Category Archives: gospel

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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“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:

Familiarity with Sin (Part 2)

In yesterday’s post I discussed the need uncage the gospel. Jesus is the only person worthy of the risk to which Christians are called, a risk that involves everything (Matthew 10:38-39). On the flip-side of the sin of familiarity is my often too familiar relationship with sin.

But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it. (Genesis 4:7)

In the same way that I try to maintain and manage the gospel (to avoid its totalizing demands), I often try to manage my sin. My point is simple: sin is not to be tamed, it is to be killed. I have learned to regulate my sin so as not to be caught or not let it interfere with my life. Even when I have my sin “under control” I am not often experiencing the reality of the freedom from sin that God promises (Romans 8:2).

Even with the most positive intentions, I find that most strategies regarding sin are centered around management rather than victory. The Bible clearly tells us to flee from temptation (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:18, 10:14; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22). However, avoidance is not a strategy for overcoming sin. In fact, there is a time to not only flee but to fight (e.g., James 4:7).

When our lives are connected to Christ we are not managing our sin or hoping to avoid situations over which we have no control but are actually fighting our sin.

If you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:13).

John Owen, the seventeenth century Oxford theologian and churchman, is famously quoted in reference to this verse: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Now, this post could easily devolve into a hodgepodge of strategies for “sin-killing.” I suspect there is a place for such strategies but the focus in Romans 8 (and 7 for that matter) seems to be clearly focused on the reality of salvation and the hope of redemption. We have been set free from sin and death by the Spirit (v. 2). Sure, there is a fleshly way to live and a Spirit way to live (vv. 5-8) but, as Paul says, you “are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you” (v. 9).

So, whatever battle exists between the flesh and Spirit occurs in the “in between” of the “already” and “not yet” (as so many theologians have reminded us). Therefore, the outcome of our spiritual war is not in question though the battle continually rages. Our sure victory provides all the more motivation and confidence that we can, in fact, destroy our sin. Our sin is not something we have to learn to live with.

Sin of Familiarity (Part 1)

Seek to see and feel the gospel as bigger as years go by rather than smaller. Our temptation is to think that the gospel is for beginners and then we go on to greater things. But the real challenge is to see the gospel as the greatest thing — and getting greater all the time.

John Piper

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my unhealthy familiarity with the gospel. I’ve sat through thousands of sermons. I’ve seen all sorts of clever illustrations and explanations. I’ve heard preachers whisper with seriousness the importance of the cross and scream with passion our need for a savior. I must confess, after a while I just got used to it all. I’d heard it before; it seemed familiar.

When I say the gospel became familiar, I am not speaking of intimacy and depth of knowledge. I mean something more like the famous phrase that says “familiarity breeds contempt.” I became presumptuous toward God and his grace. I took it all for granted.

That’s just the way we tend to be. Things that are magnificent and awe-inspiring quickly become normal and, dare I say, we feel entitled toward them. It reminds me of a famous bit from comedian Louis C. K.:

Many of us bring an entitlement mentality into our relationship with Christ. His love and grace becomes expected. As a result we enter God’s presence with an ease and flippancy that is unthinkable in the Bible. Paul was never so presumptuous; though he knew his salvation was secure he still approached God with humility.

“I desire to know Him and the power of His resurrection, participating in His suffering, being molded by His death, if, perhaps, I might attain the resurrection from the dead”

Philippians 3:11 emphasis added

I can’t help but think of Isaiah’s experience in the presence of God (Isaiah 6). Just compare the prideful and audacious attitude of Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26) with the humble “woe is me” attitude of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5). Isaiah’s experience was life-altering. He could not be in God’s presence without conviction of sin, an experience of forgiveness, and a clear commission to go and tell others. It seems that I’ve so domesticated the gospel that I’ve effectively minimized its totalizing commands.

I remember another stand up comedian discussing the infamous Siegfried and Roy incident. The famous (and famously flamboyant) Las Vegas duo successfully trained wild cats (e.g., lions, tigers, etc.) to stand on glittery balls, jump through flaming hoops, all while being poked with sticks and such. Not the wisest idea if you ask me. You see, if a domesticated housecat gets mad at you, it might hurt but you’ll win. Anything I can punt 25 yards is gonna lose. However, when a 600 pound tiger gets mad — you lose! And so it happened for half of the Las Vegas duo. Doing the same show over and over again does not negate the fact that a wild animal is not safe.

The gospel is not something to be domesticated or tamed. The gospel cannot be treated as simple and safe. The gospel can never be routine and mundane. The gospel is not to be managed or maintained. The gospel is to be obeyed. We are to risk everything to follow Jesus and spread the life-changing news of his death and resurrection.