My book of the year, “Enjoying God” by Tim Chester

Tim Chester is a pastor and author (more than 40 books) and he lives in England. Back in July of 2009 Tim accepted my invitation and came to do a seminar at my church in New Jersey about the gospel, community and mission. Most of what he taught us was based on his book, “Total Church“.  It was neat to get to know Tim just a little bit and see up close his love for God and God’s people.

I believe it is fair to say that in my theological circle we have the tendency to emphasize knowing about God over experiencing God in daily life. I love to read and learn and so I know, unfortunately, this tendency is alive and well in me. That is the reason that I love “Enjoying God” so much.

Michael Horton wrote this endorsement for “Enjoying God”:

We talk a lot about knowing and glorifying God, but what about enjoying him? And not just as an abstract Being, but as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit-enjoying each Person in all of his difference as well as divine unity? And not just in happy times or at church, but in every circumstance in life. It just keeps getting better and better as you turn each page of Enjoying God. This book will life you into the presence of the Source of all joy.

So how does Tim go about helping us to enjoy God in everyday life? Here is the table of contents:

  1. More (Do we ever wonder if there is more to the Christian life?)
  2. Joy (What does it really mean to taste and know that the Lord is good?)
  3. In every pleasure we can enjoy the Father’s generosity
  4. In every hardship we can enjoy the Father’s formation
  5. In every prayer we can enjoy the Father’s welcome
  6. In every failure we can enjoy the Son’s grace
  7. In every pain we can enjoy the Son’s presence
  8. In every supper we can enjoy the Son’s touch
  9. In every temptation we can enjoy the Spirit’s life
  10. In every groan we can enjoy the Spirit’s hope
  11. In every word we can enjoy the Spirit’s voice
  12. In one another we can enjoy God’s love
  13. In daily repentance and faith we can enjoy God’s freedom
  14. Under the hood

What Tim has done is look at all the ways in everyday life (pleasures, hardships, failures, temptations) that we can experience and enjoy the presence of God.

I have already purchased a bunch of these books and plan to use them to teach an Adult Sunday School class here in Watertown, South Dakota. As a pastor I believe strongly that one of the greatest things I can ever do for my people is guide them towards enjoying and worshipping God.

Excerpt from Enjoying God

I wonder if some of us don’t “feel” the work of the Spirit because we’re not on the frontline-we’re not on the frontline of the battle against sin or we’re not on the frontline of the battle for mission.

Imagine you’ve been driving a small car with a beat-up engine which struggles to go much over 30 mph. Then one day someone gives you a powerful new car with a large turbo-charged engine. A week later you shock them by saying, “I haven’t really noticed much difference.” But then they discover that you’ve never driven it over 30 mph. You’ve got this car that can accelerate to 70 mph in three seconds. But you don’t notice the difference because you’ve never hit the accelerator. Don’t make your life so safe that you never have cause to notice the Spirit’s work.

How do we live in communion with the Holy Spirit? We rely on him. We expect him to work. If you want to see the Spirit at work in your life, then attempt things that you feel you can’t do without his help. Everything we do for God is done with the Spirit’s help, whether we feel it or not. But if you want to feel the Spirit’s help, then attempt things that feel beyond you. Do not complain that God never does anything dramatic in your life if you never attempt anything outside your comfort zone.  p.118-119

Why do we sin?

Yesterday I preached on Philippians 4:1-9. In verses 4-7 we read this:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

So Paul is talking about the idea that through prayer we can experience joy and peace instead of anxiety. This sounds appealing to most of us. But there is a problem. I know from experience that it is possible to pray for extended periods of time and yet to leave the throne of grace worried and anxious. Frustrating? Absolutely! How in the world is this possible?

The answer lies in what we actually believe to be true about God. If we genuinely believe that God is good then we can walk in peace, free from anxiety.

“Sinful acts always have their origin in some form of unbelief–behind every sin is a lie. The root of all our behavior and emotions is the heart, what it trusts and what it treasures. People are given over to sinful desires because ‘they exchanged the truth of God for a lie.” -Tim Chester

The bottom-line is that all of our behavior is related to what we believe to be true about God. So yesterday I decided to share a tool that has been around for a number of years. The tool is called “The Four Gs” and it comes from pastor and author, Tim Chester.

Tim points out that the key to overcoming sin is believing these four liberating truths about God.

  • God is GREAT-so we don’t have to be in control.
    • Psalm 86:8-10, “There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are
      there any works like yours. All the nations you have made shall come and
      worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. For you are
      great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.”
    • We don’t have to worry or be anxious because God is great. This is the God who created billions of galaxies which means that we can trust that he is powerful enough to deal with our daily problems.
  • God is GLORIOUS-so we don’t have to fear others.
    • Exodus 15:11, “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you,
      majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?”
    • When we say that God is glorious we mean that he is majestic and beautiful. When we understand who God is than we no longer are slaves to what others think about us.
  • God is GOOD-so we don’t have to look elsewhere.
    • Psalm 34:8, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”
    • This may be the one that hits home for me the most, the one that I most need to remember. If we truly believe that God is good it will enable us to say no to all temptations. God is better than the immoral relationship. God is better than the lie I am tempted to tell to a colleague. God is better than binging on Netflix for 9 hours. If we truly believe that God is good we can overcome temptations that come our way.
  • God is GRACIOUS-so we don’t have to prove ourselves.
    • Psalm 86:15, “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to
      anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
    • Many Christian are wearing themselves out because they are trying to earn God’s love. We live with a sense that God is, at best, mildly disappointed with us because of our sin and weakness. What we need to remember is that because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross we have received grace that covers ALL of our sin. Right now, as you are, God loves you like crazy.

I would recommend printing “The Four Gs” out and putting them someplace where you will see them on a daily basis. Each day remind yourself of these amazing truths.

“A failure to embrace one of these four truths lies behind most of our sinful behavior and negative emotions. So ‘the four Gs’ are like a diagnostic kit to help us identify the gospel truth we need to focus on.” -Tim Chester

9 Of My Favorite Quotes From Everyday Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis

everday-church-2

What happened to Christendom?

In Christendom many people attended church, sometimes by legal constraint. In this context churches could legitimately speak of faithfully proclaiming the gospel, because each Sunday they has gospel-centered sermons. This is no longer the case. We cannot claim to be faithfully proclaiming the gospel to the lost through our Sunday preaching when most of the lost do not attend church. We need to do mission outside the church and church events. This is something we need to recover rather than discover, for the modern evangelical movement was born out of a recognition that the United Kingdom was not a Christian nation and that it needed to be evangelized outside of church buildings and services. p. 27

Living like missionaries

Imagine you woke up one day to discover that you had become a missionary in a foreign land. The language, the culture, the worldview, and the values are all unfamiliar. Fortunately you are part of a team. What are you going to do? Together you are going to learn the language and the culture. You are going to explore how the Bible story interacts with the outlook of the people around you. You are going to try to connect with them at a relational level. This is the situation in which the church in the west finds itself. The culture has moved on. It is not what it was a hundred years ago when it was significantly shaped by the Bible story. We need to wake up and realize we are in a missionary situation. We cannot  continue to undertake mission in a pastoral mode. We cannot assume that people feel any need or obligation to attend church. We cannot even assume we understand the culture. We need to operate as missionaries in a foreign land. p. 37

When living like a missionary is just rhetoric

Claiming that the West is a mission field is now common, but there is a big gap between the rhetoric and the reality of our attitudes. One of the measures of that gap is the extent to which we are willing-or unwilling-to learn from the experience of the mission and the church around the world. If we really believed we are in a mission field, then we would all be reading books written by third-world Christians and cross-cultural missionaries. We would be looking to operate as missionaries to another culture. p 40

As we are marginalized will we see culture as a threat?

It is so important to love your neighborhood and its culture. As we sense our growing marginalization with the wider culture, it is all too easy to view it as a threat. But viewing the culture around you as a threat is not a good starting point for reaching people with the gospel. p.45

Should we try to be more relevant and do cool church events?

But it is a mistake to pursue relevance as an end in itself or to emphasize how we are like the world around us. For one thing our “product will always be inferior to that offered by Hollywood, Facebook, and Nintendo. Brits spend 20 hours a week watching television, Americans 28 hours. We are entertained by multimillion-dollar movies. We undertake role-play and action computer games. We are naïve to think the church can compete with these stimuli through three songs and a thirty minute sermon or drama and a worship band. We cannot compete on entertainment. At best this distracts us from the need to create distinctive communities that communicate a distinctive gospel, a gospel which more often than not grates with the wider culture. At worst the medium becomes the message, and the challenge of the gospel is lost among the entertainment or watered down to make it palatable to the audience. We have already seen that in a Post-Christian context we cannot rely on church events however cool, because the majority of people will not attend church. p 49

Programs are what we create when Christians are not doing what they are suppose to be do in everyday life.

Because we are not pastoring one another in everyday life, we create accountability groups. Because we are not sharing the gospel in everyday life, we create guest services. Because we are not joining social groups to witness to Jesus, we create our own church social groups. Please do not misunderstand. We are not against meetings or programs. The regular meeting of the church around God’s Word is vital for the health of everything else. This is where God’s people are prepared for works of service. But the works of service take place in the context of everyday life. p. 50

Celebrating ordinary Christians

It is not simply that ordinary Christians live good lives that enable them to invite friends to evangelistic events. Our lives are the evangelistic events. Our life together is the apologetic. There is a place for meetings at which the gospel is clearly proclaimed, but let us affirm and celebrate ordinary Christians living ordinary life in Christ’s name. p.89

What is step one in evangelism?

Step one in evangelism is being passionate about Jesus. Step two is being passionate about people-not just seeing them as evangelistic fodder or targets for gospel salvos, but as friends, people to love. Love will care for all their needs-physical, social, emotional-but gospel love also recognizes our greatest need, which is to know God through Christ. So true love will always want to introduce people to our greatest friend, Jesus. p. 93

Mission by being good neighbors

Once upon a time a group of largely middle-class graduates in their mid-twenties moved into a deprived neighborhood. Three made the first move, and they were gradually joined by others. There are now ten in total, a combination of marrieds and singles, male and female. There is nothing remarkable  about these people. None of them are hard-core or edgy. There is not a tattoo among them as far as we are aware. Initially the plan was to plant a church. A lot of time was invested in recruiting leaders, but to no avail. For some time this failure to plant a church was a cause of considerable frustration, animated conversation, and earnest prayer.

As this was going on, the Lord quietly got to work. How? Through these ordinary, unassuming individuals doing nothing more spectacular than being good neighbors. They were not a church (they attended a church elsewhere in the city). They did not hold meetings or do formal evangelism, nor did they significantly change the way they spoke or dressed. They just lived there-all very ordinary and unspectacular. Nothing they have done would mention merit in a missional manual, but over a few years they have built credibility in their neighborhood through simply being the neighbors everyone would want to have. They do have a corporate identity: they are known as “the Christians.” p. 97

Show Hospitality and Share the Gospel by Tim Chester

I am going to be preaching on “The Gospel and Loving Our Neighbors” this coming Sunday which reminded me of this post on gcdiscipleship.com. It is an excerpt from Tim Chester’s book A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table. I am a big fan of Tim Chester because he is not only a wonderful writer but he also practices what he preaches. Here you go…

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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.

Hospitality has always been integral to the story of God’s people. Abraham set the agenda when he offered three strangers water for their feet and food for their bodies. In so doing he entertained God himself and received afresh the promise (Gen. 18:1–18). God was Israel’s host in the Promised Land (Ps. 39:12; Lev. 25:23), and that would later shape Israel’s behavior. A welcome to strangers and provision for the needy were written into the law of Moses. Rahab is saved because of her faith expressed through hospitality (Joshua 2; James 2:22–25).

Hospitality continues to be integral to Christian conduct in the new covenant: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom. 12:13); “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Pet. 4:9; see 1 Tim. 5:10); “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me” (Matt. 10:40; see 25:35–40); “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2).

In Acts 10 God told Peter in a dream to eat from a collection of unclean food. It’s a key moment in the mission of the early church, for its prepares Peter to take the gospel to Gentiles for the first time. Peter says to those Gentiles: “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection . . .” (Acts 10:28–29).

Mission to the nations begins with a new understanding of hospitality.

Hospitality has continued to be integral to the church’s mission, at times being its primary expression. The Rule of St. Benedict, written around 540, says, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’” Monasticism, for all its faults, got this right: it expressed mission through hospitality to rich and poor alike. “Only monasticism,” Richard Niebuhr claimed, “saved the medieval church from acquiescence, petrifaction, and the loss of its vision and truly revolutionary character.” Missiologist David Bosch writes: “For upwards of seven hundred years . . . the monastery was notably the center of culture and civilization, but also of mission. In the midst of a world ruled by love of self, the monastic communities were a visible sign and preliminary realization of a world ruled by the love of God.” Monasteries weren’t necessarily founded for mission, but their occupants’ piety, hard work, learning, tenacity, and hospitality had a profound impact on the common people. “Each monastery was a vast complex of buildings, churches, workshops, stores, and almshouses—a hive of activity for the benefit of the entire surrounding community. The citizens of the heavenly city were actively seeking the peace and good order of the earthly city.”

Meals continue to be integral to the task of mission. Theologian and chef Simon Carey Holt says:

It’s good to be reminded that the table is a very ordinary place, a place so routine and everyday it’s easily overlooked as a place of ministry. And this business of hospitality that lies at the heart of Christian mission, it’s a very ordinary thing; it’s not rocket science nor is it terribly glamorous. Yet it is the very ordinariness of the table and of the ministry we exercise there that renders these elements of Christian life so important to the mission of the church. . . . Most of what you do as a community of hospitality will go unnoticed and unrecognized. At base, hospitality is about providing a space for God’s Spirit to move. Setting a table, cooking a meal, washing the dishes is the ministry of facilitation: providing a context in which people feel loved and welcome and where God’s Spirit can be at work in their lives. Hospitality is a very ordinary business, but in its ordinariness is its real worth.

Elsewhere Holt says: “Whatever it looks like, your own table is a sacred place and one just as implicated by the lavish nature of God’s grace as any other.”

Meals bring mission into the ordinary. But that’s where most people are—living in the ordinary. That’s where we need to go to reach them. We too readily think of mission as extraordinary. Perhaps that’s because we find it awkward to talk about Jesus out- side a church gathering. Perhaps it’s because we think God moves through the spectacular rather than the witness of people like us. Perhaps it’s because we want to outsource mission to the professionals, so we invite people to guest services where an “expert” can do mission for us. But most people live in the ordinary, and most people will be reached by ordinary people. Even those who attend a special event will, for the most part, have first been befriended by a Christian. “For those looking to connect with people in the local community it isn’t that hard if you really want to. Just invite people round, let them know they can go home if they need to and then enjoy a meal together. You’re going to eat anyway, so why not do it with others!”

Jesus’s command to invite the poor for dinner violates our notions of distance and detachment. Mission as hospitality undermines the professionalization of ministry. Mission isn’t something I can clock out from at the end of the day. The hospitality to which Jesus calls us can’t be institutionalized in programs and projects. Jesus challenges us to take mission home. It may be a surprise, given my emphasis on meals, but I loathe church lunches—those potluck suppers in drafty church halls. They’re institutionalized hospitality. Don’t start a hospitality ministry in your church: open your home.
Much is said of engaging with culture—much that’s right and helpful. But we must never let engaging culture eclipse engaging with people. People are infinitely variable and rarely susceptible to our sociological categories.

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. You could meet up with another Christian for breakfast on the way to work—read the Bible together, offer accountability, pray for one another. You could meet up with colleagues at lunchtime. Put down this book and chat to the person across the table from you in the cafeteria. You could invite your neighbors over for a meal. Better still, invite them over with another family from church. That way you get to do mission and community at the same time; plus your unbelieving neighbors will get to see the way the gospel impacts our relationships as Christians (John 13:34–35; 17:20–21). You could invite someone who lives alone to share your family meal and follow it with board games, giving your children an opportunity to serve others through their welcome. Francis Schaeffer says:

Don’t start with a big program. Don’t suddenly think you can add to your church budget and begin. Start personally and start in your home. I dare you. I dare you in the name of Jesus Christ. Do what I am going to suggest. Begin by opening your home for community. . . . You don’t need a big program. You don’t have to convince your session or board. All you have to do is open your home and begin. And there is no place in God’s world where there are no people who will come and share a home as long as it is a real home.

Join in with the cultural events in your neighborhood. The chances are food will be involved somewhere, because food is such a powerful bond. Look for opportunities to reinterpret what is happening in biblical categories. In Acts 14 Paul addresses the people of Lystra. They want to worship him and Barnabas as gods because the two healed a crippled man. Paul calls on them to turn from idolatry, and then says that God “did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). How many evangelistic messages have you heard along these lines? “[God] provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (NIV). So let’s give thanks to him rather than worshiping “vain things” (v. 15). We should engage in party evangelism.

I wonder what kind of reputation Christians have in your neighborhood. We should have a reputation for throwing the best parties.

It’s not hard to find an excuse to throw a party:

• personal occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, new jobs, exams, house warmings
• sporting occasions: the Super Bowl, the World Series, the soccer World Cup
• seasonal occasions: the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year
• cultural occasions: Mexican food theme night, the American Idol final

There are reasons enough to have a party every week. Parties, of course, are not enough. They create a great platform for gospel opportunities. But they must be accompanied by a passion for people and a passion for Jesus. You don’t have to give a little sermon—just be attentive to people and open about your faith.

This is an excerpt adapted from Tim Chester’s book, A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table.

Tim Chester (PhD, University of Wales) is pastor of the Crowded House in Sheffield, United Kingdom, and director of the Porterbrook Institute, which provides integrated theological and missional training for church leaders. Chester also coauthored Total Church (Re:Lit), Everyday Church (Re:Lit), and has written more than a dozen books.

Above picture taken from forestfeastdotcom

Have we made evangelism and hospitality too complicated?

dinner table

Over the past few months I have been asked a number of times about my opinion when it comes to how the church should do evangelism. One of my main responses has been that I believe we have over-complicated what it looks like to show the love of Jesus Christ to people all around us. I am not one to throw all “programs” under the bus. Programs have their place in the life of the local church. Yet I do think Jesus has modeled for us that there is no substitute for opening up our life, spending time with people and building relationships (Luke 7:34). With that said, allow me to share with you a quote from the book “A Meal With Jesus” by Tim Chester. Instead of making your life busier I hope this encourages you to see that evangelism can take place in the rhythm of everyday life.

Jesus didn’t run projects, establish ministries, create programs, or put on events. He ate meals. If you routinely share meals, and 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 so powerfully with what you are saying. -Tim Chester, A Meal With Jesus

The Implications Between The Gospel And Everyday Life

workplace

“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus…” 2 Timothy 2:1

“And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” Ephesians 5:2

“But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel…” Galatians 2:14

“Abide in me and I in you. As the branch can not bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” John 15:4

Over the past few years I have been thinking quite a bit about the implications between the gospel and everyday life. Here is a list that I plan on updating periodically…

  • Salvation: When you think about the implications of the gospel you have to start here. Entering into the kingdom of God is not accomplished through religious activity (Ephesians 2:8). Instead, Jesus freely gave up his life on the cross and offers us the gift of eternal life.
  • The antidote to our over-active sin nature. Our souls are constantly seeking pleasure; something that will make us happy. The song “Constant Craving” by K.D. Lang comes to mind when I think about my old nature. If we are not daily feeding our soul with the Bread of life, Jesus Christ, then we will find pleasure in things that only bring pain, bondage and disillusionment.
  • Workplace: What role does the gospel have in the workplace? When I rededicated my life to the Lord at the age of 20 I would take my Bible to work (literally) and set it out in obvious places for people to see. Effective? Not so much. Was I a bit of a Bible-thumper back then? You bet. Taking the gospel to work does not mean we have to try to sneak Jesus into every conversation. The gospel is the foundation for how we see the workplace. I think this quote from Every Good Endeavor will explain what I mean: “While from the outside there might not be immediately noticeable differences between a well-run company reflecting a gospel world-view and one reflecting primarily the world-story of the marketplace, inside the differences could be very noticeable. The gospel-centered business would have a discernible vision for serving the customer in a unique way, a lack of adversarial relationships and exploitation, and extremely strong emphasis on excellence and product quality, and an ethical environment that goes “all the way down” to the bottom of the organizational chart and to all the realities of daily behavior, even when high ethics mean a loss of margin. In the business animated by the gospel worldview, profit is simply one of many important bottom lines.” P. 168
  • Everyday, routine, mundane life: Frequently you will hear people talk about how we should live radical lives for Jesus. Who can argue with that? Jesus has certainly called us to lay down everything in order to follow him. No question. Sometimes I believe that within this idea of living a radical life there is this subtle notion that radical means being a missionary overseas, working full-time in the church, or para-church ministry. What about the rest of us? What about the single mom who is balancing a job and taking care of three kids? The high school student who is trying to walk with Christ in a very secular environment? The business owner who is slugging it out in corporate America? Is it possible to live a radical life for these “ordinary people.” Absolutely. If we have our lives firmly grounded in the gospel then we will be living as salt and light in everyday life. We realize that in each context, of every day, that we are ambassadors for the good news of Jesus Christ. Because of the gospel everyday life has new meaning and purpose. Radical is living everyday life with gospel intentionality.
  • Community: Part of our gospel identity is that we have been saved into the family of God (Ephesians 2:19). We have to resist the tendency to see salvation as merely a private transaction between ourselves and God. We are more than saved individuals, we are now brothers and sisters living for the kingdom of God! Are we opening up our lives to deep, messy relationships within the church family? Community is part of our identity in Christ but it is also the greenhouse whereby discipleship flourishes.
  • Trials: Most of the time we seek ways, understandably so, to avoid pain in our lives. We want the pain to end or the circumstances to get better.  We only have to look at the way God used the suffering of Jesus on the cross to be reminded that every struggle we experience leaves us with the option of becoming bitter or more like Christ. In James 1:2-4 we read, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” The “perfect” and “complete” that James writes about is his way of saying that the thorn in our flesh is there to make us more and more like Jesus Christ. We seek escape from our trials, God seeks our redemption.
  • Contentment: One of the most counter-cultural words I can think of is contentment. Our culture is absolutely rigged to leave us with the nagging feeling that we don’t have enough or that we don’t measure up. The gospel reminds us that we are so loved by Jesus that he laid down his life on the cross for us. We have the greatest gift that could ever be imagined; an ongoing, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. As we prayerfully reflect on these gospel truths we will find that we develop a deep sense of gratitude regardless of life’s circumstances (Philippians 4:11-13).
  • Marriage. I must admit, I am amazed by people who seem to have a strong marriage yet they do not know Christ. How do they do it? Thinking about the gospel on a daily basis reminds me to put the needs of my wife first.
  • Parenting/children: If I fail to give my children more grace than law I am making it a foregone conclusion that they will sin and rebel. Do we remember this during the daily grind of parenting? Law highlights sin, the good news of Jesus Christ is the remedy.
  • Politics: The gospel reminds me that although it is good to be involved in politics nothing has the power to change the heart or the world like the good news of Jesus Christ. Loving our neighbor is much more subversive than an angry political rant.
  • Preaching: Exhortations to greater obedience and to live radical lives will yield little lasting fruit if we are not continually pointing people to the grace and love of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one who empowers, inspires and sustains us into a new way of living. “Grace inspires what the law demands.”
  • Missional living: The passion to love our neighbors, care about social injustices and to see everyday life as our mission field only comes (and sustained) when we are amazed by the grace Jesus Christ has shown to us on the cross. Without heavy doses of the gospel we will crash and burn instead of living a life for the good of others.
  • Money and stewardship:  Reflect on the generosity of our heavenly Father sending his precious Son to a world that was going to reject and kill him. Meditate on the sacrifice of Jesus taking our sins upon himself, dying in our place so that we could have eternal life. As we make the gospel central to our daily thoughts we will increasingly become people of generosity in every area of our lives.
  • Training and equipping leaders: Are we equipping our ministry leaders to point others to the only one who can truly bring spiritual transformation? We want to equip our people to do more than give good advice, we want them to give the gospel. We need to listen, care and read the bible but we must always be speaking the truth in love. In John 14:6 Jesus makes it very clear that he is “the way, the TRUTH, and the life…” Our greatest spiritual need is always more Jesus.
  • Our house: Are we opening up our homes and our lives to our neighbors/strangers? By God’s grace some people will come to know the Lord by attending a worship service and hearing the Word of God. With that said, there are many people who will never show up to “church” but they are willing to share a meal with us. For many people in our post-Christian culture our house, our relationships with them, is the only place they may ever learn just how amazing Jesus is!
  • Curriculum in Children’s and Youth Ministry: Are we teaching our children and youth good moral stories from the bible or are we teaching them good moral stories that continually point them to their ongoing need for Jesus Christ? Big, big difference!
  • Weakness: It is not uncommon for people in the church to put up a front and and act like everything is OK. The result of this posturing is that we end up hiding our brokenness from the very ones who are there to encourage us and help us grow in our faith. In 2 Corinthians 12:29 Paul writes this, But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. The amazing thing about this is that it is when we finally admit that we don’t have it all together and admit our weakness that the power of Jesus Christ is strong in and through us.
  • Dealing with conflict: I’m a PK, which means I have seen my fair share of church conflict. When you open up your heart and life to others in the church there is a good chance that you will get hurt. Sheep bite. If a church does not have a culture of forgiveness then their spiritual growth will always be stunted due to bitterness, divisions and in house fighting. How do we respond when we have been offended or sinned against? The gospel gives us the answer. As Jesus is dying an agonizing death on the cross he asks his Father to forgive the very ones who are in the process of murdering him. Nothing empowers or inspires us to forgive others like the gospel. Not sure who to credit for this quote, but it certainly is true, “Avoiding conflict = cowardice. Enjoying conflict = arrogance. Redeeming conflict = Christian.”
  • Pornography: Quote taken from “Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn Free” by Tim Chester. “One Christian who’s struggled with porn concludes: Modern conservative evangelicalism fuels sexual addiction because it has come to focus on the externals of religion, not the affections. By externals I mean such things as confessions, dogmas, personal priorities, church growth strategies, church attendance, training courses, evangelism, Bible study groups and so on: things that are visible in the believer’s life. By affections, I mean those things that cannot be heard or seen directly-fears, loves, joys, delights, hates, anxieties: the currents that swirl in the waters of a believer’s heart; the hidden desires that lie deep beneath our decisions…If we are going to help people struggling with sexual addiction, we need to recognize that the manger in which their sin is cradled is not the intellect, but the heart, the seat of their desires. They therefore need something more than mere information: they need to be wooed by the true and pure lover that their heart secretly seeks. Jesus offers living water. Battling porn in our lives is not an exercise in denying pleasure. It’s about fighting pleasure with greater pleasure.”
  • How we feel about our relationship with God: Am I good enough? Am I measuring up? Is God unhappy with me? Maybe I can be on my best behavior for awhile and get back into God’s favor. These types of questions and thoughts can haunt us and leave us feeling like a spiritual failure. The gospel tells us very clearly that when we have been saved that we are declared righteous (Romans 5:11). We read this. We say this. We may even think we truly get it, but we desperately need to be reminded that when God looks at us he sees the righteousness of his precious Son Jesus Christ. God’s love for us does not waver based on whether or not we have had a solid week of bible study or if we have seriously sinned. God’s grace abounds and you and I are deeply loved by our Father!
  • Does it really matter if we connect every day life with the gospel? In John 15 Jesus tells us this, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” I believe that when we are prayerfully thinking about how the gospel relates to everyday life that we are abiding in Jesus Christ. As we abide in Jesus we are strengthened and empowered to live the life that he is calling us to. Overcoming temptation, being filled with the Spirit, and living in such a way that brings God glory is all dependent on immersing our hearts and minds on a daily basis in the gospel.

I plan on updating this list from time to time…what would you add?

The resurrection isn’t just a past fact or future hope. It’s also a present experience.

This is adapted from “Ordinary Hero: Living the cross and resurrection in everyday life” by Tim Chester

RESURRECTION POWER

“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. The power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at the right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 1:18-20)

Paul prays that Christians might realize the power that is ours in Christ. It’s the same power by which God raised Christ from the dead. On Easter morning, Jesus’ body lay dead and lifeless: flesh, rotting into dust. But God reached down and wrenched Jesus from the grave. God did what he did at creation: he brought life where there was no life (Romans 4:17). Death is the one force that no person can escape or overcome. But on that first Easter day, God took on death and won. He overcame the power of death. Paul talks of God’s “incomparably great power.”

Resurrection power is coursing through your veins. You’re like some spiritual superhero with untold power at your disposal. Really, you are.

RESURRECTION FREEDOM

“For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we should no longer be slaves to sin-because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” (Romans 6:6-10)

Because we’re united to Christ in his death, his death becomes our death. And that means our old self with its inbuilt bias toward sin was crucified with Christ. It’s dead. It’s gone. We’re set free from its power. And we’re united with Christ in his resurrection, his life becomes our life. We’re free to live for God. The bondage of sin is broken and we receive new life. A revolution has taken place. The old regime of Sin has been toppled. The life-giving reign of Grace has been established in its place.

RESURRECTION LIFE

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:1, 4-5).

ordinary heroThere’s a life which is given to us at the end of time-the new life of bodily resurrection (John 5:24-25). A rotting, decaying dead body is what sin earns. As the flesh decays and stinks, we see the “value” of sin, the reward of sin, the true nature of sin. But if a stinking, rotting body is what sin earns, a glorious resurrection body is what grace gives. But there’s also a life that is given to us now in human history when we become Christians. One moment we were spiritually dead; the next we were spiritually alive. You may not be able to pinpoint when this tool place in your experience-many people experience conversion as a gradual transition. But there was a time when your were dead, closed to God, ignorant of him, hardened against him in a rebellion. But now, if you’re a Christian, you’re alive, open to God, knowing God and known by God, soft-hearted toward him in love. We’re no longer spiritually dead. We’re alive to God.

  • We have the same power that raised Jesus from the dead at work in our lives. Do we honestly believe this? How would this belief impact our daily life?
  • We have been liberated from the power of sin. Is there a sin or idol in our life that is so powerful that we have stopped fighting against it? Do we believe we have been set free in Jesus?
  • We have the life of Jesus in us now; it is more than a future hope. Does our current life reflect the resurrection of Jesus?
  • How does our resurrection with Jesus shape our everyday identity? Would you identify yourself more as a dad, mom, husband, wife, student, employee, or a son and daughter of the living God?
  • What difference will the resurrection make after the Easter worship service on Sunday? How will it shape the way you live Monday-Saturday?

The Most Important Thing You Bring To Your Small Group/Missional Community

One of the convictions that unites the GCM Collective in South Jersey is the conviction that a person cannot become a fully-formed disciple of Jesus without being in a gospel-centered community on mission.

The key to this statement, as I understand it, is the phrase “fully-formed”. Sure, a person can experience some measure of spiritual growth as a disciple apart from a community devoted to Jesus’ mission of making disciples. But a fully-formed disciple is one who is learning to obey everything Jesus has commanded (Matthew 28:19).

Since so many of Jesus’ commands require community (such as, “Love one another,” or “forgive one another,” or, “Get the log out of your eye before you examine the speck in your brother’s eye”), then to be fully obedient to Jesus, we need community. And since He also commands that we go into all nations preaching the gospel, baptizing new believers and teaching them to obey all He has commanded, and living a life that commends Him to a hostile world, then a disciple who isn’t devoted to that mission surely cannot be considered “fully-formed.”

So I think it’s helpful to say that a disciple cannot be fully-formed apart from being in a gospel-centered community which is on mission together to make disciples of Jesus. In all the talk about the importance of community and mission, though, I wonder if something very important and seemingly-obvious gets neglected. So when I talk to others about the need for gospel-centered community on mission, one thing I like to stress is:

A gospel-centered community on mission will experience true discipleship only to the degree that the individual Christians who make up that community are personally experiencing vital, soul-enriching communion with God on their own.

As vital as deep community is to healthy discipleship, discipleship won’t happen just by “doing life” together, engaging in everyday rhythms. Throw some unbelievers in the mix, and it doesn’t automatically become mission. If the Christians in this community aren’t personally experiencing fellowship with God, there will be no Christ to bring into those everyday rhythms. And if there’s no Christ, then surely there is no discipleship. As disciples of Jesus, the life we now live is a life of faith in Christ (Galatians 2:20), and that faith comes by hearing the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).

We walk the path of discipleship in the same way that we initially get onto that path: through faith in Christ (Colossians 2:6-7). If we’re not hearing from Him, as He is revealed in the Word, then we won’t be growing, nor will we be able to help anyone else to grow, which is what discipleship is all about: growing up into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ so that every single aspect of life is joyfully submitted to His rule and reign. And that happens as we speak the truth (i.e., biblical truth, especially gospel truth) in love to one another (see Ephesians 4:11-16).

So if there is no intake of truth, then there surely will be no speaking of truth to others, and thus no true mission will actually happen. But when we are experiencing vital, soul-enriching, communion with God, hearing from Him with faith, then discipleship is as simple as sharing with others what God is saying to us personally.

For instance, in re-reading Tim Chester’s wonderful book You Can Change, I was struck by a simple statement Chester made in ministering to a man who was dealing with panic attacks: “Not what if, but what is, and what is, is that God is in control.” I was struck by this, because the absence of peace in my life (a confidence and rest in the wisdom and control and goodness of God, rather than my own) was something the Spirit had been pressing on me in recent weeks.

I seized upon this statement, and tried to make it more specific by inserting particular biblical truths to convey, “what is”. Not “What if?”, but “What is?” And what is, is that:

• The LORD, who is my good shepherd, is pursuing me with goodness and mercy today, and all the days of my life (Psalm 23:1, 6)
• God rejoices to do me good with all of His heart and all of His soul (Jeremiah 32:40-41)
• Jesus, who loved me and gave Himself for me, is even now upholding the universe by the word of His power (Galatians 2:20, Hebrews 1:3)
• My present sufferings aren’t worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to me as an heir of God, and a co-heir with Jesus Christ Himself (Romans 8:17-18)

You get the idea. In the past few weeks since reading this, I am experiencing the transforming power of the Spirit, bringing me back to liberating truths of who God is and what He has promised me because of Jesus. And inevitably, as I do life with other believers, I am sharing with them what God has been showing me, telling them about the “What if/What is” lesson I am learning, and telling them the specific truths and promises that He is using to set me free from fear, anxiety, discouragement, etc. In doing that, I am taking my experience of growth and using it to engage in the discipleship of others. I am speaking truth in love to others, because I am hearing truth from my God, Savior, Shepherd, King and Redeemer.

That is, as I understand it, the mission I’m called to: seek the Lord with everything in me, marinate my soul in the rich truths of God’s Word, and then share with others (both believer and unbeliever) what God is showing to me as I commune with Him.

So, yes, you cannot faithfully obey everything Jesus has commanded (and thus, be a fully-formed disciple of Jesus) without involvement in a gospel-centered community on mission. Know this, and live this; don’t deceive yourself into thinking you’re a healthy disciple of Jesus just because you know a lot of truth about Him. But know this as well: you can’t contribute to the health of a gospel-centered community on mission if you’re not personally seeking fellowship and communion with God in your own life.

As you do that – as the Creator of heaven and earth meets you day after day and speaks to you from the pages of Scripture – share that experience with others who you’re doing life with, and you’ll be living out His mission of making disciples. The mission of disciple-making is more than this; but it’s surely not less.

This was a guest post by Larry Lazarus; pastor at Joy Community Fellowship in Pitman, New Jersey.

Don’t Give Good Advice, Give Good News. Part 1 (Everyday Church)

…our goal is to offer good news that brings joy. That is the test of gospel pastoring. Is it good news? Is gospel good news?

What else might it be?

everyday churchFirst, it might be positive thinking but not good news. That is the sum of a lot of modern secular counseling. “You deserve it.” “You can do it.” “Life is not against you.” It is a call to break out of negative thinking. There is something in this approach. In many ways it is the best the secular world has to offer, and often it is effective. The problem is that sometimes negative thinking is right!

I am pastoring someone at the moment who is being told by her counselor that she deserves to get better. Now, I sympathize with her because she suffers from a condition in which people punish themselves. But does she deserve to get better? She does not think so; she knows she deserves God’s judgment, but Jesus has taken the judgment she deserves, paid it in full, and given her the reward that he deserves so that now she is a child of God. She does not need to punish herself, because the punishment was paid in full at the cross. That is good news without any pretending. So we need to be careful not to offer positive thinking in place of real good news.

Second, such counsel might be good advice, but it is not good news. It is all too easy, especially with broken people, to give a stream of advice. “Maybe you should buy cheaper, nonbranded products,” “Maybe you should spend less time with that person.” Maybe you should feed your kids food with less additives.”

The problem with such advice is twofold. First, it distorts your relationship with those to whom you offer it. If you are not careful, it puts you into the role of parent. Or it portrays you as a together person so that others need to become like you. Second, it is not the gospel. At best it might lead to reform, but it will not reconcile anyone to God or change hearts.

There is a place for advice; it can be an act of love. But we need to spell out for people the nature of what we are saying, especially if we are in a position of authority within the church. We need to distinguish between advice and the gospel because they carry very different levels of authority. Advice comes with the accumulated wisdom such as it is. The gospel comes with the authority of God, and that is a very different proposition. So we need to be careful not to offer good advice in place of proclaiming good news.

Third, we can proclaim law instead of good news. You would think good evangelical, justification-by-faith people would not do this, but we do! Law says, “You should…” You should not sleep with your boyfriend; You should read your Bible everyday; You should not get drunk; You should witness to your friends; You should not lose your temper. Does any of that sound familiar? That is not good news, not to someone struggling with those issues. It is condemnation.

What the gospel says is this: “You need not…”-You need not get drunk, because Jesus offers a better refuge; You need not lose your temper, because God is in control of the situation. That is good news! Sin makes promises. The gospel exposes those promises as false promises and points to a God who is bigger and better than anything sin offers. That is good news.

Taken from Everyday Church-Gospel Communities On Mission by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis

Everyday Martrydom

ordinary hero

In chapter 6 of “Ordinary Hero: Living the Cross and Resurrection in Everyday Life” Tim Chester describes what everyday martyrdom looks like…

What does the practice of the cross mean when someone wrongs me? “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ in God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

What does the practice of the cross mean when I’m tired and someone asks me for help? “But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you” (Philippians 2:17).

What does the practice of the cross mean when I want to hold back from taking a risk or moving out of my comfort zone? “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

What does the practice of the cross mean when I see an opportunity to impress someone with my Bible knowledge or Christian service? “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves…Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:3,5-8).

What does the practice of the cross mean when I start asking, “How will this effect me?” “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:4-5,8).

What does the practice of the cross mean when my family asks why I’ve not pursued a career like other people? “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

What does the practice of the cross mean when people don’t respond to my hard work on their behalf? “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers-not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money but eager to serve.” (1 Peter 5:1-2).

What does the practice of the cross mean when I open my wallet? “See that you also excel in this grace of giving…For you know the grace of the the Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:7-9).

What does the practice of the cross mean when I start to say, “I want my way”? “Then [Jesus] said to them, ‘my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet now as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:38-39).

What does the practice of the cross mean when friends urge me to join them in sinful behavior? “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin…They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse upon you…” (1 Peter 4:1,4).

What does the practice of the cross mean when I find other Christians difficult to get along with? “Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself, but as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me’…Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:2-3, 7).

What does the practice of the cross mean when I see other Christians in need? “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has not pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:16-17).

What does the practice of the cross mean when dishes need to be done at home? “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and have himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25; see also 1 Peter 2:18-3:7).

What does the practice of the cross mean when I face temptation? “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2).