Christian, don’t begrudgingly affirm God’s Word

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This past week, the folks at Hillsong found themselves in a bit of a pickle as founder Brian Houston, when confronted on the question of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. In attempting to provide a winsome answer, he said that it’s too important to reduce down to a “yes or no answer in a media outlet,” which many conservative evangelicals took to mean Houston and Hillsong are fudging on what the Bible says.

Fast forward a couple of days. Houston clarified, saying, “My personal view on the subject of homosexuality would line up with most traditionally held Christian views. I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject.”

Houston’s not alone in doing “the dance”—not wanting to deny the Bible, but wanting to keep entry to the faith as free from obstacles as possible. Tons of pastors (and “pastors”) have faced this. Even Joel Osteen (who has the most inoffensive to unbelievers personality on earth!) has been ambushed on the question. In the end, he said he didn’t believe it to be God’s best for people.

Public personalities like these aren’t alone in doing the dance. At some point or another we all do it. And as I’ve watched it happen (and occasionally been caught in it myself) time and again, one of the inevitable pieces of fallout is we wind up just having to come out and say what we were trying to not say.

This almost begrudging acceptance of the truth—we really do have to say what the Bible says.

Now, I get it. Many people want to avoid putting up a stumbling block to unbelievers coming to faith. They don’t want to be seen as “those Christians”—the ones who are always fighting about this or that, or who are considered hateful or bigots. But dancing around the Bible isn’t the answer.

We don’t really need to do the dance. We don’t have to be backed into a corner where we begrudgingly accept what the Bible says. Not if we are viewing the Bible as we are meant to.

If the Bible is the word of Truth (James 1:18; Ephesians 1:13; 2 Timothy 2:15), shouldn’t we be more comfortable standing by it? Not with a begrudging acceptance, but with a heartfelt confidence?

Shouldn’t we be willing to treat God’s word as, well, God’s Word?

Prioritizing the gospel

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Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, a celebrated politician of France, was known for his brilliance in the court and his wisdom in the pulpit. He was influential, wealthy, and powerfully wise. Educated as a priest, even to the rank of bishop, he renounced the church to excel in public affairs. And excel he did. Only the emperor was more distinguished.1

And yet, with all his knowledge, with all his splendor, and with all his wealth, Talleyrand died with a miserably regretful epitaph. Next to his deathbed was a handwritten letter detailing his dying words and reflections on the life he was leaving behind:

Behold eighty-three years passed away! What cares! What agitation! What anxieties! What ill-will inspired? What vexatious complication! And without any other result than great moral and physical fatigue, and a profound feeling of despair for the future, of disgust at the past.

We find a similar letter in the Bible. It wasn’t found next to a comfortable bed under a warm lamp, but smuggled out of a cold Roman dungeon where criminals were imprisoned, drowned in the city sewage, and flushed away with the garbage. It wasn’t written by a political dignitary or high ranking diocesan, but by a humble and modest-living Christ follower. It did, however, contain the dying words of a well-known man—the apostle Paul.

He didn’t write what you might have expected a man to write in such an appalling setting—especially staring death in the face. His words were most powerful, most abiding, most encouraging, and most wise. His words captured the remarkable joy of a fulfilled life.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Tim. 4:6-8)

What consumed Paul’s life and culminated in such an extraordinary epitaph? It was the gospel of Jesus Christ. He made it his priority, his purpose, his aim in life, and his motivation to endure (2 Tim. 2:8-10). He made it his all. The gospel was a treasure entrusted to him by God, just as his life was a treasure entrusted to God (2 Tim. 1:12-14). The gospel mattered most to him—even above his own life.

The fight fought

Paul described his life as a war waged against gospel negligence. It was a gutsy struggle to maintain persevering trust in Christ by rooting himself deeply in the gospel. He fought apathy, laziness, comfort, weariness, fear, shame, unfaithfulness, and worldly arguments that would challenge his gospel meditations.

The race finished

Paul also described his life as a race, not to be won by finishing first, but to be won by finishing well. He taught that an athlete is crowned only if he competes according to the rules (2 Tim. 2:5). So the race finished well is a race finished with honor and excellence. Paul was not concerned with success tips, marketing points, or worldly wisdom. He knew that fulfillment in life was not succeeding in the world, but excelling in the Word. He concerned himself with the gospel.

The faith kept

Finally, Paul described his life as having a strong hold on the cross. He gripped Christ, knowing that the winds of persecution would fiercely blow and the waters of suffering would aggressively flow against him. Only the cross of Christ could withstand such a current. So he clasped tightly, kept strongly, seized firmly. The faith that he held was the breathed-out Word of God, the only resource capable of shaping a life such as his (2 Tim. 3:16). Paul held the gospel in order to keep the faith.

When the gospel means this much to you, death is the vehicle to the reward you seek and your life is labor toward the offering you give (2 Tim. 4:6-8). The Lord poured him out and he loved it. Is the Lord pouring you out?


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 atjacobabshire.com and follow him on Twitter @aliasbdi.

Photo credit: darkmatter via photopin cc

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.

First impressions

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I’m a big believer in first impressions. Whether it’s meeting with an important client or interviewing for a job, my clothes are wrinkle free, my hair is neatly brushed, and my breath is minty fresh. This tendency was heightened as I drove with my family into a new town for a new position as Senior Pastor. We were to live with the chairman of the deacons and his wife for a month while work on our home wrapped up. Their generosity saved us a few thousand dollars, and I wanted to show our gratitude from the very beginning.

A little ways into the seven-hour drive, the chairman called, inviting us to dinner with he and other extended family members he was sure we’d enjoy meeting. We eagerly agreed. Yet when we arrived at the restaurant, we were not in the best shape. We neither looked good, smelled good, or felt good after being in the car for seven hours with two preschoolers, especially not after having said teary “goodbyes” to our closest friends over the last five years. We were utterly exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally.

Nevertheless, dinner went fine until dessert. Our two year-old son was not yet fully potty-trained, and clearly did something in his diaper at the table. I was on the outside of the semi-circular booth, and I was happy to serve my wife in the presence of our deacon chairman. In the restroom, I discovered my son was wearing underwear instead of a diaper, and I had no underwear or diapers to put on him. I managed to clean him up, but he returned to the table “commando,” wearing nothing under his blue jeans.

A few minutes later, as we all stood up to leave, my son froze in his tracks and began to whimper. Fortunately, the smell hit me before the sight. I wrapped my arms around both of his thighs like a tourniquet and whisked him into the parking lot, leaving a putrescent trail of methane in our wake. I don’t typically have a gag reflex when it comes to strong, horrid odors, but I nearly vomited a few times in the van during the 15-minute drive to my deacon chairman’s home.

Fortunately for our host family (did I mention he was the chairman of the deacons?), their guest quarters were in the basement. We pulled around back to the entrance, and I carefully carried my pitiful son inside. While I cleaned him up in the bathroom (there is never enough water pressure when you need it), what he left in his jeans continued to wreak havoc on the 1000 square foot apartment. My deacon chairman’s wife came downstairs, armed with some sort of masking aerosol, leaving the room to smell like methane and roses.

God gave me a gracious and down-to-earth deacon chairman who did not judge us by our first impression, but I fretted over the experience. “If I can’t even drive into town correctly, how could I ever pastor the church?” God had me exactly where He wanted me to be: helpless. He was teaching me before I even got in the pulpit that the best pastors are those that constantly acknowledge they are utterly helpless to be great pastors. The same is true regardless of your calling or profession. The key to being a happy, joyful follower of Jesus is to be constantly aware of your helplessness to be righteous and his graciousness to give you His Son’s righteousness.


Rob Tims is a Christ-follower, husband, and father of three and lives in Nashville, TN. With more than 20 years of ministry experience in the local church, Rob now works at Lifeway Christian Resources on a team that provides trustworthy, customized Bible studies for individual churches. He also is an Associate Professor for Liberty University Online and enjoys preaching and teaching in various venues throughout the year. His first book, Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, is available exclusively on Amazon for Kindle or in print. Rob blogs at SouthernFriedFaith.com and you can follow him on Twitter @robertltjr.

Photo credit: chuckp via photopin cc

Sola boot strapa

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Everyone is born with limits, but we are seemingly born hating those limits. My oldest son modeled this well at an early age playing with “Zoob.” “Zoob” is the name of the “moving, mind-building system” of colorful plastic pieces that snap, click, and pop together twenty different ways, allowing my then five-year-old son to build some pretty amazing things, either by looking at the picture instructions or using his imagination. Dinosaurs, airplanes, 18-wheelers, crowns fit for a queen: the possibilities seemed limited only by my child’s imagination, level of concentration, and propensity for patience. And while his imagination would run wild with delight for hours, he did eventually lose focus. At the peak of his frustration, he would sweat profusely, viciously destroy his projects, and loudly whimper: “I can NEVER make these work! These are ALWAYS doing wrong ALL the time!”

Have you been there? Have you made six trips to the local hardware store in order to install a new ceiling fan? Have you tried to do the P90X work out program for a few days? Have you changed your child’s bed sheets yet again, only to have him vomit for the 7th time at 3 AM? Have you washed your hands religiously and still gotten the virus? Have you emptied a box of Calgon into your bathtub and cried out for deliverance? Have you been completely helpless?

If so, you probably pushed against back against your helplessness. In your own strength, you finished that home improvement project. With all the resolve you could muster, you finished that workout routine. You held back your daughter’s hair over the toilet with a Mona Lisa smile. Your Latin life motto in those moments was Sola Boot Strapa: You picked yourself up by your bootstraps.

Now, I’m all for pushing myself beyond my current limits, but at some point I have to come to the humbling realization that I can’t be all, do all, or have all. Those life experiences that lead us to finally throw up our hands and shout “OK … enough! I can’t do it all!” are God’s gracious gifts meant to show us exactly what’s required if we want to be right with Him and be used by Him. It’s helplessness, not self-determination, that Jesus requires for us to come to Him. That’s where Peter, Andrew, Matthew and all of the disciples were when Jesus chose them, and it’s where you must be if you want to follow Him and be used by Him. You have to come to the end of yourself. You have to be helpless.

Jesus highlighted this truth from the very beginning of his teaching ministry. Among His earliest words to His disciples at the Sermon on the Mount was the mandate to be helpless. “The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (Matthew 5:3).

By teaching us to be poor in spirit, Jesus encouraged the kind of helplessness exhibited by many people throughout the gospels. People like the man with leprosy who desperately cried out to Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (Luke 5:12). People like Jairus, who pleaded with Jesus to heal his dying twelve year-old daughter (Luke 8:41). People like the rich, squatty, social outcast named Zacchaeus who put aside all pretense and personal dignity by climbing a tree to merely get a glimpse of Jesus. These were people who, for one reason or another, came to the end of their rope and ran to Jesus. And in so doing, they became happy.

It’s an un-American, even inhuman, idea that happiness is tied to helplessness. In our culture, happy people are strong. Happy people have the resources and reputation to make things happen. But Jesus turns these American ideals on their heads. The things that we love most about ourselves are the things we must reject, and the things we hate the most about ourselves are the very things we must embrace, because doing so puts us into a position to be filled with Christ, who is every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3).

But Jesus did not say, “Blessed are those who initially experience a sense of helplessness, run to Jesus, and then live proving to Jesus how grateful they are.” He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Our sense of helplessness is not merely a once-in-a-lifetime experience we must have in order to be saved, but a way of life we must embrace as his followers. Helplessness is not something we initially grasp then move on from, but something we realize and grow deeper in. This is why God gives us multiple life experiences to teach us to accept the fact we are helpless people and He is a strong and gracious God. I’ll elaborate on this truth in my next post.


Rob Tims is a Christ-follower, husband, and father of three and lives in Nashville, TN. With more than 20 years of ministry experience in the local church, Rob now works at Lifeway Christian Resources on a team that provides trustworthy, customized Bible studies for individual churches. He also is an Associate Professor for Liberty University Online and enjoys preaching and teaching in various venues throughout the year. His first book, Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, is available exclusively on Amazon for Kindle or in print. Rob blogs at SouthernFriedFaith.com and you can follow him on Twitter @robertltjr.

Photo credit: Ani-Bee via photopin cc

“What will they do before the sentence of God?” Pilgrim’s Progress conversations (5)

Then Christian said to Hopeful, “If these men cannot stand before the sentence of men, what will they do before the sentence of God? And if they are mute when dealt with by vessels of clay, what will they do when they shall be rebuked by the flames of a devouring fire?”1

Personal reflection

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I remember a conversation with my first pastor about money. At the time, Emily and I had a lot of debt and we were trying to figure out how to pay it off (a little faster than paying a bit at a time). We were brand new Christians, and said, “If we took the money we give and applied it to the debt instead, we could have it cleared in about a year. Would that be okay?”

“No, it wouldn’t be an issue,” he replied. “The problem is you won’t do it.”

“Why?” I asked, my curiosity piqued.

I’ll never forget his answer: “You said ‘if.'”

The “if” statements we make when it comes to money reveal a lot about us. If I make more money, then I’ll start giving. If I get the bonus, I’ll make this donation. If this happens, then…

If, if, if.

The problem with the ifs is we use them as an escape from doing what the Lord has already called us to. We know we’re to be generous, but really, we like our stuff better. And it’s a sore spot for us. So when we hear a sermon that talks about money, or when we read a book that describes the radical self-sacrificial nature of the Christian faith, we get our backs up, pull the legalist card and bail.

But the words that confront us—these are the words of men. And we cannot stand before them. How then will we stand “before the sentence of God”? Without a broken and contrite heart, we cannot.

Reading with Ryken

The interaction between the travelers and the worshipers of wealth is a temptation scene par excellence. Here the danger is not external hostility but the allurement of worldly success. The allegorical antagonists are not bullies but qualities (such as Money-love and Save-all) that make life easy in the name of religion. Accordingly, what the conflict requires from Christian is the ability to provide convincing intellectual reasons against the claims that religious people can pursue wealth and success as their highest goals.2

Next time

The next discussion of The Pilgrim’s Progress will be centered around chapters 10 and 11 (I should note: chapter breaks are based on the 2009 Crossway edition).

Discussing together

This reading project only works if we’re reading together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Here are a few questions to help guide our discussion:

  • How does the temptation to live an easy life in the name of religion?
  • Consider 1 John 2:15-17. How do you see John’s warnings exhibited in the worshippers of wealth? Why is this form of worldliness so dangerous?
  • How can you protect yourself from it?

Post a comment below or to link to your blog if you’ve chosen to write about this on your own site.