October 18, 2013
In my old Jeep it is not uncommon for one of the indicator lights to flash on. Sometimes more than one may illumine. Whenever this occurs it is an indication that there may be a problem. Because it is an old Jeep, some lights pop on more frequently than others – often enough that it would be easy enough to ignore. But to disregard any of these signs, common or not, could prove costly in the long run.
What is true of that old Jeep is, in a way, also true of my life. For one thing, I have some miles on me, and no little wear and tear. And sometimes my body will provide me with warning signs. But what of the parts of me that are not physically detectable? They also can go out of kilter. And neglect of these areas is even more perilous than neglect of the body. (1 Timothy 4.8)
Fortunately there are some indicators of our Spiritual vital signs. While not “scientific” the following inventory, adapted from a list developed by Jared Wilson, are excellent personal examination points to consider:
- The gospel doesn’t interest you – or it maybe it does, but just not as much as some other religious subjects.
- You take nearly everything personally.
- You frequently worry about what other people think.
- You treat inconveniences like minor tragedies (or maybe even major tragedies).
- You are impatient with people.
- In general, you have trouble seeing the fruit of the Spirit in your life. (Galatians 5.22-23)
- The Word of God holds little interest.
- You have great difficulty forgiving.
- You are told frequently by your spouse, a close friend, or some other family members that you are too “clingy” or too controlling.
- You think someone besides yourself is the worst sinner you know. (1 Timothy 1.15)
- The idea of gospel-centrality makes no sense to you.
“OK”, you might say, “I have checked the list and see that a few of these lights come on at least every now and again. So now what?
October 14, 2013
In his booklet, Leadership: How to Guide Others with Integrity, Stephen Viars asks these instructive, recalibrating questions:
- Do people understand more of God’s mercy because of the way I respond to their mistakes?
- Do people understand more of God’s holiness because of my high ethical standards?
- Do people understand more of God’s patience because of the time I give to grow and develop?
- Do people understand more of God’s truthfulness because of the way I communicate honestly?
- Do people understand more of God’s faithfulness because they see me keep my promises?
- Do people understand more of God’s kindness because of the tone of my voice?
- Do people understand more of God’s love because I go out of my way to help and serve them as I lead?
- Do people understand more of God’s grace because I avoid being harsh and unreasonably demanding?
H.T. > Justin Taylor
September 24, 2013
At Grace Covenant we talk a lot about being gospel-centered as a church, and we encourage gospel-centered living among our people. From time to time we get asked by our newcomers, “What exactly does that mean? What does it look like?” Here is a brief explanation.
Before we jump into gospel-centeredness we need to be clear about the gospel itself. In the simplest of terms the gospel is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that accomplishes redemption and restoration for all who believe and all of creation. In his life Jesus fulfilled the law and accomplished all righteousness on behalf of sinners who have broken God’s law at every point. In his death Jesus atones for our sins, satisfying the wrath of God and obtaining forgiveness for all who believe. In his resurrection Jesus’ victory over sin and death is the guarantee of our victory over the same in and through him. Jesus’ saving work not only redeems sinners, uniting them to God, but also assures the future restoration of all creation. This is the gospel, the “good news,” that God redeems a fallen world by his grace.
Gospel-Centered: The Big Picture
Therefore, to be gospel-centered means that that the gospel – and Jesus himself – is our greatest hope and boast, our deepest longing and joy, and our most passionate song and message. It means that the gospel is what defines us as Christians, unites us as brothers and sisters, changes us as sinner/saints and sends us as God’s people on mission. When we are gospel-centered the gospel is exalted above every other good thing in our lives and triumphs over every bad thing set against it.
The Gospel-Centered Life
More specifically, the gospel-centered life is a life where a Christian experiences a growing personal reliance on the gospel that protects him from depending on his own religious performance and being seduced and overwhelmed by idols. The gospel centered life produces:
Confidence (Heb. 3:14; 4:16) When the gospel is central in our lives, we have confidence before God – not because of our achievements, but because of Christ’s atonement. We can approach God knowing that he receives us as his children. We do not allow our sins to anchor us to guilt and despair, but their very presence in our lives compels us to flee again and again to Christ for grace that restores our spirits and gives us strength.
Intimacy (Heb. 7:25; 10:22; James 4:8) When the gospel is central in our lives, we have and maintain intimacy with God, not because of our religious performance, but because of Jesus’ priestly ministry. We know that Jesus is our mediator with God the Father and that he has made perfect peace for us through his sacrifice allowing us to draw near to God with the eager expectation of receiving grace, not judgment.
Transformation (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:13) When the gospel is central in our lives, we experience spiritual transformation, not just moral improvement, and this change does not come about by our willpower, but by the power of the resurrection. Our hope for becoming what God designed and desires for us is not trying harder, but trusting more – relying on his truth and Spirit to sanctify us.
Community (Heb. 3:12, 13; 10:25; 2 Tim 3:16, 17) When the gospel is central in our lives, we long for and discover unity with other believers in the local church, not because of any cultural commonality, but because of our common faith and Savior. It is within this covenant community, if the community itself is gospel-centered, that we experience the kind of fellowship that comforts the afflicted, corrects the wayward, strengthens the weak, and encourages the disheartened (- which is all of us at one time or another, and to varying degrees).
The Gospel-Centered Church
A gospel-centered church is a church that is about Jesus above everything else. That sounds a little obvious, but when we talk about striving to be and maintain gospel-centrality as a church we are recognizing our tendency to focus on many other things (often good and important things) instead of Jesus. There are really only two options for local churches: they will be gospel-centered, or they will be issue(s) driven.
Issue-driven churches can be conservative or liberal, and come from any denominational tribe. A church can get the gospel “right” on paper and still not be gospel-centered in practice.
Some churches are driven by doctrinal purity. In the pursuit of the truth it is not uncommon for a church to be more about their theological heritage than the founder and perfecter of our faith. Some churches are driven by numbers. The desire to see as many people as possible trust in Christ can lead to a pragmatism that gives the nod to anything that results in more people in the front door. Some churches are driven by a desire to be culturally relevant, while other churches are focused on how culturally distinct they can remain. In both cases something other than the cross is capturing the attention of the congregation. Some churches are driven by social or spiritual works that, while good, begin to eclipse the point of all good works.
Gospel-centered churches do not forsake these things, but they are not driven by them. They are driven by a love for Jesus and his work on our behalf. Therefore gospel-centered churches are so focused on Jesus and the hope of redemption that they are passionate and articulate about their theology. Their desire to know and make known Jesus demands doctrinal precision and leads them to want and work toward as many people as possible repenting of sin and trusting in Christ. When the gospel is central in a church it leads them out into the world on mission, while preserving their counter-cultural character as the people of God. The gospel-centered church is driven by love (for God and others) and this leads to joyful obedience that points back to God.
In saying this we don’t want to suggest that here at Grace Covenant we do not struggle with being issue driven. That temptation is always present, and it is why we work hard to maintain gospel-centrality by keeping the gospel always before us in our work and worship.
Helpful reading on maintaining gospel-centrality:
- Note to Self by Joe Thorn
- Prodigal God by Tim Keller
- Gospel Wakefulness by Jared Wilson
- The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges
- The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges
- The Cross Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney
- A Scandalous Freedon by Steve Brown
- Counterfeit Gospels by Trevin Wax
- A Gospel Primer for Christians by Milton Vincent
- Gospel-Centered Discipleship (Fight Clubs) by Jonathan Dodson
- Gospel-Centered Life Curriculum by Bob Thune & World Harvest Mission
Adapted from the work of Joe Thorn, Redeemer Fellowship, St. Charles, Ill, and used with his permission
August 31, 2013
A new season on the gridiron kicks off today. While my playing – and coaching – days are long behind me, they still seem very near. And while I would be dismayed to become one of those guys whose feel my best days are the by-gone ones of long ago, I am frequently reminded afresh about how the game shaped my life, giving me perspective and character that transcend the field, sidelines, and locker room. If continually cultivated and lived out, they support the promise that, by God’s grace and providence, the best is still ahead of me.
One of the chief shaping influences on my life were the four years I got to spend as a Volunteer at the University of Tennessee. This video, featuring former Vol – and Vol For Life – Icky Johnson, is a powerful reminder of what makes it “Great to Be a Tennessee Volunteer” – and the great privilege I have to be a Vol For Life.
August 27, 2013
As we have been encouraging the small groups in our church to add a more intentional outward face, I thought I would post this piece by Jonathan Dodson that provides a solid three-legged-base counsel concerning missional communities – which is what small groups embracing an outward face are in transition toward becomming.
The popularity of missional community is rising among evangelicals, and yet, the American church is nowhere near a missional tipping point. I’ve faced missional highs and missional lows. Along the way, I’ve considered a number of things that are absolutely necessary for us to endure the transition to missional church. How should we respond to the challenges of missional community? Here are three things to keep in mind as you lead in God’s mission (and thanks for doing so).
1. Building Missional Community Requires Stretched Grace.
We need more than a drop of grace to get us going on God’s mission. We need an ocean of grace to swim in to continue on God’s mission together. Do you remember when you knew nothing about “missional church”? That’s where many people are. Do you recall how long it took you to process, assimilate, and live out the principles of missional community? This probably took a couple of years, and if you’re a leader, you are in it “full time”. When leading others in missional community, remember the slowness in your own story and extend others the same grace and patience King Jesus extended you. After all, the kingdom of God is slow, and thank God for that! We need more than a drop of grace to get us going on God’s mission. We need grace stretched across the length of our lives and depth of our missional failures and successes. Jesus secured this grace, so revel in it and splash it on others.
Leader Tip: Try to avoid making mission a new benchmark of religious performance. Instead, motivate people with grace. Grace preached and grace embodied. Embody the grace of Christ, who has put up with our missional fumblings for centuries, as you lead others on mission. When it comes to mission, it’s not perfection overnight but progress over a lifetime.
2. Community is What You Make of It.
In order to make progress with your community, remind them that community is what you make it. Community isn’t an idea; its real people, awkward, struggling, weird, different, funny, slow, arrogant, sheepish, humble, curious, skeptical, excitable. You get the idea. Jesus didn’t die to make cliques; he died and rose to form diverse communities. Diverse and different is hard. It requires love, effort, and patience. Community doesn’t just magically appear in a church. In fact, churches don’t have community at all; they are community. The question is, “What will you make of the community?” I’m falling in love with real community, which is really messy, with people who are so different from me and yet so alike in Jesus. There’s nothing like pursuing difficult people, being loved by different people, serving alongside a diverse people. What a display of grace (nothing else could hold us together).
Leader Tip: In a highly consumeristic, individual-centered society, it will take at least a generation to get back to the biblical notion of community. And even then, we will need more than community to sustain community. Let’s all agree to shatter our ideal of community and enter the real community of people God has placed in our lives. Let’s lift Christ higher than the community. Jesus is head not the body. He’s lord of the church. He’s the hope of the community, not the community itself. Community needs a center deeper than connection and a purpose greater than comfort. It needs the Lord of Community, Jesus Christ, to knit unlikely people together as a display of our common need for grace. Insist on this.
3. Labor for the Lord of Mission not the Fruit of Mission.
With all the missional hype, our faith can easily slip from trusting in the Lord of the Harvest to trusting in the fruit of our labors. I’ve had several deep relationships with non-Christians dissolve over the past year and a half. This came after spending a lot of time with them over meals, out for philosophy discussions, in our home for counseling, and with our family doing fun stuff. They were loved and heard the gospel in ways that were profoundly relevant to their own fears, struggles, and hopes…and they walked away. They walked away from Jesus and created distance from us. That’s hard. If I’m putting faith in the fruit of my missional labors (at least at what I can see), then I’m discouraged. But if I’m putting faith in the Lord of the Harvest, I can be confident that he has been lifted up and that he is in charge of all salvation. He has endured much more to witness friends walk away from his costly sacrifice. He’s not only a model of missional endurance; he’s the hope for missional endurance.
Leader Tip: Put your faith in the Lord of Mission not the fruit of mission. It can be easy to congratuate ourselves when mission is high and berate ourselves when mission is low. That’s a sign that we’ve misplaced our faith. We put it in ourselves or our “fruitfulness.” Come back to the gospel every single day and ask the Spirit to put Jesus highest among your affections and greatest among your hopes. Keep repenting and putting your faith in Jesus and he will take care of the mission.
August 21, 2013
August 20, 2013
Noted 19th Century Anglican Bishop J.C. Ryle offers a handful of warnings about counterfeiting the gospel:
1. Substitute anything for Christ, and the Gospel is totally spoiled!
2. Add anything to Christ, and the Gospel ceases to be a pure Gospel!
3. Put anything between a person and Christ, and that person will neglect Christ for that very thing!
4. Spoil the proportions of Christ’s Gospel, and you spoil its effectiveness!
5. Evangelical religion must be the Gospel, the whole Gospel and nothing but the Gospel!
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - not that there is another one… But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
~ Paul, the Apostle, from Galatians 1