gospel

If I Were Ground Up into Atoms

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In preparing for a sermon on Sunday I came upon this quote from Charles Spurgeon. It came from an address called “I Pray You Fasten Your Grip!” from a book called Only a Prayer Meeting. What he writes here we need to believe for ourselves and encourage each other like this.

Free grace and dying love are such old wine that no man desireth new. Gospel truths saturate a believer right through, and remain in the grain of the cloth like the old red of soldiers’ coats. The gospel is like some perfumes, which never leave the boxes in which they have once lain. The love of free grace dwells in the core of our heart. It has not only reached our bone, but it has impregnated the marrow; you cannot get it out of us, even if you kill us. I judge how it is with you by what I know of myself; I could be ground into atoms so small that you could not see them without a powerful microscope, but every atom would sparkle with belief in the atoning sacrifice, and the eternal love which gave it.

 

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Three Big Takeaways from Verge 2014

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For a couple of years I have watched the Verge Conference attract a variety of church planting networks and missional organizations. The messages have been on the forefront of embracing challenges for people to know and spread the gospel through communities on mission.

This year the regional church planting teams of SGM gathered at the Verge to talk strategy, process, and multiplication to make disciples.

Here are some front-burner takeaways for me from the last week…

1. God is moving. I was reminded once again that God is using conferences like the Verge to gather varied streams of the Church together to renew his people, build relationships across denominations and tribes, and force conversations regarding pushing the gospel message out. Through the preaching and spontaneous conversations you can taste the hunger to see God move, the desperation to see lives changed, the dissatisfaction of life spent in disobedience to Jesus. I saw it. I felt it. I feel called into this movement I can’t attribute to any one church, leader, or group and am convinced it’s simply another example in church history of Aslan on the move.

2. We must adjust to reach a new generation. I came into the conference feeling like I don’t need a lot of convincing on this, but I was wrong. I was challenged greatly by Jeff Vanderstelt’s time with our SGM team. I can sometimes not engage the missional conversation for fear of or frustration with buzzwords or sloppy language. But I was reminded that what one generation calls normal was once a rejected buzzword or an idealistic vision for church life in their current context from innovative leaders. Almost everything I heard at the Verge were exhortations to walk ancient Christian paths acknowledging the challenges of a post-Christian context. I don’t always love new language for biblical things but I must acknowledge that language (for all the dangers of confusing) have an ability to communicate to a new audience the clarity of what the Bible describes as New Testament living to a cynical and struggling generation. Revival throughout church history has proven to be scandalously innovative in its method of communication.

3. Deep community flows from sacrificial mission. This conference reminded me that the churches, networks, and movements seeing God’s blessing are often those prayerfully taking risks. The constant theme I saw highlighted in my heart is the principle that if we sow sparingly we reap sparingly. For days I spent with Sovereign Grace brothers crying out to God and in late night conversations desperate to see God send us out as a family of churches to make his name famous in North America and around the globe. We feel the wind in our face and the call of Jesus to trust him as leaders. We don’t feel like we are experts but learners eager to see God make us missionaries on war footing. It was one of the most encouraging times I’ve ever spent with my Sovereign Grace brothers as we dreamed and prayed and laughed and learned together. I’ve come away so encouraged about the future of SGM and desiring more than ever to get after making disciples and planting churches together.

God, continue to renew, restore, and build your people into the truths of your great grace and love in Jesus. Stretch us, unite us, and send us out to the lost and broken. Make our hearts believe You can change anything through the power of the gospel.

Why the Decision of World Vision Lacks Compassion

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Yesterday CT headlined the recent decision of World Vision led by Richard Stearns to no longer refuse employment to legally married same-sex couples.

While Stearns admits that it has been a tough year financially, he insists that this is a theological decision toward unity, and will help them further their mission around the world.

I have heard only great things about the global relief work of World Vision for years. I have no reason to believe that their work is anything less than totally commendable as it demonstrates the gospel through compassion around the world. Moreover Richard Stearns has helpfully raised awareness that believers in the comfortable West should not be hypocrites, but engage the real brokeness of the world we are tempted to ignore. My desire is that ministries like this would expand in these days and not weaken and that the children being supported would continue to experience the compassion of believers around the world and not be the victims of controversy.

For these reasons my hope is that supporters of World Vision would seek to reverse this decision because it’s lack of compassion for at least three reasons.

1. Many gay Christians who believe in the sacrificial work of World Vision make sacrifices every day to remain celibate.  Their belief (whether you agree with their self-identification or not) is that although being gay is a permanent orientation that can’t be reversed, God’s grace can help them not give in to sexual temptation, nor enter into monogamous relationships (as commendable as that is) with someone of the same sex. They do so through community, honesty, and accountability. What some may consider a death sentence, others have discovered a means to renewal through communion with Jesus. However, this is a daily sacrifice out of love for God. When Christian organizations who call for loving sacrifice make decisions like this they send the opposite message to those struggling with same-sex attraction.

2. World Vision believes the love of God can birth hope in unexpected places. Many Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction have seen God do that very thing by granting new (often surprising) desires for the opposite sex over time. This may not be immediate. This may not necessarily be the goal. This doesn’t mean same-sex attraction goes away. Nor does this happen for everyone. But it does happen. This decision doesn’t communicate the same message of hope to those in the battle.

3. The Great Commission and the Great Commandment (one of Stearn’s argument for this decision) calls all men and women to surrender their sexual immorality in every form to a Savior who died for them.  Whether that’s lust, emotional or physical affairs, pornography, or giving in to same-sex attraction, the message is the same. The Bible shows us that every human is fallen and sexual immorality touches all of us in a variety of ways, but Jesus came to earth as the only human to live sexually pure before God. Compassion to the world requires we believe the grace of Jesus can change anything–including sexual sin.

Believers should push churches and parachurch organizations to consistency. Compassion cannot be narrowly applied to a few critical (and needed) activities. It also means entering the battle of those with same-sex attraction and not unintentionally fighting against them through a mixed message.

 

Image:photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/coltrane/3608434116/”>Christopher JL</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

What Technology Can’t Do For Us

The other night I went to my son’s musical his third grade class put on. We aren’t normally the family that makes it super early and sits up front, but the stars seemed to line up just right and we happened to be early of all things–even making it to the second row (take that loser parents in the back).

One thing I was excited about was that for the first time ever in our school assembly parenting we would avoid the bizillion cameras that always block the view for our camera (phone).

I learned that this is an unavoidable reality even for our stellar seats.

There they were again. Blocking my view. My camera. Keeping me from my moment. Reaching into my would-be memory box and helping themselves to pics of my kid playing the instrument I can’t name. I imagine them posting the video to all their Facebookers while I am still scrambling to get a decent shot.

These things get my blood pressure going a bit. Why can’t there be one person who does this for everybody so we can just relax and enjoy the event? Why in these moments do I feel like if I don’t get the best shot of my kid like I’m certain they are, I will have missed his childhood completely?

I don’t know if there is a bigger lesson here for me or just an observation of technology, but I did think maybe we are all a bit too worried about missing these moments that we end up missing these moments.

What if capturing, recording, displaying and sharing our kids ends up distracting us from what we’re all trying to do?

Enjoy them.

I’m not suggesting a revolution here. I’m not even pushing a resolution. But maybe a takeaway to this rant would that I think technology lies to us. Maybe it doesn’t help us enjoy our kids at all.

Maybe delighting in the people around us is something we ultimately have to ask God for and not technology. Maybe we can’t carry it in our pockets because its supposed to come down from above (James 1:17). Maybe its not a future app being developed but an ancient supernatural thing that reminds us we are created and dependant.

Maybe these things remind us that “apart from him…who can have enjoyment?” (Ecc. 2:25)

So maybe I should not worry so much about the camera. Forget the best pic. Not get so tense. Remember grace. Look up. Ask for help.

And trust that God gets the best view.

Why We Sing in a Living Room

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Last night at my Community Group our leader invited us to have an extended time of singing.

We always sing two or three songs but last night we were challenged to stretch a bit and sing more.

We did. We spent what felt like a half hour standing in a living room singing.

And we didn’t sing softly. We sang loud. We lifted our hands. We shared Scripture. There was a sense of the Holy Spirit meeting us and drawing our attention to Christ. We encountered God personally.

I can remember a time when such an activity would feel very strange. When I came back to following Jesus as a high school student I can remember singing in church as the hardest part of the service. Can’t we just get to the sermon? I felt vulnerable and open to God during the singing time that I learned later was actually very helpful. It took weeks before I could even get a few lines of a song out because I was afraid I’d lose it and get emotional.

What I discovered with time was that I was created to sing and that when the truth of God’s grace is sung from a heart of faith back to God, He meets us in a mysterious way that builds our faith.

I can’t quite explain all the reasons why it is…but I can confirm that it is. At the risk of sounding overly pragmatic, it just works.

the Apostle Paul said “…be filled with the Spirit…singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart (Ephesians. 5:18-19).”

I think in the crazy busy, highly scheduled culture we live in we need to rekindle this ancient practice. We need to be filled up with hope. We need mercy. We need God.

So…we need to sing.

What Should I Think When I Hear the Word ‘Gospel’?

medium_3107904674I have thought a lot of things over the years when I have heard the word “gospel” from a lot of different sources. “Gospel-centered” has become something of a buzzword that requires constant clarifying.  This isn’t bad. It’s good that we are talking about the gospel.

But there have been times when I’ve heard the word “gospel” or “gospel-centered” and been left wondering, “what comes to your mind when you say that word?”

More often than not I have been left with the impression that the word “gospel” meant primarily the death of Jesus for sinners. If they were pressed maybe it was communicated a bit better to include the resurrection of Jesus as well. If they really wanted to be “gospel-centered” they might throw in the the return of Jesus and our resurrection and renewal of all things as well. I know because I’ve communicated it like that.

Other times “gospel-centered” is communicated in terms of reminding yourself of your sinfulness and of forgiveness of sins through Jesus. For those really wanting to be “gospel-centered” they may remember that God’s forgiveness has been granted to hell-deserving sinners under God’s wrath.

Sometimes “gospel-centered” has been used to talk of the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit given to believers in Jesus and uniting us to Christ. For some it’s being thankful for the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Before you check out don’t get me wrong. These are all true–and wonderfully so. All of these are biblical truths that make up the good news story of Jesus. We should think in some measure of all these truths when we use the short-hand word “gospel.”

But I’m convinced you can believe all these things and still not be “gospel-centered” or really amazed by the gospel in such a way that it truly transforms your life if you miss one glaring reality that we forget so quickly.

LOVE.

Maybe this sounds crazy but I think you can totally affirm that Jesus died for sinners and forget he did so in love for you.

You can believe that you’re a sinner and miss that he came in love for you.

You can be doctrinally precise in your ability to define substitutionary atonement to remove God’s judgment but not give a second thought to his motive behind it–a personal motive of love.

You can be thankful for the resurrection of Jesus and still think he hates you.

You can believe in the truth of God’s presence in his people through the Spirit and not connect the dots of why he desires to dwell among us.

I think there are thousands of “gospel-centered” Christians who miss out on joy and freedom because for all the correct aspects of biblical truth–change doesn’t come until we realize we are loved.

Loved.

I was reminded this morning by the Apostle Paul’s summary of the gospel.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
(Galatians 2:20 ESV)

See that?

Paul said the summary of his life of faith could be described by looking at the love of Christ for him personally. He’s not embarrassed by it. He’s not concerned that people will think he’s making himself the center. He doesn’t care. He knows what transforms him. Note the words “loved me”…”and gave himself for me.”

Paul’s burden to spread the gospel and plant churches was a burden to see as many people as possible hear the good news–the gospel of God’s love. He wanted the maximum number of people possible to be able to say with him, “I live by on ongoing trust in the resurrected Son of God, who loved me to such an extent that he gave himself up in death to bring me into a relationship with him.” The incarnation; life; death; resurrection; and ascension of Jesus was the extraordinary and unbelievable extent of the way and the means by which he demonstrates it (Rom 5:8-9).

It’s this motivation of God’s love that I find lacking in a lot of the phraseology surrounding “gospel-centered” speech and in my own descriptions of the gospel.

There is more to say about this…but let’s try an experiment today. Let’s be really gospel-centered. Let’s remind ourselves over and over today of God’s personal love for us in as many ways possible. Not some distant doctrine carefully reserved in historical narrative but not accessible. Not the mushy language of teethy televangelists with no thought to the gravity of it. Rather, let it run loose and sink down into our souls. This unashamed, free, radical, and crazy love for us (us….right now) in Jesus.

Because only this changes us.

Photo (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mohsenmasoumi/3107904674/)

Why You Need Stop What You’re Doing and Read A Meal with Jesus….

mealI know this book has been out a couple of years now so sorry to be behind if you’ve already read it. But if you haven’t yet give yourself a tremendous gift and read this book. You won’t look at food, meals, mundane preparation, and making disciples through ordinary methods again.

Here are a few highlight quotes for me:

“Jesus spent his time eating and drinking–a lot of his time. He was a party animal. His mission strategy was a long meal, stretching into the evening. He did evangelism and discipleship round a table with some grilled fish, a loaf of bread, and a pitcher of wine.”

“Robert Karris concludes: In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.”

“The meals of Jesus represent something bigger. They represent a new world, a new kingdom, a new outlook….meals are more than food. They’re social occasions. They represent friendship, community, and welcome.”

“If I pull down books on mission and church planting from my shelves, I can read about contextualization, evangelism matrices, postmodern apologetics, and cultural hermeneutics…it all sounds impressive, cutting edge, and sophisticated. But this is how Luke describes Jesus’s missions strategy: ‘The Son of Man came eating and drinking.”

“When Jesus eats with Levi, the message is clear: Jesus has come for losers, people on the margins, people who’ve made a mess of their lives, people who are ordinary. Jesus has come for you.”

The grace of God turns out to be uncomfortable and embarrassing. Jesus is socially disruptive; his radical grace disrupts social situations. And we don’t like church to be disrupted. We regard marginalized people in the church as ‘a problem’ to be ‘handled.'”

“Jesus reminds us that the world is not going to be trashed but redeemed. Food matters because it is part of God’s good creation and part of God’s new creation.”

“Every time we eat, we celebrate again our dependence on God and his faithfulness to his creation. Every time.”

“What are some of the things you associate with a party? What do most people associate with church? How can we make church feel more like a party?”

“Jesus didn’t run projects, establish ministries, create programs, or put on events. He ate meals. If you routinely share meals and you have a passion for Jesus, then you’ll be doing mission. It’s not that meals save people. People are saved through the gospel message. But meals will create natural opportunities to share that message in a context that resonates powerfully with what you’re saying.”

“If you want to understand a person’s worldview, don’t read a book. Talk to them, hang out with them, eat with them.”

“People often complain that they lack time for mission. But we all have to eat. Three meals a day, seven days a week. That’s twenty one opportunities for mission and community without adding anything to your schedule.”

Go READ it…

How to throw a Splash Bash and Tell Kids about Jesus

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If you’re looking for a reason to beat the summer heat, get out and have fun, and make a difference in someone’s life consider doing a two hour Splash Bash in a park near your home.

A “Splash Bash” is an outreach idea that was born out of desperation a couple years ago. We live in the Dallas suburbs and instead of doing a VBS we decided to do something creative and go for a week-long backyard Bible club (be careful about being creative). We got our kids ready. We advertised for it. We put all our crafts together and planned the lessons out for a couple weeks.

On the first day we got nobody.

On the second day we got nobody.

On the third day we simply got desperate–guerrilla warfare desperate. So we TOTALLY switched gears and decided on a spontaneous outreach to kids. We took all the water balloon gear we had and the colored gospel bracelets and advertised a Splash Bash event in the park. Instead of a week-long event it was just over an hour. Instead of trying to accomplish a lot of Bible teaching we focused on just sharing the gospel as simple as possible. And even though there was a pool next to us we got kids showing up! Since then we’ve done this in other places and seen kids pray to trust Christ through this event. Here is all we’ve done. You can take this and improve on it.

1. Decide on a location and time for the event. You need to simply find a park or gathering spot where kids are present. We’ve seen this work really well at an apartment complex or densely populated area with kids. You might need to get permission but if you’re hoping to build community most places will let you do it. We have done ours at 10am on Saturday though an evening might be better in some places.

2. Advertise for it. Take your team of people (you only need 5-6 but you can have more if you like) and pray for God to open doors in the community. Go to the homes and put a flyer on their door inviting the kids to the Splash Bash event. You should do this the day before because kids may forget. Any kids you run into that day talk it up and let them know there is going to be a water balloon war at the end of the event with popsicles. Your flyer just needs to have basic information with pics of water games…make it fun.

Splash Bash! Tomorrow! Saturday at __________park at 10am | Water Games | Water Balloon War | Popsicles | FREE

If you’re doing this as a missional outreach with other believers in your neighborhood maybe you want to add “hosted by your neighbors _________________” If you’re doing it as a church put your church logo on the flyer.

If you have time go out in twos and knock on some doors and let them know what you’re doing. Ask kids to tell their friends.

3. Prep for it. The biggest items to prep for are filling up the water balloons. If you’re expecting 15 kids from the neighborhood to come out you need to have anywhere from 50-100 water balloons. Keep in mind that for a kid the more balloons you have the better and the more legit the Splash Bash the more likely you will be invited back. You also need to put a list of your games together and ask one person from your team to lead the games. This person is ideally great with kids and a good leader and able to get everyone’s attention.

4. Start with Games. Show up early and give any kids that show up a balloon and ask them to take that balloon around to their friends in the neighborhood and tell them to come to the Splash Bash. A kid telling his friend about a water balloon event at the park while holding a water balloon is awesome. They will leave the TV to come out.

When a good amount of kids show up you can start playing games and let the crowd build a crowd. If ANY game seems to really take off than do it several times…

* Water balloon toss (just like egg toss)

* Over/Under relay (you could also do this with a cup of water)

* Hunger Games–this game can be done on your own or as a team. Each person tries to protect their balloon while breaking all other opponents. The last man/team standing wins.

* Water Gun War–break up the group into teams and pull out some super soakers and have a war

5. Tell them about Jesus. Ask everyone to sit down in groups of 3-4 kids per leader. Have prepared kits ready for each kid to make a gospel bracelet. Have each leader share the story of the gospel and how trusting in Jesus has changed their life. Take your time and get to know the kids. If any child is interested in trusting in Jesus show them how to pray by modeling it and praying with them. From these conversations you’re seeking to build a relationship with parents in the community and establish a gospel presence through the church.

6. Give out popsicles. Have a cooler with your popsicles ready to go and a leader who can give them out. Use the opportunity to get to know the kids more and talk with any parents who are there. Tell them you are there simply to get to know the community and share the love of Christ.

7. Do a final water balloon war. Save a few balloons and make two teams (maybe out of the original two groups who did the egg toss). If kids are small you will want to create some distance between older kids who will hurl it and hurt the little ones. So make a line like in dodgeball and give each kid one or two balloons and let them go at it.

8. Finally clean up the park. Make sure you have the kids pick up the broken balloons all over the park. We’ve given incentives like an extra popsicle or make it a final game to see who can get the most. Leave the park better than you found it.

This is an event that can work in almost any context that is hot like Dallas. The advantages are it is relatively short to do, creates a memory for your team, builds relationships with the community (most parents and grandparents we’ve interacted with LOVED that we cared about their kids to do this), and very inexpensive.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/limedivine/3094164070/)