Why Aren’t You Changing?

“What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or for restoration.” -Greg Beale

Do you feel stuck spiritually? Do you sometimes wonder if there is more to the Christian life than what you are experiencing? Are you living with a sense that you are just managing your sin instead of really dealing with it? Are you quietly wondering why you are not changing as much as you would hope?

PREMISE #1: WHEN WE WORSHIP GOD WE BECOME LIKE GOD.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. -2 Corinthians 3:18

The apostle Paul makes it clear in 2 Corinthians that we are spiritually transformed by worshipping God, by “beholding the glory of the Lord.” There are a million different things in life that are screaming for our attention. Yet, how often do we sabotage ourselves by failing to slow down, quiet our heart and mind, and truly seeking hard after God in worship?

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” -Luke 10:38-42

PREMISE #2: ALL TOO OFTEN WE ARE GOING THROUGH THE RELIGIOUS MOTIONS WITHOUT TRULY WORSHIPING GOD.

“I hate, I despise your feast days,
And I do not savor your sacred assemblies.
Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings,
I will not accept them,
Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings.
Take away from Me the noise of your songs,
For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. -Amos 5:21-23

Have you ever wondered why you, or anyone for that matter, can attend church, do their devotions, and yet remain unchanged spiritually? I think one of the problems is that our spiritual life has become too routine and mechanical. We are like the people that Amos is addressing. We have this tendency to drift in and out of religious experiences without a genuine, life-transforming encounter with God.

PREMISE #3: THERE ARE INDICATORS, OR SIGNS, THAT YOU ARE GOING THROUGH THE RELIGIOUS MOTIONS WITHOUT TRULY WORSHIPPING GOD.

…having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. -2 Timothy 3:5

  • You are lacking in joy.
  • You are critical with others.
  • You are easily angered.
  • You are lacking in contentment.
  • You are anxious.
  • You are irritable.
  • You are bored.
  • You don’t care much about those who are lost all around you.
  • You have unconfessed, unrepentant sin in your life.

Our behavior is directly related to the condition of our heart. We change our behavior by having our heart changed. Our heart is changed by coming into God’s presence and worshipping him.

PREMISE #4: YOU ARE CURRENTLY WORSHIPPING SOMETHING OR SOMEONE AND IT IS SHAPING YOU INTO IT’S IMAGE.

Those who make them (idols) become like them; so do all who trust in them. -Psalm 115:8

N.T. Wright puts it like this, “When human beings give their heartfelt allegiance to and worship that which is not God, they progressively cease to reflect the image of God. One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only to the object itself but also outward to the world around.”

Are you worshipping your job, family, hobbies, politics, success, fitness? One way to figure out the answer to that question is get alone for an extended period of time and ask God to reveal to you what it is that is most important to you in life. We are moving at such a frantic pace that often times we are not even aware of what is truly going on in our own heart.

PREMISE #5: THERE ARE HOLY HABITS THAT WILL LEAD TO SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION.

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. -1 Timothy 4:7-8

  • Ask God to reveal areas of unconfessed sin and truly repent of it.
    • I personally believe that one of the greatest hindrances to spiritual transformation (or revival) is trying to manage our sin rather than really dealing with it. This may require getting into a relationship with someone who will pray with you and hold you accountable.
  • Sing songs of worship to God during the week.
    • I would say that one of the most special times for me is on Sunday when I am singing praise to God with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. But this raises a question, why don’t we do this more during the week? Perhaps we need to turn off the political talk show and listen to worship music instead.
  • Instead of merely reading Scripture meditate upon it.
    • We need to allow the Word of God to soak into our hearts and our minds. Are we really embracing the mind-blowing truth that God is speaking to us as we read his Word? What does it look like to meditate on God’s Word rather than merely reading it? Nancy Leigh DeMoss writes this, “As you read, pause frequently to meditate on the meaning of what you are reading. Absorb the Word into your system by dwelling on it, pondering it, going over it again and again in your mind, considering it from many different angles, until it becomes part of you.”
  • Commit yourself to a deeper prayer life.
    • Over the past year God has been convicting me when it comes to my prayer life. I need to pray for my own spiritual good. I need to pray so that I will not be overcome by the temptations that I face every single day. I need to pray for there to be a spiritual awakening in my church and city. We give lip service to the idea that prayer is important but far too often our lives reveal that we actually believe we can get by in our own strength and power. I think the bottom-line is that nothing much will change if we are not developing a deeper prayer life.
    • “We must be able to existentially access our doctrinal convictions. If doctrinal soundness is not accompanied by heart experience, it will eventually lead to nominal Christianity—that is, in name only—and eventually to nonbelief. The irony is that many conservative Christians, most concerned about conserving true and sound doctrine, neglect the importance of prayer and make no effort to experience God, and this can lead to the eventual loss of sound doctrine. . . . Christianity without real experience of God will eventually be no Christianity at all.” -Tim Keller

18 Of My Favorite Quotes From “Making Sense of God” By Tim Keller

Secularism is on the decline

Demographers tell us the twenty-first century will be less secular than the twentieth. There have been seismic shifts toward Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa and China while evangelicalism and Pentecostalism have grown exponentially in Latin America. Even in the United States the growth of the “nones” has been mainly among those who had been more nominal in their relationship to faith while the devoutly religious in the United States and Europe are growing. P. 10-11

Are you longing for something that does not exist?

If this life is all there is, why do we long so deeply for something that doesn’t exist and never did? Why are there so many experiences that point beyond the world picture of secularism, even by those who do not welcome such perceptions? And if this life is all there is, what will you do with these desires that have no fulfillment within the closed secular frame? P. 22

Secularism is based on faith

The Christian believer is using reason and faith to get to her beliefs just as her secular neighbor is using reason and faith to get to hers. They are both looking at the same realities in nature and human life, and both are seeking a way to make the best sense of them through a process that is rational, personal, intuitive, and social. Reason does not and cannot operate alone. Contemporary secularity, then, is not the absence of faith, but is instead based on a whole set of beliefs, including a number of highly contestable assumptions about the nature of proof and rationality itself. P. 41

Secularism does not lead to love

However, if we are just a decaying piece of matter in a decaying universe and nothing more significant than that, how does it follow that we should live a life of love towards others? It doesn’t. Why shouldn’t we live as selfishly as we can get away with? How do beliefs in individual freedom, human rights, and equality arise from or align with the idea that human beings came to be what they are through the survival of the fittest? They don’t, really. P. 42

Where did the values of Western culture come from?

Where, then, did the moral values of Western, liberal, secular culture come from, including the importance of the individual, equality, rights, love, and concern for the poor, and the necessity of improving material conditions for everyone? Many scholars have made a strong historical case that they came down to us from Jewish and Christian thought. P. 46

Is meaning in life possible without God?

So is meaning in life without God practically possible? Public discourse is filled with loud religious voices insisting that life without God is inevitably pointless, bleak and unworkable. Other the other side there are plenty of secular people who insist that they not only have satisfying meaning in life but also have a kind of freedom that religious people do not. Who is right? Can we have meaning in life without any belief in God at all? To be fair to all, I would argue that the answer is both yes and no.

I say yes because both by our definition and by lived experience secular people can certainly know meaning in life. We define “meaning” as having both a purpose and the assurance that you are serving some good beyond yourself. If you decide that the meaning of your life is to be a good parent, or to serve a crucial political cause, or to tutor underprivileged youth, or to enjoy and promote great literature-then you have, by definition, a meaning in life. Plenty of secular people live like this without being tortured and gloomy in the manner of Camus. It is quite possible to find great purpose in the ordinary tasks of life, apart from knowing answers to the Big Questions About Existence.

But I also say no. Secular people are often unwilling to recognize the significant difference between what have been called “inherent” and “assigned” meanings. Traditional belief in God was the basis for discovered, objective meaning-meaning that is there, apart from your inner feelings or interpretations. If we were made by God for certain purposes, than there are inherent meanings that we must accept.

The meanings that secular people have are not discovered but rather created. They are not objectively “there.” They are subjective and wholly dependent on our feelings. You may determine to live for political change or the establishment of a happy family, and these can definitely serve as energizing goals. However, I want to argue that such created meanings are much more fragile and thin than discovered meanings. Specifically, discovered meaning is more rational, communal, and durable than created meaning. P. 64-65

Secular people and the big picture in life

When secular people seek to lead a meaningful life, they must have discipline to not think so much about the big picture. P. 67

The dread that comes from a lack of meaning in life

If you believe that there is no discovered meaning in life, only created meaning, then if you really start to think globally-about the fact that nothing you do is going to make any difference in the end-you are going to begin to experience the dread of nausea of the modernists. And, of course, you don’t have to think like this-you can put it out of mind-and that is certainly how most people in the secular culture live today. But that is my first point. That is not a very rational way to have meaning in life. Created meaning is a less rational way to live life than doing so with discovered meaning. P. 69

We distract ourselves from the emptiness of our lives

James Wood refers to the pursuit of “jobs, family, sex, and so on-the usual distractions” by which we hide from ourselves the emptiness of our lives.” P. 83

Where does our discontentment come from?

The ultimate disordered love, however-and the ultimate source of our discontent-is failure to love the first thing first, the failure to love God supremely. P. 90

Where does contentment come from?

Here, then, is the message. Don’t love anything less; instead learn to love God more, and you will love other things with far more satisfaction. You won’t overprotect them, you won’t overexpect things from them. You won’t be constantly furious with them for not being what you hoped. Don’t stifle passionate love for anything; rather, redirect your greatest love toward God by loving him with your whole heart and loving him for himself, and not just for what he can give you. Then, and only then, does the contentment start to come. P. 94

Everybody worships

David Foster Wallace, the postmodern novelist, puts it like this:

In the day to day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as…not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual thing to worship…is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough…Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you…Worship power – you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart – you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. P. 111

True view of ourselves is powerful

(Miroslav) Volf answers: “No one can be in the presence of the God of the Crucified Messiah for long…without transposing the enemy from the sphere of monstrous humanity into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness.” P. 146

Christianity is the only true world wide religion

One of the unique things about Christianity is that it is the only truly worldwide religion. Over 90% of Muslims live in a band from Southeast Asia to the Middle East and Northern Africa. Over 95% of all Hindus and in India and immediate environs. Some 88 percent of Buddhists are in East Asia. However, about 25 percent of Christians live in Europe, 25 percent in Central and South America, 22 percent in Africa, 15 percent (and growing fast) in Asia, and 12 percent in North America. Professor Richard Bauckham writes, “Almost certainly Christianity exhibits more cultural diversity than any other religion, and that must say something about it.” As we have seen, Christianity has been growing explosively in Asia and Africa for over a century now. It is no longer a Western religion (nor was it originally). It is truly a world religion. P. 148

Death makes our lives better

All death can now do to Christians is to make their lives infinitely better. P. 166

The best way to think about moral truth

Yes, of course, believing in universal moral truths can be used to oppress others. But what if that absolute truth is a man who died for his enemies, who did not respond in violence with violence but forgave them? How could that story, if it is the center of your life, lead you to take up power and dominate others? Remarkably, then, we can conclude that a professed Christian who is not committed to a life of generosity and justice toward the poor and marginalized is, at the very least, a living contradiction of the Gospel of Christ, the Son of God, whose Father “executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry” (Psalm 146:7). Bauckham says, “Distortion of the biblical story into a theology of oppression has to suppress the biblical meaning of the cross.” All of these characteristics of the biblical story make it “uniquely unsuited to be being an instrument of oppression.” P. 210

Greater percentage of the world is Christian than ever before

Today a greater percentage of the world’s population than ever before is Christian, and Christianity adds to its ranks over fifty thousand persons a day, or just under nineteen million new people a year. P. 229

Nothing compares to Jesus

Particularly impressive to readers over the centuries has been what one writer has called “an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ.” That is, in him we see qualities and virtues we would ordinarily consider incompatible in the same person. We would never think they could be combined but, because they are, they are strikingly beautiful. Jesus combines high majesty with the greatest humility, he joins the strongest commitment to justice with astonishing mercy and grace, and he reveals a transcendent self-sufficiency and yet entire trust and reliance upon his heavenly Father. We are surprised to see tenderness without any weakness, boldness without harshness, humility without any uncertainty, indeed, accompanied by a towering confidence. Readers can discover for themselves his unbending convictions but complete approachability, his insistence on truth but always bathed in love, his power without insensitivity, integrity without rigidity, passion without prejudice. P. 233

 

Resources for Christians in the Workplace

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24

One of the areas that churches have overlooked when it comes to making disciples is what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ in the workplace. I have blogged about this on a number of occasions but I just wanted to pass along a few resources so that you can think more deeply about God’s Word and how it relates to your day-to-day job.

  • BOOKS:
    • Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller. This is the best book I have read about living as a follower of Jesus Christ in the workplace. A number of years ago I shared quite a few quotes from this book. You can find the quotes HERE.
    • The Gospel at Work by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert.
    • God at Work by Gene Veith.

If you have found other resources helpful in this area of Christian living please feel free to share them with me. Would love to hear from you!

Ruth 3: Divine Romance

Ruth 1 HERE and Ruth 2 HERE

This Sunday I will continue my sermon series in the book of Ruth. Here is what I have discovered so far in Ruth 3.

HUMAN LOVE

Naomi and Ruth have returned to Bethlehem nearly destitute and with little hope. Family members have died, their money is gone, and the expectations for a good life have been shattered into pieces.

Naomi and Ruth discover that there is a relative in Bethlehem by the name of Boaz. Boaz is the kinsman-redeemer which means that he has the responsibility as the nearest kin to rescue Naomi and get her out of debt. Of course Naomi would love for Boaz to step up as her kinsman-redeemer, but Naomi is also concerned about the well being of Ruth. Naomi wants to see Ruth get married so that she is loved and taken care of.  Naomi hatches an ingenious, albeit risky, plan.  She tells Ruth to get dressed up and put on some perfume. Ruth is then told to go to the threshing floor around midnight, lay down at the feet of a sleeping Boaz, and wait for him to wake up. What could possibly go wrong with a plan like this? Right. Everything!

Even at this point in the story you can see glimpses of the gospel shining through. Ruth is a complete and total outsider. Not only is she an outsider, but she is from the hated land of Moab. Moab was a city that was started by Lot having an incestuous relationship with his daughter. Did that thought just make you gag? Jews did not look favorably upon the people of Moab. So we wonder, will Ruth be accepted and loved by this successful Jewish business man?

Boaz wakes up, and as you can imagine, seems startled. It’s not every day you wake up with a young woman wrapped around your feet. Will Boaz be furious? Will he make a scene and embarrass Ruth? Will he take advantage of her vulnerability for his own selfish purposes?

Boaz reveals what a godly man he truly is. Boaz praises Ruth, tells her that he will be happy to marry her, and takes on the responsibility of becoming Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer. There is an important clue in Ruth 3:10 as to what is motivating both Boaz and Ruth.

And he said, “May you be blessed by the LORD, my daughter. You have made this last KINDNESS greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich.

The word kindness is one of many ways that the Hebrew word HESED can be translated. As I have mentioned in some of my earlier posts, HESED is a loyal love. It is not based on fleeting romantic feelings. This is a love that lasts through good and bad times.

Ruth and Boaz are not merely following their emotions. They are making decisions based on HESED love for one another. They both understand that HESED love requires sacrifice, putting the other person first, and making a commitment that lasts forever.

DIVINE LOVE

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. -Ephesians 5:31-32

The love story between Ruth and Boaz is powerful. But we need to know that it is pointing us towards a much greater love story. It points us towards a divine romance. How does it do this?

Boaz is a foreshadowing of the One true Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, who would come to earth and buy back his people from their debt of sin. Jesus would sacrifice his life on the cross and die for the sins of his people. The compassion and grace of Jesus is something that we, like Ruth, did not deserve. We were all outsiders. We were in bondage to the debt of our sins. Jesus, our Kinsman-Redeemer, stepped in when we did not deserve it and rescued us.

As a preacher, I wonder what to make of this story. How do I apply it to everyday life?

First of all, one of the things this story should do is give us a greater appreciation of the love that Jesus, our Bridegroom, has for us. We did not deserve to be brought into this covenant relationship with him. We brought nothing into this relationship but our sin and shame, yet Jesus still loved us enough to die for us on a cross.

“You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.” -Jonathan Edwards

Secondly, it is a wonderful privilege and responsibility to know that our marriages are to reflect the beauty and grace of the gospel. The weight of this truth forces us to rethink what marriage is all about in the first place. Ruth and Boaz point the way once again. They were making decisions about their relationship based on the rock solid foundation of HESED love. They were not basing a lifetime on how buzzed their feelings made them. I will confess that I wrestle with this because I’m fairly certain that I have made romance an idol in my life. I want the feelings in my marriage to be like they were when we were dating. The problem with this is that after living for all of these years I have not found one living soul who claims that marriage is non-stop romance. I want that, I really do. Thus, the struggle. With the ebb and flow of feelings in marriage, I need to be reminded that HESED love is what will make my marriage stand the test of time.

Modern people make the painfulness of marriage even greater than it has to be, because they crush it under the weight of their almost comically impossible expectations. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ernest Becker believed that modern culture has produced a desire for what he called “apocalyptic romance.” At one time we expected marriage and family to provide love, support, and security. But for meaning in life, hope for the future, moral compass, and self-identity we looked to God and the afterlife. Today, however, our culture has taught us to believe that no one can be sure of those things, not even whether they exist. Therefore, Becker argued, something has to fill the gap, and often that something is romantic love. We look to sex and romance to give us what we use to get from faith in God. -The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller

Finally, I believe this story gives us tremendous hope for the future. Many times the New Testament talks about how we, the church, are the bride for Christ. We read this in Revelation 19:6-8:

6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
8 it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure

Can you see and feel the hope? We, the church, are Jesus’ bride and one day we will get to be with him in heaven. The white garments that we will wear remind us that all of our sins have been washed clean by the blood of the the Lamb. Our Savior, our Bridegroom, loved us so much that he was willing to die for us.

I am looking forward to sharing more gospel truth with you next week as I study the fourth chapter of Ruth!

I can’t feel my face when I’m with you

Yes, I have blogged about romance and our culture before. But when I saw that The Weeknd (yes, the spelling is correct) had 297 million hits for his song “Can’t Feel My Face” I decided to chime in once again. Over and over again Abel Makkonen Tesfaye informs us that because of the girl he met he can no longer feel his face. Being a pastor who loves the stories in the New testament I thought, hmmm, leprosy?

Nah. He’s talking about a drug known as romance. Powerful stuff. (People have also told me that Abel may be referring to how he feels after taking drugs. Not sure. The overall vibe of the song leads me to believe he is primarily talking about romance/love.)

But I have a question for Abel. A question for all of us…

What do you do when you can feel your face? Bail? Find the next relational buzz?

cantfeelmyface

Again, allow me to lean on Tim Keller for some perspective.

“This principle – that your spouse should be capable of becoming your best friend – is a game changer when you address the question of compatibility in a prospective spouse. If you think of marriage largely in terms of erotic love, then compatibility means sexual chemistry and appeal. If you think of marriage largely as a way to move into the kind of social status in life you desire, then compatibility means being part of the desired social class, and perhaps common tastes and aspirations for lifestyle. The problem with these factors is that they are not durable. Physical attractiveness will wane, no matter how hard you work to delay its departure. And socio-economic status unfortunately can change almost overnight. When people think they have found compatibility based on these things, they often make the painful discovery that they have built their relationship on unstable ground. A woman “lets herself go” or a man loses his job, and the compatibility foundation falls apart.”

― Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

Jeremiah 29:7. Does this apply to the church today?

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. -Jeremiah 29:7

How many times have you seen this verse quoted in such a way to encourage Christians to serve and love the city in which they reside? Let’s just say “a lot.”

The question must be asked, “do the words spoken by the prophet Jeremiah to the Jewish exiles in 600 B.C. really apply to the church today? And if so, how?” 

exileSo why should we apply the exhortations of Jeremiah 29 to the church today? In the Bible, we see the people of God living in three configurations. From Abraham’s day onward, God’s people existed as an extended biological family. From the days of Moses, they exited as a nation-state, with laws and a king and an army to enforce those laws by civil sanctions. During the exile, however, God’s people existed as a dispersed fellowship of congregations (synagogues) living in many different nation-states. God’s law did not take a civil form during that period-the disobedient were expelled from the congregation, but they were not executed.

After the exile, the Jews went back to being a nation-state. Yet the New Testament does not envision the Christian church in this way. Instead, it shows that the church continues to exist as a dispersion of people from every nation under heaven (Acts 2), just as Israel did in the exile (see Jas 1:1, Peter 1:1). Therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that the church should continue to the human cities of our time, not as the people of God did under Abraham, Moses, or David, but as they did during the time of the exiles.” P.147-148, Center Church

Peter clearly tells us that as the church today we are called to live as exiles (1 Peter 2:11-12). One of the problems I see today is that many Christians are not taking the tone or posture of an exile, rather they are living as if they are in a position of power. Perhaps the post-Christian culture that we are living in today is going to force us to let go of the facade of being in a position of power and instead embrace the reality that God has called us to live as exiles for the good of the city/suburbs in which we reside. 

What does it look like when we live as if we are in a position of power?

  • We seek to impose our “rules” on society.
  • We come across as arrogant and angry.
  • We are shocked and outraged when others do not submit to our “rules”.
  • We end up putting too much hope and faith in politicians for the transformation of society.
  • Unfortunately we stop looking and sounding like Jesus

What does it look like when we live as exiles?

  • We listen to and serve people in our culture because we realize that we are not in a position of power.
  • We don’t assume that culture will play by our rules. Instead, we show them an alternative way to live. The way of Love.
  • Our tone and posture is less militant and more sacrificial and compassionate. Quoting John piper, “This is my main point: being exiles does not mean being cynical. It does not mean being indifferent or uninvolved. The salt of the earth does not mock rotting meat. Where it can, it saves and seasons. Where it can’t, it weeps. And the light of the world does not withdraw, saying “good riddance” to godless darkness. It labors to illuminate. But not dominate.”
  • We don’t hate culture, we see our role as salt (redemption) and light within culture.
  • We walk in the ways of Jesus (Isaiah 42:3, Matthew 20:28) and truly reflect the gospel to the world around us.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? -Psalm 137:4

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. –1 Peter 2:11-12

Doing Justice Is A Sign You Have Been Justified

Is doing justice a sign that we have truly been justified?

Generous Justice from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

24 Of My Favorite Quotes From Center Church by Tim Keller

1-Preaching to young secular adults

Preaching is compelling to young secular adults not if preachers use video clips from their favorite movies and dress informally and sound sophisticated, but if the preachers understand their hearts and culture so well that the listeners feel the force of the sermon’s reasoning even if in the end they don’t agree with it. This is not a matter of style or program. p. 15

2-Different ways to present the gospel

If we conceive the question in the first, more individualistic way, we explain how a sinful human being can be reconciled to a holy God and how his or her life can be changed as a result. It is a message about individuals. The answer can be outlined: Who God is, what sin is, who Christ is and what he did, and what faith is. These are basically propositions. If we conceive of the question in the second way, to ask all that God is going to accomplish in history, we explain where the world came from, what went wrong with it, and what must happen for it to be mended. This is a message about the world. The answer can be outlined: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. These are chapters in a plotline, a story.

As we will see in the next chapter, there is no single way to present the biblical gospel. Yet I urge you to be as thoughtful as possible in your gospel presentations. The danger in answering only the first question (“What must I do to be saved?”) without the second (“What hope is there for the world?”) is that, standing alone, the first can play into the Western idea that religion exists to provide spiritual goods that meet individual spiritual needs for freedom from guilt and bondage. It does not speak much about the goodness of the original creation or of God’s concern for the material world, and so this conception may set up the listener to see Christianity as sheer escape from the world. But the danger in conceiving too strictly as story line of the renewal of the world is even greater. It tells listeners about God’s program to save the world, but it does not tell them how to actually get right with God and become part of that program.” p. 32

center church3-The temptation to move on, away from the gospel, and into deeper forms of spiritual truth

There is always a danger that church leaders and ministers will conceive of the gospel as merely the minimum standard of doctrinal belief for being a Christian believer. As a result, many preachers and leaders are energized by thoughts of teaching more advanced doctrine, or of deeper forms of spirituality, or of intentional community and the sacraments, or of “deeper discipleship”, or of psychological healing, or of social justice and cultural engagement. One of the reasons is the natural emergence of specialization as a church grows and ages. People naturally want to go deeper into various topics and ministry disciplines. But this tendency can cause us to lose sight of the whole. Though we may have an area or a ministry that we tend to focus on, the gospel is what brings unity to all that we do. Every form of ministry is empowered by the gospel, based on the gospel, and is a result of the gospel. p. 36

4-What in the world do we mean when we say “Center Church”?

A church that truly understands the implications of the biblical gospel, letting the “word of God dwell in it richly” (Col 3:16), will look like an unusual hybrid of various church forms and stereotypes. Because of the inside-out, substitutionary atonement aspect, the church will place great emphasis on personal conversion, experiential grace renewal, evangelism, outreach, and church planting. This makes it look like and evangelical-charismatic church. Because of the upside-down, kingdom/incarnation aspect, the church will placed great emphasis on deep community, cell groups or house churches, radical giving and sharing of resources, spiritual disciplines, racial reconciliation, and living with the poor.  This makes it look like as Anabaptist “peace” church. Because of the forward-back, kingdom/restoration aspect, the church will place great emphasis on seeking the welfare of the city, neighborhood and civic involvement, cultural engagement, and training people to work in “secular” vocations out of a Christian worldview. This makes it look like a mainline church or, perhaps, a Kuyperian Reformed church. Very few churches, denominations, or movements integrate all of these ministries or emphases. Yet I believe that a comprehensive view of the biblical gospel-one that grasps the gospel’s inside-out, upside-down, and forward-back aspects-will champion and cultivate them all. This is what we mean by a Center Church. p. 48

5-Most of our problems in life come from…

Most of our problems in life come from a lack of proper orientation to the gospel. Pathologies in the church and sinful patterns in our individual lives ultimately stem from a failure to think through the deep implications of the gospel and to grasp and believe the gospel through and through. Put positively, the gospel transforms our hearts and our thinking and changes our approaches to absolutely everything. When the gospel is expounded and applied in its fullness in any church, that church will look unique. People will find in it an attractive, electrifying balance of moral conviction and compassion. p. 51

6-Churches, over time, tend to lose sight of the uniqueness of the gospel

Over time, all churches, no matter how sound their theology, tend to lose sight of the uniqueness of the gospel and fall into practices that conform more to other religions or to irreligion. Their doctrinal instruction loses sight of how each doctrine plays a role in the gospel message, and their moral instruction is not grounded in and motivated by the finished work and grace of Christ. The leaders of the church must always be bringing the gospel to bear on people’s minds and hearts so that they see it as not just a set of beliefs but as the power that changes us profoundly and continually. Without this kind of application of the gospel, mere teaching, preaching, baptizing, and catechizing are not sufficient. p. 54

7-How to spot an idol

A sure sign of the presence of idolatry is inordinate anxiety, anger, or discouragement when our idols are thwarted. So if we lose a good thing, it makes us sad, but if we lose an idol, it devastates us. p. 70

8-Doctrinally correct but self-righteous

But it is possible to subscribe to every orthodox doctrine and nevertheless fail to communicate the gospel to people’s hearts in a way that brings about repentance, joy, and spiritual growth. One way this happens is through dead orthodoxy, in which such pride grows in our doctrinal correctness that sound teaching and right church practice become a kind of works righteousness. Carefulness in doctrine and life is, of course, critical, but when it is accompanied in a church by self-righteousness, mockery, disdain of everyone else, and a contentious combative attitude, it shows that, while the doctrine of justification may be believed, a strong spirit of legalism reigns nonetheless. The doctrine has failed to touch hearts. p. 73-74

9-Jesus is the main point of every text

The main way to avoid moralistic preaching is to be sure that you always preach Jesus as the ultimate point and message of every text. If you don’t point listeners to Jesus before the end of the sermon, you will give them the impression that the sermon is basically about them-about what they must do. However, we know from texts such as Luke 24:13-49 that Jesus understood every part of the Bible as pointing to him and his saving work. This is not to suggest that the author of every biblical passage intentionally made references to Jesus but that if you put any text into its full, canonical context, it is quite possible to discern the lines that point forward to Christ. p. 77

10-How does revival occur?

Revival occurs as a group of people who, on the whole, think they already know the gospel discover that they do not really or fully know it, and by embracing the gospel they cross over into living faith. When this happens in any extensive way, an enormous release of energy occurs. p. 79

11-Ministry in the suburbs or city? Which is more important?

I have made as strenuous a case as I can that the city is one of the highest priorities for Christian life and mission in the twenty-first century. Now I want to press even further. These chapters on City Vision may have given you the idea that I think that all Christians should move into cities and serve there. To be clear, this is not what I am saying. I believe that there must be Christians and churches everywhere there are people. In one sense, there are not little places or people. God loves to use unimportant people (1 Cor 1:26-31) and unlikely places (John 1:46) to do his work. Jesus wasn’t from Rome or even Jerusalem but was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth-perhaps to make this very point. We have been told that now something like 50 percent of the world’s population live in cities-but that means that half the population does not live in urban areas, and therefore we must not discourage or devalue gospel ministry in the hundreds and thousands of towns and villages on earth. And ministry in small towns may not change a country, but it surely can have a major impact on its region. p. 166

12-Integration of faith and work

Traditional evangelical churches tend to emphasize personal piety and rarely help believers understand how to maintain and apply their Christian beliefs and practice in the worlds of arts, business, scholarship, and government. Many churches do not know how to disciple members without essentially pulling them out of their vocations and inviting them to become heavily involved in church activities. In other words, Christian discipleship is interpreted as consisting largely of activities done in the evening or on the weekend. p. 175-176

13-Politics and the poor

By setting our sights on gaining and retaining political influence, it is possible to miss the biblical themes of how God regularly works among the weak and the marginal and how any truly Christian society must promote shalom-peace and justice for every citizen. One of the more worrisome aspects of the religious right to this point has been the apparent absence of concern for the poor. p. 201

14-God’s poetic justice

Yet we could also argue that the greatest problem for the church today is our inability to connect with nonbelievers in a way that they understand. Isn’t it a major issue that the evangelical church exists as a subcultural cul-de-sac, unable to speak the gospel intelligibly to most Americans, and is perceived to be concerned only with increasing its own power rather than a common good? Of course it is. Early Christian bishops in the Roman Empire, by contrast, were so well known for identifying with the poor and weak that eventually, though part of a minority religion, they were seen to have the right to speak for the local community as a whole. Caring for the poor and the weak became, ironically, a major reason for the cultural influence the church eventually came to wield. If the church does not identify with the marginalized, it will itself be marginalized. That is God’s poetic justice.

15-Is the current culture redeemable, or fundamentally fallen?

I believe most of these concerns can be reduced to two fundamental questions. The first question deals with our attitude toward cultural change: Should we be pessimistic or optimistic about the possibility for cultural change? The second question exposes our understanding of the nature of culture itself and speaks to the potential for redemption: Is the current culture redeemable and good, or fundamentally fallen? Our answers to these questions reveal our alignments with biblical emphases as well as our imbalances. p. 225

16-The God of mission and the church

In short, God does not merely send the church in mission. God already is in mission, and the church must join him. This also means, then, that the church does not simply have a missions department; it should wholly exist to be a mission. p. 251

17-Does evangelistic church=missional church?

To reach this growing post-Christendom society in the west will obviously take more than what we ordinarily call an evangelistic church; it will take a missional church. This church’s worship is missional in that it makes sense to non-believers in that culture, even while it challenges and shapes Christians with the gospel. Its people are missional in that they are so outwardly focused, so involved in addressing the needs of the local community, that the church is well-known for its compassion. The members of a missional church also know how to contextualize the gospel, carefully challenging yet also appealing to the baseline cultural narratives of the society around them. Finally, because of the attractiveness of its people’s character and lives, a missional church will always have some outsiders who are drawn into its community to incubate and explore the Christian faith in its midst. So the idea that “to be missional is to be evangelistic” is too narrow. A missional church is not less than an evangelistic church, but it is much more. p. 265

18-Six marks of a missional church

1. The church must confront society’s idols.

2. The church must contextualize skillfully and communicate in the vernacular.

3. The church must equip people in mission in every part of their lives.

4. The church must be a counterculture for the common good.

5. The church itself must itself be contextualized and should expect nonbelievers, inquirers, and seekers to be involved in most aspects of the church’s life and ministry.

6. The church must practice unity. p. 274

19-The chief way in which we should disciple people

The gospel creates community. Because it points us to the One who died for his enemies, it creates relationships of service rather than selfishness. Because it removes both fear and pride, people get along inside the church who could never get along outside. Because it calls us to holiness, the people of God are in loving bonds of mutual accountability and discipline. Thus the gospel creates a human community radically different from any society around it.

Accordingly, the chief way in which we should disciple people (or, if you prefer, to form them spiritually) is through community. Growth in grace, wisdom, and character does not happen primarily in classes and instruction, through large worship gatherings, or even in solitude. Most often, growth happens through deep relationships and in communities where the implications of the gospel are worked out cognitively and worked out practically-in ways no other setting or venue can afford. The essence of becoming a disciple is, to put it colloquially, becoming like the people we hang out the most. Just as the single most formative experience in our lives is our membership in a nuclear family, so the main way we grow in grace and holiness is through deep involvement in the family of God. Christian community is more than just a supportive fellowship; it is an alternative society. And it is through this alternate human society that God shapes us into who and what we are. p. 311

20-Keep ’em separated? Religion and work

In the West during the time of Christendom, the church could afford to limit its discipleship and training of believers to prayer, Bible study, and evangelism because most Christians were not facing non-Christian values at work, in their neighborhoods, or at school. They did not need (or did not think they needed) to reflect deeply about a Christian approach to business, art, politics, the use of community resources, or race relations, to name a few examples. In a missional church today, however, believers are surrounded by a radically non-Christian culture. They require much more preparation and education to “think Christianly” about all of life, public and private, and about how to do their work with Christian distinctiveness.

But even this conviction is counter-cultural. Our Western cultures continue to cherish the Enlightenment “fact-value distinction”, namely, that only things that can be proven scientifically are facts and therefore constitute the only legitimate basis for public work and discourse. Conversely, everything religious, transcendent, or subjective belongs in the sphere of values and should therefore be kept private. The implication for persons of faith is that their religious convictions are not to be brought to bear on their work, whether it is banking, acting, teaching, or policy making. In such an increasingly secular and post-Christian culture, it has become normal for believers to seal off their faith beliefs from the way they work in their vocations. The few who resist usually do so by being outspoken about their personal faith rather than by allowing the gospel to shape the way they actually do art, business, government, media, or scholarship. The church plays an essential role in supporting and encouraging individual Christians as they engage the culture, helping them to work with excellence, distinctiveness, and accountability in their professions. p. 330

21-We must support and encourage those who are engaged in “secular” work

We must, therefore, reject approaches to work that counsel withdrawal or indifference regarding the culture. Members of such churches are told to either evangelize and disciple through the local church or, at the very least, to send in their tithes so the more committed Christians can please God directly by doing the work of ministry. In these types of churches, there is little to no support or appreciation for the “secular” work of Christians. On the other hand, we must also reject the approach that stresses social justice and cultural involvement but fails to call us to repentance, conversion, and holiness. We want to avoid both simple cultural confrontation and cultural assimilation and instead become an agent of cultural renewal. We want to disciple our people to work in the world of of a Christian worldview. p. 332

22-If Jesus is Lord of the cubicle are we training people to live in light of that truth?

The question for the church is this: If we believe that Jesus is Lord in every area of life, how do we train our people in the practice of that Lordship? p. 333

23-Church planting and cessationism

In Acts, planting churches is not a traumatic or unnatural event. It is woven into the warp and woof of ministry, and so it happens steadily and naturally. Paul never evangelizes and disciples without planting a church. For decades, expositors have looked to Acts to make lists of the basic elements of ministry: Bible teaching, evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, and worship. I have always found it odd that there in Acts, along with everything else the church is doing, is church planting-yet this element of ministry is consistently ignored! I believe there is a dubious, tacit cessationism at work. Almost unconsciously, readers of the book of Acts have said, “Yes, but that was for then. We don’t do that now.” I believe this conclusion misses a key aspect of a healthy church, namely that church planting must be natural and customary, not traumatic and episodic. p. 355

24-How to argue well

1. Never attribute an opinion to your opponents that they themselves do not own.

2. Take your opponents’s views in their entirety, not selectively.

3. Represent your opponents’ position in its strongest form, not in a weak “straw man” form.

4. Seek to persuade, not antagonize-but watch your motives!

5. Remember the gospel and stick to criticizing the theology-because only God sees the heart. p. 372

What does a gospel-centered church look like?

I find myself constantly thinking through the implications of the gospel in my personal life and in the life of the church. In fact I want my mind to be like a gospel grid in which I see, interpret and understand everything in this world. With that said, here is a wonderful description from Tim Keller, Center Church, of how the gospel impacts every aspect of the church. First of all let’s articulate what the heart of the gospel is…

New Testament scholar Simon Gathercole offers the following outline of the gospel taught by Paul and the Gospel writers:

1. The Son of God emptied himself and came into the world in Jesus Christ, becoming a servant. This is the incarnation and the upside-down aspect of the gospel.
2. He died on the cross as a substitutionary sacrifice. This is the atonement and the inside-out aspect of the gospel.
3. He rose from the grave as the firstfruits of a whole renewed world. This is the resurrection and the forward-back aspect of the gospel.

So those are three key aspects of the gospel. How does that impact the church?

A church that truly understand the implications of the biblical gospel, letting the Word of Christ dwell in it richly (Col 3:16), will look like an unusual hybrid of various church forms and stereotypes. Because of the inside-out, substitutionary atonement aspect, the church will place great emphasis on personal conversion, experiential grace renewal, evangelism, outreach, and church planting. This makes it look like an evangelical-charismatic church. Because of the upside-down, kingdom/incarnation aspect, the church will place great emphasis on deep community, cell groups or house churches, radical giving, and sharing of resources, spiritual disciplines, racial reconciliation, and living with the poor. This makes it look like an Anabaptist “peace” church. Because of the forward-back, kingdom/restoration aspect, the church will place great emphasis on seeking the welfare of the city, neighborhood and civic involvement, cultural engagement, and training people to work in “secular” vocations out of a Christian worldview. This makes it look like a mainline church or, perhaps, a Kuyperian Reformed church. Very few churches, denominations, or movements integrate all of these ministries and emphases. Yet I believe that a comprehensive view of the biblical gospel-one that grasps the gospel’s inside-out, upside-down, and forward-back aspects-will champion and cultivate them all. This is what we mean by a Center Church.

It is critical that we are teaching and training our people to think about how the gospel plays out in the context of everyday life (home, neighborhood, work, culture). It is equally as important that we are equipping our leaders to deeply reflect on how the gospel affects every area of ministry in the church. The moment we divorce the gospel from life and ministry we, and our church, become more religious than we are Christ-centered (gospel-centered).

Taken from Center Church, Chapter 3, “The Gospel Affects Everything”