community Church

Taylors, SC


The following is a lightly edited transcript.

Last night’s aim, and the aim of the whole conference, is that you would desire and pursue with all your heart a God-centered ministry and a God-centered life because God is a God-centered God. Now, what I’d like to do this morning is to talk about what will be required of you if you do that — namely, courage and boldness, brokenhearted boldness, contrite courage.

Because as I look in my own heart, and as I look at the lay of the land, the world right now, we have that banner flying now, flying it on a big brace. We have a church that’s right on the edge, thirteen blocks from downtown Minneapolis. And as people come over the freeway into the city, there’s Bethlehem, and on top of the church we put up these banners about twenty-five feet long, about four feet high, and we change them every few weeks, and we try to make them relevant to what’s happening in the city and so on, so thousands of people see them. And the one that’s up there now is “Christ When All Is Shaking.” And that went up September 11.

Courage is not the absence of fear; you know this. It’s the resolve to act in spite of being afraid. And so, that’s what’s going to be required of us: courage. I’m going to assume now that this is church leadership in this room. I know there are non-pastors here, but those of you who are not pastors, just forgive me if I say “us” sometimes, “us pastors.” So give them a break and let them enjoy that kind of camaraderie with me for a little bit here, and the rest of you can listen in.

Radical Affection

But if we call for a radical engagement of the affections — like Psalm 73:25: “There is nothing on earth I desire besides you” — if you call your people to that, they will feel threatened. If you say to them, “Do you desire anything besides Jesus?” inside they’re going to say, “Of course.” And so, if you press that text on them — “There’s nothing that I desire besides you — they’ll feel threatened. And the way people act when they feel threatened is defensive, and sometimes they’ll get in your face, and sometimes they’ll distort what you say, and sometimes they’ll leave your church. And things don’t go as good for you as if you would just say what people want to hear and what makes them feel comfortable with where they already are in their emotions.

None of you are where you should be in your emotions. I’m certainly not. My whole life is a life of questing. I didn’t name my first book Having Arrived at God. I named it Desiring God, and to this day that’s the passion of my life. It’s not that, “Oh, you’ve got there. You’ve got all the right emotions.” That’s not it. It’s desire. It’s longing. I have this Edwardsean view that it’s going to get better for all eternity. I don’t even think there’s going to be one day when we’ve arrived. I think eternity will be ever-increasing joy. The reason I do is because God’s infinite, and I’m finite. I don’t think a finite being can emotionally arrive at an appropriate response to an infinite being, ever. Which is why it will take an eternity to improve upon my emotional response to Jesus.

That blew me away as a kid. I was so frightened of heaven as a kid. I was as frightened of heaven as I was of hell, almost, because it seemed boring — really boring. Because I thought, even at its best, when you arrived at best, after that it would just be an eternity of best, and that seemed so static. I don’t believe that anymore. I think it’s always going to be better. There’s the song “Every Day with Jesus Is Sweeter Than the Day Before.” I think that’s baloney, myself. That’s not true. I wouldn’t sing that song. You start singing that song here, I won’t sing, simply because it’s not true. Every day with Jesus is not sweeter than the day before. I’ve had some really bad days, and I remember some really sweet days.

So every day is not sweeter than the day before. Some tomorrow will be sweeter than today, but some tomorrow will be worse than today. I feel, frankly, very, very happy today, and very sweet. And I know that my emotions will go down at the end of this week, probably, when I get all this energy, and I go home and try to present myself to my wife as a basket case of tiredness, that it won’t be as sweet. But it’s going to one day be singable. It is going to one day be singable. We will sing that in eternity. Every day with Jesus will be sweeter than the day before, in eternity, when all my depressions, and all my discouragements, and all my failures will not have to be dealt with any more. They will be decisively put behind me.

So, there’s coming a day when that will happen, but right now you call people to a radical, emotional pursuit of God that they don’t presently already have, they will feel very put upon. And some of them will just say, “I’m not wired the way you’re wired,” and so on. So you’re going to have to have courage to press on with the kind of Christian Hedonism I’m going to call you to this afternoon. Another reason for courage is that when you teach parents that they should share with their children the whole counsel of God, and you choose the curriculum in which you try to share with children the whole counsel of God, parents are going to feel threatened. Or if you try to give to your church a God-centered interpretation of 9/11, you’ll be criticized. It won’t land on people at the right time in the right way.

Subject to Criticism

I said to someone in the car coming over here this morning, “What’s Murphy’s law?” And he said, “Murphy’s law is if things can go bad, they will.” And I said, “Here’s my adaptation of Murphy’s law: if a sermon can be misinterpreted, it will be. If a sentence on a radio station can be distorted, it will be. If a theology can be made confusing when it’s simple, it will be.” So pastors, you’ve just got to be okay with this. You’re going to be misinterpreted. If you try to say something God-centered about divorce or homosexuality or death or terrorism that deals with the sovereignty of God, or if you deal with a sentence like Amos 3:6 — “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” — if you try to deal with that publicly, you’re going to be misinterpreted. People will choose all kinds of appellatives for you, like heartless or unpastoral or whatever. So how are you going to keep talking about the truth without courage?

Another reason for courage is that when you call for a superior allegiance for Jesus over allegiance to America, even though on the face of it that sounds so obvious, there will be patriots who walk out of your service. It was what happened in one service in Minneapolis I was in. I thought the person who was speaking from the platform said exactly what needed to be said, and a man shouted out loud from the back, “I’ve heard enough of this,” and walked out. He was the kind of guy who would wear a red, white, and blue uniform to church every Sunday, and confuses the Christian flag with the American flag.

You say these things, and you’re not at all opposed to patriotism. You wouldn’t tell your kid not to be in the service. But they’re going to hear it that way, because you called them to absolute superior allegiance to Jesus Christ over America, and you say that America could be history any minute and God wouldn’t be phased, and the kingdom of Christ would go forward with power and might. They’re not going to like that. And there are many other reasons. Let me give you some fresh front-burner reasons from my life why I am so eager to get you to be courageous spokesmen for Jesus, and then I am going to get to a text and share with you some reasons from Jesus why you don’t have to be afraid when you speak.

Universalism Increasing

But there are things going on today, besides the ones I’ve mentioned, that are really crucial in the call for courage. For example, I collect quotes on the stampede toward universalism. Universalism usually means everybody’s going to be saved in the end. There’s another more subtle meaning; namely, nobody’s going to be lost in the end. That’s not the same, because it allows for annihilationism. Now here’s a quote from Stephen Holmes, who just published a book this year in England. It’s called God of Grace and God of Glory: An Account of the Theology of Jonathan Edwards. And he closes the book, “This is not a plea for universalism. I am not suggesting we refuse to speak about hell. Instead, I am insisting that when we do speak about it, we do so Christianly, a procedure which I suspect may finally be the only way to avoid the current stampede towards universalism in the church.” That’s from Britain. So here’s one observer of our situation today saying that in the church, there is what he calls a “stampede towards universalism.”

Robert Gundry is a New Testament scholar who taught at Westmont College in California. He just published a couple of articles in Books and Culture, which I didn’t like, and yet said something very, very true and important that I wrote down. He said, “Let me, an exclusivist [that means he believes you have to hear and believe in Jesus to be saved; thank God for that], express the probably unpopular concern that, as sociologists of religion have observed in relation to the tidal wave of religious pluralism sweeping across our cultural landscape, the currently massive migration of evangelicals from exclusivism to inclusivism [meaning, you don’t have to have heard the gospel or believe uniquely in Jesus in order to be saved], and, occasionally, to annihilationism [which means, when you die you go out of existence if you don’t believe in Jesus].”

So, there is no hell. Or if there is one, it’s temporary. It’s purgatory, in essence, and you’ll have the hell burned out of you in hell and then you go to heaven. That’s what George MacDonald believed, and many people believe today. They see enough of hell in the Bible that they let it be, but you won’t stay forever; you stay there long enough until you get awakened to the fact that you’re a sinner and repent, and then you go to heaven. There are a lot of people in the church today who believe in that kind of hell. They don’t call it purgatory, but in essence that’s what it winds up being. And Gundry’s concern here is to say that the implications of this for evangelistic missionary impetus are huge.

Open Theism

And then you’ve got open theism today with men like Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, and Greg Boyd. Greg Boyd is, I think, the most articulate and forceful spokesman in my denomination. He teaches at the college that I taught at, which is to my utter dismay, and I have debated Greg in public. He’s a pastor of a four-thousand-member church in my city, and he believes God doesn’t know what you’re going to do this afternoon. This is open theism. Now where is open theism going? Well, Pinnock has already gone there. Will the others go there, even though they sign statements of faith that they believe in everlasting punishment? This is a quote from Greg’s website from July 30: “I’m very impressed with the biblical and theological case for annihilationism. Yet I can’t get around certain passages that seem to suggest eternal torment. So, I’ve been for several years pondering the possibility of affirming without logical contradiction the essence of both views. I’m looking for a theological model in which it can be affirmed that the wicked have ceased to exist, and yet suffer eternally. Hell is the eternal suffering of people who have ceased to exist.

Now, when you read enough things like that coming from open theism, defended by so many evangelical leaders today who think it’s just a nonissue. They think the denial of God’s complete and exhaustive foreknowledge is a nonissue. It’s like the timing of the second coming. It’s like charismatic gifts. It’s like church polity. Let’s not beat each other up over these things. Let’s not divide along these lines. And it simply takes my breath away that a view that has not been held by Catholics, Protestants, the Orthodox (and I’m tempted to add Muslims) for thousands of years, is now taught in our evangelical schools and considered a nonissue. That’s the situation into which we speak the truth of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.

Pluralism

Now add to that where we are with the Jewish community today and the Muslim community. Bless God for the Southern Baptist call September two years ago now for praying for Jewish people to receive Jesus. That hit the fan in this country big time. Every single editorial page in America criticized Southern Baptists for calling for prayer for Jewish people to trust Jesus and be saved. Well, that was in the Minneapolis Tribune, so I stood up the next Sunday, held this up, and said, “Did you see this? They’re calling this arrogant. They’re calling this intolerant.” Folks, this is what we believe. We believe Jewish people need Jesus, or they perish. So, I’m going to write a response to this editorial. Now the Minneapolis Tribute is a left-wing paper, and never has published anything I’ve ever written. I’ve stopped writing letters after twenty-five years. They never published a letter. They never publish anything I write. And I’m going to write an article responding to this editorial.”

And they published it the next Saturday — word for word, all the Bible quotes. “Whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). They published this editorial. Wow, did we get the flack. Oh, this has made me feel so “Acts” and “apostolic” and “Pauline.” Now, this is a call for courage, folks. This is a call for courage because not only did that happen, September two years ago, but Jews for Jesus have this big vision around the country right now. Every city in the country that has the most Jews, and there are about sixty of them, Jews for Jesus are going there and saying, “How big is your God?” And proclaiming Jesus on the streets, like they do. I love Jews for Jesus. They’re such an in-your-face, tell-it-like-it-is ministry: “We love you, and we’ll die for you, but you’ve got to have Jesus.” I love them. And so we hosted them in our city two months ago.

And this group downtown of the big churches that wrote that editorial and supported it and responded in writing to my editorial got wind that not only do we believe this, but we bring people to town to tell people they need Jesus. And then we support them, and we send guys out in the street with big T-shirts on to get right with Jesus, with bright yellow and blue in the face of all the people on Nicollet Mall that Jesus is the only way to heaven. The gall of these Baptists.

So we got a letter — another letter. This is from nine pastors of all the biggest churches downtown: Congregational, Presbyterian, Catholic, Unitarian, Wesleyan, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal. And do you know what they believe? They wrote, “In particular, we feel that efforts by Christians to convert Jews are counterproductive, injurious to Christian-Jewish relations, and contrary to the true spirit of Jesus Christ. In the event of a citywide conversion campaign, please know that we will respectfully but forcefully make public our concerns in every way available to us.” Well, they didn’t, because they saw, I think, that it would backfire if they did. But does it not make you want to weep that nine of the biggest churches within a stone’s throw of my church do not believe you have to believe in Jesus to be saved? Does that not want to make you weep? Shepherds who will give an account someday are leading flocks of thousands, I dare say, tens of thousands of people. These are big, center-city, mainline churches. The biggest, most notable churches in the city do not believe Jesus needs to be trusted to be saved.

The guy who wrote the letter, I called him on the phone, and I said, “We have to have lunch.” So I took him out to lunch. He’s the pastor of the Congregational church, which is the biggest, most liberal church in Minnesota, probably. And I went to hear him preach the next Sunday because I was on writing leave. I said, “How in the world does a guy like this preach?” And he invited his church to go to visit and pay respect to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. They have the most popular choir in the Twin Cities. It’s a well-known choir, you might have even heard of it if I named it. And I looked at him at Baker’s Square and said, “How in the world do you call yourself a Christian?” I don’t think anybody ever said that to him in his life. He said, “I’m really offended at that.” I said, “Well, I guess you are.” I said, “Look, here in Acts 13:46, Paul goes into a synagogue, and when he’s done preaching, he gets run out, and he says to the Jewish community, ‘Since you thrust [the gospel] aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.’”

I said, “Jim, the apostle Paul taught that if you reject Jesus, you don’t have eternal life, even if you’re a Jew worshiping in a synagogue.” He said, “Well, that’s your interpretation.” That’s where we are. We’re at a hermeneutical morass in this country. You can make the Bible mean that you’re in hell and non-existent, you can make the Bible mean that Jesus is God and isn’t God. We live in a culture where the language game is more fun to pastors than reality. And now you stand up and start speaking on the exclusivity of Jesus, you better have a thick skin or courage.

Tolerance to No End

Now, just add to that, before I get to the text, our new Muslim situation. It’s always been here for 1,500 years, but now we have a new Muslim situation. And I’ll tell you, every pastor almost in America is running with his tail between his legs in public right now on this issue for fear of being lumped together with the hate-mongers. Now that’s a good fear, in one sense. Muslims, you know, do not believe Jesus even died on the cross. The orthodox Muslim teaching is that he was whisked away, he died an ordinary death. There was no ordinary resurrection like we understand it. He, of course, is not the divine Son of God. Muhammad is the last prophet. Jesus is a prophet, and they’ll come back together some day, and we’ll all worship Allah together, but not through the one and only mediator, the God man, Christ Jesus, without whose blood and righteousness no one is justified. That is simply rejected.

So, Muslims who are orthodox and faithful to their teaching are not saved. They’re not going to have eternal life, and they desperately need the gospel. And we should love them and take them the gospel even if it costs us our lives. We should not do it with the sword, and we should not do it with bombs. We should do it with suffering. That’s what I’m going to talk about tonight. But here we have in America a situation where everybody is running to have an ecumenical service right now, because we have to desperately affirm that, though we’re going to go bomb the hell out of Osama bin Laden, we’re not against all Muslims. Now, that’s an absolutely crucial distinction to make. That’s a really crucial distinction to make. I’m for making that distinction. So I want to say that.

So, I wrote this piece called “Obstacles to the Eternal Life of Muslims: Hate and Tolerance. Hate is obvious to everybody. If the church gets on a hate-filled bandwagon against everyone with a dark, Middle Eastern skin or a beard or a turban, we’re going to wreck Christianity. That’s not Christianity. It’s a kind of racism. We’ve got a long way to go in the North and you’ve got a long way to go in the South on the black-white issue. And now we’ve got a long way to go on the brown Arab issue. Racism is wicked and evil, and hate is wrong. We must not lump all together. And that is an obstacle to the gospel. My son called me from Chicago, where he’s at Moody Bible Institute, and said one of his Arab friends is doing church planting among Muslims there in Chicago. One of the men in his group was beat up right in front of the police station. And the reason? “He looks like one of them.” That’s all. That’s all. And when he went into the police station, which was about fifty feet away, they said, “This city is about to come apart at the seams. We don’t have time to deal with every issue.” And he said, “He is right outside, the guy who beat me up.” And they wouldn’t do anything. Welcome to the black community.

So hate’s got to go. But here’s the danger. Tolerance, then, begins to be twisted and distorted into something, historically, it never was and never should be. I’ll read you a paragraph from my article.

Once upon a time tolerance was the power that kept lovers of competing faiths from killing each other. It was the principle that put freedom above forced conversion. It was rooted in the truth that coerced conviction is no conviction. But now the new twisted tolerance denies that there are any competing faiths; they only complement each other. It denounces not only the effort to force conversions, but the very idea that any conversion may be necessary for eternal life. It holds the conviction that no religious conviction should claim superiority over another.

When Muslims are protected from hate with this “tolerance,” they are cut off from eternal life. And what promises deliverance proves to be death. If, in the name of this new tolerance, we are forbidden to say of Jesus, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12), then eternal life is concealed and we are cruel.

And if you’re going to say it, you’re going to need courage. And if we’re going to send missionaries to the Muslim peoples now, you’ll have to raise up a generation more radical than mine. We were pretty radical once, weren’t we? I see some of you out there. The sixties were pretty cool. And what wimps we’ve become. You know, James Boice, a great hero, who died just a little while ago, was talking with R.C. Sproul not long before his death. And R.C. Sproul told me this. He looked into Sproul’s eyes as he was near death in one of their last conversations and said, “R.C., we are surrounded by wimps.” So I’m here to try to just plead with you not to be among that number. We are so afraid of relational breakdowns that we won’t say that two plus two equals four if it’s controversial. Which it is in some places.

Five Reasons to Take Courage

Now the text. Turn with me, if you have a Bible, to Matthew 10. You’ve heard reasons for the need for courage, now I want to give you biblical incentives and motivations and enablements for courage. Jesus is so good at this. Nobody had more courage than Jesus, and nobody gives more courage than Jesus. And this is one of the best texts of all because here he gives five massive reasons for why we can be courageous, and ought to be. So let’s walk through them in these few minutes we have left. I’ll read Matthew 10:24–31.

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

There are five glorious reasons not to be afraid in that text. Let’s look at them together. Now, before I look at the five reasons, let me make sure you see what the main point of this text is. It’s crystal clear, but I have found over years that people don’t always see the crystal clear, and so I point it out. That’s what preaching is for. Point out the obvious, and say it in a way that people say, “Wow, I never felt or saw that before.”

  • Verse 26: “Have no fear of them.”
  • Verse 28: “Do not fear those who kill the body.”
  • Verse 31: “Fear not, therefore.”

That’s the main point: don’t be afraid. The main point is text repeated three times is: don’t be afraid. So there’s a rhythm in the Christian life. We all feel fear. We all feel fear. Hear a gunshot at night or a rock comes sailing through your window, like happened to us two weeks ago. The question is, “Now what? Now what?” Answer? “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (Psalm 56:3). And so you make a move of your mind and a move of your heart on to a sovereign God, and you repose there, and God willing he lifts enough of it that you can act. All the fear won’t necessarily go away, but just enough to get done what he wants you to do, which is stay in the neighborhood.

Now before I give you five reasons for it, let’s notice what the threat is here. It’s really what we’re talking about this morning. Verse 27: “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” So the issue of fear here is of talking, a fear of talking, saying what needs to be said, right? It says, “What I tell you, you speak. And if I happen to tell you out here in the garden or up on the mountain, you go down into the city and you say it. Or if we’re in a room inside and I tell you, you go on the roof and say it. What you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops.” So, we’ve got the issue here. Main point: don’t be afraid. Issue: speaking truth given by Jesus.

Now we need help. And the great thing about Jesus is that he gives help. He doesn’t just tell you to do things and say, “I’m Jesus. I told you to. Go do it.” He doesn’t talk like that. He gives you five massive Christ-centered, God-exalting reasons for why you can do it, so that when you get out there and you’re in the battle, you can call to mind the reasons. You don’t just say, “He told me to do it. I guess I’m supposed to do it.” You have five reasons that he gave you to do it.

1. You are a member of Jesus’s household.

Notice the so or the therefore (depending on your version) in verse 26. “So [or therefore] have no fear of them.” Now, whenever you see a therefore, you ask what just came before, because that’s the reason. What just came before from which he draws the inference, “Therefore have no fear of them”? Wherefore? Answer? Go back. “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household? Therefore . . .” That makes no sense at all, does it? No, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s supposed to be, “Therefore, fear.” “If they called me the devil, what are they going to call you? Therefore . . .” I mean, everybody would say, “Fear. It’s going to be worse for you than Jesus, so fear.” And Jesus says, “Therefore don’t fear.”

What’s this therefore there for? What is this? Jesus is like this. The logic of Jesus is really quite remarkable. So you’ve got to think here. Pastors, I don’t know if you ever think, but try it sometime. Let me put in a little parenthesis here and make you mad at me. If you happen to use the NIV, check out the NASB every now and then, because the NIV leaves out conjunctions, and there aren’t any more important words in the Bible than conjunctions. I’ll point you to one in a minute. They don’t leave this one out, but they do leave the next one out. Conjunctions are life-giving, sermon-building, thought-provoking, theology-constructing words. Therefore is the key word here.

Now, it makes you think: “Hm, they call him Beelzebul, they’re going to call me worse, so I shouldn’t be afraid. Hm. Hm.” And then it dawns on you. What it says is: How much worse will they treat those who are members of his house? So if they treat me that way, what does that say about me? I’m in his house. I’m in his house. I’m in his house. He’s my big brother. He’s my Lord. He loves me. I’m on his side. He won. He rose from the dead. That’s the point, isn’t it? So there’s reason number one. Reason number one is: if you get mistreated by being called names, and you’ve searched your heart that you have not put unnecessary stumbling blocks in people’s way, be happy and not afraid. You’re with Jesus.

2. You will be vindicated by the truth.

Notice the for, the because, in the middle of verse 26. I don’t think it’s there in the 1984 version of the NIV. Shame on them. “So do not be afraid of them, for [here comes your next reason] there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed.” Get it? You’ve got to think again here. Have no fear because everything hidden is going to be known. How does that take away fear? Everything hidden is going to be known. It’s like this. It’s the way I use it anyway. I think this is what he’s getting at.

When you speak into a situation like nine reputable clergy in downtown with higher education, access to the media, respectable congregations, pull a lot of political clout, and you’re a Baptist — sawdust trails, obscurantic, anti-intellectual, literalistic Baptist — you tend to feel a little bit intimidated, if you’re normal — like, “These guys, they dress so cool, and they drive such fancy cars, and they have such big churches, and they get such big salaries, and the media always go to them for opinions, and they’ve got everybody’s ear, even the mayor, and maybe I should just keep my mouth shut.”

And do you know what will break that? In a very short time, the heavens are going to split like a scroll, and Jesus Christ is going to stand forth in glory and vindicate his own. And everything that has been thought to be silly and narrow and exclusive and intolerant and old-fashioned is going to shine like the sun in obviousness. And those nine men will be shamed. And this little, teeny pastor, or you wherever you are, who’s been so small, and so out of the way, and so maligned, and so insignificant, the Lord will be looking through the city. Where is he? Where is he? There, there. You come here. And those nine will be back there cowering. You come here. And he’ll put his arm around you and say, “Remember what this guy preached? That’s right.” That’s all you need. That’s all you’ll need. Keep that in your mind.

It’s going to come out, folks. It doesn’t matter what the Muslims say, doesn’t matter what Jewish people say, doesn’t matter what liberal Protestants or Catholics say, the truth is going to be shouted, not just from the housetops, but from heaven. And it will be obvious to everybody in the universe, and every knee will bow, every tongue will confess, either willingly or unwillingly, that this Jesus is Lord. So be encouraged that what you say will be vindicated, if you say the Bible.

3. You cannot be ultimately harmed by anyone or anything.

Verse 28: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” So something about that sentence that takes away fear. “Don’t fear those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul.” I preached on this one the Sunday before Thanksgiving quite a few years ago. And we’d just come into the city. Our whole goal when I moved into the city and took this downtown church was to get people to move in, not out. We’re going to reverse this whole thing. We’re not leaving the city. We’re coming back to the city. Come on. So hundreds of households have moved into the cities over the last twenty-one years, instead of going the other way with white flight. We’re going this way, which is where Christians ought to always be going: toward need, not toward comfort and security. You understand that, don’t you? I mean, this is Christianity 101. Christians move toward need, not toward comfort and security. Is that plain here? I can’t believe how many don’t get that. I can’t believe how many of my generation fled. White flight it was called.

In the early eighties, one of the big minorities in the Twin Cities was Hmong and Lao. We had three hundred in our church. They’re all gone now. It’s too cold in Minneapolis for Lao people. But some are there. They have a little Lao church that was planted, and it keeps on going. But they were there, and they were brand new. We were adopting them, bringing over eight at a time, because if they had a sponsor they could come as refugees. If they didn’t have a sponsor they couldn’t come. Our people were sponsoring them right and left. But you know what? They could hardly speak English, and so it was uncomfortable to minister to them, especially to have them over for a meal. It kind of wrecks your Thanksgiving. So the Sunday before Thanksgiving I preached the sermon and asked, “Who are you having over for dinner on Thursday?” from Luke 14.

When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. (Luke 14:12–14)

Make your day hard. Come on! And one of my texts that I referred to, to just push the envelope as far as I could, was this one: “Fear not. You can only be killed.” That was my paraphrase of verse 28. And I think it’s an absolutely accurate paraphrase, don’t you? “Do not fear those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul.” Fear not. You can only be killed. And one of our women came up in tears after this service, saying, “That was a hard thing to say, because we’re really trying to move in. We’re really trying to rent that apartment over across there on Elliot. And that was hard.” Yeah, it is hard. But that’s what it says. And they did move in. Yeah. They did.

Fear not. You can only be killed. I mean, what’s going to happen next in this country? I just pray to God to protect the president. It seems to me it’d be easy to kill the president. So easy. I thought Clinton wouldn’t survive. I think God’s sovereign common grace is why our presidents don’t get killed. That’s why they don’t get killed. Or a lot of other people. But something’s going to happen. My wife called me last night. We’re going to England in two weeks. You have to get on an airplane and cross an ocean to go to England. I said, “Hi, how’re you doing? How’s Talitha?” She said, “You have any second thoughts about going to England?” I said, “No, I hadn’t thought of it. What’s the problem?” She says, “Well, it’s England and America. There’s bombing over there. And so, you know . . . ” I said, “Oh, well, that’s right. I see.” I said, “No, I hadn’t thought about that. Yeah, I think we should go. But you can stay home if you want. I mean, I really do want Talitha to have at least one parent.”

Now, how do you feel about travel? Are you going to run scared now all the rest of your life, especially when it comes to the gospel? Are you going to stand up and be known in this city as a person who calls Jewish people, Muslim people, Hindu people, Buddhist people, secular people, to believe in Jesus Christ or perish? Or not? Because you’re going to get killed if you do that one of these days. Or get your hand chopped off. Isn’t it strange that we invent these terms called closed countries. Paul didn’t have had a category like that. He had no category like that whatsoever. He wouldn’t know what we were talking about with a closed country. You say a closed country is a place where if you preach the gospel you might get put in jail. He’d just kind of look at you and say, “Everywhere I go I get put in jail, or beaten, or stoned.”

Are you ready to give your kids to a Pauline-type mission? I met one family last night that was. But most of the people I talk to say, “What about the kids? What about the kids?” Well, that’s tough, isn’t it?

  • “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:22).
  • “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20).
  • “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).
  • “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).
  • “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

Jesus is pretty radical. And I’ll just be really honest with you, and this is going to offend because I grew up here, and I don’t feel like I could come live here anymore. I have a real emotional problem with the South. And I’m glad you’re here. I hope you’re here as a missionary, but the cultural Christianity of the South makes me want to throw up. There are so many people who dress nice on Sunday morning. “Hi, how are you? Come see me sometime.” And this thing that’s usually known as the hospitality and friendship of the South is about so shallow, and underneath it is no love for Jesus. I’m talking radical, lay-down-your-life love for Jesus.

Those people who dress like that and go to church on Sunday morning don’t want you to tell them they might get their hand chopped off. They don’t want to hear that kind of thing, and they don’t want you to tell them that their kids should be bred to go to the hard places of the world. Now, that’s not unique to the South, so, back up a little bit, okay? That’s everywhere. But I grew up here, I felt it, I saw another vision somewhere else, and that’s why I feel so alien when I come back, that I smell it. I come back on vacation and I visit three, four, five churches just because I want to see what is happening, and it just gives me the willies some places I go, of how unsharp and unclear the gospel is, and how culturally smashed into Southern conservatism it is, and racism, and other things.

4. You have a heavenly Father who cares.

Verse 30: “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore.” So there we have another therefore, and the reason given: “The hairs of your head are all numbered.” And you have to stop again and say, “How does God knowing the number of the hairs on my head take away fear that my head might be chopped off?” It says in Luke 21:16–18, “Some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish.” Does that sound strange to you? “They will chop your head off, but not a hair of your head will perish.” Isn’t that wonderful?

There are a lot of people who don’t want to hear that kind of preaching on Sunday morning. They might chop your head off. They might chop your child’s head off. Betty Stam’s head. John Stam’s head. She watched his head get chopped off. And then she knelt down, and they were in their underwear. There’s nothing glorious about martyrdom when it’s happening. It’s simply horrid, gory, shameful, embarrassing — just like the cross was. I do think Jesus was naked. And he screamed till his voice was raw. And you would have thrown up if you’d been at the cross. But he was magnificent. And we will see the video someday in glory, and we will tremble with wonder.

Do you know how this works, to take away fear? It means that to know the hairs on my head, he gets close, and he goes, “One, two, three.” And lest he lose count, he puts a little ribbon on each hair, or something, and marks it, paints it a color. Because you wouldn’t want to count it twice, because then you get the number wrong. “Four, five, eight thousand, ten thousand.” I have a little girl, Talitha. She’s five, and we’ve had to learn to do hair. She’s African American. And we’ve had her for five years, and we love her to death, and pray for her every day, but we’ve had to learn how to do her hair. Her hair is big. And we’ve got to do it right, or all my black brothers and sisters at Bethlehem will snatch her away from me and show me how to do it. Well, it takes about two hours, three hours, to get it done right. And I watch my wife doing this. She’s weaving these things together, weaving another one together, these cornrows. She’s got all kinds of things she can do now.

And I look at that, two hours hovering over this little girl, and that’s like God. That’s his picture. God knows the number of hairs on your head. He’s hovering over you like a mother hen. He’s over you. I think this is an intimacy statement. I’ve held up some big, strong words, like “He’s king.” But now I’m talking with another tone of voice here. This is a Christ who gets real near you when you’re really afraid, hiding in a room, trembling in a hurricane, or hiding in a room trembling because there’s a mob outside, and he’s as near and as intimate and as caring as any lover you ever had. And he’s got his fingers in your hair, giving you a little rub down, saying, “I’m here. It’s okay. I’ll take care of you. Take care of you.”

5. Nothing happens to you apart from the Father’s will.

Verse 31 and 29. This is a syllogism.

Premise 1: “You are of more value than many sparrows.” Premise 2: “Not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will.”

Now, what’s the conclusion from that? Do you know what a syllogism is?

All men are mortal. Plato’s a man. Therefore Plato is mortal.

That’s a syllogism. This is a syllogism too.

Premise 1: You are more valued than many sparrows. Premise 2: No sparrows fall to the ground apart from your Father’s will. Conclusion: Nothing happens to you apart from the Father’s will.

Nothing’s going to befall you apart from God’s will. So, to my wife, I say, when she asked about flying to London, “I’m a Calvinist. You’ve been married to me for 32 years.” She knows that. If God wants me down, he’ll pull me down. If he wants me up, he’ll keep me up. If it’s his will that I go and get there, I’ll get there. I’m immortal until God’s work for me is done. It doesn’t matter whether I die at 55 or 85, if I’m obedient to the end, that’s all that counts. I’m going to get, I pray, a “Well done, faith-filled servant” — not a perfect servant; “I’ve got a lot of things to scold you for, John Piper, especially at that conference in Greenville. But you trusted me and you banked on my righteousness. Well done. Good and faithful servant.”