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.
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.
Chester and Timmis offer another insightful, Biblical, and helpful book on “church.” Their previous book Total Churchis one of my ecclesiological “must-reads.” This book is helpful because it applies the foundations of “gospel and mission” (discussed extensively in Total Church) in the current Western situation.
They open with a provocative observation on the decline of Christianity in the Western World. Rather than spend too much time bemoaning its fall, they quickly look for the gospel opportunity. I would argue that their underlying question (laid out on pp. 13-21) is this: Do we want to hold on to Christendom or Christ?
It is likely that for all Christendom’s good you can’t have both. And that’s not to mention its many demonstrated ills. Christendom cannot exist in a pluralistic society because it requires political and/or military power. Following Christ requires radical love and service. Conversion cannot be coerced by power but must be won by love.
It is a losing battle to only focus on rechurching the dechurched (see p. 26). Reintroducing Christian culture without Christ is a painfully misguided attempt at returning to the glory days. What is needed is a radical commitment to reaching the unchurched with the gospel. To do this requires that Christ and his message be the central principal of our lives EVERY DAY.
We need to do church and mission in the context of everyday life. We can no longer think of church as a meeting on a Sunday morning. We must think of church as a community of people who share life, ordinary life. And we cannot think of mission as an event that takes place in an ecclesiastical building (p. 28).
The church is about the “people of God” not some sort of “building of God.”
One of the central contentions of this book is that our marginal status as Christians in the West requires us to think differently about mission. One way is by dropping our preoccupation with church [defined as a building] (p. 85).
The foundation of Gospel community is the word of God (1 Peter 1:23). Nothing can supplant that foundation. If the word is first and final, then the way it says “to do” mission is important. Mission in the Bible is not primarily “attractional” (e.g., “come and see”) but “go and tell.” Even when crowds came to Jesus, he was “among them.”
Much of the message of this book is broken down into four basic truths about God. These liberating truths are for those we pastor and those who pastor (p. 76).
God is great, so we do not have to be in control.
God is glorious, so we do not have to fear others.
God is good, so we do not have to look elsewhere.
God is gracious, so we do not have to prove ourselves.
The discussion of pastoring based on the greatness, glory, goodness, and grace of God (pp. 82-83) was the most helpful and convicting part of the book for me. It helped me identify some latent sin in my heart toward God and the church. As a result, I could identify with various levels of “over-pastoring” (e.g., self-importance, domination, micro-managing, proving myself) and “under-pastoring” (e.g., fear of others, conflict avoidance, seeing people as burdens.”The same truths that inform pastoring are truths to be proclaimed to those we are seeking to reach with the gospel. This book is wonderful in its biblical depth, theological acumen, and cultural analysis. However, it is also very practical. The chapter on “everyday evangelism” recognizes the necessity of sharing the “good news” on which our faith is built but also the difficulty that many of us have. Not everyone is a natural evangelist! How do you develop the ability to share the gospel in everyday life?
Make your everyday conversations with other believers about the gospel! By talking about Jesus more with your Christian friends you will find it easier to talk about Jesus with your non-Christian friends (pp. 111-112). “If you find it hard to talk about Jesus with Christians, then how do you expect to talk about him with unbelievers?”
Let your unbelieving friends in on your everyday Christian community. If your unbelieving and believing friends are sharing a meal at your house, your unbelieving friends are bound to overhear your conversations about Christ (p. 112).
Don’t assume that people have a Christian background. As a result, your gospel presentations must be more holistic, more big-picture, and more patient (p. 112).
“Sometimes less is more” (p. 113). Silence is okay. Give people time to think. Give the Holy Spirit some space to work. Don’t expect that everyone can make the journey that has taken you a lifetime in a few minutes.
Allow the people you are sharing the gospel with to ask their questions. Don’t just answer the “popular” objections to Christianity.
Chester and Timmis suggest that “story” is the primary way that people in the modern world interpret life. As such, everyone has a “story” that includes their version of salvation. Look for points of intersection between the “true” gospel story and the functional gospel story that most people have.
The authors bring the book “full circle.” They started explaining the marginal status of modern Christianity and end similarly “at the margins.” As such, the Biblical admonition to expect persecution and suffering should be taken seriously. The result is a paradoxical coexistence of joy and grief amidst suffering. But suffering is no threat to the will of God. Suffering has no power over the “hope of glory” (e.g., 1 Peter 1:6, 4:13).
In the end, the authors are challenging the church to take the mission of God seriously “every day.”
Let me be up front, I am not a fan of American politics. I think they are divisive and reductionistic, focused less on doing what is right (or searching for what is right) and more on getting re-elected. I hate the false dichotomy that Americans have been fed for so long that one party has the moral high ground compared to the other. Both parties have proven to be tribalistic and self-focused with more concern for personal gain than the common good.
That being said, one issue on which I just can’t move is the issue of abortion. I believe that the protection of all human life is not a political issue but a divine mandate by God (e.g., Gen. 9:5-6; Deut. 27:25; Ps. 127:3; Psalm 139:13-15; Deut. 30:19). I believe the government should protect the freedom of all people, but I don’t buy into the argument that this is a “women’s choice” issue. One of the strongest denouncements of abortion came from the mouth of John Piper a number of years ago. In response to President Obama’s statements on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Piper spoke with prophetic eloquence and power. What I love about his response is that is drenched in love and respect for the then newly elected president (a sentiment not all can echo). Listen carefully to a passionate plea to protect the most innocent among us. The video is only a few minutes long but every word is drenched in prayer, power, and Biblical conviction.
Our church supports a local organization that helps women in crisis pregnancy situations. I would encourage you to seek out such organizations that are on the front lines of helping pregnant women and their babies. Pray for them and give to them because it is more than a cause.
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.
Recently I preached a message on Philippians 1:27-2:11, essentially the central passage in Philippians arguing that we are to be “together for the gospel.” Christian unity is from God through his Spirit and is centered on the gospel. As such, it is infused with grace and always gives the benefit of the doubt to others. Because it is “gospel-centered” it isn’t based on personal preferences or opinions so there is room for diversity. As Christians brothers and sisters we can be united in purpose (i.e., the gospel) while being very different in many areas. If we flatten our churches to external uniformity rather than Spirit-filled unity we rob the gospel of its power.
After I preached the message I ran across this article that had one really interesting quote in response to the complaint some might have that they “don’t agree with everything that is being preached”:
You know what? Neither do I and I’m the pastor. As such I fully reserve the right to disagree with myself. And every now and then I do exactly that. Why? Because I’m learning. I’m growing. I’m asking questions. And my hope is that those I pastor are doing likewise. If you insist that your pastor agree with you on every little thing under the sun, you are going to either hop from church to church for the rest of your life in perpetual disappointment or you will eventually give up and drop out altogether. Chances are you are not going to agree with everything that is preached anywhere. As long as your pastor isn’t preaching… heresy, you can afford to disagree on secondary issues. The truth is when you choose to stay despite disagreeing on some things, you, your pastor and your church are better for it.
If you want to hear my plea for “unity for gospel” you can watch the message below:
I’m in that place again. You may be familiar with it yourself. You know, that place of inadequacy, uncertainty, and doubt. Paul described it as “weakness.” Everyone gets there sometime. For some it takes on the full symptoms of debilitating depression. I can’t always explain what gets me hear. Fear? Confusion? Sin? I’m not sure I always know. Other times it’s plenty obvious.
I guess it’s good to admit that I don’t have the answers. I’m such a ‘know-it-all’ sometimes. But life has decided to prove me wrong. Take that back, God has decided to prove me wrong. There is too much I don’t know and too much I can’t do. I’d rather have less answers and know God more.
Today I’m choosing to accept my “weakness.” My inadequacy seems to be the best platform for God to display his power (2 Corinthians 12:9). In fact, I think that recognizing my complete inability to fulfill the tasks which God has assigned (2 Corinthians 2:16) is a wonderful foundation from which to work. My weakness is a beautiful showcase for God’s glory.
It seems that everyone is so easily offended. I’ve watched from the sidelines as comedians navigate which words are in and which words are out (sometimes at the expense of honesty). Political correctness dominates the cultural conversation but usually without a careful understanding of language and morality. Instead, arbitrary preference and magical words restrain truth-telling.
The same seems true in the church. So many people are looking for an opportunity to be offended. Often they are offended on behalf of other people (an odd phenomenon). It just seems that a lot of amateur referees are waiting to blow their whistles. As a result, those who are called to lead and challenge are often forced to mute the force of their message for fear of upsetting or unsettling. There is no room for pandering in the church (2 Tim. 4:3).
There are clearly things in the Bible that are offensive. In fact, God’s Word intentionally offends and disrupts (1 Cor. 1:18, 21, 23; Gal. 1:10, 5:11, 6:12-14). Jesus was anything but politically correct. Paul was far from gentile in his speech. The prophets of the Hebrew Bible are not the kind to invite to a formal dinner party.
Sometimes, to expose sin and make room for truth it takes a disturbance. Maybe this comfortable ‘don’t rock the boat’ attitude is hampering our growth in Christ. In my life, my greatest times of spiritual growth come in the midst chaos. I’ve learned more from the teachers that have challenged me than the ones who let my complacency suffice.
Recently, I read this interesting quote: “the easily offended are missing the point.” If I am on guard (always critiquing, always judging) then I am not listening, gleaning, discerning, or participating. As the same author reminds, “Learn how to glean good lessons from bad teachers.”
I have said for some time that my favorite book on pastoral ministry is John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. While every point may not be exactly in line with my own pastoral convictions, it gets the essentials right, puts the focus in the right place, and is never short on challenging statements.
The second edition of this book was just released. The pastors at our church are working through this book at our monthly meeting. With the new edition came a few new chapters. I wanted to share a portion of one such chapter. The author is trying to explain how God can be for his glory and for us. In defending why he as (over?) emphasized God’s self-glory he describes the plight of many Christians (so-called):
I feel a special burden for the millions of nominal Christians who are not born again who believe God loves them and yet are on their way to hell. And the difference between them and a born-again believer is this: What’s the bottom, the decisive foundation, of their happiness? As you penetrate down deeper and deeper to the core, or the bottom, of what makes you happy?
Millions of nominal Christians have never experienced a fundamental alteration of that foundation of happiness. Instead, they have absorbed the notion that becoming Christian means turning to Jesus to get what you always wanted before you were born again. So, if you wanted wealth, you stop depending on yourself for it, and by prayer and faith and obedience you depend on Jesus for wealth. If you wanted to be healthy, you turn from mere human cures to Jesus as the source of your health. If you wanted to escape the pain of hell, you turn to Jesus for the escape. If you wanted to have a happy marriage, you come to Jesus for help. If you wanted peace of conscience and freedom from guilt feelings, you turn to Jesus for these things.
In other words, to become a Christian, in this way of seeing things, is to have all the same desires you had as an unregenerate person — only you get them from a new source, Jesus. And He feels so loving when you do. But there’s no change at the bottom of your heart and your cravings. No change at the bottom of what makes you happy. There’s no change in the decisive foundation of your joy. You just shop at a new store. The dinner is still the same, you just have a new butler. The bags in the hotel room are still the same; just a new bellhop.
This promo video is of Jeff Vanderstelt, a pastor at Soma Communities, is very challenging. I would hope that I would personally view all things through the lens of the gospel. In addition, I hope I am teaching and equipping my church to think this way.
There is this perpetual myth floating around that has implications for our understanding of wisdom, decision-making, and the will of God. It is a myth that is pervasive but proves wanting with a little Biblical and logical examination. However, without being examined many use it as an excuse to ignore any counsel that is contrary to choices they already want to make or have made.
I call it, “THE MYTH OF EXPERIENCE.”
Can I Know If I Haven’t Tried?
This myth has a number of iterations. For example, I do a lot of ministry with families. Some of the most fruitful pastoral opportunities involve teenagers and their parents. However, I do not have any children of my own. Therefore, when I have a difference of opinion with a parent over a particular issue the invariable response they give is, “you don’t understand because you don’t have kids.” Really? A doctor doesn’t have to have a disease to know the cure.
The whole purpose of advice is to help others avoid experiencing something that is bad or harmful or help them try something they haven’t tried. If experience is necessary then Christians can just get rid of the Bible and start experimenting (it appears some have already started down this path). This goes along with the old notion that “people have to learn the hard way.” Maybe some people choose to learn the hard way but they sure don’t have to learn the hard way. If possible, I would rather learn from the mistakes of others than experience them myself.
I am not trying to denigrate the value experience can have. Those who have made poor choices or experienced particular things are able to understand and empathize in a more robust way with others in similar situations. However, their experiences are not necessary for godly decision-making or figuring out “what is right.”
Experience Can Be Negative
It is important to remember that experience is not always positive. First, some experiences irreparably harm you or have consequences that never go away. In addition, personal experience makes objectivity more difficult than it already is. None of us see the world from a completely fair and unbiased perspective. None of us interpret history objectively. No Christian can look at the Bible and fully understand its meaning without being affected (either positively or negatively) by their own worldview and experiences. As a result, it might be possible that someone who has not experienced a particular situation may be able to more fully appraise the possible outcomes without being unfairly influenced by their own past.
Experience Can Cloud Objectivity
Most of us interpret things the way we want them to be rather than they way they are or should be. I have a recent example that makes this perfectly clear. I have some mutual friends that recently had a baby. On her blog, my friend carefully explained all of the positives of breastfeeding in public. Her main arguments were based on the fact that it was natural (it’s a part of the human body’s natural experience) and necessary (a baby has to eat). Purely because I sensed a logical inconsistency I pointed out that a lot of activities are natural and necessary (e.g., going to the bathroom) but our society still requires us to do them in private. Now, I’m not trying to rile up all of the lactating mothers out there. I’m just using this recent incident as an example. My friend (as a mother) was having a hard time seeing things from an unbiased point-of-view and was insinuating that when my wife and I have a baby we’ll understand. Basically, since we haven’t experienced this situation we have no right or ability to comment! Personal experience will increase our empathy of how difficult this issue is but it shouldn’t change our understanding of the issue at hand. One could argue that I am just as biased in the other direction since I do not have a hungry child whose cries melt my heart. That is my point, experience actually makes it harder to achieve objectivity (in both directions)! Since no one can remove their experiences or lack thereof, how do we decide what is right? We’ll get to that a little later.
Age and Experience
Another variation of this myth involves age. Many people argue that “experience = wisdom.” We all know this isn’t the case. I have met a some older people that are exceeding experienced and exceedingly wise. On the other hand, I have met a lot of experienced, elderly people who are immature and unwise. What is the difference? Experience is not synonymous with wisdom. One can be wise and inexperienced. One can also be old and inexperienced. I have met a number of elderly people that haven’t experienced a lot in there lives. However, wisdom and experience combine to make an unmatched resource for discernment, advice, encouragement, information, and much more.
Wisdom and Truth Are Independent of Personal Experience
How can one find wisdom? The theme of wisdom is prevalent throughout the Bible. In the New Testament, Jesus is described in terms of the Old Testament wisdom literature (e.g., Prov. 8:1-36, 1 Cor. 1:18-25). Jesus is the Word and Wisdom of God. There is hope for those of us who don’t have sufficient life experience. We can still have wisdom via the person of Jesus Christ.
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength… It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God (1 Cor. 1:18, 25, 30).
When Paul is talking to Timothy he explicitly tells him that his youth and, in some regard, inexperience do not negate his calling, his giftedness, and (most importantly) the truth that he has received (1 Timothy 4). The mature in his congregation are worthy of respect but the foundation of the church is not on their experiences but on the Word of God to which they must be faithful.
Ultimately, it is not one’s experience or inexperience that should guide decision-making. Jesus is the power and example of wisdom; he is the truth.
1. Experience is not necessary to make the right decision.
2. Experience does not equal wisdom.
3. Experience is not always positive, it can be harmful.
4. Personal experiences can cloud one’s ability to make a sound, Biblical decision.
5. Experience and wisdom work together to produce godly discernment and judgment.
6. Experience is not the final determiner of what is wise and true, Jesus is.