Categories
Theology

Praying the Gospel Over Your Life

From J.D. Greear on the Resurgence:

One of the revolutionary ideas of the gospel is that we begin to do what we ought for God as we are captivated by the story of what he has done for us.

Spiritual fruits do not develop in us as we focus on them; spiritual fruits come as we abide in Jesus (John 15:5). Spiritual “fruit” is much like physical “fruit.” When a husband and wife conceive physical “fruit” (i.e. a child), they are not thinking about the exact, scientific mechanics of making that child. They get caught up in a moment of loving intimacy with one another, and the fruit of that loving intimacy is a child. In the same way, spiritual fruits do not grow by focusing on fruit production, but by becoming intimate with the doctrines of the gospel.

Grow Your Fruit with the Gospel
Jesus said that saturating ourselves in the gospel, or “abiding” (lit., “making our home”) in it, is the way to abundant fruit. Sanctification is the daily process of pulling up the roots of our hearts from the flesh and grounding them in the soil of the gospel. Or, to change metaphors, we must send out missionaries to the unreached parts of our heart to preach the gospel and bring our heart under the subjugation of the gospel.

Things like radical generosity and audacious faith are not produced when we focus on them, but when we focus on the gospel.

 A Prayer of God’s Righteousness
About four years ago, I wrote a prayer for our church to help to this end. We often talk about “preaching the gospel to ourselves daily,” but how can you do that? This four-part prayer confronts us with the reality of God’s gift-righteousness and love:

“In Christ, there is nothing I could do that would make you love me more, and nothing I have done that makes you love me less.” Pray about this “gift righteousness” of the gospel (2 Cor. 5:21) and go to war against the incipient works-righteousness hardwired into our hearts.

“Your presence and approval are all I need today for everlasting joy.”  Pray about this value of God’s presence in our lives. It’s one thing to know that Jesus is your possession; it’s another for that approval to have such weightiness in our hearts that our captivity to other idols is snapped.

“As you have been to me, so I will be to others.”  Pray about and consider the extravagant generosity of God toward us. His generosity toward us leads us to radical generosity toward others.   

“As I pray, I’ll measure your compassion by the cross and your power by the resurrection.” Pray that God would help you view the world through the lens of the gospel. Seeing the compassion and power of God revealed in the gospel produces bold, audacious faith in our hearts. 

Focus on What Jesus has Done For You
Things like radical generosity and audacious faith are not produced when we focus on them, but when we focus on the gospel. Focusing on what we ought to do for God creates only frustration and exhaustion; focusing on what Jesus has done for us produces abundant fruit. Resting in what Jesus has done for us releases the revolutionary power of the gospel.


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Categories
Ministry

For What It’s Worth: Multi-Site Churches

A church can best reach a city when it “goes to the people” rather than expecting the people to come to it.  This means that a church in a metropolitan area should seek to multiply, not by building a bigger building, but by taking new ground for the kingdom through opening up new, smaller gathering places throughout the city.

There is biblical evidence for “multi-site” churches, as Gregg Allison writes about.  In addition to Allison’s blog, notice how Paul speaks to Titus: “This is why I left you in Crete [one church] so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders [plural] in every town [multi-site] as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). It seems that Titus was to serve as a sort of “theological overseer/shepherd” on the island of Crete. Consider, too, that Timothy was charged to lead the church in Ephesus through theological shepherding (1 Tim. 1:3).  Ephesus was one city and no doubt had many sites–which is made clear by Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to keep men from preaching unsound doctrine (1:3-7) and to appoint qualified leaders in Ephesus (3:1-7).

But there is the practical element of reaching as many people as possible that makes a difference as well. All truth is God’s truth, but not all truth is contained in Scripture (advanced physics isn’t in there, neither is English grammar). God has providentially given us wisdom, by his Spirit, and wisdom is always intensely practical.  Here are five practical benefits of multi-site churches:

  • More, smaller facilities are cost-effective (you can find cheaper, even foreclosed, space to buy and remodel).
  • Different “tribes” and “peoples” will be reached (because some people will refuse to drive to the ‘burbs and attend services at the nice, comfy, predominately white church).
  • More intimate fellowship between God’s people (and people will still recognize they are a part of a bigger body and movement, but they won’t get lost in the shuffle–their name and face matter).
  • Ability to focus on reaching particular neighborhoods (cities change when neighborhoods change, not the other way around).
  • Ability to gear non-essential, stylistic issues toward the culture of the neighborhood (e.g. music, etc; as opposed to causing a stink at the “building” where old fogies and young hotheads clash).

How can we reach people and transform a city if we just build bigger buildings? There can be more services, but will we really reach people from 20 miles away in the ghetto with our giant, suburban buildings? Probably not. If churches are to transform cities (as they were expected to do in the New Testament) then we must go to where the people are, and we must keep people on mission in their part of town.  That means if you live in the ghetto, you are on mission there.  If you live in the ‘burbs, it means you are on mission there. If you live in the urban center, you are on mission there. And if you live on the outskirts of town, then you are on mission there.

I realize this is not possible for all churches for a variety of reasons. But it should at least be on the radar and a future goal. If a church isn’t there yet, there should be, by God’s grace, a concerted effort to get there.

What are your thoughts about multi-site churches?

Categories
Life Theology

5 Tips for Topical Sermons

Justin Holcomb at the Resurgence gives this advice for pastors, especially in light of a special Sunday like Mother’s Day.

Number 5 is particularly helpful:

Your role is not to serve as a host for a special moment or to be an armchair critic of where our culture has goofed on motherhood or viewing women. You are a preacher of Good News. Proclaim the person and work of Jesus and his Gospel. The grace upon grace from Jesus (John 1:16) is the most relevant and needed thing for you to communicate.

Categories
Theology

C is for Christocentric

How do you read the Bible? To find rules to obey, to discover spiritual insights for your life path, or memorize answers for doctrinal debate?  Dane Ortlund posted several weeks back on the Resurgence blog about transforming your Bible reading.  He wrote, “Biblical theology reads the Bible as an unfolding drama, taking place in real-world time and space, that culminates in a man named Jesus.”

We call this type of theology “Christocentric” (aka “Christ-centered”). The Bible is truly God’s grand story of redemption in the world he created, and that redemption is found and fulfilled in Jesus.  Therefore, the way we view the creation, the fall, redemption, and future glory should be centered upon him.

If we have an anthropocentric (aka human-centered) view of the world or Scripture, we will inevitably make life and redemption about us. Grace will not longer be grace, and we will make God a debtor to us.  Salvation will not be a free gift–it will be something we have earned and deserve.

We cannot even have a view of the world and redemption that is centered on others. Why? Because no human being–not even a spouse or child–can bear that responsiblity.  Ernest Becker wrote, “If your partner is your ‘All’ then any shortcoming in him becomes a major threat to you…What is it that we want when we elevate the love partner to this position?…We want to be rid of…our feeling of nothingness…We want redemption–nothing less. Needless to say, humans cannot give this.”

The Bible does not let us go either of those ways, however.  We could discuss dozens of passages all over the Bible that declare this, but one passage in particular stands out about the rest in calling us to a Christocentric view of Scripture and all of life.  Colossians 1:15-22 says:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.  And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.

How glorious!  We could spend years on this paragraph, but notice the linchpin of the text: all things were created through him and for him. Was anything made through you or for you, or through or for any other human for that matter?  I don’t think so.

If my world is Jamescentric, I will be a miserable and mean wretch of a man, isolated from others and void of purpose, meaning, significance, and love. But if my world is Christocentric, Jesus will be my supreme delight and ultimate end, and in him there is complete joy and pleasure forevermore (Ps. 16:11).

Categories
Theology

The 50/50 Gospel and Grace

Jonathan Dodson:

In his newest book, Christless Christianity, Michael Horton argues that a semi-pelagian understanding of the gospel plagues the American church. Is it fair, however, to lay our rampant nominalism at the feet of Pelagius? After all, most so-called “semi-pelagian” churches are neither aware of nor lay claim to Pelagian doctrine (heresy). Perhaps it is overreaching to frame the Christless Christianity of America with a 6th-century theology? Regardless, Horton has placed his finger on the near lifeless pulse of the American gospel.

He points out that American Protestantism has come to view grace as “divine assistance for the process of moral transformation rather than as a one-sided divine rescue.” That gospel operates on what we’ll call a 50/50 principle. This 50/50 gospel offers salvation via a blend of fifty percent grace and fifty percent good behavior. The cross is no longer expiation of sin but an example of how to live sacrificially. People are good enough to choose Christ but they simply need to be reminded of how good a choice he is. Broken marriages, patterns of sexual sin, deep-seated anger, and rampant debt are primarily the product of our failure to behave like Jesus.

Read the whole thing.