This is a book that is made to be read with a group. As an individual, I could read it and say, “Hmmm… Interesting.” But a group reading it together could say “This is revolutionary.” Or “This is scary.” Or, most importantly, “This is us, and here’s what we need to do about it.” Dr. Rainer is a qualified “forensic pathologist” when it comes to churches. He has seen enough churches in various stages of decline to be able to speak with authority on when a church is in the death spiral. If you are wondering whether or not you should read this book as a church leadership team, then do this: look at your church’s average worship attendance over the past five years. If you aren’t growing, or if your pace of growth is less than the growth of your community, then you need to read this book together. Pure and simple. And the keyword is “together.” If you as a pastor are the only one that reads it, you will have wasted your time. A sense of urgency has to be shared if anything is to change.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
because you have rejected knowledge,
I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children.
Hosea 4:6 (ESV)
I was pretty sure I knew the gist of Hosea: God tells his prophet to marry a hussy named Gomer; be a father to three children (two of which may or may not be his); watch her chase after other men; and then redeem her back. All this would be one big sermon illustration that would teach Israel about God’s unfailing love to His people despite their unfaithfulness (side note as a pastor: I’m really thankful God hasn’t come up with any object lessons like this for me so far. I’m happy getting my illustrations from YouTube and Tony Evans books). By the way, you should pause and read Hosea 1-3 if you aren’t familiar with it. Greatest. Love Story. Ever.
But in Hosea 4, the book starts feeling less like a Hallmark movie and more like the powerful prophetic word that it is. Chapter 4 begins with a devastating indictment against Israel. God has a bone to pick with the inhabitants of the land, says verse 1:
There is no faithfulness or steadfast love,
and no knowledge of God in the land;
2 there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery;
they break all bounds, a
nd bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Sounds pretty descriptive of today’s headlines, doesn’t it? Or MTV’s Video Music Awards.
Then, in language that parallels the blessing of Psalm 8:6-8 God pronounces judgment on Israel:
3 Therefore the land mourns,
and all who dwell in it languish,
and also the beasts of the field
and the birds of the heavens,
and even the fish of the sea are taken away.
But here is what stuns me as a minister. While God judges Israel, he doesn’t blame them.
He blames the priests. “With you is my contention, O priest,” he says in verse 4 (which seems to be a much more compelling and convicting translation than the NIV. I’d love for someone way smarter than me to help me understand the huge difference between the translations of verse 4, but that is a conversation for another day. If you are interested, check out the translation comparison from Blue Letter Bible.
God says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge because you [the priest] have rejected knowledge.” And because the spiritual leader of the people rejected knowledge, God would reject him as a spiritual leader. (verse 6). And you won’t find a more challenging word for a pastor than Hosea 4:9:
And it shall be like people, like priest.
In the business world, the cliche is “Speed of the leader, speed of the team.” Pastors, we cannot lead anyone where we are not going ourselves. God’s people are being destroyed for lack of knowledge. But if we as spiritual leaders are forgetting the law of our God, then the spiritual condition of the nation is on us.
God have mercy.
On August 27, 2017, Glynwood Baptist Church (www.glynwoodbc.com) called me to be their lead pastor. This letter is for them (as much of this blog will be in the future) but you’re welcome to read it as well.
On behalf of Trish, Caleb, and Josh, let me say THANK YOU for the unbelievable welcome you extended to our family this past Sunday as we begin a new era of serving with you all. The day could not have been more beautiful. From the new sanctuary, to the beautiful decorations and interior accents, to the great job the tech crew did (adjusting the sound mix to accommodate a full room for the first time is no easy task!), to the amazing work Gary did filling in for Mike at the last minute, to the joy of baptism, to the food at the reception, it was just an amazing day from start to finish.
And, oh yeah. There was a vote. Glynwood family, to say we were overwhelmed and gratified by the outpouring of support—both in the vote itself and in the countless Facebook messages and posts since—would be an understatement. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
So, one of the questions I got a lot on Sunday was, “What do you want us to call you?” As far as the name goes, James is fine. If you’ve taught your kids that it’s rude to refer to grown-ups by their first name, then Pastor James works. Or Brother James. Reverend Jackson would be pretty far down the list of preferences, but I’ll answer to anything. In fact, here’s a picture of my name tag from when I preach kids camp (I’m not making this up!)
You can also follow me on Twitter (@Jackson_JamesL); Instagram (@jamestn1010) and Facebook (James Jackson). If you have any questions about any of those, ask Edgar. 🙂 Eventually I’ll have a church email address, but for now, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Great days are ahead, and there is so much joy in the journey. We love you!
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
An excellent read for church leaders to consider that evangelism and church leadership are not the exclusive domain of extroverts. It includes helpful ideas for how to structure the programs of our church to be more introvert friendly. It also helps extrovert-centric ministries to consider how much the body of Christ is enriched by the introverted personality. Parts of it will be a little off-putting to evangelicals because it suggests some of the more contemplative and liturgical worship practices (which we evangelicals tend to be suspicious of as mysticism). But maybe that’s the point. We tend to look at our worship experiences as being the only way to do it, and maybe that’s keeping the wallflowers on the other side of the wall–on the outside looking in.
Fair and Balanced (for real, not like Fox News)
Meacham is a gifted historian and not a bad lay theologian. Though not writing from an evangelical perspective, he is fair to evangelicals without pandering to them. Appendix A, a collection of source documents of (mostly) the Founders writing about religion, is helpful for deflating the myth that we are a Christian nation, while at the same time helping us see that many of the founding fathers were men of deep personal piety. I wish there were more chapters– that he would have dealt with issues rather than eras. That would have made it easier to go back and reference specific points of history. And if the hard copy (I read it on kindle) has an index, I will probably buy it for future reference.
Why it was really stupid of Satan to quote Psalm 91 to Jesus.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
Psalm 91:11-13 (ESV)
I’ve loved using Desiring God’s Fighter Verse app to grow in the discipline of Scripture memorization (If you want to know more about it, I love telling people about it!) For the past few weeks, I’ve been working my way through memorizing Psalm 91. And this week, we come to verses 11-13. Many Christians are already familiar with verses 11-12, because this is the Scripture the devil tried to tempt Jesus with in Luke 4:9-11.
But here’s the thing: Satan should have known better than to quote that verse out of context. He should have known that Jesus would know ALL of Psalm 91, especially verse 13:
You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
And here’s the thing about the other thing: Psalm 91:13 isn’t the first or the last time God’s Word says something about trampling a serpent underfoot. The first time is all the way back in the Garden of Eden. The first sin has been committed. Adam and Eve have fallen. God is about to banish them from the Garden. But tucked in the middle of this narrative, in God’s curse of the Serpent, we see the first messianic prophecy–what theologians and all lovers of lots of syllables call the protoeuangellion:
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
God, speaking to the serpent, says, “There will come a day when an offspring of this woman (other translations call Him “her seed”) will crush (“bruise”) your head. Where else besides in a virgin birth would one ever talk about the seed of the woman? This can only be talking about Jesus!
Can’t you imagine Jesus thinking of that prophecy every time he read Psalm 91:13? And don’t you imagine Jesus immediately thinking of Psalm 91:13 the minute Satan quoted Psalm 91:11-12 to Him? And don’t you think Jesus was already anticipating when the Holy Spirit would inspire Paul to write, in Romans 16:20:
20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
Satan knows Scripture. But he doesn’t know the story. Let that not be true of us today!
On this date in 1674, Isaac Watts was born. Watts changed the way the English church worshiped. Before he came along, Protestant churches in England and Scotland would only sing hymns that were rhymed translations from the book of Psalms. Which isn’t a bad practice, unless, of course, you want to talk about Jesus, the Cross, the resurrection or anything from the New Testament.
Watts changed all that. In one sense, he was the English church’s first contemporary worship leader. Thanks to someone who dared to do what hadn’t been done before, we now have “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross;” “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed;” “Joy to the World;” “O God, Our Help in Ages Past;” and around 750 other hymns.
In his later years, Isaac Watts once complained about hymn singing in church: “To see the dull indifference, the negligent and thoughtless air that sits upon the faces of a whole assembly, while the psalm is upon their lips, might even tempt a charitable observer to suspect the fervency of their inward religion.”
What would he say today?