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A Good Read

Discussion in 'General Baptist Discussions' started by quantumfaith, Aug 9, 2011.

  1. quantumfaith

    quantumfaith Active Member

    Jan 26, 2010
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    The following is an article from: To the Source

    Author: Mark Labberton


    The most memorable sermon I heard John Stott preach was not delivered at All Souls Church, nor at a large gathering in Asia, Africa, or Latin America, nor at a church or theological institution in North America. Without a pulpit, surrounded by mud, and standing on a small piece of carpet honorifically brought forth for him, John preached on this occasion in a dark, dilapidated, courtyard surrounded by small fire-pits, blackened pots, and a set of simple homes to a handful of people.

    This spontaneous sermon occurred as the outcome of a favor asked for by an Anglican priest serving in Burma. Would it be possible, the priest wrote, for John to pay a pastoral visit to his elderly mother the next time John was in Madras, India? Since the man served so far away from his mother, he wondered if John might not get to her before he could. He added that his mother was, after all, poor, declining in health, and "her teeth were falling out one by one."

    On his next visit to Madras, John indeed took the scant information he had to locate this mother, more like the designation of large neighborhood than a house address, and set off with two of us to find this elderly lady. After a couple of hours of searching, passing under and through various layers of shacks and structures, we arrived at the door to the woman's home. She eventually emerged from the shadows, frail, nearly toothless, smiling with a tearful joy. She knelt at John's feet and kissed them, and then she and John spoke through our translator for a few minutes. She made the request for a word of blessing, and once John had agreed, the carpet was brought forth, John prayed and offered his brief sermon.

    The text was John 3.16. The words were simple and clear. The tone was compassionate and dignified. The assurance was personal and tender. The man who typically preached in a spotlight to hundreds and thousands, across a wide range of tribes, and tongues, and nations, with intellectual rigor and verbal command, now preached amidst shadows to one woman and a handful of neighbors.

    As his study assistant accompanying John on this trip to India and Bangladesh, I was privileged with this view of John the highly visible preacher and John the nearly invisible pastor. What struck me then and now was John's consistency in each role, and his faithfulness to Christ in both. John was simply trying to love his neighbor, the priest in Burma, by serving his mother, the widow in India. All John did was fulfill a simple request. To do so required personal persistence. It meant stepping away from the crowd. The same person, serving the same Lord.

    My first exposure to John occurred when I was 23 at Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship's Urbana mission conference. The most captivating part of that week for me was the Question and Answer session John led. Hundreds of the thousands present that week showed up for this informal Q&A time. I was certainly struck by the humility and clarity of John's responses, by his knowledge of the Bible, and by his self-effacing humor.

    At one point in this Q & A session, a seminarian asked a very long and technical question using many multi-syllabic theological terms. John asked the young man first to define each of the words he had used, and second to restate his question more simply. It was, frankly, awkward and insistent—maybe even a little embarrassing— for the seminarian. He did as John had asked, however, and then John proceeded to respond to the question simply and clearly. Although I had not yet met John, this exchange suggested what was later confirmed about John: a drive for clarity, a confidence in rationality, an expectation of competency. John embodied these even as he encouraged them in others.

    While his demanding capacity and competence were impressive, what moved and intrigued me much more was his character: who is this man? Is he who he seems to be? how did he become that person? Standing several years later in that darkened courtyard in India, I thought back to that Q & A session at Urbana. The integrity of John's life and ministry were not only apparent on stage but off stage as well. The humble and earnest devotion he expressed in public was also evident in private. John has sought to live one life serving one Lord.

    Although a young Christian and recent seminary graduate at the time I came to work as John's study assistant, it had already become clear to me that while God provides gifts for ministry, the greater effect comes through character, the fruit of God's Spirit. Charisma, winsomeness, popularity, charm, cleverness, can matter— in fact, too much. What endures and bears peculiar witness to God comes from beyond mere capacity before a crowd. The greater testimony comes in an otherwise unexplained character. This is what drew people to Jesus. This is what is meant to be true of Jesus' disciples.

    The sermon on the carpet was the most memorable of John's sermons to me because it was the sermon that was John's life. His spiritual gifts might have taken him to India, to offer a set of lectures, to speak about important things with important leaders. But it was his character that got him into that darkened courtyard. The sermon he offered mattered not because of his degrees, or his achievements, or his honors, but because he had tasted that the Lord was good, and had good news to share with an elderly sister in Christ who was blessed by that encouragement. The circumstances that distinguished John 's life from this woman's life were vast. What they knew they held in common mattered more, and they both knew that.

    Over the three decades that I have now known John, I have undoubtedly put him through some of the scrutiny that mentors often have to endure. I have wrestled internally with places of agreement and disagreement, with choices made or not, with our differences in attitude or experience, culture or generation. I don't have the same confidence in human reason that John does. I don't share the same rigorous commitment to self-discipline. The spiritual glass through which I look is not as clear as the one John sees through. All that now seems like mere difference without division. For what still draws me to John more than anything else is the aroma of John's life centered and matured in the love of Jesus Christ that bears fruit to the glory of God. John was the more impressive the deeper my relationship, not the less.

    What I feared most from my early exposure to the Christian faith was that it seemed to make life smaller rather than larger—less love, less joy, less creativity, less wonder, less engagement. I was exposed to some pastors who seemed to be the incarnational proof this was so. But when I came to faith in Christ as a young college student, I discovered that Jesus saves us from smallness.

    I remembered this in Madras. As John preached that day, I stood so far from where I had been born and raised, working for a pastor whose vision of the gospel had a cosmic and global reach, and who showed me in character and action that to be a disciple of Jesus meant growing in wisdom and love, in humility and hope. The world John knew and served was not parochial. The personal gospel was not a private one, and the particularity of the gospel was for the sake of its universality.

    John introduced me to the Majority World not as an object, but as a family. His heart had grown far beyond his upper class home and his elite education. He carried daily a vivid sense of the vital faith and strength of brothers and sisters around the world. He prayed daily as one standing alongside a very large family, with its size and urgency the more rather than the less compelling. I have experienced with peoples from many places and cultures our common center in Jesus Christ, and the ways our hearts and minds grew towards our Lord because of our brother, John.

    What John taught me in that sermon in Madras was what his life has taught me over the last thirty years. God so loved the world that the gift of God's Son reorders and enlarges our hearts and our lives. The one gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ both intensifies and enlarges our understanding of God and of the worth of our diverse brothers and sisters in Christ, and of all our earthly neighbors. The God who loves us all takes us where God wants, in order that we might show and proclaim this love for the transformation of the world and for the sake of God's glory. It was clear to me that day as John stood on the carpet in courtyard: John was simply being himself, the new self that was and is being renewed in the likeness of Jesus.