What Is The Gospel Meant To Be?

Published on March 15, 2010 by CT in Blog, Questions

8

Last week, I asked the question:  “Can we overemphasize the gospel?”  Hundreds have considered this question, and a number have weighed in on the issue.  One reader in particular, Russ, ended his comments by asking:  “What is the gospel scripturally meant to be?”  I posed the question back to him, and here’s what he said:

I do not know in full.  The scriptures you provided were a good and proper start.  I think that in some sense, the gospel is to function as our everything.  Or to borrow from Tim Keller, the gospel should function as a complete worldview.  I have recently been affected by the all-encompassing tone of Paul’s self reflection in Philippians 3:7-15, a text where Paul essentially seems to say that he wants to know the gospel well.  We usually focus on the “knowing Christ” aspect of the passage, but Paul seems to include other aspects of the Gospel as personal and effecting, or at least as informing the dynamic of His relationship with Christ.

I feel that the underlying concern here has more to do with the heart than with language or a movement.  I think your post could stand with using the exact same reasoning but could address an over-emphasizing of the terms “Jesus” or “Glory of God” in an unedifying polarity just as well.

The punditry with movements can be good a thing, especially to preserve and refine them, but I also feel that there is really only one true movement:  Christ moved from heaven to earth, from the cross to the grave for our sins, and victoriously back to the Father, and so now we move in that reality.

Personally, I am not very far removed from the error which we wish to avoid here.  So what is my hope?

My hope ultimately is Christ.  But how can I hope on Him and His grace?  I have come to learn only through the gospel alone. I am looking for God to tend to my heart, but I am expecting that to happen only through a deeper realization of the gospel.

So I ask you the same question Russ asked me:  “What is the gospel meant to be?”

*Comments have been edited for form and not content (emphasis added by editor)

Continue Reading

Can We Overemphasize The Gospel?

Published on March 11, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

16

I love The Gospel Coalition, and here’s why:

“The Gospel Coalition is a group of (mostly) pastors who are deeply committed to the gospel…and want to think out of the framework of the good news of Christ—crucified, risen on our behalf, reconciling us to God, preparing us for eternity.” DA Carson

“We’ve got our eyes fixed on the fact that the gospel of Jesus Christ needs to be central—it needs to drive everything that we do in ministry and in life.” Joshua Harris

“The gospel is not proclaimed if Christ is not proclaimed.” TGC Confessional Statement

“The gospel is not just a body of doctrinal content.  It’s a power—it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe.  It’s not just about God’s power—it is God’s power.” Tim Keller

“I am gripped by any gathering of people who will give themselves to the preservation and the exaltation of the fullness of the gospel, because in the end, my soul gets satisfied with the greatness of God, and God gets all the glory that He should get by being the end for which [all things] exist.” John Piper

There is beauty and grace and strength and depth in these words.  I find deepening affections for God as I consider the human brokenness and Spirit-filled power in this global community which has oriented itself around the greatest news in human history:  the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In light of these affections, I was troubled by the question that recently came to mind:  Is it possible to overemphasize the gospel?

Here’s why I ask.  The way we think and talk are products of the people we read and talk with and listen to.  I didn’t grow up saying “authentic community,” “missional,” “there’s a tension here,” “the sufficiency of Christ,” “the glory of God,” or any of these phrases I find myself saying and writing now.  I have picked these up from pastors and writers and friends, who I assume picked them up from other pastors and writers and friends, and on and on until we find we are all beginning to share a new common language to express old ideas.

These kinds of phrases are useful in that they represent ideas we believe, and these ideas ultimately inform the ways in which we live.  That’s why the language we use is so crucial—if we hear and say something enough, we will often find our lives changed by the power of words.

One of the most common phrases I’ve been hearing recently from pastors all across the country is a variation on the term gospel.  Usage has taken on many forms:  “gospel-centered living,” “living out of the gospel,” “the centrality of the gospel,” “gospel-centered ministry,” and the like.  These phrases are a testament to the stirring of God in our churches and the impact of communities like The Gospel Coalition in which ideas that matter are shaped and shared.

There is clearly a movement underway—a movement towards gospel-centered ministry and gospel-centered living (see).  And this is a movement worth joining.  As John Piper says, “When the [gospel] is lost, the glory of Christ is lost.”  So the stakes of this movement have eternal consequences.

With movements comes movement—a shift from one perspective to another.  And because we are fallen, we have the tendency to shift too far at times.  This is the classic pendulum swing we see in religious movements and social movements alike.  We often find it easier to react against what we don’t believe rather than beginning with what we do, and the outcome is often intellectual and emotional polarization.  So I wonder if we’ve done the same thing with our usage of the term gospel.

This brings me back to my question:  Is it possible to overemphasize the gospel?  Or to ask it another way:  what dangers might exist in overusing the term?

To answer this question, it may be useful to look at God’s word, where we find that the gospel is…

…A promise of God (Romans 1:2)

… A command to be obeyed (1 Peter 4:17)

… Good news to be believed in (Mark 1:15)

…A message to be preached out of the power of the cross of Christ, not out of human wisdom (1 Cor 1:17)

…The revelation of God’s righteousness (Romans 1:17)

…The power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16)

…A seed that bears fruit (Colossians 1:6)

…A worthy cause for which to lose our life (Mark 8:35)

… A source of great blessing (1 Corinthians 9:23)

God has much to say about the gospel, His gospel, and it’s clear that this good news is filled with glory.  But we should note that what God has to say about His gospel is largely spoken of in terms of means.  The gospel is a promise of God in order to set His people apart.  It is a command of God in order to face judgment and be saved.  It is good news to believed in order to join God’s kingdom.

I recently heard a pastor speaking to the power of the gospel to touch all parts of our lives, not just the moment of our conversion, but he spoke of it in terms of an end and not a means.  He said things like, “We need to live out of the gospel,” “we need to trust in the gospel,” “we need to keep the gospel in front of us all the time,” and “the gospel heals us.”

I don’t mean to object over trivialities, because I know the intentions behind the words were meant to honor God, but this is where our language is vital.  The gospel is a means—not an end.  So the way we talk about the gospel and think about the gospel is paramount.  It amounts to whether we orient our lives towards the journey or the destination.

The destination is why The Gospel Coalition exists:  to generate a unified effort among all peoples—an effort that is zealous to honor Christ and multiply his disciples, joining in a true coalition for Jesus” (The Gospel for All of Life: Preamble).  And this must be many have joined this movement, to partner with people who are orienting their lives around a Person who is the destination we all seek.

So I conclude that we cannot overemphasize the gospel so long as we keep the Source, Substance, and End to the gospel in full view.  Pastors, we as your flocks need to hear you remind us continually that the gospel touches every part of our lives—that it is the firm foundation on which we walk in our journey of faith.  But more importantly, we need you to point us to the end of this road, to Jesus, for whom, and about whom, the gospel exists.

Continue Reading

11

“Wait a minute,” you might be saying.  I thought I just read this post.  Actually, you read that post.

My wife, Anna, went on a Women’s Retreat this weekend with our church, and before she left, she asked me to return a half gallon of milk she bought last week.  She said that she had purchased the milk before realizing it was set to expire the following day.  She called the store to see if she could make an exchange, and they said that would be fine.

So I went to the store on Sunday afternoon to make the exchange.  I explained the situation to the woman at the Customer Service counter, and she told me to go ahead and pick out a new carton.  After asking for directions, I headed back to the dairy section.  But when I picked up the replacement carton and checked the expiration date, I noticed it was the same as the one I was returning:  4/4/10.

I realized that 4/4/10 was not last week.  You might have realized it too.  That’s basically a month from now.  At that point, I wasn’t sure if I even knew how to read expiration dates correctly, so I turned the carton over and looked for anything else that looked like a date.  But 4/4/10 was the only date I could find.

I then realized that Anna had made her purchase on 3/3/10, so I suspected she just made an oversight on the date, focusing on the day rather than the month.  I can’t blame her—I do this kind of thing all the time.

But then I thought:  “The woman in Customer Service has already said I can make the exchange.  And the milk has been sitting in the car for 3 days, so it’s definitely bad now.  Maybe I can just make the swap anyway.”  And I almost walked out of the store.  But then the Spirit spoke to me once more:  “How much did you say your integrity was worth?”

I quickly came to my spiritual senses.  Of course I couldn’t make this swap.  It wasn’t the store’s fault that the milk was bad now—it was mine for leaving in the car for 3 days.  And if my integrity was worth more than $2.25, it was certainly worth more than $3.76.

All this reminded me of something C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before.  And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature; either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself…Each of us at each moment is progressing to one state or the other.

I was amazed by the fact that my decision last week to pay for the train ticket instead of getting away with not paying had not left a deep enough impression on me to make me a person of integrity.  In other words, I wasn’t fixed.  Here I was again, facing the same moral dilemma, and my instincts were towards evil.  But I did notice on this second occasion that it was easier to make the right choice; I had already practiced last week.

I suppose there’s a certain amount of spiritual inertia present in our daily walks with God.  The more quickly we submit to the Spirit’s leading in our life, the easier it becomes to continue walking with Him.  But every step we take off the path, going deeper and deeper into the mire, the harder it becomes to turn back.

God grant us the mercy and favor to continue making small, right choices each day, to become more and more of a heavenly creature, so that when He asks us to make a big, right choice, we find it to be one of the easiest decisions of all.

Question:  Do you find obedience gets easier each time you obey, and vice-versa?

Continue Reading

I Almost Sold My Integrity for $2.25

Published on March 5, 2010 by CT in Blog, Stories

5

Thursday, late afternoon.

Downtown Minneapolis.

Nichollet Avenue and 5th.

Lite-Rail Station.

Clear sky, cold air.

Credit card in hand.

Ticket machine.

Credit card doesn’t work.

Thinking the machine is broken.

Step back.

Woman buys a ticket.

Man buys a ticket.

Train arrives.

Credit card back in wallet.

Board the train.

Sit and work.

Bag falls over as the train lurches.

Setting sunlight streams in the windows.

Exit the train.

Check my pockets for wallet and phone.

Up the escalator.

Another ticket machine.

Walk past.

Spirit speaks.

Pause and consider.

Walk back.

Buy ticket.

Toss it into the trash.

Walk away.

Question:  How much is your integrity worth?

Continue Reading

An Ascent From Tragedy

Published on March 1, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

2

Six weeks ago, the earth broke under Haiti.  This past weekend, it broke again under Chile.  The Western Church had an awakening of sorts during the intervening time—perhaps not a deep, spiritual awakening, but surely one of compassion.  People who had just celebrated a Christmas and New Year in a time of relative comfort and prosperity were suddenly moved to give, go, pray, weep, and yearn  for understanding during a time without many answers.

Some of us may find ourselves with more questions after this second quake.  We may consider the first event to have simply been something that happens from time to time.  But we may look at the second and wonder what is really going on.  Is God truly sovereign?  Is He punishing nations?  Is He permitting tragedies for an ultimate good?

These questions should not cause us to withdraw—we should now give, go, pray, and weep for Chile as we continue to do for Haiti—but it should give us a broader sense of perspective.  There was a period of great mobilization after Haiti’s quake where hearts were torn and pockets opened and planes boarded and prayers lifted up.  And there was a sense of great urgency, that the needs were real and present.

But Haiti’s needs have not gone away, and Chile’s needs are now real and present.  So as we mobilize once more, we may find more of a sense of calm than before.  We may feel these new needs are urgent, but they are perhaps a different kind of urgent.  There may no longer be the great burst of excitement that comes when first setting foot on a new mission field; this may feel more like the toil of ministry.

The excitement is good, but the toil can be better.  The reason I say this is that new excitement in a life of faith is never static.  The enthusiasm or agitation that we feel deep within our spirits always moves somewhere else after a time.  And these soul-deep feelings tend to move within a framework of worldview.

We often start with a local worldview; our focus is primarily on ourselves and the world immediately around us.  We care most about our families, and our jobs, and our to-do lists; we rarely think of others on a broader scale, or even at all in many cases.

But then tragedy strikes, and our hearts are awakened from a state of slumber to a global worldview.  Those involved in the tragedy at hand are first and foremost on our minds, but we slowly begin to consider the billions in the world today, many of who are in great need.  Our hearts go out to them, as do our prayers and our money.  But over time, the initial burst of compassion tends to fall away and is replaced by one of two things:  either descent toward a local worldview once more, or an ascent to a universal one.

We descend to a local worldview because our burst of compassion often comes as a superficial reaction.  I say superficial not because the feelings are not genuine, but simply because they don’t last.  There’s no root.  We begin to feel as if there’s too much need, that we’re helpless to make any significant impact, and this leads us to a sense of despair.  When our roots go only to the shallow depth of our own hearts, our compassion will wither because we are ultimately trusting in ourselves.  But when these roots go into a heart that has been cultivated by the Spirit, the despair we feel is replaced by a dependence on God because we recognize we truly are helpless.  This is the path of ascent that comes from a universal worldview.

There’s nothing specific about a universal worldview that is inherently better in terms of the material world.  The universe is not geocentric, but God’s redemptive story is.  The stage of Earth has hosted the Star of this story, and the vastness of the heavens serve as the grand auditorium to make this stage all the more magnificent.  But a universal worldview accomplishes its objective, not because it is simply larger, but because it raises our thoughts beyond ourselves, and all of global humanity, to God Himself.  And when the eyes of our hearts and minds and spirits are open to God rather than focused on man, we are empowered to persist in compassion for the hurting and the lost.

In fact, this is the only way to sustain this kind of God-empowered compassion.  A universal worldview doesn’t leave us with our heads in the heavens, after all.  It brings us to the most local level of all—our own hearts—as we see our need to abide in Jesus, and that abiding is what empowers us to love both locally and globally.  This is why we pray more and trust more when we feel helpless, because we recognize our ongoing need for God.

So when we feel the sway of despair, or the toil of ministry, may God strengthen us to continue in love for the Church, the needy, and the lost.  May the sense of our own weakness not draw us back to focus on ourselves, but may it push us onward and upwards to the heart of God, where He will work in and through us in the most intimate way, empowering us to live and love, both locally and globally, for His glory and our joy.

Question:  What do you do when you begin feeling you are helpless to help the world’s tragedies?

Continue Reading

6 Steps to Changing Others

Published on February 25, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

2

One of my favorite pastimes is thinking of all the things I would like to change in other people.  I find it far less interesting, and far more intrusive, to think about changing myself.  Digging to find the rough spots in my soul is difficult; throwing stones at others is far easier.

I’ve developed quite a talent for this.  I can point out the flaws of people I’ve known for years.  I can pinpoint the failings of people I’ve just recently met.  And I can even sometimes imagine the imperfections in people I don’t even know.

It’s important to know I’m an equal-opportunity fault-identifier.  I can find fault in my boss, or my wife, or my pastor, or my friends, or my parents, or my brother, or my in-laws, or co-workers, or my neighbors, or even strangers who pass by with an odd look or a certain outfit.  And I’m not talking about superficial changes, like “I wish she would not wear that hat,” or “I wish he didn’t leave his water glass half-full every time.”  I’m talking about meaningful, truth-related, character issues.

Noticing the flaws in others is ultimately a fruitless activity, however, unless you also have the courage to say it to their face, or even better, the fortitude to say it behind their backs.  Fault-finding is like a good story—it’s far more powerful and enjoyable when shared with others.

Sarcasm aside, there’s deep, dark sin to be had in this kind of thinking.  We bury ourselves in miry pits of self-righteousness, all the while thinking we are sparkling clean.  Finding fault in others is a sure recipe for a judgmental spirit, blindness to our own sin, increased isolation from others, and callousness towards God.

The irony is that we do this sort of thing with the best of intentions.  The Pharisees meant well when they saw the specks in others’ eyes.  It’s simply that they missed the logs in their own—and not on purpose.  After all, if you actually knew you had a log in your own eye, you would certainly remove it.  So a judgmental spirit, spiritual blindness, isolation, and callousness are never the goals of people of our sort—they are just the results.

I’ve seen a logical progression for how we get into and out of this kind of thinking:

  1. You don’t care.  People that don’t care deeply about truth, particularly God’s truth, aren’t going to be as concerned when they see truth-kinds of failings in others.  So before we commit our lives to Jesus, we aren’t always as concerned about seeing truth being upheld in the world
  2. You do care, and you focus on individual others. This stage is where we begin caring about truth, and we naturally focus on others as a consequence of being human, so we begin to pick up on the moral failings of others.  As our self-centered view of the world plays out, we want others to change so they are oriented towards us in a manner that is more convenient for us.
  3. You do care, and you focus on general others.  This is the stage where many of us spend most of our time.  We’ve learned through experience that individuals don’t like being told about what we’d like to change about them.  And we’ve found it’s safer to point out the failings in a general group of people than particular individuals.  Speaking in generalities also helps us feel as if we’re concerned about truth on a larger scale, which makes us feel that we have a more Godly, global perspective.
  4. You do care, and you focus on yourself as you see yourself.  This is the beginning of the hard stages, which is why few of us spend much time here.  In this stage, we have given up on focusing on others, trusting that God is working in their hearts as well.  We give up in this way because we are slowly becoming overwhelmed by our sin.  It’s not that truth doesn’t matter to us anymore; it’s simply that we recognize that we’re not of much use to encouraging others when we’re so broken ourselves.
  5. You do care, and you focus on yourself as God sees you.  This is perhaps the hardest stage of all.  In the prior stage, we found that we are disgusted with who we are, and we’re beginning to embrace the righteousness we have in Jesus.  We do go through the process of comparing ourselves, not against others, but against Jesus, and we find that although we fall woefully short, we’re still loved and accepted by Him, because of Him.  This is the hardest stage of all, because it is so unnatural at first, but it is the birth of true humility.
  6. You do care, and you focus on God.  This is the stage of great wisdom because it’s the stage of greatest humility.  We embrace the realization that coming into the presence of God means forgetting about ourselves, not primarily because we’re wretched sinners, but because He is so much more glorious to behold.  Seeing God in this way leads to abiding in Jesus, and abiding in Jesus produces great fruit in our lives.  And producing great fruit in our lives often leads to change in others as well as they begin to behold the glories of God on their own.

Ultimately, changing other people is part of our Great Commission. We are to baptize people into the faith as a sign of their new creation.  We are to disciple them and teach them so they will grow into Christ-likeness.  But we do so not out of own effort, but as a byproduct of a life spent treasuring Jesus above all other things and inviting, encouraging, and exhorting others to treasure Him as well.  May God grant us passage through these stages of life so that we might collectively behold His glory, and may He change us all through the process.

Question:  How often do you want to change others, and how do you typically go about it?

Continue Reading

The New Fig Leaf

Published on February 22, 2010 by CT in Blog, Theology

5

Picture yourself naked.  In public.  What do you feel?  Exposed?  Self-conscious?  Ashamed?

Adam and Eve knew what it was like to feel this way.  They also knew what it was like to feel something else entirely.  Or perhaps what they also knew shouldn’t be described as a feeling at all.  Perhaps they simply had a lack of awareness of the fact that something was wrong with them, because nothing was wrong with them at first.

They lived in the garden and walked among the trees and made their home there, all while being naked.  Moses tells us:  “The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen 2:25).  But then something changed.  They were tempted, they sinned, they knew they were naked, and they hid.  All of a sudden, the freedom they had in relationship with God and one another was consumed by an overwhelming awareness of self.  And what they knew about themselves caused them to hide.

We’ve been hiding in the same way ever since.  Every human sins and therefore knows what it’s like to feel guilty or ashamed.  And every human hides these darker parts of themselves from other people.  Sometimes it seems that we, as Christians, can become especially adept at hiding, perhaps because we think we know what a “good Christian” looks like and talks like, and it’s not too hard to put a good face on a downtrodden spirit.

Our pastor, Pastor Mike, has been teaching a series called “What Do You Think God Thinks About You?” and he has been discussing our feelings of guilt and shame and how the gospel provides healing for us in these ways.  Pastor Mike has taught us to make a distinction between shame and guilt, and he describes shame as the feeling of not measuring up to society’s standards or expectations for us.  He makes a compelling argument for this, but as I thought about the difference between guilt and shame, I wondered if I could take his point one step further.

Perhaps we feel guilt because of what we’ve done and shame because of who we are.  Or to put it another way, we experience feelings of guilt because of the sins we’ve committed, and we feel ashamed because of the sinners we are.

If this is the case, then the gospel does provide the answer to both of our problems, but it does so in slightly different ways.  Our guilt creates a need for righteousness, which no amount of effort on our part can produce.  Here the power of the gospel brings us freedom from guilt in that Christ has become righteousness for us (2 Cor 5:21).  Our shame, however, creates a need for a new identity, which no amount of effort on our part can produce either.  Here the power of the gospel brings us freedom from shame in that we are new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17).

So living within the power of the gospel means trusting in Jesus as our righteousness to deliver us from guilt, and it means embracing our identity in Christ as a new creation to deliver us from shame.  In this way, the gospel has become the new fig leaf for us, not to cover up as it once did for Adam and Eve, but to cover over once for all for those of us who trust in Him and find our hope in Him.

So when we feel guilt, let us turn to Jesus as our righteousness, and when we feel shame, let us turn to Jesus as our identity.  As we do, our sense of exposure and self-consciousness and shame will slowly be replaced by a growing awareness that we stand, naked and exposed, before a Holy God, who declares us righteous and beloved, so that we never need feel ashamed again.

Continue Reading

I’ve Given Up Everything For This

Published on February 18, 2010 by CT in Blog, Kindling

11

When others’ words kindle my own flame:  Reflections on words by Lindsey Vonn, 2010 Olympic Champion.

“I’ve given up everything for this.  It means everything to me. It’s why I work hard.  I got what I came here to do.  I got a gold medal; I have what I want.”

Tears have a funny way of releasing things.  Lindsey Vonn’s tears were no different.  As she stood at the bottom of the mountain at Whistler, Olympic Gold as her prize, the Women’s Downhill Champion’s tears shone brightly in the sun.

She must have been thinking of all the years she spent training for this moment.  She must have been thinking of all the expectations that were placed on her shoulders as the favorite for these Games.  She must have been thinking of the pressure that mounted as she sustained a shin injury just two weeks before the Games began.

She had been single-minded in her goal of becoming the world’s best women’s downhill skier.  She had disciplined her body and her emotions for years as she trained for these Games.  And she had persevered through intense suffering and setback.  And now she stood as Olympic Champion.

Simply put, Lindsey’s tears were tears of joy, and release, and satisfaction.  She had every right to shed them, for this was her moment, one to be applauded and admired.  Her tears were the sweet, crowning jewels of her Olympic glory.

Here’s a truth we all know, and one Lindsey either knows already or will soon discover:  Olympic glory fades.  So does the glory from being a successful preacher, or pastor, or writer, or musician, or businessman, or businesswoman, or student.  We all strive for perishable wreaths at different times in our lives.  And we strive for them in vain.

You know well the passage where Paul compares himself to an athlete.  He writes:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Cor 9:24-25).

This echoes another passage, perhaps penned by Paul as well:

“Let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb 12:1-2).

So we gain an imperishable wreath when we are single-minded in our pursuit:  to obtain the prize promised by the gospel.  We gain an imperishable wreath when we lay aside the sin that clings to us, exercising self-control in all things.  And we gain an imperishable crown when we persevere in our race, enduring suffering as it comes, following Jesus every step of the way.

We may imagine that the bottom of our mountains will bring tears as joy and relief as well.  But the tears we shed are simply an expression of a deeper longing within us, a longing that will one day be satisfied.  Our tears today are just like anything in this world:  shadows of a brighter reality, or echoes of a sweeter song.

Our prize is a place with a Person, and this Person will “wipe away every tear from their eyes…neither shall there be crying…for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4).  It is in that day that we will wear our imperishable crowns of righteousness, because of Him and for His sake.  And in that day we will be satisfied by our greatest joy:  Jesus.

Congratulations to you, Lindsey. Your achievement is inspiring and well-deserved.  And as the glory of your triumph begins to fade, may you find (or continue to find) Jesus as your imperishable wreath.  And may we all see your inspiring example as a reflection of the higher call we have on our lives.  May we run the race with single-mindedness, exercising self-control, disciplining our bodies for the sake of the gospel, and persevering through suffering, all so that we might obtain the prize we seek:  eternity in the presence of the One whose glory never fades.

*This post includes updated language to make clear that I don’t know Vonn personally and do not mean to presume whether or not she is a follower of Christ.  I hope that she is!

Continue Reading

Why The Cross Matters Most

Published on February 15, 2010 by CT in Blog, Theology

7

Is it possible to talk too much about the cross?

I ask this question only because some preachers and writers and teachers seem to talk about the cross a lot.  Some do so almost continually.  We can understand why they might carry on in this way because we know the primacy and weight of Calvary.  But there are still times this thought crosses many of our minds:  “Great, so I understand the cross is important.  But can’t we move on to the next topic?”

We say this sort of thing when we feel our faith is about more than Jesus.  And in one sense, we can say this is true.  Our faith is about God’s glory, and our joy, and loving others, and meeting the needs of the oppressed, and being made holy, and sojourning through life, and laying up treasures in heaven, and all sorts of other things.  In this way, we are saying the expression of our faith is about many things.

But in another sense, the entirety of our faith is about Jesus.  God’s grand, redemptive story begins with a foretelling of the coming Seed.  His chosen servants foreshadow His mission.  His prophets herald His arrival.  As history progresses onward, we begin to see the entirety of God’s revelation to humanity as pointing towards the advent of the Messiah.  This is perhaps why Paul says, “All the promises of God find their Yes in Him” (2 Cor 1:20).  In this second kind of way, we are saying the purpose of our faith is about one thing:  Jesus.

So when we find the purpose of our faith is about Jesus, we have to ask ourselves the question:  why is this so?  What is it about the person of Jesus, the mission of Jesus, the work of Jesus, which makes Him the reason for our faith?  And this is what leads us to the cross.

Here’s why the cross matters:  It is at the cross that we see God most clearly.  If history were the vastness of space, the cross would be its brightest star.  We see the fullness of God’s being most clearly at the cross.  We see the fullness of His active purposes most clearly at the cross.

At the cross

…We see God’s sovereignty—reigning with absolute control over humanity’s greatest sin.

…We see God’s purpose—making known the mystery of His will prepared before time.

…We see God’s plan—to unite all things, on heaven and on earth, in Him.

…We see God’s judgment—requiring recompense for guilt.

…We see God’s holiness—demanding the perfect sacrifice.

…We see God’s power—crushing the Son of God according to the purpose of His will.

…We see God’s wrath—punishing the wretchedness of sin.

…We see God’s sorrow—wailing as only a forsaken son can.

…We see God’s mystery—the Son, as God, separated from the Father, committing His Spirit to God.

…We see God’s compassion—pleading to the Father to forgive the ignorant.

…We see God’s gift—His one and only Son, bruised and broken on our behalf.

…We see God’s mercy—making unrighteous sinners righteous.

…We see God’s love—Christ dying for sinners.

…We see God’s rescue operation—delivering us from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of His Son.

…We see God’s proposal—pledging Himself to His bride forever.

…We see God’s revelation—the Word of God speaking His last so He might speak on behalf of many.

…We see God’s victory—disarming His enemies, putting them to shame, and triumphing over them.

…We see God’s glory—the name of the Father being magnified for the sake of all peoples.

But seeing God most clearly is not an end to itself.  If it were, then the point of all history would be our own clarity of sight.  But that is not history’s purpose.  Everything exists for Jesus, so that in everything He might preeminent.  We study the Scriptures to know more of God.  We look forward with great hope to the day we will see Him face to face.  But in the here and now, we know God most fully when we look upon the person and work of Jesus on the cross.

It is only when we behold the Son of God most clearly that we can magnify Him most fully, acknowledging His preeminence in all things, which reflects more brightly the reality of His glory.  This is why one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, because on that day, all will see Him as He is, either toward our greatest joy or our greatest sorrow.

So if you preach and teach about the cross, remember that we, as your people, need the lens of your preaching to continually focus our hearts on the crucified Son of God.  And if we hear or read about the cross and wonder what is next, that we’re ready to move beyond it, let us remember that the cross matters for our yesterday, and our today, and our tomorrow.

And let us always hold the best of our hearts, the fullness of our hearts, for the One whose scars will testify for eternity to the glory and horror of that day that made possible the one day we will enjoy with Him forever.

Continue Reading

The Man Who Saw The Need

Published on February 11, 2010 by CT in Blog, News

1

There’s a disruptive tear in the fabric of life when someone dies.  Tens of thousands of people die each day, but we live unaware of this fact until death comes close enough for us to touch.  Death becomes real during those moments as the fabric is torn, shaking us to our bones, opening up the depths of our souls to a reality we all must one day face for ourselves.

Death brings a perspective we need but would rather not have.  James tells us our lives are like a vapor, and death rips open the belief we have that our lives are as solid as earth.  We don’t want to be told that we are to appear for a while and then vanish; this does violence to the sense we have of our own permanence and our own importance.

But death is a vital part of life.  It remains the ultimate unknown for the human, which is why fear is its closest companion.  But God does not mean for it to be this way.  He has a perspective on death that is healthy and right; in fact, God felt death was so necessary that He clothed His Son in flesh so He could taste it Himself.  Jesus prophesied of His own death:  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).

This was Jesus’ mission:  to be the grain of wheat, so that by His death much fruit would be borne.  And in a similar way, all those who have been made alive by His fruit share in this mission.  Our physical death does not produce the kind of harvest that Jesus’ did, but He doesn’t mean for it to.  He means for us to die to self while we live, to remain in Him as a branch in the vine, so that He might continue to produce a harvest within us.

This brings us to our story of a man who lived this kind of life and produced this kind of harvest.  Bob Hawkins, Sr. was a man of great consequence:  an entrepreneur, businessman, publisher, evangelist, soldier, husband, father, and grandfather.  Perhaps his most notable achievement was founding Harvest House Publishers, now one of the world’s largest Christian publishing houses whose books have impacted the lives of tens of millions.

But his core identity, the one which made all the others most fruitful, was as a disciple, servant, and friend to King Jesus.  It was this relationship above all others that gave Bob Sr. the wisdom to know the world as it is:  in great need.  And it was this relationship which gave him the eyes to see the answer the world needs:  Jesus.

Today, the publishing house Bob Sr. left years ago to the care and leadership of his son, Bob Jr., is committed to “providing high-quality books and products that affirm biblical values, help people grow spiritually strong, and proclaim Jesus as the answer to every human need.”  But the legacy of Harvest House is not simply a legacy of a company; it is also a legacy which envelopes both you and me.

I am part of Bob Sr.’s legacy, and so are you.  The publishing house he started in his garage in 1974 has now taken me in as part of its family, and I have taken up this same banner of proclaiming Jesus as the answer to our soul’s deepest needs.  And as you read these words, the calling to you is the same:  to die to self so you can proclaim Jesus as the answer to the world’s greatest need.

Bob Sr.’s death ultimately reminds us of the harvest of Jesus.  Because Christ deigned to become the seed that fell, Bob Sr. was able to die to self so that he might truly live.  And we bear the same glorious mission as Bob Sr., to die to self so that we might truly live.  We are Jesus’ harvest, the fruit of His death, to be gathered into His Father’s house where we will taste and see His infinite and all-satisfying goodness.

May we be inspired by this life so well lived, and may it cause us to reflect on the lives we lead today.  But may his death also give pause to the living, to remind us that life is but a vapor, that dying to self is the means to true living, the kind of living that joins us once more to the Seed who has risen and lives forevermore.

More information on the life of Bob Hawkins, Sr. can be found at the Harvest House Memorial Page.

Continue Reading

To Pastors, Today

Published on February 7, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

9

Let me start by saying I have no ecclesiastical authority to be giving pastors advice at all.  And God’s servants who minister to their local flocks should be esteemed for their service in a holy calling.  So I begin this post with the humility of a member of the universal body, under the authority of the elders of a local body, encouraging pastors in the global body in the care of their flocks.

I know some churches will have their normal Sunday evening services tonight, and that’s great.  And others will cancel their normal Sunday evening services tonight to provide space for their congregations to engage in their communities, and that’s great.  And some churches don’t have Sunday evening services at all, and that’s great.

Mark Driscoll will be preaching this evening and TIVOing the gameCJ Mahaney will be watching the event and bringing an eternal perspective to a temporal game.  Thousands of other pastors whose names are known only to God and their congregations will be preaching tonight to smaller-than-normal gatherings because they love the word of God and know preaching to be one of its most powerful expressions.

But there will be some pastors who tell their congregations today that they need to choose between the Super Bowl and church, and I suppose a minority may do it with the right heart.  But there will be others who pose the choice as a false choice of faith—do you love Jesus more than football?

I call it a false choice because today is not the day to be asking this kind of question.  Every day is the day to be asking this kind of question.  Every sermon you preach is an opportunity to ask your flock this question—do you love Jesus, or do you love the world?

We as the church need this kind of question, this kind of preaching, every time we sit to hear you speak.  We need to be constantly reminded that “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake…will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul” (Mark 8:35-36).  We face this choice—Jesus or the world—every day as we rise, and work, and eat, and drink, and talk, and we need you to constantly point us to the superior value of Christ over anything the world can offer.

If you only ask this question on Super Bowl Sunday, you are likely going to be teaching your people to feel one of two things—either moral superiority, which will lead them straight down the path towards pride, or guilt, which will lead them straight down the path towards shame.  And pride and shame won’t encourage your people to value Jesus as their greatest treasure.

So maybe the best thing to do is to preach if you are scheduled to preach, and don’t preach if you’re not scheduled to preach.  And encourage your people to love God more than a game, even if they choose to watch the game.

And as the breathless victors lift up the Lombardi Trophy this evening, may we all be reminded of the victory gained on our behalf when the Son of God was lifted up and drew his final breath that beautiful evening centuries ago.

Continue Reading

Why _____?

Published on February 4, 2010 by CT in Blog, Questions

6

Why…

Write?

Create?

Speak?

Sing?

Paint?

Draw?

Film?

Shape?

We ______ to express ourselves.

Why should we express ourselves?

Because we want to share with the world what we value most.

Why should we share with the world what we value most?

Because it fulfills our unique sense of purpose.

Why should we seek our sense of purpose?

Because we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works…that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10).

Why should we walk in these good works?

So that “whatever [we] do, [we] do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).

Asking the “why” question always leads back to the One who gave us the ability to ask the question.  Maybe that’s the point.

Question:  Why do you ______?

Continue Reading

He Didn’t Even Notice

Published on February 1, 2010 by CT in Blog, Stories

14

This is Part 3 of the Unseen Fruit of Obedience Series (Part 1:  “Go Tell Him I Love Him;” Part 2: “Unseen Fruit of Obedience”).

We had a pretty big snowstorm in Northern Virginia recently.  By pretty big, I mean 4 more inches than I ever experienced when I lived in Los Angeles.  Any of you in colder climates probably scoff at rookie drivers like me that are affected by a light dusting like this.  But it seemed to me that my car was buried under an avalanche.

I’ve never actually cleared off a car completely covered by snow.  Crazy, right?  But Anna and I needed to get to church the next day, so I headed outside to get the car ready.  While I was there, I noticed something strange:  It wasn’t just our car that was covered in snow—it was every car in the parking lot.  Imagine that.

That’s when I heard the still, small voice that often comes to me when I’ve been focusing on myself so much.  God said, “Why don’t you clear off some other cars too?”  “Why?” I asked.  “Maybe they won’t need to drive anytime soon.  And it’s still snowing for crying out loud.”

His response was familiar:  “Why don’t you clear off some other cars too.”  So I did.  I started clearing the car at the end of the lot, slowly working my way back up the line of car that were all buried under this avalanche.  I imagined one of the car owners seeing me from his porch and coming out to ask why I was clearing his car.  And I would say, “Because I love Jesus, and you should too.”  And he would say, “OK.”  And it would be great.

After 13 cars, my arm was pretty tired, and I thought it was pointless because the snow was still falling.  And no one had actually seen me clearing these cars, so it wasn’t like this was actually bearing any tangible  fruit.  So I quit and headed back inside.

The next morning, I awoke to the same still, small voice:  “Why don’t you clear off some more cars.”  What?  Not again. I rattled off the same list of excuses but eventually threw on my warm clothes and headed downstairs.  The snow had stopped falling, and the sky was filled with the brilliance of the sun.  Each car sat ready for my brush and my broom.

After the fourth car, I saw a guy walking out into the parking lotHere he comes, I thought.  This was going to be the “OK” guy.  But he walked past me and unlocked the door of a car a few rows back.  I recognized this car—I had cleared it the night before.  There it sat, with the windshield and windows essentially clear.  But he got in, started the car, and pulled out of his space.

He didn’t even notice! He just hopped right in and drove off.  How inconsiderate!  I didn’t even get to share the gospel with him, and even worse, I didn’t get the credit for what I had done.  So I asked God what was going on, and he reminded me of what He’s been trying to teach me about obedience.

We’ve been taking a look at what happens when we obey God and see no immediate payoff.  Is there redeeming value in obedience for obedience’s sake?  Or should we just trust that God is doing a thousand things in and through our obedience that we may not see?  And we’ve seen that God is in the business of producing fruit through our obedience, whether we always see that fruit or not.

What I also realized that morning was that love means putting someone else first even when no one is looking.   But that’s nothing new; I have heard this hundreds of times.  But what God also showed me was that love also means putting someone else first even when they don’t even know they’re being loved.  Or to put it another way—when they don’t know they even need to be loved in that way.

This has implications for every relationship in my life.  I prefer to serve people in love when they notice and serve me back.  But it’s another thing entirely to love and serve people that don’t notice and don’t even know they’re being loved and served.

God reminded me that He “shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  Before God saved me, I didn’t notice the ways in which He loved me.  And I didn’t know I needed His love in that way.  But Christ died for me, even while I was still a sinner.  And He died for me, now justified, and being sanctified, while still a sinner.

So glory be to God who loves us when we don’t notice and loves us when we don’t know we need it.  And may we be the kind of people who love others in this way.

Question:  Have you ever had the chance to love someone who didn’t know they needed it?

Continue Reading

The State of My Union

Published on January 28, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

6

The state of my union is not that good. I don’t think you’re supposed to say that sort of thing, but it’s true, so I guess it’s worth saying.

I’m not talking about our country, which remains strong despite its many issues.  And I’m not talking about my marriage, which is still my greatest earthly delight.  The union I’m talking about is the union that matters most:  my union with Christ.

The struggle I face today is the cavern that exists between what I know and what I live.  I say that Jesus is the greatest satisfaction to our soul’s deepest cravings, and I believe this deeply.  But I’m not living in the embrace of this reality today.  There are just far too many concerns on my heart.  I tell myself this is simply a busy season of life, and this will all soon pass, and I’ll be able to reconnect with God once more before long.

But tomorrow is never the best day to commit to the Lord.  James wrote that we “do not know what tomorrow will bring,” and he’s right.  Today is always the best day to abide in Christ.

The state of my union is not Jesus’ fault—His faithfulness has never wavered.  I suppose I could get down on myself, working to summon the motivation to go and make our relationship right again.  But this kind of striving never produces lasting results.  I know that we’re supposed to work out our salvation, but it’s telling that Jesus’ teachings on the vine and the branch are that we should remain in Him.

Remaining means we were there in the first place.  “You did not choose me, but I chose you [to] go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (John 15:16).  Just as it is the vine which first produces the union with the branch, so too it is Christ who brings us to Himself as we first become new creations.  His command is to then remain in Him.  This is what I have been failing to do, and it’s something I’ve now confessed to God.

Whenever our nation’s leaders talk about the State of our Union, they generally express great resolve and optimism, no matter what the state of our country is in.  And despite the state of my union today, I also have great hope.  I don’t have this hope because of my own resolve.  I have this hope because of the greatness of my God.

God bless me, in spite of my wandering heart, for His glory.  And God bless you as well as you strengthen your union with Christ by remaining in Him today.

Question:  What is the state of your union?

Continue Reading