Tag: Gospel

I Am … My Relationships

I Am … My Relationships

I Am … My Relationships

Last week I wrote you about identity in achievement. While God calls us to be fruitful and productive, could it be that you’ve looked to your success to provide identity, meaning, and purpose? Achievement alone is not an evil thing, but once that false identity begins to define who you are, you’re in danger of compromising who God has called you to be. Here’s a second area where we might find a replacement identity: Here’s a second area where we’re at risk for finding a replacement identity:
2. Identity in Acceptance
God created us to be social beings. His plan, from day one, was for us to live in meaningful community with one another. Our relationships are so important to God that He positioned the command for us to love one another as second only to the call to love Him (Matthew 23:37-39). Those relationships must be a very high priority as we make our daily decisions.
Yet, in our sin, many of us look to other people to do the one thing they were never designed to do – give us identity. If we’re parents, we tend to try to get our identity from our children. We begin to live vicariously through them, as if their successes are our successes. And when we need the success of our children in order to feel good about ourselves, we’ll do anything possible to make them succeed.
We tell ourselves that it’s for them, but in reality, it’s for us. We become smothering, domineering, success-obsessed parents. But we’re blind to it, because we’re always able to say that it’s good for them. If anything, their success is a hymn of praise to another Father who provided everything they need to be where they are and to do what they’re doing. As parents, we’re never more than instruments in His redemptive hands.
Perhaps your marriage is the place where you seek identity. You live for the next shot of acceptance and appreciation, and the love of your spouse is the thing that makes you feel most alive. You’ll feel alive when they notice your efforts and seek your company, but your joy will come crashing down when you feel ignored or taken for granted.
This is all very dangerous. No sinner can ever be your rock and fortress. No sinner can give you a consistent reason for hope. Sooner or later, everyone around you will fail you. But there’s an even greater danger here.
As you look to this person for identity, you’re not really loving them – you’re loving you. You’ve turned the second great commandment on its ear. Instead of serving people because you love them, you’re willing to serve them so that they’ll love you. This kind of parasitic relationships is never healthy.
Our children were never given to us to be trophies on the mantel of our identity. Our spouses were never given to us to be personal messiahs. No relationship should be the source of our identity, because we look to people to give us what only God could give. We ask our relationships to provide us life, contentment, happiness, and joy, but sooner or later, like anything other than the Creator, they’ll fail us.
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1. Are you asking flawed people to provide for you what only the Creator can provide?
2. How might some of your expectations for your relationships be unrealistic and unbiblical?
3. How does identity in Christ allow you to combat the temptation of finding identity in your relationships?
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God bless
Paul David Tripp
“Connecting the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life”
Be sure to add “wednesdaysword@paultrippministries.org” to your address book.

11 Gospel-Centered Ways to Love Your City

11 Gospel-Centered Ways to Love Your City

11 Gospel-Centered Ways to Love Your City

Tim Gaydos » Mission Preaching Music Prayer Art Church Leadership Evangelism Community

 

Jesus calls us to “go and make disciples” and to love our city so that we might clearly communicate the gospel and see more people come to know him. But what does this look like practically? What does it mean to love our city? Here are 11 practical, gospel-centered ways you can love your city.

 

1. Reach out to “the least of these” in your city.

Who are the downtrodden, forgotten, or underserved people in your city? Start a mercy ministry to reach out to these groups. Create a transition plan for homeless people from shelters into community. Jesus tells us that whatever we do for the least of these, we do for him.

 

2. Get involved civically.

Set up a meeting with your mayor or city council members and find out specifically what your city needs. Then rally your church or Community Group to help meet those needs. Start attending your neighborhood association meetings and volunteering your time to make your city better.

 

3. Throw parties and invite your neighbors.

This could be anything from a get-together in your apartment to a full-scale neighborhood block party. The transient nature of many cities can lead to neighbors barely knowing one another. Sometimes all it takes is to initiate by invitation!

 

4. Take care of your city’s environment.

Pick a block or neighborhood and clean it up! Own it and take care of it. Organize a Green & Clean event to rally your church and keep your city sparkling.

 

5. Stay put.

Most cities have a sort of “revolving door” as people move in and out. This is one reason why in places like Seattle most people put little effort into trying to get to know their neighbors. So dig in, stay put, and make an effort to develop your relationships.

 

6. Give a gift of artistry.

Get your artists together and create a mural that blesses the city. Open your building to your city’s artwalk.

 

7. Be a positive presence, not a negative one.

Create a city or neighborhood blog that tells stories of hope and progress in your city. Focus on what’s working instead of complaining about what’s not working. Be a part of finding solutions to the problems your city faces.

 

8. Participate in and help plan and execute your city’s events and festivals.

Seriously, it’s ok to have fun. Enjoying your city and investing in its happiness is a great way to show you love it.

 

9. Start ministries that address your city’s specific felt or unseen needs.

Rescue girls out of slavery in sex trafficking. Connect your business people with a business ministry that helps them connect and share life together in a way they may not otherwise have the opportunity to.

 

10. Leaders are readers.

Get a newspaper subscription so that you can keep up with current events. Read up on your city’s history to understand how it started and what historical and cultural forces shaped it into the city it is today. Knowing your city’s past enables you to speak boldly to its context and mindset, because your city’s history shapes its present more than you can possibly imagine.

 

11. Pray for your city.

We can often forget that God really does listen to our prayers, and that he wants to hear from us. Not only does he hear us, but he acts. Pray that God would change your city. Pray that he would save its citizens. Pray that he would give wisdom to its leaders. Remember that your city’s well-being is your well-being.

 

 

This post originally appeared on the Mars Hill Church Downtown Seattle site.

Suffering and Glory

Suffering and Glory

Suffering and Glory

John Neufeld | Jul 1, 2010

Living in this world means suffering. But for the believer suffering and glory belong together. In describing our suffering, Paul is holding a scale before us. Not a bathroom scale, but an ancient scale; one that balanced one weight against the other. On the one side, Paul places all the suffering that Christians will endure on this side of eternity. On the other side of the scale, Paul places our future glory. What does our suffering weigh? How does this compare with the weight of our future glory? 2 Corinthians 4:17 says, “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” For believers, all present suffering is light and momentary. Our future glory is weighty and eternal.

The Reality of Suffering in the Christian Life

That might seem insensitive, idealistic or even unrealistic. What is light and momentary about life long chronic pain? What is light and momentary about crippling arthritis? What is light and momentary about the death of a loved one? What is light and momentary about being imprisoned unjustly? I come from a family where I am the first generation to have been born without persecution. My parents witnessed and experienced famine, starvation, torture and war. So did their parents. Growing up and hearing their stories have left me with the lasting impression that peace on this earth is the anomaly, that suffering is its normal state to which it always returns, as water to the lowest place.

Philippians 1:29 asserts that it has been graciously granted to us that we should not only believe in Christ, but suffer for his sake. This includes the call to bear the cross of discipleship, for Christ will always be opposed and his followers will always be hated. I have heard many such stories from parishioners in the international church where I pastor. In their culture, shame is the ultimate ignominy, and they are told they have brought shame to their family. The very first step of conversion, which we frequently celebrate with unbridled joy, has come to them with the taste of a crushing load grief. While many of us cannot identify with that, we must remember that the call to suffering always comes about when one takes the commands for obedience seriously. It may come as we struggle with sin, as we seek faithfulness in an unfaithful world or it may come in the form of persecution. The Bible promises, that however it comes, it will come. That is Christ’s promise (Matthew 24:9, John 15:18-21, 16:33, etc).

How Should Christians Respond to the Reality of Suffering?

The book of Hebrews tells us, that for Christians, all suffering, and that includes illness and tragedy, is actually God’s discipline. Not punishment – discipline. In fact, the call to suffering is God’s way of treating us as sons. It is a mark we bear which identifies us as his own. If we don’t suffer, we are illegitimate children.

None of this belittles the suffering of the child of God, indeed, it elevates it. And what is more, Christ cares. He weeps for and with his children, for he understands our suffering. But he graciously sends it, for he knows that it is necessary for our long term good. To see the long-term benefits, we must compare our present experience with suffering to the pleasure in eternity. And so Paul holds a scale before us, and we are given an exercise of faith. Weigh our suffering on one side, and then on the other place the weight of eternity.

One simply can’t compare the sorrow of the moment to the joy before us. Indeed, Jesus himself was able to endure the cross because of the joy set before him. (Hebrews 12:2) We must think of this often. And so, in Romans 8:18, Paul begins with the words “I consider”. In the Greek, “consider” is actually a mathematical word, a word for calculating a sum. Place on one side of a scale the present suffering and then place one’s future glory on the other side. Now calculate the difference of weight. Will not the present suffering be so small, as to render it inconsequential in comparison? Whenever any believer passes through the portal of death; there is at that moment an outburst of beauty, of inexpressible joy, of delight, of soul rapture – that is so profound and real and everlasting – and heavy – that even the greatest suffering of this world is light in comparison.

All of Creation is Fixated on Future Glory

This thought is intended to make us yearn for eternity. But, surprising as it might seem, not only are we yearning for eternity, so also, says the apostle, is the creation. Many of us remember the earlier space launches. The old Apollo space ships included booster rockets, fuel tanks and all sorts of things that were all jettisoned after hurling a tiny little manned capsule into orbit. Some of us think of eternity in that fashion. “It’s all going to burn”, we say. And by that, we tend to discount the meaning of our experiences with the creation.

But, Paul speaks of an eager longing in creation. The word comes from a root word which means “craning of the neck.” I find that I understand that word. Since I am only 5’9”, every time I am in a crowd, someone 6’1” is always standing in front of me. It must be Murphy’s Law. So I end up stretching out my neck as far as I can, leaning over from side to side, even jumping up and down to see what now is partially obscured.

And that is precisely what creation is doing. It is craning the neck for an event which is just ahead. But now comes the really stunning part. We might assume the event is the second coming of Jesus, and of course it is. But that is not what the text says. Rather, creation is jumping up and down, straining its neck for the revealing of the sons of God. What believers presently are is not what we shall be, and this leaves creation trembling, anticipating, and breathless. Why? Because when we are freed, creation will be freed too!

When the first European explorers came down the St. Laurence River, it was then so abundant with fish, that the sailors could lower wicker baskets on ropes from the side of the ship, and then, as they lifted them from the water, they would be full of fish. Imagine that! Today, the St. Laurence is dead seaway. What now is but a shadow of what once was. And if one listens carefully, one can hear the St. Laurence groaning. This is but a faint picture of the world before sin, a world so pulsating with the dynamism of life has been reduced to but a faint image of its former glory.

How did that happen? Our passage says it was deliberately subjected to futility. Indeed, the futility of the earth comes from the hand of God. The very God who pronounced his creation good, has also created a world that would need a cross, need a savior, need redemption. It was God who cursed the creation after the fall. And it is God himself who will redeem it.

The Need for Perspective

Why is all of this so important? It is important because apart from faith, all suffering, all evil, all futility, all disappointment is meaningless and but a sign of death. But in Christ, sufferings are not the final cries in an empty universe, but are rather the rich, anticipatory cries that are the prelude to joy, life, freedom and fulfillment.

Years ago, I read about a product being marketed that never quite took off. For those individuals who were trying to diet, but who loved fattening foods, one could spray a little taste of ice cream, or pie, or chocolate onto ones tongue. The idea was that one could have the taste without eating the food. In theory, just the taste would satisfy you. But if anyone is like me, the taste of chocolate on my tongue makes me want to break into a chocolate factory and sate my appetite. A foretaste never makes me say, “That is enough.” A foretaste only whets my appetite.

That is the idea in Romans 8:23. Of course, the word in Romans 8:23 is not the word, “foretaste,” but is the word “firstfruit.” I have deliberately substituted one word for the other not to give a false sense of what the scripture says, but to help get the point. In the Old Testament, the idea of a firstfruit comes from the idea of offering. At the beginning of the harvest – the worshiper took the firstfruit of his harvest and offered it to God, and in faith – knowing that there was an abundance more to come in. So – in the same way – having the Holy Spirit living in your life is a firstfruit, or a down payment – or a foretaste – of an abundance to come in. Right now, the Holy Spirit has begun preparing us for our future glory. He has given us life and peace (Romans 8:6), the power to kill sin in our lives (Romans 8:13), and the assurance of our adoption (Romans 8:15). And yet…all of this is just the beginning! God’s people are groaning- with joy and anticipation-until we get the whole thing.

The temptation to forget our future glory is a constant threat, to which many Christians succumb. Yet in Romans 8:18-25, the Lord is calling us to keep our eyes fixed on the age to come. Future glory awaits! And…just in case you didn’t know it, that is the reason for our suffering. God doesn’t want you to put your hope in things on this side of eternity. So that you won’t spend your life settling for lesser treasures, God has His children to groan for eternity. And then, our present suffering will seem light and momentary against the weight of eternity.

Be Missional, Not Superficially Contextual

Be Missional, Not Superficially Contextual

Jan 12,2012

Jonathan K. Dodson|12:01 AM CT

Be Missional, Not Superficially Contextual

Moving from the theological tower of seminary to the worn-in trenches of church planting, much more than my clothing had to change. The transition exposed me to the broken-in look of various theological concepts, particularly in the field of missiology. As an interdisciplinary academic discipline, missiology is robust. However, its street-level expression—missional church—can be a bit thin. After five years in U.S. church planting trenches, I’ve watched “missional” unravel from missiology through a gross misuse of contextualization.

What Is Contextualization?

Missiologist Ed Stetzer underscores the role of culture in grasping what it means to be missional. In his opening chapter of Planting Missional Churches he writes: “The first major message of this book is to understand missional. Establishing a missional church means that you plant a church that is part of the culture you’re seeking to reach” (latter emphasis added). [1] Churches should be a part of culture, not separate from it. Stetzer grounds this view in the mission of God : “a church or church planter who is missional is focused on God’s mission, being aware of what God is doing in the culture and joining him in his work.” [2] If God is at work in culture, right down to embedding himself in it in the person of Jesus, then we should be there too. Missional churches should be engaged with their target cultures—a thoroughly biblical idea. The aim in joining God in this endeavor, of course, is to communicate the gospel in ways that make sense to our listeners. This is where contextualization comes in.

Contextualization is the intentional process of communicating the historic gospel and teachings of Jesus in contemporary cultural forms. [3] This may result in churches gathering in white tents or rodeo arenas, to hear how the grace rebuffs bootstrap religion among country folk in rural areas of Texas (also known as Cowboy churches). Alternatively, it may result in people gathering in a theater to hear how Christ is unique in comparison to other spiritual leaders among professional urbanites in progressive cities like San Francisco, New York, or Austin. The unchanging gospel has to be communicated in changing cultural forms to changing cultural issues if we are to join God in his work in this world.

Superficial Contextualization

Yet most of what is done in the name of contextualization isn’t contextualization at all. Two misuses of contextualization among so-called missional churches are, first, a superficial approach to culture and, second, gospel contamination that results from this approach. In the superficial approach, “contextualization” addresses a subset of American culture (e.g. white, suburban, middle class). It is surprising to me that so many churches engaged in contextualization look the same, regardless of their location or cultural context. Moreover, the gospel communication among these varied churches is often identical, using pre-packaged sermon series, teaching materials, and discipleship curriculum in order to “contextualize the gospel.”

What passes for contextual is not only narrow but also bland. Bland, of course, is not a crime. But when blandness presents a generic gospel regardless of cultural context, forms of church and expressions of the gospel will continually crop up that surrender the particularizing power and beauty of making disciples in context. We end up with a new cookie-cutter church. This misrepresents missional ecclesiology. As a result, missional is devolving into a codeword for Western, ethnocentric, bland church. Bad enough. But the problem runs deeper. Superficial contextualization can actually lead to gospel contamination.

A New Consumer Christianity

Superficial engagement with culture actually has its roots in the church growth movement. The homogeneous unit principle (HUP) [4], a central tenet of the 20th century church growth movement, still informs the methodologies of many 21st century missional churches. [5] The HUP essentially advocates church growth strategies along the lines of ethnocentric mission, targeting a single, homogeneous group who share common culture, beliefs, and interests. Peter Wagner, a staunch advocate of the HUP, offered the following prescription for urban evangelism: “Try not to allow diverse social and cultural elements to mix on the congregational level any more than necessary. Churches must be built as much as possible within homogeneous units if they are to maintain a sense of community among believers.” [6]

Although many North American churches and church planters have abandoned this principle, opting for more diverse, multi-ethnic churches, the monocultural mettle of the HUP appears to have weathered the missiology of the missional church movement. Here’s how: missional churches try to grow through bland cultural forms that appeal to consumers, not by contextualizing a gospel to make disciples. The main impetus behind superficial contextualization is church growth, not gospel communication. As a result, missional may mean: “You can grow your church by getting a cool worship leader, an edgy venue, an anti-religion message, and a preacher with hip clothing.”

When we become primarily concerned with church forms—building, music, service, website design—we dip below superficial contextualization into syncretism, blending Christianity with another religion, in this case consumerism. Christian consumerism gives people what we think they want, instead of calling them to what they need: repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. Instead of cracking the missional code, many churches have cracked a consumer code, attracting people to culturally bland but comfortable services while occasionally injecting them with the feel-good serum of social justice. But if Jesus Christ is Lord, his lordship should produce particular expressions of the gospel—music with local flavor and gospel-rich lyrics, community that incarnates grace in the neighborhood, culture-making that reflects his grandeur, and fresh language that awakens locals to grace.

Some versions of missional are simply a new form of church growth that caters to consumer Christianity. Underneath superficial contextualization lurks a consumeristic impulse that gathers people around church forms instead of Jesus Christ as Lord. This misuse leads us to contaminate both contextualization and the gospel. We try to get people to buy in to a new form of church instead of dying so they might live for Christ. This is troubling.

We need churches more concerned with gospel faithfulness through true contextualization. We need to preach, teach, train, and disciple the church to communicate the historic gospel of grace in creative cultural forms that awaken people to Jesus, not just lure them into bland services. May we retrieve the true gospel, expressing it in wonderfully creative ways, in order to awaken people to the grace and truth found only in Jesus.


[1] Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches(Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006).[2] Ibid, 20.

[3] A broader and more technical definition of contextualization: “the attempt to communicate the message of the person, works, Word, and will of God in a way that is faithful to God’s revelation, especially as put forth in the teaching of Holy Scripture, and that is meaningful to respondents in their respective cultural and existential contexts.” David J. Hesselgrave and Edward Rommen, Contextualization: Meanings, Methods, and Models (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2003), 200.

[4] This term, minus the “principle,” was coined by Donald McGavran, first appearing in Church Growth and Christian Mission (Pasadena: William Carey, 1965). However, it was McGavran’s colleague, Peter Wagner, who turned the “homogeneous unit” into a “principle,” concretizing the formerly descriptive terminology into prescriptive ecclesiology.

[5] The following material regarding the HUP is largely drawn from Chuck Van Engen, “Is the Church for Everyone? Planting Multi-Ethnic Congregations in North America” Journal of the ASCG vol. 11, Spr. 2000.

[6] Donald A. McGavran and Win Arn, How to Grow a Church: Conversations about Church Growth (Glendale: Regal, 1973), 47-48.

Jonathan Dodson (MDiv, ThM) is happy husband to Robie and proud father to Owen, Ellie, and Rosamund. He is also the lead pastor of Austin City Life church and a leader in The GCM Collective, PlantR, and GospelCenteredDiscipleship.com. Jonathan is also the author of forthcoming Gospel-Centered Discipleship and writes regularly for The Resurgence, Boundless, and The High Calling. He blogs at jonathandodson.org.

Does the Gospel Help with Everyday Things?

Does the Gospel Help with Everyday Things?

Does the Gospel Help with Everyday Things?

Published: Dec 21, 2011

One criterion for evaluating proposals about how we should live as Christians is this family of questions, “Does this work for peasants and factory workers? Would this be plausible for a mother of pre-schoolers or a lonely man who is dying?” Jesus has a way with people facing trouble. The Bible works with people who get sweaty, weary or teary, who worry about money, who find pain and sickness a long hard road. It is for war-weary sufferers. Ministry works to make unassuming warriors with quiet courage and perseverance.

Here’s a companion question: “Does this work for strugglers?” Jesus has a way with people who feel their sins, who are tempted to drink too much, who get too angry too easily and can’t let it go, who are consumed by irrational fears and can’t even imagine an exit strategy. Scripture works with people who find it hard to walk in the light, and too easy to stumble and fall. Ministry works to make unsung heroes who learn to make small, difficult choices.

These problems of daily life are the flashpoint for our life in Christ—the places we need him, the places we seek him, the places we find him, the places where faith walks out into love. We meet Jesus in our troubles and in our struggles, our vulnerability to suffering and tendency to sin.

Jesus meets you in your pressures and preoccupations.

His underlying foundation sounds so unassuming: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus meets you in your obsessions and compulsions.

His overarching goals sound so basic: “Love is patient. Love is kind. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances.”

Jesus calms drivenness and lightens burdens. He is making you a person of peace, peaceable, at peace, a maker of peace, abiding in the peace that passes all understanding. He’s good for the long hard road in the right direction. Jesus meets you every day and helps with everyday things.

Christianity Is The End Of Religion

Christianity Is The End Of Religion

Christianity Is The End Of Religion

From the time God saved me at 21 years old, I’ve always been fascinated by the parables of Jesus. Three of the very first books I bought as a brand new Christian were Simon Kistemaker’s book The Parables: Understanding the Stories Jesus Told, James Boice’s book The Parables of Jesus, and Interpreting the Parables by Craig Blomberg. Not knowing anything about Reformed theology at that point in my life, these three books are what God used to develop my initial Reformed theological sensitivities. I highly recommend them all.

But a couple years ago when I was considering preaching through the parables (which I never ended up doing, by the way) one of my former professors suggested that I pick up Robert Farrar Capon’s thick book Kingdom, Grace, Judgement: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. He warned me that I would not agree with some of what Capon wrote but insisted that it would nevertheless benefit my study of the parables greatly. It sat on my shelf for a while until my friend Mark Miller asked me if I owned the book. I didn’t think I did and so I ordered it. After I ordered it and went to stock it on my bookshelf, I realized I already had it (You ever done that? That’s the downside of having a large library).

Well, I picked it up and started reading. And while there were some sections that left me scratching my head (just as my prof told me), I discovered some deeply insightful nuggets of gospel truth. My friends over at Mockingbird (if you don’t read that blog, you’re probably not a Christian) posted one of my favorite sections from Capon’s book a couple days ago. This is good stuff.

Enjoy…

What role have I left for religion? None. And I have left none because the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ leaves none. Christianity is not a religion; it is the announcement of the end of religion.

Religion consists of all the things (believing, behaving, worshiping, sacrificing) the human race has ever thought it had to do to get right with God. About those things, Christianity has only two comments to make. The first is that none of them ever had the least chance of doing the trick: the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins (see the Epistle to the Hebrews) and no effort of ours to keep the law of God can ever finally succeed (see the Epistle to the Romans). The second is that everything religion tried (and failed) to do has been perfectly done, once and for all, by Jesus in his death and resurrection. For Christians, therefore, the entire religion shop has been closed, boarded up, and forgotten. The church is not in the religion business. It never has been and it never will be, in spite of all the ecclesiastical turkeys through two thousand years who have acted as if religion was their stock in trade. The church, instead, is in the Gospel-proclaiming business. It is not here to bring the world the bad news that God will think kindly about us only after we have gone through certain creedal, liturgical and ethical wickets; it is here to bring the world the Good News that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” It is here, in short, for no religious purpose at all, only to announce the Gospel of free grace.

Pg. 252-253