Category Archives: gospel
The gospel is the good news that Jesus died for our sins, rose for our justification, and gave us his righteousness, making us validated before a holy God. It’s the reason we have access to worship God, and it is the reason behind this blogs desire to equip and disperse Christians to show Christ’s worth.
If I were to ask you to explain what it meant to be a Christian, what would you say?
Many would say it involves mostly rules. Others think it’s doing good things for other people. Or maybe church attendance. Perhaps intellectual belief. But how does the Bible define following Jesus?
Overwhelmingly, we hear descriptions about being in Him.
- Paul says “in Him” 11 times just in the opening chapter to the Ephesians.
- The same phrase, “in Him,” occurs 73 times in the New Testament .
- Just a couple tantalizing examples,
- In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:5-6)
- Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
- Just a couple tantalizing examples,
We also hear descriptions about Christ being in us.
- To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
- I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
- So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13)
So frequent are these terms used to describe the Christian, and so extensive is the scope of each, that for simplicity’s sake, the entire mystical endeavor is often simply called Union with Christ .
What is Union with Christ?
Christ put it rather succinctly, “In that day you will know that I am in My Father, you are in Me, and I am in you” (John 14:20, HCSB). I think Wayne Grudem’s definition is helpful here: Union with Christ is “a phrase used to summarize several different relationships between believers and Christ, through which Christians receive every benefit of salvation“. In other words, everything noteworthy about salvation–from start to finish, from conversion to glory–is inextricably tied to our union with Christ! We do not have any Christianity apart from our union with Christ.
It underlies all the works of God in our lives: election, calling, regeneration, faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification. To study union with Christ is to explore all of these particular blessings, and therefore the vast range of meaning in that little word in. – John M. Frame.
Why should you care?
Some of you may think of union with Christ an abstract doctrine, useful only for arm-chair theologians who like to spend endless hours nitpicking ethereal concepts that never touch the human experience. I hope to relieve you from this state of indifference!
There isn’t anything in the Bible that touches the human experience more than this. 
When a person becomes a Christian, they are not merely brought into a new set of beliefs, a list of behaviors, or a social club; it is a mysterious, all-encompassing, multi-faceted relationship and realm involving a divine Person. God himself invades our mess in the most literal way possible. Divine beauty and sinful flesh converge in a miraculous display. That mystical relationship has tremendous implications. I’ll just share from my experience of life in union with Christ.
It explains who I am.
- I’m justified in Him (Rom 3:24; 2 Cor 5:17,21; Phi 3:9)
- I’m identified with Him (Eph 2:6,10)
- I’m adopted by Him (Eph 1:5-6)
- I’m brought near to Him (Eph 2:13)
To name a few.
It fuels how I live.
- My sanctification is in Him (John 15:4; Rom 6:4; 1 Cor 1:2,30; Gal 4:19; Eph 3:16-17; Col 1:28)
- The spiritual disciplines I practice are in Him (See my post on a “contemplative approach”)
- My emotional health is in Him (See my sermon on this topic)
To name just a few.
It shows where I want to go.
Perhaps you answered my original question by saying, “Christianity has to do with following a set of rules,” or “It is mainly about being a good person.” I would say Christianity may include or overlap with some of those popular definitions of religion—I certainly hope Christians can be identified with good people, who are consistent in their beliefs and convictions. But I would also suggest that being a Christian is more. It’s about being the version of humanity that God originally intended. But for that to happen, you must be indwelt with the Divine (2 Pet. 1:4).
In his Magnus Opus, The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard suggests that a person cannot keep Christ’s law by trying to keep Christ’s law. That person must aim for something higher. “One must aim to become the kind of person from whom the deeds of the law naturally flow” (142).
I believe our Lord put it this way: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4, ESV).
Back to my point, where I want to go.
Well… I want health in my entirety. A healthy Christian is someone who is made more like the Christ who indwells them. Paul said that God’s good purpose is that we would be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:28-29), which is also to “mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). This involves the health of the whole person. To love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matt 22:37). It’s what Jesus said was the most important command; the one to write home about, certainly, the one to remember if you are prone to forgetting such things.
I’m sure you’ve heard of nominal Christians. Perhaps judgmental Christians. Or [fill-in-the-blank] Christians. But my obsession is with healthy Christians.
I’m obsessed with how Christians can become healthy. So far, I’m convinced that it has to do with our union with Christ. So I obsess about that too. Mostly because I want to be a healthy Christian. And I want everyone I know to become one too.
What this blog offers
This blog exists in great part to take this far-reaching, all-encompassing, glorious doctrine of our union with Christ, and show it’s daily implications in everyday life. Union with Christ is not for the armchair theologians.
It’s for you. And it’s for me.
How do you experience Union with Christ?
The apostle said, “When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13). That’s a great place to start.
Your experience of Jesus starts by believing the truth about Jesus. As J. Todd Billings writes, “Full humanity is humanity in complete union with God” . So most of these posts will explore the realization or practical application of this truth. Even if it’s subtle. For example,
- How my ignorance of union with Christ drove me to a contemplative approach to Christianity.
- How union with Christ draws me to a life of simplicity.
- How understanding union with Christ enabled me to evangelize as the introvert that I am.
- How union with Christ protects us from getting burnt out by overwhelming needs.
- Or why union with Christ means Christians attacking Christians is a really big deal.
- It also shows up in some of my book reviews.
So, stay tuned!
Works Cited… Read the rest of this entry
I know of a Christian who struggles in social settings.
This seems counterintuitive. Evangelism is a basic tenet of his faith, and he feels exhausted just thinking about it! Maybe it’s because the word evangelism draws up for him caricatures of open-air street preaching. Or maybe because he would rather get to know and enjoy his neighbors before trying to proselytize them from a distance, as it often feels like. Whatever it is, that particular trigger of emotional exhaustion doesn’t travel alone. It is sometimes coupled with shame. Shame of not being naturally adept at something so essential to Christianity. And it certainly is essential…Jesus told His followers to speak about Him. And what Christian wouldn’t want to speak about Jesus? But it’s the speaking part that’s troubling!
It’s difficult for him to talk to strangers in a superficial environment, without a particular gift for social interaction.
Now, evangelism is one of the most thrilling, life-giving experiences a Christian can have. But evangelism, as the church has come to know it, feels much like peddling products door-to-door, or making cold calls to sell insurance. Now, you may think, “This guy is just ashamed of the gospel!” But I want you to think about that for a moment. Are you ashamed of having insurance just because you would never sell it door-to-door? Are you opposed to businesses everywhere just because you hate making or receiving cold-calls? Of course not. You can promote your insurance company while at the same time disdaining the way some insurance salesman treat you at the front door when they try to make a sale. (This is all hypothetically speaking, of course…I’ve never been approached by a door-to-door insurance salesman). There might be a few people who are wired to make “cold calls” in evangelism and great at doing it. But others ask, “Wait, people still do that?” Exactly. This is his perception of “evangelism” as it is often caricatured. And it’s an awkward feeling he will never escape. You see, he’s the pastor of an evangelical church. And evangelicals can sometimes hold a parochial definition of how evangelizing is supposed to go down. By the way, that guy is me.
But it’s not just me. Probably half of my congregation are introverts.
There are some very common misunderstandings about introverts that have made evangelism seem very untouchable. One is that introverts are shy and anti-social. You can see how this might affect our view of an introverted evangelist: “It’s a misnomer.”
But introversion and extraversion have less to do with a person’s identity, and more to do with how they choose to recharge. Susan Cain, famous for her 3 minute TED talk on the power of introversion, offers a simple definition in her book, Quiet:
Today’s psychologists tend to agree…introverts and extroverts differ in the level of outside stimulation that they need to function well. Introverts feel “just right” with less stimulation, as when they sip wine with a close friend, solve a crossword puzzle, or read a book. Extroverts enjoy the extra bang that comes from activities like meeting new people, skiing slippery slopes, and cranking up the stereo (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, 11)
An introvert might be very adept to social interaction, but also need a proportionate amount of time to “recharge” in solitude. Whereas, an extrovert can read books, yet need to recharge by being around people. Think of how this affects evangelism. Maybe extroverts are generally more comfortable with “evangelistic” activities (like passing out tracks at the Farmer’s Market), because they are energized through interaction with groups of people.
Either way, no character trait should keep us from heralding the gospel.
I cannot say, “I’m not going to talk about Jesus with them because it’s out of my comfort zone as an introvert.” However, evangelism does seem monopolized by the extroverted ideal. And that’s not ok. While it may work well for the outgoing type, those who are more introspective need their own working model. We’ve all been trained over the decades to see effective evangelism through certain caricatures, i.e., street preacher, the altar-call giver, the stadium evangelist, and the person who talks a lot but never asks questions. There is nothing wrong with any of these caricatures, per se, but they aren’t all that there is to evangelism.
Again, this doesn’t mean those with introverted tendencies hate talking about Jesus. I would hate for you to misconstrued this post as a cop-out. Christians love Jesus. Introverts just don’t always like evangelizing on the same terms that are normally appreciated by our extroverted brothers and sisters. Nor is it always as effective, since we have differing gifts. God doesn’t assimilate our personalities into some universal ideal; the doctrine of Union with Christ teaches us that the image of God in us is being restored by His indwelling presence. That means we are being restored to the original luster of who God intended us to be. I would think that this includes our personality quirks. The question is not whether introverts should evangelize, but in what way? If an extrovert, who may love the thrill involved in, say, street-preaching, can evangelize in that way and be true to who God made them, how should introverts be evangelizing in a way that is faithful to Christ, and utilizes their gifts as well? That’s a question worth pursuing.
Unfortunately, the pressure from these over-the-top caricatures, and the shame attached to introversion in the church have inundated a large portion of gifted, caring, spirit-filled men and women in our church, and rendered them outsiders. (See Adam McHugh’s, Introverts in the Church) But it ought not be this way.
It’s Father’s Day!
In the last month, my twenty-month old Abby has choked on grapes, split her lip, stepped in a mound of fire ants, sprayed herself in the eye with chemical cleaner, developed a disturbing preoccupation with electrical outlets and hot coffee, and has incessantly pestered temperamental dogs. And our boy hasn’t even been born yet!
If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that parenthood is the hardest thing ever. But strangely enough, as many parents will attest, it’s also the best thing ever. Because every difficult moment is outmatched by the joy of seeing her smile, pointing at a bug, giggling at me while hiding under the kitchen table, dancing to AC/DC, or cuddling on the couch. So yes, there are hard times on the parenting end, but there are way more good times to care about that. It’s the hardest and best thing ever. Which is why this Father’s Day will come with a certain satisfaction for me. Of course, that’s probably because I have a good dad, and love being a dad to my daughter.
But Father’s Day evokes a wide spectrum of emotion in different people
For some, Father’s Day evokes a different response. It reminds some that they lost their fathers–perhaps through war, a car accident, or cancer–the men who used to make them laugh while making faces under the kitchen table, have left an empty table setting at dinner. Others have fathers who are there, without actually being around. These are the successful dads who love their work more than their family, and kids who’s only memory of their dad is that success is the most important thing in life. I think also of dads who lost their daughters and sons during the tragedies that unfolded at UCSB in Isla Vista on May 23, 2014. Daughters who once put a smile on the faces of fathers, and the unspeakable pain that has been left in their absence. I thought of Abby when these stories surfaced in the news. I had no words. The dawning of Father’s Day for some of these people isn’t just hard, it’s unspeakably painful. And there is no silver lining.
I wonder what some of these must feel when we applaud dads in church on Sunday. Not to take away from the dads who were faithful and the kids who are appreciative. Good dad’s are rightly celebrated. And Father’s Day is a celebration for many dads. But for some, it’s an annual reminder of despair. And as it draws closer, some of you are dreading the day.
Fortunately hope doesn’t revolve around a day
In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul tells a bunch of Jewish Christians that they are no longer held to the ritual practice of their old “holy days.” The reason, he argues, is because these festivals, Sabbaths, and special days point them to something better: “the substance is the Messiah” (17b). This is loosely analogous, but when I read this text, I thought about Father’s Day. See, for many of you, this holiday reminds you that you don’t have a dad. For other’s it reminds you about how your dad has disappointed you, or was never there to begin with. But I want you to consider a new thought to fill your mind with this weekend. The gospel (good news) in the Bible is that when we are united with Christ by faith, we are brought into the family of God, and adopted by God the Father. We become HIS children. The apostle John exclaimed, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). It’s easy to think of your fatherlessness on this holiday, but in Christ, you have a perfect Father.
For others, Father’s Day is a continual reminder to some fathers of the loss of their child. No pat answer can remove that type of pain. But the gospel does offer you hope that all the turmoil and tragedy we’ve experienced–even the loss of a child–will somehow be reversed and turned inside out, when Jesus returns. I don’t know how that works, but those are the outlandish claims of God. The gospel is more than a pat answer. It offers deep hope.
There is also something else worth remembering for the rest of us. That Fatherly love of God is (sometimes) intangible until the family of God brings in those who hurt and gives them a family to belong. That’s what makes the gospel less than a pat answer for many people. Someone hurting may believe and experience the gospel of a Father to the fatherless by the power of the Holy Spirit. But a family of believer’s are responsible for driving that truth home.
Participate in Father’s day this year
This Father’s Day, let’s remember the fathers.
Remember the fatherless.
Remember the fathers who were robbed of their children.
Weep with those who weep.
Rejoice with those who rejoice.
And bring in those who have no where else to go.
Look around your church, workplace, comm group, recreation, and neighborhood. Is there anyone in your life who has a bad experience with Father’s Day? You have an opportunity. Celebrate by giving expression to the Father’s love.
Happy Father’s day, friends.
It’s not always easy to be single on Valentine’s Day. Maybe for some people it is, maybe it depends on the year and some are harder than others. It hasn’t always been easy for me to be without a significant other come February 14th. During those times, I’ve tried many different methods to make it seem like I’m fine with my singleness, knowing all the while I would have given a whole lot to be anything but alone on that day.
After being in the church for enough years, I know pretty much all the right answers about singleness, marriage, God, and the like. God can and will fulfill all my desires, a spouse won’t make me happy or make all my problems go away, singleness is a gift, I can be content in the Lord now…the list goes on. But what do I do when I still long for a man to spend my life with, and no amount of self-talk, no matter how biblical it is, makes that go away? When I still feel alone and inferior to those in relationships, even when I know that I am complete in Christ? All of these truths are indeed true, but the more I look at myself I see that there has been a part of my heart that those truths have not yet touched. Because the fact of the matter is that while I know that a husband will not fulfill me, there is part of me that is still living as though he will. It’s not in a way that would draw attention or would cause people to notice (most of the time I don’t even notice it!). But around the holidays, or on Valentine’s day, there is that twinge in my heart that romance tends to set off—my heart longs for what other people have, and a little part of it really does believe that when I have it, things will be better and more fulfilling than they are now.
So I’ve tried to make myself content. I have actually tried to convince myself that I am content, while being well aware that it is not the case. I picture it like trying to keep one of those floaties under water (you know the ones you wear on your arms when you’re learning to swim). As long my hands are holding contentment in my heart it stays down there, but as soon as the hands come off, it shoots right back up to the surface and back to head knowledge. I have been trying to force contentment from my head to my heart and it just hasn’t worked.
I’m tired of trying to do that. I’m tired of there being this part of my heart that has not been transformed by the truth of God and what He says about me, and namely what He says about Himself. I want my heart gripped by His truth, especially when it comes to singleness, relationships, and who I am in the midst of that.
Just the other day I read an article written by a married woman talking about things she wished she had known while she was still single. She had some great things to say about singleness, what can be learned from it and what can be developed during it if people use the time well. But more than any specific thing she said, and what really got my mind racing was a stream of thoughts that went something like this,
“What if I actually took this advice and started living according to it?”
“What if I, and this generation of those who aren’t yet married actually lay hold of the truths that are taught to us by those who want us to benefit from lessons they have learned?”
“Rather than doing it my own way and then finding out they were right all along (that a spouse really doesn’t make things all better), and then trying to preach the message to those still single and who can learn from my mistakes, why don’t I just trust and actively walk in what they say?”
What would happen? I think a few things. One, I think I would experience more of God than I ever dreamed of, both now while I’m single and in a future marriage. Two, I think it would honor Him greatly. It would let Him be God, and would demonstrate a submission to His plan amidst my lack of understanding with what He is doing. And I’m pretty sure He loves when His kids trust Him. But how can I do that?
I know I can’t force biblical truths into my heart. It has to be a work of God Himself. However, there have been a few things in particular that I have been meditating on and praying that God would minister to my heart regarding who I am, and who He is that I would like to share.
1) God’s character is the same in seasons of blessing and fulfillment of desires as it is in seasons of waiting and exercising patience.
God is a giver, He is generous, He is kind, He is all-knowing and all-wise; He knows what is best for us. Why is it that I can rejoice so easily in seasons of blessing and not in seasons of drought? Why is it that I can be so thankful when I am getting to walk in my dreams but can’t muster up the same fervency of thanksgiving when He is still calling me to wait?
I have found that when I dwell on His character, my perspective changes. God is intimately acquainted with all my ways (Ps. 139:1-3), He is sovereign over every detail of my life (Matthew 10:29-31), and He is working things for my good that I be conformed more and more to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:28-29). So if God is having me wait for something (even something that I really want), is it the best possible thing for me right now? It is because He is so loving that He is having me wait for it! If the God of the universe is working things in my life with my best interest in mind, why should I begrudgingly accept His “wait” rather than rejoice in it?
Consider this quote by Andrew Murray,
If we but saw our God in His love, if we but believed that He waits to be gracious, that He waits to be our life and to work all in us—how this waiting on God would become our highest joy…
I want that truth to mark my life. I can’t say it always does, but I want the knowledge of God’s character to change the way I view waiting for Him. Not only that, but He is using my very circumstances to form me into the woman I desire to become. Right now He is allowing me to grow into the woman that will, Lord willing, get to walk forward in desires of being a wife and a mother some day. Many of us have big dreams of who we will become and what we will do with God and for His Kingdom. We have desires, longings, and hopes (all with the best intentions) to be the best man or woman of God we can be, as well as the best future spouse we can be.
But I often forget that He is forming us into those people right now. He is uses the every day, the mundane, the not-so-exciting, to shape us in ways that quick blessings could not accomplish. That truth has given me so much freedom; I can look at the seemingly mundane and truly rejoice that He is growing me now into the woman that will get to walk forward in the dreams He has given me when He says it is time.
2) We are seen by the One on whom we wait.
You are not invisible to the one that you are waiting for. God sees every time you obey Him, every time you hurt and feel alone, every time you cry out to Him asking Him to meet you. Every time you sacrifice for Him, every time you trust Him. He sees all of it, and He LOVES when His kids look at Him. He loves catching our eye when we fix our gaze on Him, when we don’t understand but tell Him that we trust Him anyways. He loves when we really mean that. He sees us and we are safe exactly where we are.
3) God could never disappoint His people.
I often end up disappointed or unsure at where God has me in life. While I may be disappointed in a moment for not getting what I want or what I think is best for me, God continues to remind me that He is the best story-writer in all of creation. Each of us are getting to play a part in the greatest story ever written. And God is using our desires, passions, longings and dreams for a spouse, family, or anything else, to write that story. We, as His children, will not be disappointed by the ending.
4) God is ALWAYS good.
Similar to #1, God doesn’t change. He is always good, always faithful. I believe that we can experience that goodness even more when we wait for Him and trust Him. In that time we see Him as good simply because of who He is rather than what He gives us. How purifying is that! Andrew Murray writes on the goodness of God as we learn to wait,
At our first entrance into the school of waiting upon God, the heart is mainly set on the blessings with which we wait for. God graciously uses our needs and desires for help to educate us for something higher than we were thinking of. We were seeking gifts; He, the Giver, longs to give Himself and to satisfy the soul with His goodness. It is just for this reason that He often withholds the gifts and that the time of waiting is made so long. He is constantly seeking to win the heart of His child for Himself. He wishes that we would not only say, when He bestows the gift, “How good is God!” but that long before it comes, and if it never comes, we should all the time be experiencing: it is good that a man should quietly wait. The Lord is good to them that wait for Him. 
Which leads me to #5…
5) Every need and desire we have is and will be fulfilled in Christ.
A husband will not fulfill me. My dream-job will not fulfill me. The perfect family or home will not fulfill me. The perfect ministry opportunity will not fulfill me. Christ is the only one who can and ever will make me whole. I have to confess, it doesn’t always feel like that. But that is a truth I am going to lay hold of by faith…that is, until I live with the man that teaches me that he really doesn’t fulfill me ;) I want to trust that I have full access to God now by the power of the Holy Spirit; no less than I will when I am married, or walking in my passions, or in a dream job. And if He is the one who has created me for Himself, then He is the one I am going to run after, here and now. And when He calls me to run side by side with a man, what I am running after will not have changed: God is and will always be the goal.
Please run with me.
I must admit–assuming the usual caveats about Christmas being about Jesus–that the actual date of December 25th is one of the most difficult for me.
I do adore my Christ. I do love the celebrations. I love the church services, and the church family. I love the sermons I get to study, write, and pray over. I love the usual busy work that surrounds the offices leading up to Christmas. But where I struggle the most is when after these festivities, everything closes for Christmas day. Well, everything but my restless mind.
I've learned–to my discomfort–that I enjoy being busy, even if I'm not doing much in particular.
Because I am busy with my thoughts, or busy in conversation, or walking a busy street. Yet on Christmas day, I'm robbed of my busyness when every venue, outlet, and commercial expression is taken from me. It's the one day in the year I can't do anything. This is, on the surface, a classic first world problem! Yet a guy who's that stimulated by productivity will sometimes mistake productivity for faithfulness to God. And this is where I sometimes have a problem. I'm learning that they aren't the same.
Perhaps I equate being busy with being faithful because I really just want to know that what I'm doing matters to God.
The only way I can secure that is through busyness.
(Cue the sad music, and the sermon on how the gospel frees us from thinking we can secure God's love through hard work).
Yes, I know. I shouldn't think that ever. But I do. Who doesn't? And Christmas, it turns out, is the forcible action that confronts my idolatry. It does this by keeping me helpless. Silent. Not busy. There are no chores to do. No errands. There are no check-lists to keep track of, no vision to cast, and no sermon to prepare. I can't meet with anyone, because they're all with family. I can't think deeply about things, because friends and extended family punctuate every minute with the laughter of inside-jokes. There is nowhere I can go to find a “safe place,” by which I mean, work. I am unsafe. But from what? Well…myself, I suppose. My idol of productivity–of busyness.
Christmas exposes me as my own worst enemy.
And sometimes it takes the town shutting down to pull me out of my comfort zone. I'm learning that silence isn't all that bad–though it feels like it–and is even a great outlet for prayer, as counter-intuitive as that seems. But I still don't like it. Perhaps that's my problem: words (in prayer) help me feel productive; the discursive thoughts Richard Rohr often warns about in his instruction on contemplative prayer, that we mistakenly assume are meritorious to God. Rohr, in his book, A Lever and a Place to Stand, suggests “Prayer beyond words” instead (59). So I tried it. But it's increasingly uncomfortable to leave words behind, when words are all you do in life.
We have to have a slight distance from the world–we have to allow time for withdrawal from business as usual, for meditation, for prayer in what Jesus calls “our private room.” However, in order for this not to become escapism, we have to remain quite close to the world at the same, loving it, feeling its pains and its joys as our pains and our joys. ~ Richard Rohr, 2.
In other words, we must all learn to withdrawal in holy silence, yet re-engage the pressures of “productivity” when our spirit is revived; after all, we're never not supposed to be productive. The Bible simply chooses an alternative: fruitfulness.
Our lives are not supposed to be marked by busy work, but by the characteristics (the fruit) of the Spirit.
Sometimes this happens when you're busy, and sometimes it happens when you're not. After reading Rohr's line, I experienced an epiphany: God used December 25th to slow my life down enough to show me that he doesn't need me. Yet in the sermon I gave the night before, I also explain how the birth of His Son proves that he wants me (and you). Now, we're on another level.
Because while it's uncomfortable to feel unneeded; it's downright devastating to feel unwanted. But to be unneeded while knowing you're still wanted is one of the most liberating things the soul can ever know.
And on this Christmas week, I'm trying to ride the border of that mysterious truth, if only because the shutting down of Santa Barbara forced it upon my over-productive mind. And to think some people don't believe in effectual grace! Tsk tsk. That's what a busy mind will sometimes do to you. Can I share something with you, from one mad thinker to another? (One that I robbed from a local bumper sticker)…
Slow down Santa Barbara.
God's presence is worth the reflection.
Habakkuk 2:20 ~ The Lord is in His holy temple; let everyone on earth be silent in His presence.
Pope Francis: “That is why the center of our faith isn’t just a book, but a history of Salvation, and above all, it’s about a person: Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh.” (HT: http://goo.gl/UXyb8)
Martin Luther: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony from scripture or by evident reason—for I confide neither in the Pope nor in a Council alone, since it is certain they have often erred and contradicted themselves—I am held fast by the scriptures adduced by me, and my conscience is held captive by God’s Word, and I neither can nor will revoke anything, seeing it is not safe or right to act against conscience. God help me. Amen.“ (HT: http://goo.gl/JqSOu)
Pope Francis: “The interpretation of Sacred Scriptures cannot be just an individual academic effort, but must always be compared to, inserted within, and authenticated by the living tradition of the Church.” (HT: http://goo.gl/UXyb8)
William Tyndale: I defy the pope and his laws! If God spares my life, in a few years a plow boy shall know more of the Scriptures than you do. (HT: http://goo.gl/RjAvU)
Legalism is something to which we are all prone, because it is one of the key tendencies of the sinful human heart. At its base it is an assertion of our control over our relationship with God. It is a soft-pedalling of the greatness of God’s grace to sinners. On the surface it may appear to be an exalting of the law, however the law is understood. Yet when we examine the nature of legalism, we find that the opposite is true. Once we imagine that we can somehow add to God’s grace or establish our righteousness by our deeds, we have in fact dragged God’s law down to our level of imperfection. If salvation is by faith in Christ plus some form of obedience, the gospel is diminished tot he extent that we add to the principle of Christ alone. (Graeme Goldsworthy. Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, 171)
Tim Keller is a great writer, and a better speaker. I still remember reading The Reason For God, and feeling more like I was being swept into a great movie than an academic book on apologetics and philosophy. He is uncanny at deconstructing complex truths so that the average reader can understand them in the context of their own life situation. This book is no different, though much shorter than usual.
The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness is based on 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7, where Paul upbraids the church for thinking too highly of him, other leaders, and themselves. The theme revolves around our fear of what others think about us, and argues that true joy comes from the freedom of others opinions (including our own), and is only possible by the power of the gospel.
There are three sections to the book which follows the usual Keller-esque style,
- the natural condition of the human ego (how humanity fails)
- the transformed view of self (how humanity is redeemed)
- a transformed view of self (how we respond to that redemption)
Keller spends considerable time analyzing the nuances between pride, self-esteem, and humility, dropping bombs, like, “The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less” (32). He is masterful at leading the reader to a place where they feel most comfortable, before exposing some unseen tendency. For example, when speaking about The Natural Condition of the Ego in chapter one, the reader with a low self-esteem rests easy believing that they are free from the kind of treacherous egoism that plagues more self-inflated personalities. Then another Keller-bomb drops.
A superiority complex and an inferiority complex are basically the same. They are both results of being overinflated. The person with the superiority complex is overinflated and in danger of being inflated; the person with an inferiority complex is deflated already (21).
Keller’s strategy is simple and profound. You relate to his first point, upset over the shortcomings of “those people,” before he quickly reveals how you are in the same spiritually-broken condition as they are! After leaving you to feel the weight of your own sin, he carefully expounds the gospel, which, by this point, feels like an oasis in the desert.
Tim Keller is a beast of a writer. But because of his relatable writing style, you don’t know he’s pulling you on a theological roller-coaster until you get to the last 1/3 of the book. By that time, you’ve confronted enough of yourself to be ok with Keller’s subtle confrontations. At 44 pages, this is a sixty-minute roller-coaster ride that you shouldn’t miss. If you’ve ever struggled with what others think of you, eat this book.
Whenever someone shares the call of God on their life with me, it seems almost invariably to do with a ministerial vocation…
“Lazo, God is calling me to be a pastor.”
“I think I’m being called into the ministry.”
“I have a heart for missions.”
“I want to be a church planter.”
As one who is in a full-time “ministry” vocation, I can’t help but get excited when others are sensing a similar calling. But I also can’t help but be a bit perplexed. No one ever comes up to me and says, “Lazo, I think God is calling me to be a school teacher!” or, “Chris, I think I’m being called to work at Habit Burger for a season!” or, “God is calling me to be a carpenter! Can you pray for me?” The only callings I ever hear about, as if these are the only ones that are worth a Christian’s excitement, have to do with some type of clerical ministry.
Maybe we think that the only way to be faithful to God in our work, is if we are working for God in His church. It was normative in the middle ages to bifurcate the work of priests from that of the “laity.” In other words, if you wanted to do “holy” work, you had to get a job with the church. Everything else was menial. Of course, this divide was one of the false teachings that Luther, Calvin, Kuyper, and many reformers after them were quick to deny. For one, the doctrine of common grace reveals that there is no such divide between sacred and secular, for the entire sphere of life is under the domain of God’s benevolence. Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch reformer, was famous for championing this worldview. He opined that if common grace is true “the curse should no longer rest upon the world itself, but upon that which is sinful in it, and instead of monastic flight from the world the duty is now emphasized of serving God in the world, in every position in life” (Kuyper, Lectures. 30). Secondly, God no longer sanctifies jobs, as he did in the Old Testament cultus, with its priestly duties and unique ministerial work. In the New Covenant, God sanctifies people (Heb. 2:11; 10:10; 13:12). This means that a vocation is sanctified by the Christian working in it, without separation between secular work and ministry. A carpenter is on the same mission as a pastor.
Unfortunately, many Christians carry on the same dreary divide between sacred and secular to this day. This is not to say that we don’t need callings in vocational ministry today. We do! But roughly 1% of a church assembly will ever go into “church” ministry. The overwhelming majority of a church membership will be in the world of science, arts, education, politics, technology, law, retail, etc. If our mindset is still stuck in the middle ages, many church-goers will not think of their vocations as holy callings, but menial jobs to trudge through before they find something more meaningful. But the church of Christ needs a renewal in its sense of vocation lest the power offered by Christianity is one day found only in the four walls of a secluded cloister. We need school teachers who feel called by God to teach math. We need CEO’s who believe God has set them apart to lead well. We need construction workers who build for more than the paycheck. We need scientists who want to discover the world of God. We need grocery baggers who love to make grocers feel welcome and the environment hospitable. We need baristas who know how to deflect the grumpy demeanor of a sleepy customer with a smile and a mean cup of coffee.
But nonetheless, this divide continues still. Even our perception of what faithfulness means in a secular vocation is still highly spiritualized. For example, if we do suppose that our secular vocation is a calling of God, then we limit our understanding of job faithfulness to, say, evangelism, or perhaps the hope that a Bible study will spontaneously appear in the break room. But what about the content of our job descriptions? Do we think everything but doing our jobs well is what God is calling us to do? The Apostle Paul’s calling on every Christian is that “each one must live his life in the situation the Lord assigned when God called him. This is what I command in all the churches” (1 Cor. 7:17, HCSB).
Timothy Keller quotes Dorothy Sayers in his book Every Good Endeavor,
The church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours and to come to church on Sundays. What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. (Creed or Chaos, 56-7, emphasis mine)
Keller describes this as the “ministry of competence,” where Scripture directs skilled men and woman of God to greatness in what they do, faithfulness with their callings, and integrity in the workplace (76). The majority of Christians are not called to leave the secular behind to pursue ministerial vocations. We are called to be faithful where God has us now.
Think of the impact that simple stewardship of work would have on the world around us. If it is true that only 1% of a local church will ever pursue vocational ministry, than what of the 99%? Now I know that being a faithful employee will not save the lost. Nor will cultural transformation, or relational evangelism. Only the proclamation of the gospel can act as the means by which the Holy Spirit brings the dead to life (Rom 10:14-15). But if we Christians worked well in the field of our employment, perhaps our co-workers would take us more seriously when we share the story of redemption. Or even better, maybe they will start to ask us.
- A Letter to a Confused Christian Artist (cwoznicki.wordpress.com)