The message of the cross is going to sound like nonsense to the people around us. It's going to make us Christians sound like fools, and it most certainly is going to undermine our attempts to 'relate' to non-Christians and prove to them that we're just as cool and harmless as the next guy. Christians can always get the world to think they are cool--right up to the moment they start talking about being saved by a crucified man. And that's where coolness evaporates, no matter how carefully you've cultivated it.
Even so, Scripture makes it clear that the cross must remain at the center of the gospel. We cannot move it to the side, and we cannot replace it with any other truth as the heart, center, and fountainhead of the good news. To do so is to present the world with something that is not saving, and that is therefore not good news at all.
In addressing this concern of a "boring pastor" Brauns writes,
You cannot make it your central goal to call a pastor who will not bore you. The people in your community are drowning. They don't need someone to row out beside them and entertain them. They need the life preserver of God's Word. The people in your pews face great trials today and will in the days to come. Their most desperate need in life, even more important than whether or not they have a warm bed and food, is to hear from God. Whatever you do as a search committee, you must call a pastor who will preach the Word.
Towards the end of the book, he gives a helpful new definition to "Extraordinary."
I want to redefine extraordinary. I don't think that it's wrong for church planters and church revitalizers to long for an extraordinary ministry. After all, we serve and extraordinary God who has procured an extraordinary salvation by extraordinary means. We should expect extraordinary things to happen when we serve Him. Yet we need to come to grips with the fact that the extraordinary things that God does may not be immediately and outwardly extraordinary in the eyes of other people.
What should we count as God's extraordinary work? It's not a stadium-sized building, a multi-million dollar budget, or satellite feeds to multiple venues. That's how the world measures and achieves extraordinary. Rather, it's extraordinary when God converts our neighbors, coworkers, children, friends, and family. It's extraordinary when proud, angry, selfish people have their hearts changed by the gospel. It's extraordinary when new churches selflessly invest their time, money, and prayers to establish and multiply even newer congregations. It's extraordinary when marriages are restored and cultural prejudices give way to unity in the gospel of Christ. It's extraordinary whenever God uses 'normal' pastors and church planters, faithful men with ordinary gifts and talents, to do all this work.
There is something special about the hard, time-sensitive labor that is preparing to preach God’s Word in a few days. It feeds and nourishes our own soul in a way that moves us to preach powerfully what we have found through intense study and prayer. I recently had a young man say to me, “I love to preach, but I hate to prepare.” This could have been his way of saying the labor to prepare is hard…because it is. Yet, there is a legitimate risk in the heart of every preacher to “love to preach, but hate to prepare.”
Dear brothers and fellow pastors, yes, the labor is hard. It is intense. It must be done in less than 6 days regardless what has happened to you in the week. Yet, we must see our preparation as a gift from God. It is the time where we study with an intensity that nothing else can produce. Through that study our hearts and mind are pricked, challenged, fed, broken, instructed, shepherded, and molded by God Himself through His Word to make us who God wants us to be when we stand before our people to preach His Word.
Mike Cosper comments at The Gospel Coalition Blog on the themes of revenge and hope in the movie. (If you haven't seen the movie, the following quote will be a bit of a spoiler.)
Even as Mattie Ross faces down her nemesis and defeats him in True Grit, she’s knocked backward into a pit by her weapon’s recoil. Revenge brings a cold comfort, resulting in an immediate descent into a snake-filled darkness. Her righteousness doesn’t result in a neat and tidy ending; it leaves her scarred, poisoned, and broken. Revenge, even petty revenge, never ends in as happy a way as we’d like, with a neat and tidy moment of “I told you so” justice. Instead, Like Mattie, we end our journey scarred both by victimization and retribution.
Perhaps that’s because what we need is retribution so vast that it calls for wrath that would overwhelm us. If our hunger for revenge were fulfilled, the result would be a flood that would drown even us, and our petty attempts at substitutes will ultimately be dissatisfying. The “justice” we hunger for would bring about our destruction. Thanks be to God—there’s a better retribution and a better rescue from the pit; one that emerges from the fringes, carries out justice, and saves us from the wrath we deserve.
Stanley Fish gives this excellent review of the movie here.
Here are a few excerpts:
The words the book and films share are these: “You must pay for everything in this world one way and another. There is nothing free with the exception of God’s grace.” These two sentences suggest a world in which everything comes around, if not sooner then later. The accounting is strict; nothing is free, except the grace of God. But free can bear two readings — distributed freely, just come and pick it up; or distributed in a way that exhibits no discernible pattern. In one reading grace is given to anyone and everyone; in the other it is given only to those whom God chooses for reasons that remain mysterious.
A third sentence, left out of the film but implied by its dramaturgy, tells us that the latter reading is the right one: “You cannot earn that [grace] or deserve it.” In short, there is no relationship between the bestowing or withholding of grace and the actions of those to whom it is either accorded or denied. You can’t add up a person’s deeds — so many good one and so many bad ones — and on the basis of the column totals put him on the grace-receiving side (you can’t earn it); and you can’t reason from what happens to someone to how he stands in God’s eyes (you can’t deserve it)...they give us a better heroism in the person of Mattie, who maintains the confidence of her convictions even when the world continues to provide no support for them. In the end, when she is a spinster with one arm who arrives too late to see Rooster once more, she remains as judgmental, single-minded and resolute as ever. She goes forward not because she has faith in a better worldly future — her last words to us are “Time just gets away from us” — but because she has faith in the righteousness of her path, a path that is sure (because it is not hers) despite the absence of external guideposts. That is the message Iris Dement proclaims at the movie’s close when she sings “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms”: “Oh how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way / Leaning on the everlasting arms / Oh how bright the path goes from day to day / Leaning on the everlasting arms / What have I to dread what have I to fear / Leaning on the everlasting arms.”
The new “True Grit” is that rare thing — a truly religious movie. In the John Wayne version religiosity is just an occasional flourish not to be taken seriously. In this movie it is everything, not despite but because of its refusal to resolve or soften the dilemmas the narrative delivers up.
Bottom line, go see the movie.
But perhaps the sweetest discovery of all was learning more and more about the character of my heavenly Father through the struggles of my disabled son. It is one thing to read about His faithfulness, to talk about His mercy, and to write about His grace. But to experience these things face to face requires a heavenly vision that can only be obtained by walking through the suffering of His providence and coming to the realization that the darkness I have experienced is actually the shadowing shelter of my ever-present Father.
It is in this shadow that I have wrestled with an angel until the breaking of today. And even though I now feel beaten and broken from battle, the limp that carries me away from this sacred place forever reminds me that I have been touched by the and of the Almighty. And by grace, I have prevailed.