Keller on the Gospel

Tim Keller, of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, offers this wonderful perspective on what the gospel communicates:

[The gospel] tells us that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted than you ever dared hope–at the same time.  In fact, if the gospel is true, the more you see your sin, the more certain you are that you were saved by sheer grace and more precious and electrifying that grace is to you.


Weekly Spurgeon

From Morning and Evening

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. 
– Luke 2:20

Have you not found the gospel to be in yourselves just what the Bible said it would be? Jesus said He would give you rest–have you not enjoyed the sweetest peace in Him? He said you should have joy, and comfort, and life through believing in Him–have you not received all these? Are not His ways ways of pleasantness, and His paths paths of peace? Surely you can say with the queen of Sheba, ‘The half has not been told me’. I have found Christ more sweet than His servants ever said He was. I looked upon His likeness as they painted it, but it was a mere daub compared with Himself; for the King in His beauty outshines all imaginable loveliness.


STINT in South Africa

Dear Partners in the Gospel,

About five months ago, there was a chance to go to Uganda for a year to teach African pastors. I love theology and I want to teach and preach Jesus for my life’s work as a pastor. As you know, the Uganda opportunity quickly dissolved. I knew I didn’t want to be on a campus in Africa-or America. I feel called to more than campus work. I want my ministry to expand. I want to reach a more diverse group of people. I know being a pastor is my call because I love writing, preaching, shepherding, and communicating. It’s an irresistible call. My bones quake for it. My blood simmers at the thought. It will be there. I am going there. Just not quite yet. After the Uganda option fell through, I thought all other possible African ministry with Campus Crusade were on campus. I was awfully wrong. Just a week and a half ago, I found out differently. That day, my life’s direction changed. That day, suddenly, Africa became a giant opportunity.

Right now, I have applications at two amazing seminaries. My call is to go there, yet today, I feel like Eric Liddle, from Chariots of Fire. “God made me for China,” he said. “But he has also made me fast.” For me, I’m saying, “God made me to be a pastor. But he also made me for Africa.” Perhaps the race I need to run first is Africa; perhaps seminary can wait. Crusade does more than Campus ministry in South Africa. Here’s a quick rundown: Training in sexuality and abstinence; theological training for pastors; visiting orphans and widows; job-skill training; providing relief and support for AIDS patients; and the JESUS film to African tribal people. South Africa is the hope of Africa. It is like the United States of that part of the world. Africans say, “If I can only get to South Africa, I will be successful.” If you reach this country, you will reach the whole continent. Right now, I hear the call, “Preach, disciple, send!” For some reason though, it’s followed by: “But, wait!” I want to go to the hard places to work with the hard people. With this opportunity, it seems, I can’t pass it up. At the end of my life, will I say, “I’ve wasted it”? Or will I say, “I went to Africa when you called me, Lord”?

Because of this, I have decided to do a year-long STINT (an acronym for Short Term INTernship) from January to December 2009 in Pretoria, South Africa. This conviction is so heavy on my heart even though it has just budded. I can’t imagine the enthusiasm that will come as the experience blossoms into a rich time of growth and dependence on the Lord.

A year in Africa would humble my arrogant heart. A year with people who have AIDS and with children who don’t eat everyday would change my perspective on life. If I don’t go, will I ask, “What if?” May I never say that! Humility. Perspective. Wisdom. Experience. All of these, and so many more, will come if I go. It will no doubt change my life. Will it be hard? O yes! I might die. The great German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When God calls a man, he bids him come and die.” When Jesus’ life was risked upon going to Jerusalem, Thomas said in John 11:16, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Jesus is whispering to me: “Come and die.” Will I die to myself? Will I go through the humility, pain, and sowing period to be more fruitful down the road? The experience gained from going to South Africa does not come from a classroom or interning at a church. Those are good things, but in the season I am in right now, would that be best? I do not have a wife or children or a mortgage. There is no better season than this one to seize the opportunity.

If I go, it would truly show that Jesus is my Treasure. It would prove my heart for Africa. It would be evidence of the Spirit’s work in my life. It would lower my pride, make me live simply, open my eyes to the hurt in this world, and would draw me to repentance and a greater thirst for Jesus. The great sin of the church in the 20th century was that it let an entire continent go down the toilet and sink into the devil’s grip. I don’t want to be identified with that. Know this: I’m not going to impress God or make him love me if I go. He will love me if I go or not. I’m going because he loves me and I want to obey his call. I’m going because Jesus said, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”

I want to store up my treasures in heaven. It sounds crazy to want to live in a broken country like South Africa. But when I read the words of Jesus in Luke 18:19-30, my fear is dissolved: “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time and in the age to come eternal life.”

I hear this promise. I believe it in faith.



A Treasure in a Jar of Clay

On November 14 and 15, three friends and I went to Chadron, Nebraska, to minister to college students at Chadron State College. The trip itself was unforgettable. Random stops in the middle of nowhere, at the Nebraska National Forest, small towns with no post office, and bathroom breaks at places where animals might not stop to relieve themselves. It was so refreshing and glorious to spend so many hours in a vehicle with people that I love so much, people I work with, and people who share the same vision of reaching students for Jesus. Needless to say, we had fun–probably too much fun. We almost hit a deer (or two) we almost had our car destroyed by an ancient tractor, and we sat on a roof of an old stable, relishing the stillness of the Nebraska Sandhills and praising the Lord for his awesome creation.

Despite all the fun, we still had a job to do–a job that is, by definition, fun and exciting. My job as a Campus Crusade worker is the most amazing, yet weird job in the world. I got to drive to Chadron to reach students for Christ. During the weekly meeting on Wednesday night–after 8 hours in a vehicle–I spoke to 80 students about receiving Jesus as a Treasure, not just a Savior.

It is very difficult to speak passionately and with conviction to people whom I do not know. God was merciful and gracious, however, to ignite in me a desire to see students love Jesus, not just because he saves them from sin and death and hell, but because he will satisfy their deepest longings for love, peace, and hope.

The core of the message was from Matthew 13:44 and how a man found a glorious treasure in a field and sold all he had, simply to buy the field that contained the treasure. I challenged the students–with a dozen or so present who were non-Christian–to treasure Jesus enough to be willing to sell it all to follow him. Later in the message, I talked about Paul’s description of himself in Philippians 3, when he wrote that he counts everything as loss because of Christ and it is by faith alone that he is saved–not by works of righteousness. I said something that I didn’t plan on saying while in preparation. Regarding works and good deeds, I said, “Trying to be good enough, trying to get out of hell is a good way to get yourself into hell.” By that, I mean that if people try to be legalistic and Pharisaic, we will never see the real Jesus and treasure him like he deserves to be. I saw the faces of a few people when I said that. I don’t regret it. I don’t care if people were offended. We need to know that we cannot be righteous. We are incapable of doing anything good on our own. We need to know that so we count everything as loss. We need to count all things as rubbish for the sake of treasuring Jesus.

In the days leading up to speaking at Chadron, I was over the railing with the Lord, getting walloped for the times I do not treasure him. I love that about teaching and preaching. I am convicted of my own sins and because of that, I can be vulnerable and not be a “Holy Joe” as I share my heart with people. I hope the students saw my sorrow and grief over the cheap substitutes that steal my attention away from Jesus and that it brought them to their knees to confess and repent before him.

I found this morning, two days after the meeting that three students received Christ–not just as their Savior–but as their Treasure on Wednesday night. Praise the Lord for the fruit that he alone bore! God alone prepared their hearts and used his effectual call and beautiful love to draw them to himself. I never ceased to be amazed at how God uses me for his glory. I am such a sinner, such a broken, jar of frail clay that cannot hold any kind of weight without crumbling. Yet, 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not us.” How glorious is it that I am weak and needy and worthless, and Christ uses me to communicate his word to other jars of clay! How splendid is it that the love of God lets me keep the treasure of Jesus in a vessel that so often cheats on him and runs away from his grace! That is what I love about speaking and preaching the word of God. Toward the end of his life, John Newton said: “I remember two things, that I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” In Philippians 3, after Paul talked about losing everything to know Jesus, he said, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Phil. 3:12). He was vulnerable with the people he was writing to. “I don’t have it all figured out yet! I still sin; I’m still crooked!” How incredible are those words from the world’s greatest preacher and evangelist.

Knowing that when I speak is comforting. I’m a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Courage and the Gospel

Acts 23:11 says,

The following night the Lord stood by him [Paul] and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

As I was reflecting on this passage in prayer and even now, I notice a few things about this statement that God spoke to Paul after he appeared before the Jerusalem Council.

1) Take courage. God told Paul not to be afraid. That’s fairly explicit in the verse. The reason Paul can write, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16) is because the Lord Jesus himself appeared to him and said, “Take courage”. Also, Paul could say to Timothy, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7) because Jesus said to him, “Take courage”.

2) You have testified to the facts about me. Paul did not believe in some random set of mystical opinions about Jesus. These were cold, hard facts. The reason Paul could write, “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:16-17, 19). Paul was so confident in the resurrection of Jesus that he risked being wrong and pitied by men. Because of the facts, however, Paul can say, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:21).

3) You must testify also in Rome. Paul wasn’t just commanded to go to Jerusalem, he was called to Rome–the New Yorks, the Tokyos, the L.A.s, the Londons of the world. Rome was the center of religion, government, trade, and social interaction. Because the Lord said, “Take courage” and because Paul knew facts about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, Paul could go to Rome.

As I begin to apply this to my own life, I think of times I lack courage. I think of situations when I don’t know the facts about Jesus. I think of chances I’ve had to “go to Rome” for Jesus and didn’t do it. May we be encouraged that Jesus gives us courage, shows us the facts, and leads us to where he wants us to be.

“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things” (Rom. 10:15). Is there any greater duty to be done for the kingdom? How beautiful it is. We must share the gospel. Without it, there is no forgiveness, no redemption, no salvation, no everlasting life. If God is truly for us, how can the world be against us? He gives us comfort in the face of affliction. His yoke is easy and burden is light when sufferings bear us down.

Take courage. Go share the gospel with the world.