Yearly Archives: 2013

Centered on one or the other

“. . . a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”  Luke 7:34

What does it mean for a church to be gospel-centered?  That’s a popular concept these days.  Good.  What if we were scrambling to be law-centered?  But the difference is not so easy in real terms.

A gospel-centered church holds together two things.  One, a gospel-centered church preaches a bold message of divine grace for the undeserving — so bold that it becomes the end of the law for all who believe.  Not our performance but Christ’s performance for us.  Not our sacrifices but his sacrifice for us.  Not our superiority but only his worth and prestige.  The good news of substitution.  The good news that our okayness is not in us but exterior to us in Christ alone.  Climbing down from the high moral ground, because only Christ belongs up there.  That message, that awareness, that clarity.  Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.

Two, a gospel-centered church translates that theology into its sociology.  The good news of God’s grace beautifies how we treat one another.  In fact, the horizontal reveals the vertical.  How we treat one another reveals what we really believe as opposed to what we think we believe.  It is possible to say, “We are a gospel-centered church,” and sincerely mean it, while we make our church into a law-centered social environment.  We see God above lowering his gun, and we breathe a sigh of relief.  But if we are trigger-happy toward one another, we don’t get it yet.

A gospel-centered …

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Restoration as a gospel priority

Aim for restoration.  2 Corinthians 13:11

“Aim for restoration” was highly relevant to this community in Corinth.  They were broken at multiple levels.  They were making progress, but there was much good still to accomplish.  So, “aim for restoration” was ideal as an all-encompassing intention.  For any gospel-defined church, then or now, restoration is an obvious priority.

But is it obvious?  Or, is it obvious to us today?  Few churches and movements, it seems, are free from relational strains and fractures.  A settled wholeness seems rare.  But I wonder if restoration is the priority it deserves to be.

Earlier in 2 Corinthians Paul defined his life work as “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).  He defined the gospel as “the message of reconciliation” (verse 19).  That is why he did not say, “We have moments of reconciliation now and then.”  No, he saw his calling as “the ministry of reconciliation.”  In other words, “Reconciliation is all I do.  It’s how I roll.  It isn’t a preference.  It is a gospel necessity, an obvious one.”

I wonder how many of our churches and movements can honestly say, with the apostle, “Reconciliation is our ministry, because it is our message.  We have no higher priority.  We want to be living proof of the gospel.  This is obvious to us.”

Aiming for restoration deserves to be a matter of prayer and priority in 2014 for every gospel-defined church and ministry.  Settling for the status quo – where is that in the gospel?  We might not succeed …

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How to help real people in the real world

Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free.  Psalm 118:5

“Note the great art and wisdom of faith.  It does not run to and fro in the face of trouble.  It does not cry on everybody’s shoulder, nor does it curse and scold its enemies.  It does not murmur against God by asking, ‘Why does God do this to me?’ . . . Faith does not despair of the God who sends trouble.  Faith does not consider him angry or an enemy, as the flesh, the world and the devil strongly suggest.  Faith rises above all this and sees God’s fatherly heart behind his unfriendly exterior. . . .

Do not sit by yourself or lie on a couch . . . . Do not destroy yourself with your own thoughts by worrying.  Do not strive and struggle to free yourself, and do not brood on your wretchedness, suffering, and misery.  Say to yourself: ‘Come on, you lazy bum; down on your knees, and lift your eyes and hands toward heaven!’  Read a psalm or the Our Father, call on God, and tearfully lay your troubles before him. . . . It is his desire and will that you lay your troubles before him.  He does not want you to multiply your troubles by burdening and torturing  yourself.  He wants you to be too weak to bear and overcome such troubles; he wants you to grow strong in him.  By his strength …

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The true nature of Christianity

“A saying of Chrysostom’s has always pleased me very much, that the foundation of our philosophy is humility.  But that of Augustine pleases me even more: ‘. . . so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second and third, and always I would answer ‘Humility.’”

John Calvin, Institutes, 2.2.11.

“Another observation, in a former letter of yours, has not escaped my remembrance – the three lessons which a minister has to learn:  1. Humility.  2. Humility.  3. Humility.  How long are we learning the true nature of Christianity!”

Charles Simeon, quoted in Charles Simeon, by H. C. G. Moule (London, 1956), page 65.

“According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride.  Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison.  It was through Pride that the devil became the devil.  Pride leads to every other vice.  It is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, 1958), page 94.

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42 years ago today

42 years ago today my Father put this lovely lady in my arms, to be my best friend and stalwart partner in life.  I thank him for this precious gift, second only to Christ himself.  What a blessing she has been every day for 42 swiftly passing years!

So, I am leaving my study now to go home, pick her up and go out together to a nice restaurant for dinner.

Back tomorrow!

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“Why could we not cast it out?”

And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”  Mark 9:29

“You failed there, he said in effect to these disciples, because you did not have sufficient power.  You were using the power that you have, and you were very confident in it.  You did it with great assurance, you were masters of the occasion, you thought you were going to succeed at once, but you did not. . . . You will never be able to deal with ‘this kind’ unless you have applied to God for the power which he alone can give you.

You must become aware of your need, of your impotence, of your helplessness.  You must realize that you are confronted by something that is too deep for your methods to get rid of or to deal with, and you need something that can go down beneath that evil power and shatter it, and there is only one thing that can do that, and that is the power of God. . . .
We must ask ourselves how we can succeed if we do not have this authority, this commission, this might and strength and power.  We must become utterly and absolutely convinced of our need.  We must cease to have so much confidence in ourselves, and in all our methods and organizations, and in all our slickness.  We have got to realize that we must be filled with God’s Spirit.

And we must be equally certain that God can fill us …

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Oh, that we were there!

In dulci jubilo [with sweet joy]
Let us our homage show
Our heart’s joy reclineth
In praesepio [in a stable]
And like a bright star shineth
Matris in gremio [in a mother’s lap]
Alpha es et O! [you are Alpha and Omega]

O Jesu parvule [O baby Jesus]
I yearn for Thee alway
Listen to my ditty
O puer optime [O best boy]
Have pity on me, pity
O princeps gloriae [O Prince of glory]
Trahe me post te! [draw me after yourself!]

O Patris caritas! [O love of the Father]
O Nati lenitas! [O gentleness of the One born]
Deeply were we stained
Per nostra crimina [through our offenses]
But Thou hast for us gained
Coelorum gaudia [the joys of heaven]
Oh, that we were there!

Ubi sunt gaudia [where are joys?]
If that they be not there?
There are angels singing
Nova cantica [new songs]
And there the bells are ringing
In Regis curia [in the King’s court]
Oh, that we were there!

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How does one give reasons for this?

“Paul ran from Christ; Christ pursued and overtook him.  Paul resisted Christ; Christ disarmed him.  Paul persecuted Christ; Christ converted him.  Paul was an alien; Christ made him a member of the family.  Paul was an enemy; Christ made him a friend.  Paul was ‘in the flesh'; Christ set him ‘in the Spirit.’  Paul was under the law; Christ set him in grace.  Paul was dead; Christ made him alive to God.  How does one give reasons for this?  He does not give reasons; he sings, ‘Blessed be God who blessed us . . . even as he chose us in him.’”

Lewis B. Smedes, Union With Christ (Grand Rapids, 1983), pages 86-87.

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Importance, real or perceived

If I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth.  But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.  2 Corinthians 12:6

God had given the apostle Paul an amazing spiritual experience — apparently, some kind of guided tour of heaven.  If Paul had wanted to “wow” the rest of us, he easily could have.  But for fourteen years he told no one about it, quietly keeping it to himself, wonderful though it was.  He didn’t exploit his remarkable experience to enhance his ministry.

Paul was deeply secure in Christ.  He was content for people to perceive him and rate him on the basis of what they themselves could observe in him – not what he could claim, even rightly claim, but the ordinary human realities they could see and hear.  It was the fraudulent “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5) who trotted out their big-deal-ness.  Moreover, Paul really wasn’t impressive in some ways that typically count in this world.  He deliberately chose not to be.  He did have the power of Christ resting upon him.  But even that came out most clearly in his weaknesses.  And as I said, Paul was okay with people reaching their own conclusions about all this.  He didn’t groom an image.  He wouldn’t stoop to it.  The reality of Christ was too significant.

I wonder …

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Preaching, anointing, content

“Both Billy [Graham] and Festo [Kivengere] are similar in that their power comes from an anointing of the Holy Spirit.  Their actual sermons have the same content as everyone else’s.”

Quoted in Anne Coomes, Festo Kivengere: A Biography (Eastbourne, 1990), page 353.

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