A sermon I preached on John 3:16-21:
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 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).
- 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: