Fleshing out the gospel

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A terribly puzzled look swept across the faces of those who had just heard me spill the title of our upcoming teaching series. “Fleshing—not flushing—out the gospel,” I emphasized in case they missed it. I thought it would help. But, they were confused nonetheless.

“Fleshing out” was meant in a figurative sense. Just as we might flesh out a deep doctrine of Scripture, like the mysterious nature of God’s unity or the marginless end of God’s sovereignty, we must also flesh out the wondrous realities of the gospel. It’s not an option for believers. It’s necessary.

My father used to say to me, “Boy, you need to put some meat on dem bones” (best if slurred in a Cajun tongue). It was his way of telling me that I needed to eat. I needed substance. I was too lean.

Christians today are looking more lean than ever. But it is not because we lack the spiritual protein needed for strong faith. Scripture is a mealhouse of necessities and useful for godly growth (2 Tim. 3:16). Rather, it is because we’ve lost sight of who the gospel is what the gospel does.

When we flesh out the gospel, we put meat on dem bones, body to skeleton, substance to form, content to outline, mass to framework. It means to pack on, add to, fill up, increase, deepen, compound, reinforce. It is the process of feeding on the gospel in order to fill your soul and mind with the things of God.

Why the gospel? Why not marriage tips, parenting points, or business advice?

The gospel—contrary to popular belief—is more than an evangelistic message. It is the single thread woven into the fabric of Scripture that binds it all together. It is the main message—the foremoremost focus—of the Bible.

The New Testament writers affirm this. To them, the gospel included all revealed truth about Christ (cf: Rom. 1:1-6; 1 Cor. 15:3-11) and covered all aspects of salvation—from conversion to glorification. Since Christ is all over Scripture (Lk. 24:27), then all of Scripture contains the gospel. When you preach the gospel, you preach Christ—God’s living Word (Jn. 1:14).

Why else would Paul be so eager to “preach the gospel” to a community of Christians (Rom. 1:15)? To preach the gospel is to preach the Word. Hearing and learning the gospel brings biblical vision and changes us from the inside outward. In doing so, all aspects of our life are affected—even the mundane.

This is why we must flesh out the gospel. It helps us see Christ and see like Christ.

It Helps us See Christ

Since the gospel includes all revealed truth about Christ, then a deeper understanding of the gospel brings about a deeper understanding of Christ. He is the manifestation of the gospel (2 Tim. 1:9), and there is no gospel without Jesus. If the gospel is the main message of Scripture, Jesus is the main subject of the gospel. The two are inseparable.

When we put meat on dem bones and add substance to our understanding of the gospel, we see more clearly the subject of the gospel. We see more comprehensibly the flesh of God—the incarnate Word, the living Gospel—Jesus Christ. In other words, to sink ourselves into the depths of the gospel is to submerge ourselves in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The gospel helps us see Christ.

It Helps us See Like Christ

Additionally, the gospel transforms our mind (Rom. 12:2). It brings to us renewed vision so that we might see through the lens of Christ. He is our corrective eyewear. He helps us observe ourselves and the world with godly perspective. The more we douse ourselves in the Word of God, the more we are able to see as Christ sees.

Such perspective enables us to live holy lives before His holy gaze. This is what He had in mind while praying that we be “sanctified in the truth,” acknowledging Scripture as truth (Jn. 17:17). The gospel helps us see like Christ.

Conclusion

Just as the body becomes frail when deprived of food, the soul becomes frail when deprived of the gospel. Conversely, a soul who has probed the depths of the gospel is a soul who has been immersed in Jesus. It is a soul of tender mercies and courageous faithfulness—a soul solidified and shaped by Christ Himself. Fleshing out the gospel isn’t optional for followers of Jesus Christ. It’s necessary.


Jacob Abshire is the author of Forgiveness: A Commentary on Philemon and Faith: A Commentary on James, and co-founder of Resolute Creative. You can find him online at jacobabshire.com and follow him on Twitter @aliasbdi. Photo via Lightstock.

God, the original fashion designer (a theology of fashion, part 1)

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In my vanity, I’ve always liked to think of myself as a serious-minded woman. In high school, I didn’t go to parties; I stayed home and did my German homework. And although I like to consider myself an intellectual, I can’t help one thing:

I love clothes.

My favorite recurring dream is one in which I find my closet stuffed full of dresses I didn’t know I owned. I watch Downton Abbey episodes twice: the first time for the plot and the second time to stare at the costumes.

But I’ve always dismissed my love of fashion as flighty and shallow. The weak underbelly to my otherwise oh-so-wise self.

As I’ve grown older, my delight for clothing has only grown stronger, although my main accessories these days are spit-up and a diaper bag. What I’ve only begun to accept recently is that my love for fashion might not simply be a vain pursuit of youth—as I so snobbishly supposed—but a genuine, God- given love for creativity and beauty.

“See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:28)

I often think of this verse as I hike in the mountains near my home in Colorado. The tiniest wildflower of the tundra will have the most extravagant and intricate design. Looking at nature and the animal world, it’s clear that God has a flair for design. A God who creates the peacock is not a purely utilitarian God.

Recognizing the God-given creative spirit, Christendom has often embraced the arts, from music to sculpture to painting.

But many of us still eschew the realm of fashion.

So often fashion is fraught with vice. Whether vanity, excess, immodesty or the backbiting world we envision in The Devil Wears Prada, clothing hardly seems like an arena for worship.

But zoom back from our own culture and picture the dress of past times and other places. The intricate beaded collars of the Maasai tribe in Tanzania and Kenya. The stately headdresses of Native Americans. The scarlet pomegranate tassels on the Israelite High Priest’s garments.

God is the original fashion designer. He specifically enumerated how Aaron’s garments should be made, from the turban to the tassels. He also gifted certain individuals in clothes making:

“Tell all the skilled workers to whom I have given wisdom in such matters that they are to make garments for Aaron, for his consecration, so he may serve me as priest.” (Exodus 28:3)

Just as God gifted some to be wood cutters for His glory, He created others to be clothing makers. If we look at almost any culture, we see the inevitable desire to adorn the beautiful form God created with beautiful attire. Even the noble woman of Proverbs 31 is clothed in fine linen and purple.

But often, in an attempt to dodge the many moral trapdoors, we Christians have turned to asceticism when it comes to fashion. The Bible certainly does give guidelines and warnings when it comes to dress (more on that in the next post). But this doesn’t mean the wholesale abandonment of this expression of creativity.

My point is not that we should all run to the Banana Republic for some dangly earrings. But I think we should reclaim creativity—in all of its forms—for God. He is the one who put the seed of fashion within us.

If you aren’t the fashionable type—as I suspect some who read theology blogs might not be—that’s fine. But encourage the people around you whom God has gifted in creativity to embrace it for God’s glory. This might look different for different people.

In my own life, I’ve found an outlet in making paper dresses with my preschooler (whose current passion in life is twirling in circles wearing dresses). She loves it as a way to spend time with mommy and play with scissors. I love it as a way to infuse some creativity into my daily life with two kids.

God created us in His image and that implicitly means we are creative beings. When we allow ourselves to express that creativity in its various forms, we are paying homage and honoring His original design.


Amber Van Schooneveld is a writer, editor, wife, mom, nature lover, world traveler and follower of Jesus Christ. She is the author of Hope Lives: A Journey of Restoration and can be found online at ambervanschooneveld.com.

Photo credit: Alba Soler Photography via photopin cc

Links I like

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On the Number of Zygote Deaths and the Meaning of Pro-Life

Matthew Lee Anderson;

What does it mean to be “pro-life”? Judging by the recent conversation about contraception, it would be easy to think that the point and purpose of the pro-life position is to reduce abortions in the world.

But as important as that is to pro-lifers, it by no means encapsulates the entirety of the pro-life position.

John Piper: the infographic

Tim Challies shares the latest in his series of Visual Theology infographics. Look for one on R.C. Sproul next week.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A few new Kindle deals for you:

How Would You Respond to This Hypocrite?

Mike Leake:

Imagine with me that you are a well-respected pastor. You’ve been serving at your church now for about eight years. Things are going well and you are beginning to gain respect in the larger world of evangelicalism.

A new pastor moves into a neighboring town. This new pastor is truly a hypocrite. He denies the Trinity and by his own confession he became a minister for the money, the ease, and the hopes of getting himself advanced in the literary world.

Plant the Church that Is, not the Church to Come

JD Payne:

Hasty expectations hinder the birth and multiplication of churches.

Plant your churches, just make sure they have all of this stuff, and these structures, and these activities, and these twenty-five marks, and these forty-one purposes, and this affiliation, and give that amount of money.

Such is okay when we start instant churches with long-term, Kingdom citizens.

Always talking, never doing

One of the great tensions we face in the Christian life—and the Christian faith—is the tension between belief and action. When you see discussion of topics like antinomianism, of the relationship between law and gospel… at the heart of these debates and discussions is this tension.

In The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan gives voice to this tension through the meeting of Faithful and Talkative. As his name suggests, Talkative loves to wax eloquent about any number of subjects, but especially that of religion and piety. Indeed, he talks a good game. But his talk isn’t enough. Bunyan writes:

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“…to know is something that pleases talkers and boasters, but to do is that which pleases God. Not that the heart can be good without knowledge, for without knowledge the heart is empty. But there are two kinds of knowledge: the first is alone in its bare speculation of things, and the second is accompanied by the grace of faith and love, which causes a man to do the will of God from the heart.

“The first kind of knowledge will serve the talker. But a true Christian will not be content until his knowledge results in sincere works that please God. ‘Give me understanding, and I shall keep Thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.’”

Talkative protested, “You are trying to trap me again; this is not edifying.”

Many of us have a similar response to the idea of obedience that Talkative does. We don’t like the idea that “a true Christian will not be content until his knowledge results in sincere works that please God.” It’s offensive and doesn’t feel terribly edifying to talk about.

But it shouldn’t be, not really. After all, Jesus Himself said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24). In other words, Christ’s people don’t just hear, they obey.

Their belief flows into action—right action that pleases God. Their knowledge is “accompanied by the grace of faith and love, which causes a man to do the will of God from the heart.”

Talkative was content to talk a good game. He could speak truthfully, to be sure—but his lifestyle revealed the truth of his state before God. He was “a man whose religion is only talk and your conduct is at odds with what you profess with your mouth.” In fact, he was one who caused many to stumble by his example.

He professed faith but did not possess faith.

Many of us are not that much different. Our talk is good and right and true, but that’s about as far as it goes.

We are always talking, but never doing.

But we must be about more than talk. We must embrace the tension we perceive in the Christian faith, understanding that, really, there is no tension at all according to Jesus. We must not be one who simply hears and parrots, but one who hears and does.

 

Links I like

What is a sermon? A response to ‘Deadly, dull, and boring’

David Shead:

Language is a funny thing. We’re all expert users of it, but quite what language is and how it works remains a mystery to most of us.

That’s why an article like Phil Campbell’s ‘Deadly, dull, and boring’ is such a godsend.1 God’s word is a preacher’s core business, and therefore language is the preacher’s most basic tool. Anything that can help us understand a little more about how language functions and how we can use it better—particularly something that highlights the differences between spoken and written language so that we can preach better—is a great thing!

One second of priceless

HT: Steve McCoy

Stop Comparing Your Trials

Josh Blount:

How many times have you looked at someone else’s suffering and thought, “How on earth do they keep going? I wouldn’t survive a day in that job, or with those disabilities, or with that many kids!” Then, after marveling at their endurance, you look at your own life and feel like the most miserable, sniveling excuse for a Christian ever to disgrace the faith.

Stand for life 2014

A great (but lengthy) conversation between John Ensor, John Piper and Francis Chan:

Losing Privileges

R.C. Sproul, Jr:

Is this a Christian country? There are likely as many ways to answer the question as there are stripes on our flag. Yes, the country was populated at its beginning with Christians looking for a place to worship freely. But that was before we became a country. Yes, many of our founding fathers were sincere professing Christians. But many of them were not. Yes, we are Christian in the same sense as all of Europe is Christian—it is the faith tradition of the majority in our country. But no, we have rejected the faith of our fathers. Yes, our country’s laws, traditions, symbols, culture, were shaped by predominately Protestant notions. But no, we are living in times of great change. And therein lies the rub.

Those Dragons Underneath Our Beds

Matthew Westerholm:

How we approach a situation reveals what we expect to find.

Imagine it is 2 A.M. and I’m asleep. My wife taps my shoulder and says, “I heard something. I think there’s an intruder downstairs.” My mind immediately kicks into high-gear. I reach underneath my bed and grab a 7-iron — to protect the family — and slowly make my way to the kitchen where my wife heard the sound. Even though I live in a hundred-year-old house, I know exactly how to sneak down my staircase without making a creak. My heart pounds in the still night. My eyes search in the dark: the doors, the hallway mirror, the main-level windows that I know a person can squeeze through.

Meanwhile, my wife is upstairs with her phone. She has dialed “9” and “1,” and she has her finger waiting on that second “1.” She’s waiting for me to scream, or for someone else to scream after I yell, “Fore!”

See, my whole approach to this situation reveals what I expected to find.

Is church growth all about the pastor?

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Yesterday, I read a provocative article on this subject by David Murrow. He writes:

Can I be brutally honest? When it comes to church attendance, nothing matters as much as the ability of the pastor to deliver good sermons. If a pastor is good at his job, the church grows. If he’s bad at his job, the church shrinks. Sounds unspiritual—but it’s true. It shouldn’t be this way—but it is. Each week is a referendum on the pastor’s ability to deliver an inspiring sermon.

Murrow goes on to say that, although it pains him to say it—he wishes that it were things like the community’s love for one another that kept people coming—”when it comes to putting men in pews, nothing matters more than pastoral quality. Every other consideration pales in comparison.”

I appreciate Murrow’s stance, his taking the “tragic reality” approach to addressing an ugly question. Pastors should be greatly concerned with the quality of the sermons they preach, and poor preaching is always detrimental to the health of the church.

But how do you define “good” and “bad” preaching? 

Based on the article, it seems that good preaching is entertaining preaching, and bad is boring. In other words, the more entertaining or inspiring (however you want to define that) your preaching is, more people will come and they’re more likely to stay.

But if your sermons are dull or don’t captivate me in the way I hope they will, then watch out. Attendance will drop and your job’s on the line.

You can see the problem with this coming a mile away, can’t you?

When our ideas about preaching are defined by the oratory skill of the one delivering the message, and not the content itself, compromise quickly follows. Some compromise by sanding down the rough edges of Scripture, as the seeker movement has often been accused of, giving people inspiring or uplifting talks that resemble the dreck spoon fed to viewers of daytime television. But others compromise by going in the opposite direction, thinking if they can just be wild and offensive enough, people will come just to see what they’re going to say next.

And, of course, it works. Sort of.

There are massive churches in America built on both of these ideals, and thousands of preachers look to their leaders to see what they “should” be doing differently. But if I were a betting man, I’d be willing to say many—perhaps even most—of those churches aren’t all that healthy. Why? Because they’ve embraced the truth as Murrow sees it and made the preacher the main attraction.

And you know something? Pastoral quality does matter. It matters a lot. But if we’re measuring on sermons, we’re completely missing the mark. You know why?

Because even a blasphemer who’s a good public speaker can deliver an inspiring message.

He can grow a church into the thousands, even tens of thousands. But what he has in oratory gifting, he falls short of in the only pastoral quality that really does matter, biblically: character.

I’ve written on this in the past, but it bears repeating: the only thing the Bible consistently holds up as the measuring rod for pastors is not their skill in preaching, though they must be able to teach. It is their character.

Who they are matters far more than what they can do. 

But we don’t like this, so we try to give measurements Scripture doesn’t for how to evaluate church growth. And it always comes back to numbers.

But we don’t have to choose that. And make no mistake, it’s we who are imposing that measure, not the Lord.

Instead, we see that the Lord shames the strong by choosing the weak things of this world. We see him bless the humble, and oppose the proud. When he speaks to the seven churches in Revelation, he rebukes all but one, the smallest and most seemingly insignificant one at that.

So, is church growth all about the pastor? Honestly, who cares? Be more concerned about the character of the man who is leading, rather than how many seats are filled. Because, really, the only one holding you to a number is you.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Who has made man’s mouth?

Derek Rishmawy:

Arrogant idolatry and cowardly silence are the Scylla and Charybdis of modern theology. While some prattle on, boastfully sure about the God who obviously fits their preconceived notions of deity and cultural expectations, others are too suspicious or scared to speak in more than a doubtful whisper about him.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

In addition to the massive list posted here, here are a few other titles on sale (though likely not for long!):

A Tithe to My Ego

Barnabas Piper:

Growing up, I had the mentality to only give 90% on just about everything. Rarely did I leave it all on the field during a football or baseball game. I pretty much never maxed my mind out studying for an exam or writing a paper. And never, no never, would I put myself all the way out there to learn something new – playing an instrument, playing golf, whatever. It was consistent across the board, and there was an insidious and conscientious reason for it.

If I only gave 90% I always had a ready-made excuse for failing.

Four Little Words

Julian Freeman:

Recently, I heard an experienced urban minister reflecting on the reality that in most urban contexts, among most young Christians — even reformed evangelicals — church attendance peaks at around 2-3 Sundays per month.

Before you judge, honestly evaluate your own attendance over the past little while. I say that because for most of these young people, if you were to ask them, they would indicate that they are very committed. In their own perception, they are more likely to be there than not, whether or not the facts bear that out. Many think they are more faithful than they are.

Four Accounts, One Savior

Petar Nenadov:

One takeaway should be that the significance of Jesus’ birth is best understood in the totality of his life, teachings, death, and resurrection. Whether you have just begun to consider Jesus or already consider yourself a believer in him, let me encourage you to read through the four Gospels this Advent season to gain a fuller appreciation for the significance of his birth.

Courage and the Christian life

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A couple weeks ago, a news story broke where a waitress who identifies as a lesbian claimed a family refused to tip her because they don’t agree with her lifestyle. The other day, the story returned to the news with a twist—it turns out the server lied.

While there’s a great deal one could say about the whole story, one of the things that struck me about it—even though it turned out to be false—was how much more difficult a story like this makes it for us to be effective witnesses to the gospel in the public square. Because Christians are typically depicted as backwards, hate-filled and homophobic by the media, stories like this make us want to stay quiet. We don’t want to speak up about anything.

And yet, speaking up isn’t something we can avoid—love won’t allow it. And so we need courage. Owen Strachan explains in his excellent new book, Risky Gospel:

…here’s the thing we must remember if we are to have a bold public witness: calling sinners out of sin is not hateful. It’s loving.

This is true of the gospel itself, right? It’s loving for someone to have shared the good news of Christ’s sacrificial death and life-giving resurrection with us. It’s unloving for a Christian not to share this message of hope. In the same way, it’s unloving for us not to speak the truth, whether in public or in private, about homosexuality—or adultery, lying, fear of man, pride, or lust.

It’s not hateful to tell your neighbor that he or she is trapped in sin. It’s kind and compassionate, and especially when you do so in a gracious and kind way. You can do it poorly if you speak without awareness of your own sin, of course. But if you’re humble and empathetic, and you courageously speak the truth about sin, you are by definition being loving. (190)

When the world calls “evil” “good”—whether we’re talking about homosexuality, lust, greed, adultery, pornography—it’s not unloving for us to say we disagree. There is a way to do it which is unloving, but what’s more unloving is for us to say nothing.

If we are Christians, we don’t have the option of being silent, no matter how uncomfortable it might be. If we love our neighbors, we must speak.

See it. Hear Him. Thank Him. Ask for more.

Source: NASA

Source: NASA

As the earth screams through space, balanced exactly on the edge of everyone burning alive and everyone freezing solid, as we shriek through deadly obstacle courses of meteor showers and find them picturesque, as the nearest fiery star vomits eruptions hundreds of times bigger than our wee planet (giving chipper local weathermen northern lights to chatter about), as a giant reflective rock glides around us slopping the seas (and never falls down), and as we ride in our machines, darting past fools and drunks and texting teenagers, how many times do we thank God? We are always in His hands, but we often feel like we are in our own. We can’t thank Him for every breath and every heartbeat, but we can thank Him every day for not splatting us with the moon or letting us drop into the sun.…

In a bed or on the battlefield or on asphalt in shattered glass beneath a flashing light, we are God’s stories to end. How many drunks has He spared you from? Thank Him before you ask to be spared from another. How many breaths have you drawn? How many winter winds have tightened your skin? How many Christmases have you seen? How many times has the sky swirled glory above your head like a benediction?

See it. Hear Him. Thank Him. Ask for more.

Search for moments in your story for which you can be grateful.

N.D. Wilson, Death by Living, 139-140

How do we fix the problem of celebrity-ism?

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Monday, after sharing a few thoughts on the latest bit of controversy surrounding Mark Driscoll, I made the following statement:

Maybe our question should really be: how do we fix the problem of “celebrity-ism” that’s seeped into the church?

I don’t think there’s anyone out there who would deny this is a problem—not just for pastors with a particularly large platform, but for laypeople, too. I think the solution really comes down to one thing:

Regaining a right view of oneself. 

I know—totally revolutionary and world-changing, right? Bear with me a minute:

How does celebrity-ism start? It always—always—begins when we forget who we are. For pastors, maybe the congregation’s grown to a size when people are starting to take notice. More people show up. Podcasts downloads increase. Someone suggests writing a book. That book sells more than three copies.

For bloggers (yeah, it happens there, too), it’s more or less the same. Traffic increases, shares are up, comments are exploding. Sooner or later, the idea of writing a book comes up and it, again, sells a few copies.

Maybe you’re in sales and rocking your quotas. Maybe you’re a mom who’s kids actually clean their rooms and stay in bed at night. Maybe you’re a barista who makes a wicked-awesome latte. Whatever your thing is, if you’re nailing it and people are taking notice, it can make you think you’re a pretty big deal.

But here’s the problem: it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a New York Times Bestseller or a blog with half-decent traffic—you’re just a person. So it’s silly to start thinking too much of yourself, isn’t it? [Read more…]

Links I like

Know Your Christianese: Prayer Edition

Joe Carter:

Whether we’ve been in the church for a few days or several decades, we often find—like this young pastor—certain terms or phrases that everyone but us seems to understand. Like most groups, we Christians have our own insider language, technical terminology, or characteristic idioms that only those in the know can comprehend. It can be frustrating when we hear such jargon and don’t know what exactly it means or where it came from. Too embarrassed to ask for a definition, we flip through our Bibles or search through a concordance to find elusive explanations.

As an aid in translating “Christianese” (and because we aren’t sure what the terms mean either), The Gospel Coalition is putting together an ongoing series to explain the meaning of obscure phrases that Christians use when we talk to our fellow believers. In this inaugural article, we’ll examine a few terms often associated with prayer.

Why We Should Do Away With “Should”

Barnabas Piper:

Should, should, should. It’s a word of unfulfilled expectations, an indication that things are not as they ought to be but without certainty that they will be repaired. It leaves residues of guilt and pours on the obligations. It blame-shifts and hands out false hope. And it grasps at straws. When we allow “should” to be our circumstance we are left with the dissatisfaction of something incomplete.

Pre-order The Gospel at Work

Greg Gilbert, author of What is the Gospel?, and co-author of Preach and What is the Mission of the Church?, has a new book in the works (co-authored with Sebastian Traeger). You can pre-order The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs for the Kindle for only $4.99.

Also on sale for the Kindle:

Two Signposts for Diagnosing Your Heart

Michael Kelley:

If it’s happened once, it’s happened a thousand times to me. I do something, something (dare I say) good for someone else, and then in retrospect find that I didn’t really do that thing for them, but for myself. It was so that others would see me doing it. It was to garner praise from the person I was helping. It was to impressively display my aptitude or compassion for another. It happens all the time. And every time it happens, I’m reminded of something that’s as true as it is disturbing:

I cannot trust my own heart.

The Cool Pastor: An Oxymoron or Just a Moron?

Matthew Everhard:

Our current fascination with our pastors’ book sales, name recognition value, and proliferating multi-site video venues ought to be considered a dangerous trend. Never before in the history of Christendom has a pastor’s reputation been graded by any other factors than his doctrine and his personal ethic. Today, we would add his fans.

No, my highest goal as a pastor is not to secure the greatest number of Twitter followers, but rather to model one man: our Lord Jesus Christ. His message must be my own. His methods must be sufficient for me. His majesty must be my highest end.

When you’re gun-shy about discipling others

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There’s this young guy I talk with most mornings at my daughter’s bus stop. He’s a really nice kid, not quite 25… but, man, is his life a mess (the details about which I won’t get into because, well, they’re none of your business). He’s also a professing Christian, and one who’s extremely young in his faith at that.

Both Emily and I have spoken with him regularly over the last several weeks. When I talk to him about things going on in his life, I tend to probe to find out how aware he is of what it means to follow Jesus, does he know what the Bible says on particular subjects, how aware he is of how his background affects his decision making.

He’s a really nice guy, and typically very forthcoming. For example, today Emily learned he plays Bible Roulette. Crack open the book, read wherever it falls. So she asked if I had a book I could give him on how to read the Bible.

But when she asked, I realized, reading a book on his own may not be the most helpful thing. What he needs is someone to actually work with him in learning how to read and study the Bible.

In other words, he needs someone to disciple him.

If I were doing this what would I work through with him? Francis Chan’s Multiply. As I said when I reviewed it at the beginning of the year, this isn’t really a book for individual reading—it’s a discipleship tool, and a really good one at that.

But can I be really honest? I’m terrified of even suggesting the idea to him. Why? Because discipleship is hard. There’s the time commitment, sure, but it’s the emotional investment… and the risk of failure. I’ve had mixed results in my efforts to disciple some other young men in the past (some of which I absolutely have to own), so it’s got me a bit nervous. What if I fail with this guy, too? What if he sees what the Bible says about any number of areas of life and says, “yeah, no”?

But maybe I’m overthinking it. And maybe this fear also brings to light something I need to remember myself: the results of any sort of discipleship relationship are not in my control. When I worry about “failing” this guy, what I’m really saying is I want to control the outcome. Or at a minimum, I want a guarantee that things will work out alright.

But God doesn’t give us those kinds of guarantees.

Nowhere does the Bible say that every relationship is going to result in good fruit. After all, the apostle Paul experienced this when men he considered his brothers in the faith and co-laborers abandoned him and turned against him—including Hymenaeus and Alexander whom he “handed over to Satan” so they might learn not to blaspheme (1 Tim. 1:20).

So why would I expect to have greater success than one of the authors of Scripture?

The thing I have to remember, again and again, is that I’m not responsible for the results of my efforts in this area. I can sow the seed, I can water, but only God is going to give growth. So that should probably be enough for me, shouldn’t it?

Links I like (weekend edition)

Are You Part of a Phonebook Ministry?

Aaron Earls:

Not long ago, my youngest son came up to me with a puzzled look on his face. “Daddy, what’s a phonebook?” he asked.

I had to laugh. The idea of a phonebook, that was so common to me, is so completely foreign to him.

Reflecting on that caused me to think about our ever evolving culture and the way we do ministry – are we doing phonebook ministry?

How to peel a head of garlic in less than 10 seconds

This is fascinating (but those who are particularly sensitive, be forewarned—there is a mild swear in the video):

We Are Far Too Easily Displeased

Jon Bloom:

I am a grumbler by (fallen) nature.

Just this morning a malfunctioning software program required my attention. Experience told me the likely course: at least two times on the phone with customer support and at least two glitches in the fixing process. Forty-five minutes minimum. Probably more. (All proved true, by the way.) Immediately I resented this time-stealing inconvenience. And when my wife called in the middle of dealing with it, out of my mouth came my displeasure.

Life problems don’t get much smaller. What is the matter with me?

Elder Questions: Living Together

Tim Kimberley answers the question:

You are counseling a couple, who claim to be Christian, that are sleeping together and believe they are “married in their hearts”. They would like to become members of your church. Describe how would you handle this couple, including how you would address the issue of being “married in their hearts?”

The Assembly of the Good People

Aimee Byrd:

It’s sad isn’t it? This group of confessing unbelievers is being called out by a leader to assemble together on a Sunday of all days. It’s like there is some kind of longing within them to respond, some kind of knowledge of something more. But they suppress the truth in unrighteousness, and make themselves the object of worship.

This Sunday Assembly sounds exactly like J. Gresham Machen’s description of the liberal Christian church gatherings in his book Christianity and Liberalism.

Links I like

I Get Very Suspicious When…

Stephen Altrogge:

My generation is infatuated with the new and immediate. We love the newest gadgets and newest movies and newest theological ideas. We would be wise, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, to let the fresh winds of church history blow through our musty brains.

I’m about 95% sure that at least one person who reads this post will remind me of the fact that many Christians owned slaves. In response I would say two things. First, it is my educated guess that many men and women throughout church history who have defended sinful practices were not born again. This is the case when it comes to the Crusades, slavery, the Spanish Inquisition, and many other sad events. These events and practices were promoted by those who embraced cultural Christianity not true Christianity.

But this is not always the case.

Get The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther by Steven Lawson (hardcover) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • John by R.C. Sproul (ePub)
  • Together for the Gospel 2006 (audio & video download)
  • Are We Together? by R.C. Sproul (ePub and MOBI)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern. And don’t forget—Ligonier is also offering The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon by Steven Lawson is free until the end of the month.

What does it mean to be gospel-centered?

Progressing Downward

Tullian Tchividjian:

A couple weeks ago I talked about Reader’s Digest Christianity, and how it reduced the Christian faith to pithy, easily-achievable goals that ensure our personal improvement. Here, I have a different (though depressingly similar) target: “LiveStrong” Christianity. LiveStrong bracelets are today even more popular than the infamous WWJD bracelets were 10 years ago, despite the public fall from grace of their namesake, Lance Armstrong.

A Free Gift to Celebrate Crossway’s 75th Anniversary

…we’re giving away the ESV Study Bible Web App for FREE through the end of November. This award-winning resource features the study notes, maps, charts, illustrations, and theological articles found in the print edition—all integrated intoESVBible.org’s easy-to-use web interface.

 The Value of Shutting Up

Mike Leake:

I know that “shut up” isn’t a nice term. We discourage our kids from using that term. But I think a violent term like that is needed here. “Shut up” is what you tell yourself to do when a million feelings are running wild in your heart and you know that it wouldn’t be good to share those feelings.

Oh, wait. Do people still do that? Or have we bought into the idea that letting our feelings fly is always the best course of action?