Which column describes your approach to the Christian life: religion? or the Gospel? 

The below table taken from Tim Keller’s, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City, page 65). 

If you have more questions about what is meant by “the Gospel” see this post: What Do Christians Mean When They Reference the Gospel or Good News? 

RELIGION

GOSPEL

“I obey; therefore I’m accepted.” “I’m accepted; therefore I obey.”
Motivation is based on fear and insecurity. Motivation is based on grateful joy.
I obey God in order to get things from God. I obey God to get God — to delight and resemble him.
When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or myself, since I believe, like Job’s friends, that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life. When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle, but I know that while God may allow this for my training, he will exercise his fatherly love within my trial.
When I am criticized, I am furious or devastated because it is essential for me to think of myself as a “good person.” Threats to that self-image must be destroyed at all costs. When I am criticized, I struggle, but it is not essential for me to think of myself as a “good person.” My identity is not built on my performance but on God’s love for me in Christ.
My prayer life consists largely of petition and only heats up when I am in need. My main purpose in prayer is to control circumstances. My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with him.
My self-view swings between two poles. If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to people who fail. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel humble but not confident — I feel like a failure. My self-view is not based on a view of myself as a moral achiever. In Christ I am at once sinful and lost, yet accepted. I am so bad he had to die for me, and so loved he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deeper humility as well as deeper confidence, without either sniveling or swaggering.
My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work or how moral I am, so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to others. My identity and self-worth are centered on the One who died for his enemies, including me.  Only by sheer grace am I what I am, so I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different from me. I have no inner need to win arguments.
Since I look to my pedigree or performance for my spiritual acceptability, my heart manufactures idols — talents, moral record, personal discipline, social status, etc. I absolutely have to have them, so they are my main hope, meaning, happiness, security, and significance, whatever I say I believe about God. I have many good things in my life — family, work, etc., but none of these good things are ultimate things to me. I don’t absolutely have to have them, so there is a limit to how much anxiety, bitterness, and despair they can inflict on me when they are threatened and lost.

 

 

2 Corinthians 8-9 offers a gold mine of teaching on giving.

Help with sermon prep by making observations on giving found in 2 Corinthians 8-9. Share those with me via the comments or via email. Together let’s clear up some misconceptions about what the Bible really teaches about giving. 

Sunday I begin 2 Corinthians 8-9 and Paul’s challenge to the Corinthians to take up a collection. This is one of the richest sections on giving in the New Testament. 

We need to be taught on giving for any number of reasons.

  • People in our culture are loaded down with debt.
  • Despite being one of the wealthiest cultures in history, American Christians give away a low percentage. (See 6 Facts About the Giving of American Christians)
  • Many Christians are influenced by the Prosperity Gospel.
  • Yet other Christians fail to recognize the blessings God gives to those who give.
  • The Church of Christ has an unprecedented opportunity to store up treasure in heaven. Our opportunities for sharing the joy of Jesus have never been greater!

So here’s my challenge to our church family — and anyone else who wants to help. Read 2 Corinthians 8-9 and make as many observations about what is taught about giving as possible. For example, 2 Corinthians 9:7 teaches, “God loves a cheerful giver.” What would happen if we really meditated on that principle?

Here are a couple of parameters for the exercise:

  • Share your observations about the biblical text. Don’t quote someone else. Read 2 Corinthians 8-9 and consider what the Spirit impresses on you!
  • For this exercise, use only 2 Corinthians 8-9. The Bible says a great deal about money. But for now, let’s focus in this one section. 

Again: It’s a simple exercise. Read 2 Corinthians 8-9 and make observations about what this section of Scripture teaches about giving.

See also:

Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money

Christian Smith on Why Americans Give So Little Financially

Don’t Store Up Treasure on Earth: John R.W. Stott on What Jesus Doesn’t and Does Mean

Sunday (6/4/17) Jamie and I were blessed by a sermon from Pastor Bruce McKanna on Sabbath rest. Bruce gave this beautiful challenge: “Don’t give yourself permission to rest so much as hear God’s permission.”

The first Sunday of my sabbatical, I preached in the GSOI. June 4th was my first opportunity to sit in the pew.  We attended Evangelical Free Church of Mt. Morris and In God’s conspicuous providence, we heard a sermon on Sabbath rest.

The entire sermon was excellent but the point I continue to reflect on is the reminder that God’s work and rest in creation serves as a pattern for his people.

In response to the sermon, I am memorizing Exodus 31:17:

It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.

The pattern of work and rest is rooted in creation. Work followed by rest is a rhythm that should be part of all our lives.

 

One of my summer sabbatical goals is to read widely. Below is a book I would recommend for those looking for Christian beach reading. It is written at a level that is easily followed and offers a fresh look at apologetics.

Skeel, David. True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 2014.

Skeel argues that the Christian worldview offers the best explanation of significant areas of human experience.

Specifically, Skeel compares Christianity to materialism where materialism or naturalism is the belief that the material is the ultimate reality and that there is no supernatural God, gods or spirit(s) (13).

Skeel focuses on five different phenomena or paradoxes as areas in which to compare Christianity and materialism.

  1. Idea Making / Human Consciousness – Human beings have a consciousness and the ability to think abstractly about ideas. How did we come to be creatures who think abstractly? What is the origin of the “ghost in the machine”?
  2. Beauty and the Arts – “This perception that beauty is real and that it reflects the universe as it is meant to be, but that it is impermanent and somehow corrupted, is the paradox of beauty (65).” Why are we so moved by beauty?
  3. The Problem of Evil – “If a good God oversees, the universe, why would he allow [suffering] (90)?” If there is nothing more than the material and the evolution of life, why are people concerned about evil?
  4. The Justice Paradox – Humanity devises systems of law they believe they can follow, but then societies fail to follow those laws. Marxism is one infamous example. Why do we view justice as so important?
  5. Life and Afterlife – “Christians believe in both a life and an afterlife (137).” Yet, other worldviews argue that once the physical lights go out, existence ceases. Which view best fits the data?

Skeel is a law professor and this shows in his ability to outline clear, well-reasoned positions. Indeed, his explanation of the lawyer’s vocation as “navigating complexity” offers a fascinating insight into the legal profession (148).

Skeel is not a trained theologian. He does not attempt sophisticated theological explanations nor does he interact a great deal with the biblical text. That is not his purpose. Rather, his goal is to encourage people to think deeply about human experience and the worldviews that make the most sense of life.

Skeel’s lack of theological depth is most notable in the chapter 5, “Life and Afterlife.” There he seems to give N.T. Wright more credit than he deserves asserting that “the contemporary theologian who has done more than any other to explain [the hope of the new earth] is N.T. Wright.”  At the same time, Skeel unfairly characterizes dispensationalists as believing that only physical bodies will be resurrected (155).

Skeel’s offers four excellent strategies for people interested in thinking deeply about life after reading his book:

  1. Keep reading. Investigate more.
  2. Attend church.
  3. Find a Christian whom you respect and who is willing to answer questions you have about Christianity and what Christians do and do not believe.
  4. Read the Bible itself.

For those wishing to consider apologetics (the case for Christianity) on an introductory level, Skeel’s True Paradox offers a worthwhile place to begin.

See also:

9 Reasons Tim Keller’s Book on Suffering is Superb

Do You Ever Hum, What’s Forever For?

One of the first videos every parent should watch — whether their children are three or thirty. The audio is available here.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to recharge! 

A week into my sabbatical and here is some of how I’m working at recharging:

  • Memorizing and meditating on Romans 11:33-36. I can’t believe I haven’t previously memorized.
  • Lots of Scripture review and meditation
  • Listened to Paul Tripp’s address: Parenting is Gospel Ministry. It’s excellent!
  • Reading in Orwell’s 1984Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for FreedomChurchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat
  • Gave a sermon at a family reunion.
  • Lots of walking at the Byron Forest Preserve — developing a friendship with the deer!
  • Listened to a sermon by Tim Keller on the incarnation. Also excellent!
  • Travelled to the GSOI (Great state of Iowa) where the children were thrilled to see me. 
  • Preparing for a graveside service for someone connected to our church family. 
  • I’ve prayed that our flock will be blessed this summer — especially by Pastor Tim Michalek’s preaching in Philippians. 

 

 

 

Watch the below video with Dr. Jeremy Pierre. If I ever issue a revised copy of Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds I’m going to pay my own gas money to buy Dr. Pierre lunch so we can talk biblical forgiveness. He interacts with hard questions in a way that is both pastorally sensitive and biblically responsible. 

“How do I forgive someone who refuses to say sorry?” Much of the reason I wrote Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds was to interact with this question. There are at least two extremes to avoid.

  • On the one hand, Christians should always follow Christ’s example and proactively show love (Romans 5:8, Romans 12:21). Using the word picture of gift giving, we should always wrap the package of forgiveness and offer it to those who hurt us. 
  • Yet, Christians must also avoid diminishing evil that is done nor should they be help captive by unrepentant offenders (Romans 12:19, 2 Thess 1:6-10, 2 Tim 4:14). If the offending party is unwilling to repent and unwrap the package, then we can trust God for justice.

See also:

The Forgiveness Quiz – This will get you started thinking about forgiveness.

Didn’t Jesus Forgive Unconditionally on the Cross? – One of the first questions that comes up when we talk about the truth that Christians should not always forgive.

Others on Unconditional Forgiveness – This is a collection of quotes from others who interact with the subject of conditional forgiveness.

5 Problems With Unconditional Forgiveness – Numerous problems arise when we encourage cheap grace. Here are 5 examples

Should I confront an offender or just get over it? – What should be confronted? What should be let go? This post will help you work through the question of when to confront.

How can I stop thinking about it? – The “mental gerbil wheel” is one of the most difficult aspects of deep offenses.

How can I forgive myself? – This is another forgiveness question people often raise.

Chris Brauns Review of Totally Forgiving God by R.T. Kendall – Is it okay for Christians to forgive God. Some authors argue there are times it is appropriate. In this review for The Gospel Coalition I interact with R.T. Kendall’s book.

I am again privileged to be part of the Haddon Robinson Study Retreat. This we are studying the Old Testament books of Hosea, Amos, and Micah under the instruction of Wheaton’s Danny Carroll.

Each year a group of pastors gather for a week of intense study Covenant Harbor Camp near Lake Geneva, WI . Our format is simple. We invite a world-class scholar to teach us on one or more books of the Bible. As we are taught on a technical level, we collaborate to envision how to preach the Scripture we are studying to our congregations.

We were inspired by Dr. Haddon Robinson to begin this retreat. Haddon is one of the most influential teachers of homiletics (preaching) in the English speaking world in the last 100 years. Most of us who are part of this retreat studied under Haddon. All share a commitment to the clear proclamation of God’s Word.

Participants are thankful for a family who underwrite part of the cost of our retreat. We are also thankful for our churches that value the opportunity for their pastors to get away from our many responsibilities for a time of intense focus on the Word.

Our group comes from all over North America. If you click through to the interactive map, you will see that we have participants who come from everywhere from Edmonton to South Carolina. Combined, we have hundreds of years of pastoral experience.

Jamie and I didn’t formally catechize our children. Though we did spend a great deal of time with them in theological instruction and dialogue. But I agree with Tim Keller’s points and if we had it to do over again, I think we would. 

Witness how a grandfather sees color for the first time. Then consider how great will be the Christian’s joy when not just one malady is cured, but EVERY hurt is healed– in the twinkling of an eye (1 Cor 15:52). 

Christ’s resurrection assures Christians that we will also share in his resurrection (1 Cor 15:20). Those who have died in Christ will rise in Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Our new resurrection bodies will be cured of all aches. The lame will walk. The blind will see.

This man’s response is the tiniest preview of what it will be like to have a new resurrection body.

For more reflection on this point, see Steve Dewitt’s post, Resurrection Characteristics of Christ’s Body (And Ours As Well)