Tag Archives: God

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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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.

“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.”

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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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