Category Archives: church

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?

“Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission,” some thoughts

41TfHkM5ZmL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Chester and Timmis offer another insightful, Biblical, and helpful book on “church.” Their previous book Total Church is 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).

  1. God is great, so we do not have to be in control.
  2. God is glorious, so we do not have to fear others.
  3. God is good, so we do not have to look elsewhere.
  4. God is gracious, so we do not have to prove ourselves.

IMG_2758The 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.”IMG_2759The 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?

  1. 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?”
  2. 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).
  3. 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).
  4. “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.
  5. 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.”

Unity vs. Agreement

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:

My Preaching Essentials (Part 3)

PreacherVisionAnd the list continues from here and here
7. Clear. This one seems pretty obvious. However, I know how much fuzzy thinking can make fuzzy sermons. In addition, I know from personal experience (I repent!) how trying to sound smart can ruin a message. If the people don’t understand then you have communicated well. (Ephesians 4:12-13; Ecclesiastes 12:9–10)
8. Expectant. This one is tough for me. I often settle into defeat too soon. It is easy for duty to become an end in itself. However, the Bible makes clear that God is powerful and that his word will accomplish much. I must preach with a heart that trusts God will accomplish his purposes. I must preach with confidence that God will finish what he started! (Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 4:16; Isaiah 55:11)
9. Theological. Theology is the task of translating the timeless gospel to a particular culture. For that reason, theologians through the ages have used contemporary language and thought to explain the truth of God’s word. Just think about it. Why don’t we just read the Bible when we assemble as the church? Why do we do more than that? Why do we explain and apply the message? Are we adding to the timeless gospel? No, we are articulating the timeless message to our culture. The preacher is bridging the linguistic and cultural gap between the Bible and his audience. He is showing how the world of the Bible is the real world that makes sense of all our current experiences, hopes, and fears. A good preacher connects his audience to God’s word. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
It is because preaching is not exposition only but communication, not just the exegesis of a text but the conveying of a God-given message to living people who need to hear it.
John Stott