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On Charging Money for Sermons

I recently had a conversation with a friend who thought it wrong that Redeemer Presbyterian Church of New York City (Tim Keller’s church) charges for sermons. I have several thoughts on this:

  • First of all, I agree with “Robbie” who left a comment to a blog post once, saying, “The reason that Redeemer charges money for the sermons is that every year 1/3 of the congregation leaves due to starting a family or job. Many people are new Christians who do not believe in tithing, if they do it is very little. So the “profits” from sermon recordings go to the gospel ministry.” If someone were to visit Redeemer this weekend, they would find a church that meets in rented spaces and uses a music stand for a pastor’s podium and whose preachers use a corded microphone on a microphone stand (gasp) to amplify their voices. When the sermon mp3s begin by saying, “The net proceeds of the sales of Redeemer recordings are used to support the ministries of Redeemer Presbyterian Church,” they’re not kidding.
  • Second, why do we gladly spend $5 on a healthy meal but begrudge $2.50 for a sermon that will be food for us emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and relationally?
  • Third, as part of their 20-year birthday, Redeemer released 150 free sermons that thoroughly communicate the “DNA” of Redeemer’s message. It’s a categorized, tagged resource that allows people to get manifold looks at the gospel.
I know many will quote Matthew 10:8 here, saying, “Freely we have received the gospel, so we should freely spread it via free sermon audio.” Be careful of context in such Scripture use!
What do you think? Leave a comment.
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Tim Keller Video Notes — “Researching Your City”

In a short Q & A video, a church planter asks Tim Keller to discuss how one can learn the cultural narrative of his or her city. This can be applied on a larger scale–to one’s state or nation–and on a smaller scale–to one’s workplace or family. Here is Keller’s response:

  • You can start by studying it’s history. It’s amazing how much the history of your city continues to play itself out. NYC for example was started just to make money. Boston was started by the Puritans, who had an ideal. Pennsylvania was started by the Quakers, who had an ideal. Almost every other colony was started by people who had an ideal of what a human community should look like, but NYC was started strictly to make money. Period. And it’s still playing itself out.
  • As well as history, you should also talk to urban planners and anthropologists to understand the people groups inside your community.
The more we understand the people with whom we work and live, the more we are able to minister the gospel to them with compassion and understanding.

What Does Jesus Do with our Biggest, Nastiest Work-Related Problems?

In Mark 5, a synagogue leader (Jairus) comes to Jesus desperate for the healing of his ailing daughter. The young girl is on the brink of death, and Jairus knows that Jesus is the last hope. Yet, on the way to Jairus’ house, Jesus apparently fails to see the urgency of Jairus’ daughter’s condition, because he stops and has a conversation with a healed woman. When they finally arrive at the house, Jesus claims that the girl is asleep (although everyone there knows that she is literally, physically dead). He goes into her and says what translates as, “Honey, get up.”

Tim Keller, while writing about the incident with Jairus’ daughter, says,

“Jesus is facing death, the most implacable, inexorable enemy of the human race and such is his power that he holds this child by the hand and gently lifts her right up through it. ‘Honey, get up.’ Jesus is saying by his actions, ‘If I have you by the hand, death itself is nothing but sleep.’

–Tim Keller, King’s Cross, p. 68

In this incident, we see several lessons to take with us to work:

1. If Jesus’ power so overwhelms death, it is our greatest resource on the job. As Christians, we are to strive toward excellence with every atom God has given us. Yet, problems will relentlessly arise in our tasks, our relationships, and our circumstances. We will have great idols to overthrow both within and outside of ourselves. No amount of human excellence will ever conquer death, and no amount of your excellence will ever conquer all of the problems you encounter in your job. In matters big and small, we must seek the master of death. Where we see death, he sees a mere nap. Where we see a mountain, he sees a pebble to be tossed into the sea. As Christians, we have access to the only infinite power in the universe.

2. God’s timetable isn’t our own. Jairus (and any of us who don’t know the end result of this event) could only have been mortified by Jesus’ lack of hurry. However, ultimately Jairus got much more than even he asked for–he got his daughter AND a deeper glimpse at the magnitude of Christ’s power. Jesus wasn’t just a healer–he was the killer of death.

3. The gospel is that Jesus makes death a mere nap for us by experiencing the fullness of its desolation and destruction in our place. This good news, if we repeat it to ourselves throughout our workday, if we pray that God will make it the beat of our heart, will utterly destroy the moralistic, legalistic, self-righteous, love-earning mentalities that Christians too often become infamous for in the secular workplace. Jesus Christ suffered every iota of death’s poisonous sting so that we don’t have to. Not a lick of our performance at work made his death any less bitter, any less toxic, any less complete. He died. He went to hell. For us. For our failures. For our weaknesses.

Now we can go to work alive. Successful through the redemption of our failures. Strong through the awareness and acknowledgement of our weakness.

Marriage as Gospel-Reenactment

Tim Keller, in his marriage sermon series, calls marriage “Gospel reenactment.” When the Scriptures liken the husband to Christ and the wife to the church, we’re being told that, basically, our marriages are made to paint pictures of cross-centered love.

Well, my wife and I have given our daughter to some awesome grandparents, and we are taking our first overnight getaway since Hadassah was born back in September.

If our marriages are really meant to re-enact the Gospel, let’s take time for them! If you’re a man reading this, plan a date for your wife! And, just in case you are romance-blind (I’m not color blind, but I can certainly be romance-blind), remember some words of wisdom from my wife:

Romance is about creating an atmosphere where it’s clear that you have me (this is my wife talking) as your priority, where you just want to know me and bring me joy.

I would add that a good date involves being curious about who she is. A lot of times us guys can get into the mindset of, “Well, I’ve known her for a few years, been married to her a few years–I know who she is.” But we have to fight against that, because a woman made in God’s image is not so quickly known! God made this woman with an eternal soul; when we reflect on that, there’s no way we’re going to know who she is, even if we’re married a century!

Tim Keller Article Notes — “Lloyd-Jones on the Problem of Preaching”

In a March blog post at Redeemer City to City titled, “Lloyd-Jones on the Problem of Preaching,” Tim Keller has begun a discussion on D. M. Lloyd Jones’ book of lectures Preaching and Preachers. If you are someone who admires Keller, you’ll be interested to note that he attributes this book as an influence and a help in shaping the preacher he is today. Several things stood out to me from Keller’s introductory comments on the book:

  • Lecturing in 1969, Lloyd-Jones addressed trends in Britain that have been visible in America over the past decade; in general, folks were concerned about the value of preaching. Could preaching God’s Word really reach modern people who had televisions and a general distrust for orators?
    • The internet has us asking and experimenting with the same question today.
    • As a public school teacher, I hear a question along the same vein being asking amongst my colleagues: how do we reach students in the internet age?
  • Lloyd-Jones then went on to discuss the various ways that churches were proposing to address this alleged fall in the primacy of the pulpit:
    • Modifying preaching by making it more showy (more appeal to the emotions, more story-telling) or adding new media to it (in Lloyd-Jones’ time, that was TV and radio; now it’s a slew of digital media).
    • Making artistic expression the centerpiece of worship, rather than preaching.
    • Greater emphasis on social justice.
    • Disbanding from centralized congregations and becoming smaller, multi-voice pockets of Christians.

Isn’t it amazing how these observations, made in 1969, could easily be made today? I’ve only been a Christian for half a decade, but I’ve seen or heard of examples of all of the above proposed changes L-J saw in the contemporary church in Europe.

There’s nothing new under the sun, right?

Tim Keller Article Notes — “Three Ways with Families”

In a February blog entry titled “Three Ways with Families,” Tim Keller posted a brief look at the secular, religious, and gospel-centered view of the family. He introduces the topic with an interesting fact: in Japan, Russia, and Western Europe, the birth rate has dropped below replacement levels. Interestingly, these are societies that are becoming increasingly secular; societies that tend to be more religious are having no problems with population decline.

Why might secular folks not be interested in having kids?

  • “The sacrifice factor” — Sociologists studying secularism for the past thirty years have found that it fosters individualism. The idea of having kids doesn’t exactly mesh well with the idea of going out and following your dreams.
  • “The hope factor” — With environmental and technological disasters threatening, the secular folks don’t see the prospect of bringing new life into the world very enticing. Why bring someone into such potential suffering?

Does this mean, “Yay, religion is a friend to the family!” Not necessarily; people from religious or moralistic backgrounds have a tendency to idolize family. Yet, “according to theologian Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University, Christianity was the very first religion or world-view that held up single adulthood as a viable way of life. Jesus himself and St. Paul were single.” In the Gospel, one does not need a family to have the love and acceptance and honor of God.

So, what does the Gospel do for singles?

  • frees them from the shame of being unmarried found in conservative cultures.
  • allows them to nurture lives for the family of God just as Christian parents do.

And what does the Gospel do for marrieds and families?

  • Gives us the hope and strength for the sacrifices required in marriage and child-rearing.
  • “Christians grasp that they were only brought to life because of Jesus’ radical sacrifice of his independence and power. We know that children are only brought to life and self-sufficiency if their parents sacrifice much of their independence and power. In light of the cross, it is the least we can do.”

The article’s not long, and definitely worth a read. Being from a conservative background, I can relate to the tendency to idolize family and family honor. Like all idols, these idols are good things that my heart tends to change into ultimate things. Praise be to the one who gives us a family and family honor that cannot be shaken!

Howard Stern Sheds Light on a Common Idol (Plus a Tim Keller Quote)

In a recent newsletter, Jim Daly from Focus on the Family is very respectful of Howard Stern’s recent admission to Rolling Stone. While speaking about his need for approval, Stern told RS:

“The curse is I take it so seriously. I gotta know, do you think I did a good show and are you satisfied? That’s the neurosis and that’s the source of all problems for me.”

How wise it is of Stern to realize this, and what a note of caution to my generation, which longs for fame and recognition! Stone has received more fame and recognition than probably any single radio personality of his time, his face is on the cover of Rolling Stone, and he is neurotically concerned with how people perceive his daily performance. This is not fault of Stern’s; it is simply the fault of the human heart. Celebrity itself cannot satisfy the desire for affirmation that the human heart holds.

Daly goes on to quote from Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods:

The human heart’s desire for a particular valuable object (human affirmation) may be conquered, but its need to have some such object is unconquerable. How can we break our heart’s fixation on doing “some great thing” in order to heal ourselves of our sense of inadequacy, in order to give our lives meaning? Only when we see what Jesus, our great Suffering Servant, has done for us will we finally understand why God’s salvation does not require us to do “some great thing.” We don’t have to do it, because Jesus has.

Only when we see what Jesus has done for us will this common slave-driver–the need for affirmation–be put to rest. Praise God for the good news of what Christ has done.