Posts Tagged 'Gospel'

Daily Office

“I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” –1 Corinthians 9:23

I have frequently and publically lamented the fact that I have no ministry, no particular service to the church in the sense of the paid clergy. I do not wear a collar or preside at the Eucharist…sometimes, I don’t even particular feel like partaking of the Eucharist. It’s not an easy way to feel or to live. I have spent a good part of the last year sobbing at the loss of my pulpit and my voice and my identity. Then I got to thinking—which is never a good thing—and I didn’t like the conclusions I came to.

Preaching is no easy task. Ask anyone who does it and they will tell you that it sucks the life out of your soul at times because, for one reason or another, the preacher typically really believes in what he is saying. I always, and I say this without equivocation, always preached to myself first. I went to the pulpit ready. I was so ready in fact that there was simply no challenge that could be mounted against my impeccable grammar, my on point theology, dead on conclusions, gripping introductions and weighty, challenging, and artful main body. I can say without blinking that I had mastered the art of preaching.

And it is for that reason, I suspect, that I was never able to conjure up a congregation. As a preacher, as a minister, I was an abysmal failure. I was better at shrinking churches than growing them. I did a lot of things and did them well, but there is a spot in my heart that knows I did these things for very wrong reasons. This is hard for me to admit because I loved preaching and I was good at it. I believed in preaching and the Word of God I preached. I believed it would do its work and not return to the Lord void. The problem is this: I wanted the Word to return to me. I say this too without equivocation: I wanted little more than to grow a church, be recognized by my peers as an outstanding preacher, and get an invitation to preach at some convention, or earn a chance to preach at a bigger church. This is not easy for me to admit, but it is true.

I loved preaching; I miss it terribly. But I know the truth is that I did not always preach only in service of the Gospel. Sometimes I preached the Word of God and it worked in spite of me…like those days when I was convinced the sermon stunk and someone would really be challenged by it. Those days the Spirit of God worked in spite of my best efforts, but I never really figured that out quickly enough. I confess here in public: I was a very self-centered preacher often more, and too, concerned with the form, the art, the process than I was with the Gospel I claimed to be preaching. There was more than once that while preaching I would come across a typo in the manuscript and instead of blowing past it I would note it to the congregation, take out my pen, and correct it then and there. We laughed, but inside I seethed with self-hatred that I had made such an error. Then I would regret sharing the news with the church. And so on and so forth.  Like I said, I have been a terribly ugly person.

So now I work at a video store and if there is one thing I have learned it is this: I am not there for myself. I am there in service to the corporation that owns the store. I have individual sales goals but they gain me nothing when I meet them and earn me scorn when I do not. They gain the store only the slightest recognition. They earn me no spiffs or perks or bonuses. They simply keep my name on the schedule because, as you might have guessed, I am good at it. I am good at it for the sake of the corporation. Period. I have no choice but to do everything I do there for the sake of the corporation. Frankly, I am more selfless working at the store than I ever was preaching.

Sad, but true.

It may be that someday I end up preaching again; maybe not. I will take this knowledge with me wherever I end up though: I do not preach for the sake of grammar, church growth, or for personal opportunities and advancement. Whatever I do, I must do for the sake of the Gospel. It’s a hard lesson to learn that those who serve the Gospel serve the Gospel alone. I talk a lot about taking up the cross, denying the self, and following Jesus—a lesson I clearly did not learn until the very thing I did to accomplish such a trifecta was taken away from me.

It seems to me that when we serve the Gospel alone, we share its blessings. In the meantime, we are just serving the self, alone It’s a difficult lesson to learn. The Spirit of God is still working on me. He’s still working on me, to make me what I ought to be.

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“To believe in Jesus in the Christian sense means not less than trusting him utterly as the One who has borne our sin in his own body on the tree, as the One whose life and death and resurrection, offered up in our place, has reconciled us to God.”

–DA Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, 29

 

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“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:32-34)

In the December 2008 issue of the online journal Themelios, Tim Keller has an article titled, The Gospel and the Poor. I’d like to share some of the highlights with you and make a comment or two about the content.

I think one of the main questions I have always had when it comes to the Christian and the poor runs something like this: Does the Bible command us to be rich towards all poor or just our ‘own kind’? When I read the book of Acts, I see a congregation we are told had ‘no poor among them.’ The author of Acts wrote, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money to the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” (Acts 4:32-35)

Well, does this refer to the church alone? Does this mean that the church had a (re)-distribution center among themselves and that the only way to participate in the program was to be one of the church (folk)? Or does this mean that the church shared liberally with ‘anyone’ who had need? I’m not sure we can make any definitive statements about this. I think we need to be cautious at best and ere on the side of generosity at worst. Or maybe the other way around.

Then there’s another verse that might contradict this verse (if we take the verse to refer strictly to the church’s actions within itself). That verse is found in Matthew, and was uttered by Jesus himself. Consider:

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Matthew 5:44-46)

I kind of find it difficult to believe that God is generous towards the unrighteous poor and that we are somehow only to be kind to the righteous poor. There would seem to be a disconnect somewhere if that is true; and I cannot imagine God is into disconnects. So Keller begins his essay by asking this question, “How does our commitment to the primacy of the gospel tie into our obligation to do good to all, especially those of the household of faith, to serve as salt and light in the world, to do good to the city?”

Keller then moves on to demonstrate the primacy of the Gospel as a mainly proclaimed Gospel. To be committed to the primacy of the Gospel, he writes, means that ‘first…the gospel must be proclaimed.’ We are, he contends, mainly a people of speech. However, we are not only a people of speech even if, as he writes, preaching and proclamation cannot be replaced: “Gospel ministry is not only proclaiming it to people so that they will embrace and believe it; it is also teaching and shepherding believers with it so that it shapes the entirety of their lives, so that they can ‘live it out.’ And one of the most prominent areas that the gospel effects is our relationship to the poor.” (Keller, 9-10)

The best part of this essay by Keller is that his main defense for his position is an essay by Jonathan Edwards called ‘Christian Charity.’ Edwards based his understanding of the Christian duty to the poor on two thoughts. The first, is that believing the Gospel will move us to give to the poor. The second, is that ministry to the poor is a crucial sign that we believe the Gospel. Consider these excerpts from Keller explaining these two broader points of Edwards’ thesis.

Edwards repeatedly shows us how an understanding of what he calls “the rules of the gospel”—the pattern and logic of the gospel—inevitably moves us to love and help the poor. While Edwards believes that the command to give to the poor is an implication of the teaching that all human beings are made in the image of God, he believes that the most important motivation for giving to the poor is the gospel: Giving to the poor “is especially reasonable, considering our circumstances, under such a dispensation of grace as that of the gospel.”

One of the key texts to which Edwards turns to make this case is 2 Cor 8:8-9 (within the context of the entirety of chapters 8 and 9). When Paul asks for financial generosity to the poor, he points to the self-emptying of Jesus, vividly depicting him as becoming poor for us, both literally and spiritually, in the incarnation and on the cross. For Edwards, Paul’s little introduction “I am not commanding you…for you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” is significant. The argument seems to be that if you grasp substitutionary atonement in both your head and your heart, you will be profoundly generous to the poor. Think it out! The only way for Jesus to get us out of our spiritual poverty and into spiritual riches was to get out of his spiritual riches into spiritual poverty. This should now be the pattern of your life. Give your resources away and enter into need so that those in need will be resourced. Paul also implies here that all sinners saved by grace will look at the poor of this world and feel that in some way they are looking in the mirror. The superiority will be gone. (10, for point 1)

And:

In the most powerful part of the discourse, Edwards answers a series of common objections he gets when he preaches about the gospel-duty of giving to the poor. In almost every case, he uses the logic of the gospel—of substitutionary atonement and free justification—on the objection. In every case, radical, remarkable, sacrificial generosity to the poor is the result of thinking out and living out the gospel. (11, to point 1)

And Finally:

In short, Edwards teaches that the gospel requires us to be involved in the life of the poor—not only financially, but personally and emotionally. Our giving must not be token but so radical that it brings a measure of suffering into our own lives. And we should be very patiently and nonpaternalistically openhanded to those whose behavior has caused or aggravated their poverty. These attitudes and dimensions of ministry to the poor proceed not simply from general biblical ethical principles but from the gospel itself. (12, also for point 1)

This last block means that, yes, we should give generously even to those who have made their situation worse by being irresponsible. Some would say we don’t need to give to those who have created their situation, Edwards (and Keller) argue to the contrary).

Now, on to Edwards’ second point:

The principle: a sensitive social conscience and a life poured out in deeds of service to the needy is the inevitable outcome of true faith. By deeds of service, God can judge true love of himself from lipservice (cf. Isa 1:10–17). Matt 25, in which Jesus identifies himself with the poor (“as you did it to the least of them, you did it to me”) can be compared to Prov 14:31 and 19:17, in which we are told that to be gracious to the poor is to lend to God himself and to trample on the poor is to trample on God himself. This means that God on judgment day can tell what a person’s heart attitude is to him by what the person’s heart attitude is to the poor. If there is a hardness, indifference, or superiority, it betrays the self-righteousness of a heart that has not truly embraced the truth that he or she is a lost sinner saved only by free yet costly grace.

Edwards’s appeal and argument is very powerful. He begins his study asking, “Where have we any command in the Bible laid down in stronger terms, and in a more peremptory urgent manner, than the command of giving to the poor?” He concludes his survey of the biblical material with Proverbs 21:3: “Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he shall cry himself and not be heard.” Edwards adds, “God hath threatened uncharitable persons, that if ever they come to be in calamity and distress they shall be left helpless.” Edwards brings home the Bible’s demand that gospel-shaped Christians must be remarkable for their involvement with and concern for the poor. We should literally be “famous” for it. That is the implication of texts such as Matt 5:13–16 and 1 Pet 2:11–12. (13, to point 2)

Thus far, I don’t think we have answered the question I posed at the beginning. That is, is the church to be a place of circular generosity or a place of centrifugal force? The church in the book of Acts didn’t seem to wrestle with this question: They gave themselves wholly to the work of Christ and did whatever it took to minister in his name to whoever happened in their path on any given day.

In other words, I think maybe I am asking the wrong question. Maybe it doesn’t matter at all whether the poor person put in our path is a Christian or not. Maybe what matters is whether or not I believe God has put me in a position to help someone. Maybe what matters is how I consider what God has re-created me for, what he has re-created me to do, what works he has predestined me to accomplish by His power, in His Name, and for His glory.

Maybe we church folk spend far too much time trying to figure out who are to serve at the expense of serving anyone. Perhaps the church is so consumed with the idea that there ‘be no poor among us’ that we miss opportunities all around us, every day, to serve the least, the last, and the lost—who are also among us. Perhaps the church is so intent on hoarding God’s blessings for ourselves that we have forgotten to be a blessing to others.

Perhaps we are so intent on maintaining our property that we have forgotten to be stewards of his planet, his creatures, his image.

If I may say it this way: Perhaps the church is too damned selfish with God’s blessings. The church is so damned concerned about their image that they neglect God’s image or, worse, defame it by their inaction towards the poor. Could be. I hope I’m exaggerating, but I don’t think I am. My experience has taught me differently. It’s not true of every church, but probably more than we care to admit.

There is something remarkably beautiful about Jesus who hides himself among the poor, downtrodden, broken, and beaten of this world—hid so remarkably well that we can’t even see him or tell that it is him. There is something remarkably beautiful about a church being as poor as Jesus.

We are quite ironic Christians–we Americans.

“Jesus wants to save the church from thinking that the priests are somebody else” (Jesus Wants to Save Christians, 178)

The church has ceded too much of its responsibility and obligation to the poor to the very powers that Christ destroyed at the cross. We need to be reminded again of who we are created to be in Christ.We need to be reminded again that our Master gave up all to come among us. We need to be reminded again and again that we are, in fact, quite poverty stricken regardless of our personal wealth.

In part 2, I shall investigate Keller’s essay a bit further and try to answer my question a bit better and try to wrap my head around Keller’s profound statement, “The basis for ‘doing justice’ is salvation by grace.” In the meantime, you might click the above link and read Keller’s excellent essay for yourself.

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“For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God…” Paul to the Romans, chapter 3, verse 23

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life…” John the Apostle, chapter the third, 16th verse.

Today, my attention was drawn to this post at a certain ‘that which is not to be named’ blog. It is a serious blog post. It is seriously depressing. And it is seriously stupid.

There I said it: It is stupid. I’m sorry. I feel badly about writing it, but there is simply no other way to express my outrage and heart-brokenness.

I know that is harsh and mean and if anyone from ‘that side’ bothers to comment on this post they will most certainly point out that I ‘missed the point’ or that I am ‘ignorant of the facts’ or that I am ‘a stupid non-Christian who is so unconcerned about abortion and the plight of the unborn that I ought to be defrocked (even though I was never frocked to begin with) and run out of the church to the tune of tar, feathers, pitchforks, torches and labeled anathema.’ To be sure, ‘they’ will probably point out that Jesus does not approve of what I am about to write in this post because Jesus hates abortion.

There I said it: The post is stupid.

I am willing to run the risk that I might be labeled by others in order to point out the sheer stupidity of the post mentioned above.

Did I mention the post is stupid? It has been a long, long time since I read something so incredibly insensitive at a blog claiming to be a voice for the Kingdom of God. I’m sorry. I’m desperately trying to be objective and compassionate. Can’t. Can’t. Can’t. I have read the post four or five times now trying, searching, scanning for hope and I just cannot find it. The most hope we can expect out of this post is that we might enjoy some ‘hauntingly beautiful hymn-like‘ music. If an expectant single-mother or a suddenly pregnant husband and wife swimming in debt is debating her/their pregnancy right now read that post, she/they would be left despairing and hopeless; feeling nothing but condemnation.

There is nothing about the Gospel. Nothing about the hope of Christ. Nothing about the penal substitutionary atonement death of Jesus. Nothing about forgiveness of sins. Nothing about grace. Nothing about repentance. Nothing about the new heavens and new earth. Nothing about resurrection. For someone who writes so passionately, so wonderfully about the damnable offense that is abortion, I just cannot believe that there is no mention of hope for forgiveness. No mention of reconciliation. No mention of peace in Christ. No reconciliation. No ransom. No redemption. No substitution. Just condemnation. *Shakes head.*

For someone who so frequently castigates preachers and churches and bloggers for not including a (the) message of the Gospel, I cannot believe the best there is to offer in that particular post is that we might get some good music out of it at the end of the day. No mention whatsoever of how people who have had abortions can be forgiven and changed by the work of Christ Jesus. (As if a purely moralized America is equivalent to the Kingdom of God.)

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I’d like to begin by noting a few things for the careful reader of CRN.info and Analysis. You may not agree entirely, but I’ll bet we are close. What I’d like to do, is offer the invitation here, at CRN.info and Analysis, that was not offered at SOL. I begin, however, elsewhere:

  • It is wrong to steal.
  • It is wrong to have gay sex.
  • It is wrong to lie.
  • It is wrong to cheat.
  • It is wrong to fornicate.
  • It is wrong to commit adultery.
  • It is wrong to be racist.
  • It is wrong to get drunk.
  • It is wrong to be gluttonous.
  • It is wrong to murder.
  • It is wrong to get an abortion.
  • It is wrong to lust.
  • It is wrong to lie about the preacher.
  • It is wrong to abuse your spouse or children.
  • It is wrong to worship idols.
  • It is wrong kidnap.
  • It is wrong to disobey your parents.
  • It is wrong to swindle.
  • It is wrong to be greedy.
  • It is wrong to rape.

Yes. Yes. I could go on and on and on. I agree with the post at SOL: Abortion is a heinous, despicable, vile, disgusting offense. I don’t know anyone here who disagrees with that assessment. Those things mentioned above are wrong; they are sin, abortion included.

But it is not the unforgivable sin. Never has been. Never will be. In the crazy economy of the kingdom of God, a person could have 490 abortions in one day and repent and God, in his mercy and grace, would forgive that person because of Jesus Christ. I mean, why wouldn’t he since he expects us to do nothing less? I don’t think God expects people to do things that he himself isn’t willing to do. Thus, forgiveness.

Abortion is not an unforgivable sin.

None of the things I mentioned is the or an unforgivable sin.

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Friends, we have ample evidence in our world of all the things that are wrong with us and all the things we do badly and all the sin we have committed and all the idols we have worshiped and all the judgment we have invited into our lives and all the times we have crucified Christ all over again and again and again…

We have sufficient testimony to all the grievous destruction that our sin has wrought upon this earth.

We have enough people pointing out the sin that plagues the United States of America and Russia and England and Brazil and Antarctica and, well, you get the point.

Jesus did not tell us to go around moralizing did he? (This is not rhetorical.)

I’m not even sure he told us to go around pointing out sin, although, when the Gospel is properly preached I think that sin will necessarily be a part of the discussion. After all, it is terribly difficult to call folks to repentance if some mention of sin has not happened.

Jesus did tell us to go and preach the good news, the Gospel. “…He gave them power and authority to drive out demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick…So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the Good News and healing people everywhere” (Luke 9:12, 6).

We have good news! We are told to preach good news! Where’s the Good News in the SOL post? A musical legacy? For one who spends a lot of time criticizing the lack of Gospel in churches and pulpits, the post is decidedly barren of any hope and Gospel. Shall we merely criticize and condemn those who have had abortions or shall we offer them the hope of Christ Crucified and Resurrected?

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Is there any hope for those who were the subject of the SOL post?

I hate to write this post, but the bottom line is that I have decided that I will make it my life’s ambition to teach the grace of God every chance I get. I want to find 100,000 ways to say: God forgives you in and because of Jesus Christ. I hate writing this post because some might conclude that I am not opposed to abortion, but that would be to miss my point. I am very opposed to abortion, but I also realize that people sin and that it was the sick, weak, broken, hurting, desperate sinners, like me, whom Christ came to save, redeem, ransom, and atone for.

Jesus didn’t come to condemn; why do we think he has assigned us that role?

The author of the SOL post did a great job pointing out a great sin, but the problem with the post is simple: She gave us a great picture of a moralized America where everyone plays in an orchestra or knits flags and worships at the throne of conservative politicians. It’s a powerful picture, but it is not necessarily one Christ has drawn. It is a terrible problem, but there was no solution offered. What’s the point of ranting about the problem when there is no solution offered at all?

She didn’t give us a picture of the Kingdom of God. She gave us a picture of her moralized America where there is condemnation for every perpetrator and no hope whatsoever.

The author would have us condemn all who have had abortions and reject them as mere weak Americans who lack courage and are interested only in their bank balance and credit card statements. Christ would welcome them into his kingdom as the very ones he came to save precisely because they are greedy, murderous, and lack the intestinal fortitude to be self-controlled–because they are sinners! Well, of course they are. That’s normally what happens when people do not know or have rejected Christ.

So here I offer what the author of Slice did not offer: Hope. If you have ever had an abortion or over-spent on your credit cards, if you have filed bankruptcy because you have no self-control, if you are a coward, if you are hopeless and think you are running on empty, if you have no where to go and you think you are out of options–there’s hope. There’s grace. There’s forgiveness of your sins. Christ has payed the price for your sins. There’s Good News! Christ has not rejected you. There’s still hope! There’s still a message of peace and forgiveness to you because of Jesus. Christ will take away your guilt. Christ will heal your wounds. Christ will save you from the hopeless, endless cycle of condemnation and death.

You can join us, all us sinners here, all us imperfect, unkempt, undone, depressed, forgiven-by-God sinners here. We welcome you to join in the story that Christ is writing and has written. We welcome you to taste and see that His Grace is Good. We welcome you to be forgiven in the Name of Jesus.

“…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” The same Paul, to the same Romans, chapter 3, verse 24.

“…For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” the same John the Apostle, the same third chapter, the 17th verse.

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