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Columnists Remarkable Providences



God's faithfulness displayed in a church and a magazine

God is good, all the time, but as fallen sinners we tend to recognize his goodness more when our families are happy and healthy. This Thanksgiving, I want to thank him for making it easy for me this year, and I pray that he'll make me tough enough to appreciate his goodness at times when things do not go well.

The Puritans liked to tell dramatic shipwreck stories concerning thanksgiving in all circumstances. One vivid tale described John Avery and Thomas Thacher clinging to a rock when their boat was shipwrecked. It appeared that the next wave would sweep them away, and Avery, according to Thacher, said, "We know not what the pleasure of God is; I fear we have been too unmindful of former deliverances."

This month is the 25th anniversary of my coming to believe in God. I should continually be mindful of that deliverance from atheism and many more mercies, including two that have gripped me during this decade: the way God has built a church and a magazine.

The church story is from Austin, Texas, but many cities sport similar tales. In 1992 my family and several others began meeting and praying for the formation of a new church that would emphasize tough, biblical preaching, traditional high-content hymns, and teaching that did not shy away from words like sin. Soon, we were getting well-intentioned advice: You can't have a successful church like that in a hip college town like Austin.

When the marketing experts learned that we planned to locate right near the University of Texas, they were especially appalled. Young people today want a church with upbeat sermonettes and a hot band. To such advice we responded with a play on the erratic but evocative baseball movie, Field of Dreams: "If God builds it, people will come." We were not so arrogant as to ignore common-sense advice-salt serious preaching with humor, make sure your nursery is good-but the tail did not wag the dog.

Thanks be to God, the church began worship services in 1994 and has grown steadily since then. The other elders and I have made so many mistakes that we know the church owes its growth to God's goodness, all the time. We can also be thankful that other biblically faithful churches are succeeding throughout the country.

The magazine for which I am thankful is WORLD, and its story is parallel to that of my church. The standard marketing formula for Christian magazine success these days stresses celebrity covers, stories that won't offend readers, and alliances with ministries that will promote the magazine. None of this should be sneezed at. We want lots of readers, and the need for money in publishing is akin to the law of gravity. Postage and printing are not free. Paper-dare I say this?-doesn't grow on trees.

But if WORLD is to maintain its purpose of reporting news (even when some of our friends would prefer it to be swept under the rug) and applying scriptural truth to our reporting, then the marketing tail cannot wag the dog here, either. We need capital, but if it's necessary to upset influential organizations, we pray for the courage to do so, and we then hope to win a vote of confidence not from a few individuals but from tens of thousands of readers throughout the year who trust us enough to resubscribe.

So far, thanks be to God, we have survived and even thrived. Circulation has grown from 12,500 in 1992 to more than 100,000 now, even though (perhaps because) we have done things that would send marketing specialists into convulsions. For example, during the spring of 1997, WORLD exposed the "Stealth Bible" plans and gained the wrath of some mighty organizations. We had no knowledge whatsoever that other Christians would come to our support. Last week's story about the breaking of the NIrV agreement has also made some influential folks angry, and we pray for God's deliverance this time as well.

We have no guarantee of God's protection in this life, but we do know that all things work to the good of those who believe in him. Three centuries ago, when John Avery was clinging to a rock after his shipwreck, he told Thomas Thacher that God had not promised him continued life, but that he knew God would "bring us safe to heaven, through the all-sufficient satisfaction of Jesus Christ." As soon as Avery said that, his friend later reported, he was "by a wave sweeping him off, immediately wafted away to heaven."