Category Archives: bible

T4G Recap and Recommendations

Ryan (@RyanTBrice) really pushed for us to go to “Together for the Gospel” this year. I have to admit, the timing was terrible and I wasn’t looking forward to the long drive. I’ve always heard great things about T4G but I wonder how “together” something really is if its just a room full of male WASPs (or maybe it should be WASCs). I was pleasantly surprised at the number of women and people of color.

The conference was full of great preaching and lots of free books (which is basically my love language). For whatever reason, I was not prepared for how powerful the music would be. We sang only hymns (all from the new “Hymns of Grace” hymnal). I like hymns (I mean, I have a hymnal with my name engraved on it!) but, in general, my tastes are a little more diverse. Not to mention, the “band” was Bob Kauflin on a piano. I was not prepared for how loud and powerful 10,000 voices were going to be. These were not casual singers, these (still mostly men) were singing at the top of their lungs. Most of the time, the piano was just background accompaniment. Often Bob would stop singing and let the voices swell. I think the word “foretaste” captures that moment. Thinking of heaven primarily as worship, these moments of singing were a foretaste of heaven. Here’s a little sample (though it fails to do justice to the magnitude of the moment):

As far as the speakers, I think I’d recommend you start with these three:

  1. The Q&A with Mark Dever and Phillip Jensen. Their discussion was funny, thought-provoking, and convicting. In the middle of their conversation, there were a ton of important practical takeaways. They even broached the subject of Student Ministry! Jensen said in Student Ministry you (1) never get past square one (stay with the gospel), (2) never assume a student is a Christian, and (3) be an expert on sovereignty and sex! Talking about sovereignty and prayer, he briefly explained how our (often) flat view of sovereignty robs the power from God and our prayers: “In God’s sovereignty he is more sovereign than that. We are people, not puppets. His sovereignty encompasses prayer, it is not fatalistic.” There was an interesting foray into Bible translation that was helpful (e.g., how do people in our modern world understand the term “faith.”). Jensen did not fear speaking strongly on a subject (e.g., “I’d cut my tongue out before I’d call a building a sanctuary.”). All-in-all, worth your time.
  2. Mark Dever’s message on endurance. His sermon was rich, encouraging, and convicting. It was good to be reminded of the difference between genuine revival and the false emotion of revivalism. It is never bad to be reminded that “God’s Word is never in danger of not succeeding… The weight of the world is on God’s shoulders, not mine.” This message will have to be watched many times in the future. If you’re discouraged in ministry, watch this message. My favorite moment was to hear him share the personal stories of people in his ministry who have been saved. As he was sharing those stories, I was reminded of the people in my ministry who came to Christ. Each person saved is immeasurably significant and I dare not lose sight of people in the quest to “grow a church.”
  3. Matt Chandler’s message on courage. This message was important because of the culture we now live in. He started by talking about the fear that many in his congregation feel because they are being labeled as phobic and hateful and there is no chance for explanation or defense. In the loss of the pseudo-Christian majority, Christians are going to continue to learn the meaning of genuine courage for Christ.
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Fear and Worship

My pastor preached a fantastic message on fear the other day from 2 Timothy 1. A lot of the things he said resonated with me. They made so much sense of the world, the way people act, and the way the good news of the gospel gives hope and freedom rather than bondage.

Fear is a universal and powerful emotion. It is good to be afraid of the right things (a.k.a. clowns). I always think of people who should be afraid of something but aren’t, the results are often disastrous. I never understood people who could glibly play with giant snakes or tigers. Some things should cause fear! Some fears are even kind of funny.

However, most people are afraid of the wrong things. Rather than being humorous, a lot of fears leave people paralyzed, timid, and cowardly in the face of things beyond their control. They are afraid of things that shouldn’t matter. They are incapacitated by the meaningless approval of people, by trying to control every little facet of life, by buying into the lie that any problem in life is an unfair crisis, and so much more.

I was pointed to some powerful quotes from Corrie ten Boom that echo the teachings of Jesus in Luke 12:

Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.

What became abundantly clear as I listened to the description of fear in the Bible is that fear is really an act of worship. We give authority to what we fear. We submit to what we fear. That is why the Bible says to “fear God” but not to fear man. When we fear God we submit to Him, we worship Him. When we fear other things we actually submit to them. When we fear God, we are telling Him that He is powerful, in control, awe-inspiring, worthy of our submission, and rightly entitled to our worship. That is why unhealthy, unbiblical fear is idolatry. That is is why so many people are trapped in their fears. They have literally submitted themselves to their fear. Their fear controls them. They spend their lives offering sacrifices at the altar of their fear. So many of us have sacrificed joy, freedom, relationships, and new experiences to our ungodly fears.

If you look at it closely, you can see by someone’s level of fear where there worship is directed. As my pastor reminded me:

When our heart is set on the world, so are our fears. As a result, everything in the world scares us.

This is why so many people see the world as a great, big scary place. The world isn’t scary. Sure, it’s broken by sin, but behind the brokenness we see the beauty and promise of God’s creation. Behind the pain, we see the longing for redemption. The world is full of murder, hatred, war, and tragedy but that is not all it is. When I see the dancing colors of a vibrant sunset or hear the unrestrained laughter of my child, I’m reminded that God has embedded flashes of hope, which point us to what creation was intended to be and what God promised to come back and make it.

I think this is why one blogger recently called “fear” the “greatest false idol of modern Christianity.” A Christian (so-called) who worships at the alter of fear spends all their time pointing out their enemies, managing their morality, and playing defender to God (as if he needs our help). It’s as if they feel that God might lose if they don’t try hard enough. God does not need your defense. He wants your trust, worship, love, and obedience.

It reminds me of a quote I read once:

The message of Christianity isn’t that the world is a scary place where everything and everyone is a potential threat—but you wouldn’t know that on Facebook.

There is a powerful sense among many Christians that everything is bad and everything is falling apart and that the future is hopeless. What that does is put our fear and, in a real sense, our faith in the things of this world. This might be why Christians have such a bad reputation for being fearful, hopeless, curmudgeons.

But there is a better way. There is a way that acknowledges and grieves over the brokenness of this world. But that grief is not as those who have no hope. If we have tasted the goodness of God, then we can have a humble, confident, joyful hope in His promises. We can learn to see the remnants of God’s beauty even in a broken world. We can learn to encourage each other with the proven promise of God’s faithfulness. We can live in fear and worship of God, rather than submission to His creation.

So the question becomes, who or what do I fear and worship today?

Christmas Isn’t Over at Our House

Christmas is one of my favorite times. Our family has been fortunate enough to find a way to carve out meaningful traditions while maintaining some sense of calm and peace. This year was full of lots of things. I was able to preach on Matthew 1-2, we had tons of family in town, and J is at that fun age where Christmas is full of wonder. It is nice when a pair of shoes and sunglasses is enough to evoke awe (such is the life of a 2 year old).

One of the things I wasn’t quite prepared for was J’s lack of compartmentalizing Christmas. We have (for better or worse) boundaries for our Christmas celebration. There’s a time when we start listening to Christmas music and watching Christmas movies (you can see some of my favorites here). Everyone gets all flustered when Christmas displays appear in the store too soon. We also try hard to get our tree and lights down close to New Year’s day.

Our 2 year old does not understand these boundaries. When Christmas and New Year’s came and went he still wanted to watch his favorite Christmas movie (for those wondering I’ve seen “Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas” a gazillion times). Not to mention the “Mickey Mouse and Friends Christmas Favorites” CD is on repeat in the car (surprisingly the music quality is very nice). As he’s going to bed at night, I’m still likely to hear him softly sing Jingle Bells, Joy to the World, or Happy Birthday Jesus over the baby monitor.

The more I think about it, the more I’m okay with extending our Christmas celebration. One of the great frustrations of nominal Christianity is attendance at a worship service that has no bearing on the ins and outs of every day life. The truths of Christmas (e.g., the incarnation of God, the glory and truth of Christ, the worship and adoration of those who first met the newborn King, etc.) should permeate every day of our lives. God becoming flesh is not an occasional or seasonal event to be acknowledged but a world-altering, life-changing, paradigm shift that changes everything. Every decision, every relationship, every day has been forever touched by Christmas, so maybe it’s okay that Christmas isn’t over at our house.

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Where is your confidence?

Listening to Gary preach on Philippians 3 I was reminded of one of it’s central themes: confidence. Paul mentions it several times.

For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh — though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more (vv. 3-4).

Now our society is brimming with admonitions toward self-confidence. In fact that seems to be a lot of what people are looking for. They want to feel good and feel confident. They want some stability. Most admonitions toward self-confidence tell you to “look inside” for all that you need. The myriad of voices in our culture falsely shout the lie that “deep inside you is the power to do whatever you want.” So we go digging and find that at our core we are never enough.Unknown

Many people have reason to be confident. Some are confident in their ability, their resumé, their accomplishments. Others are confident in their looks or personality. Maybe it is pride in one’s heritage and upbringing.

Paul has met some of these people. They are mainly proud of their special calling as God’s people. They think their religious observance gives them confidence before God. Paul is blunt. He says that he has more reason to be confident and proud than any of them! Paul lists his accomplishments (vv. 5-6). What is striking is that many of these things would have been viewed as really good things. He even lists his sincerity and zeal!

All of these things (even the good ones!) are no true source of pride and confidence. If I am standing on anything other than Christ, I am destined to fall. Even my sincere morality and religious adherence are nothing without Christ. At the end of the day, if my confidence only comes from within then it is not enough. I am not strong enough or good enough or faithful enough or sincere enough. If I dig too deep in my heart, I find out that the well of confidence is dry.

That is why I need a source of confidence that is overflowing, unending, and perfect. Paul says that such a confidence can never be based on one’s own abilities or accomplishments but only in the “righteousness that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God” (v. 9).

I find it a much more freeing concept to know that I don’t have to conjure up strength and confidence. I am relieved to know that I can turn to God rather than to myself. My confidence is not within, it is in a far better place—the finished work of Jesus Christ. That is a true confidence that never fades or fails when I come up short in my own strength.

What Me? Entitled?

Lately, things haven’t seemed to go that great. There have been some good moments amid the turmoil of life over the last few months. But even with the many ways that I know I’m blessed, I’ve struggled to gain any traction in my quest for joy and contentment.

As I’ve examined my heart and life, I’ve come across one of the problems. I feel entitled.

Normally I don’t think of myself as entitled. I don’t mind working for what I have. I don’t expect people to just give me things. But in my attitude with God I noticed that I felt, at least in some small way, that he should treat me better.

It’s a classic “older brother” move (see Tim Keller’s teaching on Luke 15, from whom I learned much of this). You know in Luke 15, the famous story of the prodigal son. The younger brother takes his inheritance from his living father and goes off into the far country to live a life of personal pleasure. When he takes his inheritance he is telling the father that he wishes him dead. An inheritance is something you get when the father dies. At the end of the day, the younger brother wants the father’s stuff, not the father.

But the story doesn’t end there. There is another brother. Luke 15 is really the story of two brothers. It is in the “older brother” that I saw some of the seeds of disappointment that had sprouted in my heart. You see, the older brother worked hard for the father. He obeyed, he served, he followed the rules. When the younger brother comes back from his journey of sin, the older brother is angry, hurt, and mad that the father would forgive and celebrate his brother. Why? Because he had served all these years and never received a party! You see, he had the same basic attitude of the younger brother. He wanted the father’s stuff (e.g., the party, the affirmation, the inheritance) he just thought he could get it through obedience rather than rebellion.

I think one of the reasons I’ve felt such disappointment lately is that at my core I expected God to treat me better. I thought I deserved better. I thought I’d made enough sacrifices and been faithful enough that God owed me something. But that’s wrong.

The truth is I deserved nothing but alienation and punishment from God. I was an enemy of God in my sin and my service does not entitle me to anything. My service should be from a place of gratitude and love. Rather than serving God to get something I should serve because I have been given everything. Such an attitude overthrows the entitlement mentality that can rob of joy. Entitlement sets up my human desires as the arbiter of what is right. The gospel sets up God as the highest joy to which nothing can compare.

If all I want is the blessings of God then I don’t really want God. And if my joy is based on my circumstances, then it will always be an up and down sort of thing. What I am learning is that God is enough. Only God is enough. Nothing other than God will ever be enough. What freedom to let go of what I think I deserve and hold onto the only one who matters.

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