A Glimpse Into the Gospel of Grace

“The question the gospel of grace puts to us is simply this: Who shall separate you from the love of Christ? What are you afraid of?

Are you afraid that your weakness could separate you from the love of Christ? It can’t.

Are you afraid that your inadequacies could separate you from the love of Christ? They can’t.

Are you afraid that your inner poverty could separate you from the love of Christ? It can’t.

Difficult marriage, loneliness, anxiety over the children’s future? They can’t.

Negative self-image? It can’t.

Economic hardship, racial hatred, street crime? They can’t.

Rejection by loved ones or the suffering of loved ones? They can’t.

Persecution by authorities, going to jail? They can’t.

Nuclear war? It can’t.

Mistakes, fears, uncertainties? They can’t.

The gospel of grace calls out, ‘Nothing can ever separate you from the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord!’

You must be convinced of this, trust it, and never forget to remember. Everything else will pass away, but the love of Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Faith will become vision, hope will become possession, but the love of Jesus Christ that is stronger than death endures forever.

In the end, it is the one thing you can hang onto.”

(Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel; pp.87-88)

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The Beauty of an Open Mind

There is a wondrous open-mindedness about children and an insatiable desire to learn from life. An open attitude is like an open door–a welcoming disposition toward the fellow travelers who knock on our door during the middle of the day, the middle of the week, or the middle of a lifetime. Some are dirtballs, grungy, disheveled, and bedraggled. The sophisticated adult within me shudders and is reluctant to offer them hospitality. They may be carrying precious gifts under their shabby rags, but I still prefer clean shaven Christians who are neatly attired, properly pedigreed, and who affirm my vision, echo my thoughts, stroke me, and make me feel good. Yet my inner child protests, “I want new friends, not old mirrors.”

When our inner child is not nurtured and nourished, our minds gradually close to new ideas, unprofitable commitments, and the surprises of the Spirit. Evangelical faith is bartered for cozy, comfortable piety. A failure of nerve and an unwillingness to risk distorts God into a Bookkeeper, and the gospel of grace is swapped for the security of religious bondage.

“Unless you become as little children…” [Matthew 18:3]

I fear for the lawyer whose only life is corporate tax, the doctor whose whole existence is someone else’s prostate, the business executive whose single responsibility is to his stockholders, the athlete who puts all his eggs in an 18-inch basket, the theologian who thinks the world can be saved by theology… A closed mind kills marriages and human relations; it deadens feelings and sensitivities; it makes for a church that lives in a thousand and one tunnels, with no communication and no exit.

(Walter Burghardt, Grace on Crutches: Homilies for Fellow Travelers; p. 144)

If we maintain the open-mindedness of children, we challenge fixed ideas and established structures, including our own. We listen to people in other denominations and religions. We don’t find demons in those with whom we disagree. We don’t cozy up to people who mouth our jargon. If we are open, we rarely resort to either/or–either creation or evolution, liberty or law, sacred or secular, Beethoven or Madonna. We focus on both/and, fully aware that God’s truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition. Of course, the open mind does not accept everything indiscriminately–Marxism and capitalism, Christianity and atheism, love and lust, Moët Chandon and vinegar. It does not absorb all propositions equally like a sponge, nor is it as soft. But the open mind realizes that reality, truth, and Jesus Christ are incredibly open-ended.

~ Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel (pp.65-66)

The Greatest Gift

Of all the customs surrounding Christmas, it occurs to me the most singular, the most distinctive, is the custom of giving one another gifts. You realize how unique that is. There are other special occasions, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, Father’s Days, Mother’s Days, and so on, in which somebody is given gifts. You bring your gifts to somebody, but the real question is … How many holidays do we have in which all of us give gifts to all of us? The answer is only one, and it’s right that we do it at Christmas because it highlights, it makes real, the central event, in some ways, the central truth of Christmas.

 

Jesus Christ came at Christmas, but he didn’t just come. He was given. ‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given …’ Jesus didn’t just come. He was a gift. That’s the central event of Christmas, and all the gift giving, in a sense, makes that real. Jesus was given. ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son …’ Jesus did not just come. He was a gift.

 

There’s one place in which Paul is so overwhelmed by the thought of it that he breaks into praise, and he says, ‘Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift,’ an unspeakable gift, an inexpressible gift. It’s beyond description. It’s beyond comprehension. Whenever Paul thinks about it, even for a while, his imagination and his heart explode.

– Tim Keller (from the sermon “His Name Shall Be Called” — December 23, 1990)

The Gospel Must Argue With You

The gospel, if it is really believed, removes neediness – the need to be constantly respected, appreciated, and well regarded; the need to have everything in your life go well; the need to have power over others. All of these great, deep needs continue to control you only because the concept of the glorious God delighting in you with all His being is just that – a concept and nothing more. Our hearts don’t believe it, so they operate in default mode. Paul is saying that if you want to really change, you must let the gospel teach you – that is to train, discipline, coach you – over a period of time. You must let the gospel argue with you. You must let the gospel sink down deeply into your heart, until it changes your motivation and views and attitudes.

~ Tim Keller

Book Review: Counterfeit Gospels (Wax)

The word “gospel” has become a sort of filler word in Christian subculture; phrases like “gospel-centered” or “keep the gospel central” are regularly thrown around in conversation. Trevin Wax identifies that all “gospels” are not created equal.

Counterfeit Gospels seeks to identify the various counterfeits which can so subtly take the place of the one true Gospel and expose them for what they truly are. So why’s this such a big deal? In using the example of how counterfeit money affects an economy Trevin Wax writes, “[b]y imitating the genuine, the counterfeit money creates confusion and typically distorts the value of the real currency. The counterfeit works because it mimics the real deal so well that customers and businesses spread the fake money until even [entire] governments are affected” (p.12).

Buying in to counterfeit gospels prove extremely dangerous, and even potentially damning, because we are subtly putting something else uppermost in our affections instead of Jesus Christ. The danger lies in the fact that we are so often drawn to these counterfeits, intentionally or unintentionally:

“Christians and non-Christians are often drawn to counterfeit gospels. Even those of us who have walked with the Lord for many years may be inclined to accept cheap imitations of the truth. Why? Because they are easy. The cost us less. And they make us popular with people whose opinions matter to us. Yet a counterfeit gospel will always leave our souls impoverished at just the point we should be enriched.” (p.13)

With this danger in mind, Trevin Wax identifies six primary counterfeits he has seen plague people (within and outside of the church), and offers continual refocusing on how these counterfeits distort and fall short of the life-giving Gospel of Christ.

As I read through the pages of his book it was easy to identify how I had fallen for some of these lies and how burdensome it had been for me putting my hope in these false promises. The danger and temptation to turn to things apart from Jesus Himself is very real, and an important step in avoiding counterfeits–just like it is in currency–is to educate yourself on them. The more you know about what a counterfeit looks like, sounds like, and offers to you (essentially how it differs from the real thing) the more equipped you will be to fight against it with the authentic.

This book is extremely life-giving for me and has helped me see areas in my life I have not been following the biblical (and only) Gospel of Christ. I would highly recommend it for any reader serious about following the Gospel laid out in the pages of the Bible and who wishes to share this burden-lifting, life-giving gospel with others who do not have it.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes by Moody Publishing. I was not required to post a positive review and the views expressed in this review are my own.

Book Review: Clear Winter Nights (Wax)

Having read Trevin Wax before (through blog posts and a previous book of his) it was a joy to see him dive in to storytelling in a fictional format. I resonate with his journey a bit because I, myself, do not typically read fiction. To be honest I am more of a reader of theology, devotional literature, and christian living sort of books. Perhaps this similarity to diving in to a new genre is what caught my eye.

Anyways, this book is a short read–160 pages after acknowledgements–but it definitely packs a punch. The book is about a boy, Chris, who is doubting much of what his life was built around–faith, a relationship, a career path–and begins asking tough questions and assessing his desires to see what he ought to do. I believe this is something we can all admit to wrestling with. Trevin rightly writes about this season in our character’s life which many have referred to as “the dark night of the soul;” perhaps we know this sort of season all too well.

I love the way Trevin Wax was able to work through intricate themes in the form of dialogue. Towards the end of chapter 4 (don’t worry, no spoilers) there is a response from the grandfather to Chris stating:

“What if Christianity is bigger than ethics? What if it’s not about good people getting better but dead people coming to life? What if it’s not about man seeking God but God seeking man? What if it’s not about how people view God but how God views us? What if Christianity isn’t about you and me and everyone else in the first place? Those are the questions I hope you ask. They’re worth wrestling with…

…Chris, make sure you don’t use scholarship as a way of masking your doubts, of defending yourself against the Bible, of distancing yourself from God’s claim on your life.” (p.50)

The book is filled with this sort of pointed dialogue. You will find yourself siding with a given character throughout. Sometimes the girlfriend, sometimes the grandfather, others Chris. Trevin does an excellent job navigating complex themes and internal dialogues with storytelling and for the sake of keeping this brief I believe that this book is well worth picking up.

It is a shorter book but deals with a ton of issues on the topic of questioning, doubt, being unsure about your beliefs (or anything you stake your life on, really), and how to navigate those doubts to point towards the Gospel all the more.

The book releases September 17th, 2013. Surely be on the lookout for it.

A complimentary (advanced reading) copy of this book was provided for review purposes by the Multnomah Publishing. I was not required to post a positive review and the views expressed in this review are my own.

Trembling, Spread Thin, and the Need for Discipline

As a brief preface before getting into the entry, I just wanted to let you know that this blog post will hit on a number of different topics–most specifically the idea of thinking through a Gospel-lens, how suffering/trials are used for our good, and how we must discipline ourselves to remember this and work towards various goals.

I suppose I could publish them in multiple different posts, but I feel like they are coherent enough to lead into each other, and that seen as a whole they provide a synthesized context to think over and work to implement.

This is something I’ve been mulling around in my head for quite some time and I pray that you will find it useful.

———

“This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” ~ Isaiah 66:2

Not the religious guy who thinks he’s got his life together.

Not the legalist who worships a checklist Christianity (which, let’s be honest, is no Christianity at all).

But he who is humble. He who understands his depravity and unworthiness and yet can rejoice in his worth in Christ!

The one who trembles at the word of God because he understands that it has the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21) and is living and active (and therefore applicable, meaningful, and piercing)(see Hebrews 4:12).

This is humbling to me because if I’m not careful and intentional to remember this truth I will drift into the first category. It’s like the old hymn says: “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it.”

A.W. Tozer has a very telling quote on this topic. He says, “You can know the truth and quote it verbatim, but you’re spiritually cross-eyed until it changes how you live.” We must know from the outset that this Gospel deeply affects every part of us. Furthermore, the Gospel provides a proper lens on our lives and circumstances–a sort of proper view of things as they ought to be seen.

Left to myself it is easy for me to become overwhelmed with what’s going on in and around me: jobless and struggling to get hired somewhere, relationship-less (in the context of a girlfriend/future spouse/etc.), prone to constant idolatry and slipping into pointless sins that I know will not satisfy, enslaved to the need to be approved and liked by others, insecurities and deficiencies ever on my mind–likely because I’m comparing myself to others instead of to Jesus.

Not only does the Gospel expose all of these in me, but it also reinforces my identity because of the Gospel. I am not “sinner” but “saint”; not unwanted but adopted; not defeated but victorious. In addition to these truths the Gospel also provides examples I can draw on to instill hope.

In a sense, when things are going poorly in some area (or many areas) of my life I have a tendency to amplify it/them like it’s the most painful and hopeless thing to ever happen.

Enter Paul:

imprisoned, beaten, lashed, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked, lost at sea, constantly pursued to be killed, hungry/thirsty frequently (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-28) and yet he is the one who proclaims that all these things are happening for a purpose (and even more so, are happening for a good purpose)!

He says “I am afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; constantly reminded of the death of Jesus.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10)

Why?

That His life (that is, Jesus’ life) might also be declared and made known as great in us (2 Corinthians 4:10)! And “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Now I come to terms with a very sobering question I have to ask myself: If God is intentionally at work in these difficulties, who am I to believe that He is absent and inactive in my own? It is for this purpose that we ought to be more wrapped up in the treasures of the Gospel than the pressures in and around us. This is how Paul is able to proclaim in 2 Corinthians 4:18 that we “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

The following quotes really set the tone for where I am going next:

“The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one.” ~ Thomas Chalmers

 

“[Christians are] a people conquered by a Superior Affection.” ~ David Platt

This is where we must necessarily shift gears for a bit. I touched on it a little bit earlier but I see it absolutely necessary to flesh this out in a little more detail.

Herein lies the concept of discipline.

I mentioned before that if unchecked I will drift into a self-centered mentality and it would be easy to become overwhelmed by my circumstances and slip into a “woe is me” mentality, and with that in mind we must be disciplined and urgent/intentional in our approach to this.

The idea of disciplining ourselves is anything but natural. I mean just be honest.. what went through your mind when I brought up the idea of discipline? Likely not “Yes! I really hoped I would get called out to do things I didn’t really want to do!”

Think about the various examples in our everyday lives (excerpted from a Desiring God blogpost by Jon Bloom found here: http://ow.ly/ngCB0 ):

–Healthy, nutritious food often requires discipline to prepare and eat while junk food is convenient, tasty, and addictive.

–Keeping the body healthy and strong requires frequent deliberate discomfort while it only takes constant comfort (laziness, no change in routine, etc.) to [head in the opposite direction].

–You have to make yourself pick up that nourishing but intellectually challenging book while popping in a DVD is as easy and inviting as coasting downhill.

–You frequently have to force yourself to get to devotions and prayer while sleeping in or catching up on sports or checking Facebook is almost effortless.

–Learning to skillfully play beautiful music requires thousands of hours of tedious practice.

–Excelling in sports requires monotonous drills ad nauseum

–Learning to write well requires writing, writing, writing, and rewriting, rewriting, and rewriting. And usually requires voluminous reading.

–It takes years of schooling just to make certain vocational opportunities possible.

You get the idea. The pattern is this: the greater joys are obtained through struggle, difficulty, and pain, while brief, unsatisfying, and often destructive “joys” are right at our fingertips.

Why is this?

Because God, in His great mercy, is showing us everywhere, in things that are just shadows of heavenly realities, that there is great reward for those who struggle through and persevere (Hebrews 10:32-35). He is reminding us almost everywhere to walk by faith in a promised future and not by sight of immediate gratification (2 Corinthians 5:7)

Paul speaks further into this issue by using the analogy of an athlete. 1 Corinthians 9:25-27 says that “every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

Paul is saying many things in this passage, but for our sake he is saying that he “exercises self-control.. not aimlessly” (so there’s a purpose and objective to it!) and that he does it for an “imperishable (reward).” This athlete analogy helps us envision someone who has a clear goal in mind and trains and disciplines himself (or herself!) to obtain that goal.

Now that we’ve fleshed out this idea conceptually, let’s make it a little more practical, shall we?

Personally, I tend to say things like “I want to know more about what the Bible says than what John Piper (or Mark Driscoll, or [insert your favorite pastor’s/author’s name here]) says.” … You know what that requires of me? To actually stop reading that blog/book and pick up my Bible.

I say “I want to have wisdom and a breadth of knowledge like Tim Keller has” and yet I neglect to pursue the breadth of sources Keller does (and still I expect somehow to absorb information and perspectives that I’m not even encountering!)

I so often expect (progressive) results from my inactivity and a differing set of affections from implementing no change at all into my routine and time spent.

How foolish!

Now pay attention to this next part because I think this really gets at the heart of this issue.

I believe wholeheartedly that much of this struggle comes because our attention and affections are spread so thin in so many directions.

I think as a generation (speaking as a Millennial, at least, I can’t speak on this issue for everyone else) we are content with being OK at a lot of different things, and not exceptional at a few things. We want to know a lot of different technologies, facts, songs, play a bunch of different things (sports, video games) or be a part of a hundred different university clubs, but we don’t often identify those two or three things we truly want to flourish in.

I would challenge you in this: Identify those things for you personally.

I believe everyone has those deep desires and longings and I would encourage you to spend some time (undistracted! imagine that!) identifying what those are for you; then discipline yourself to make progress on them.

Once you have narrowed your focus, I think it’s incredibly important to remember one key principle: it is a process. Usain Bolt didn’t just wake up one morning, walk into a sprinting competition, and break world records or win olympic gold. Tim Keller didn’t walk out of a nursery quoting Sociologists and providing ministry-shaping ideas on urban contextualization. They identifies what they wanted to pursue and they worked towards it (incrementally).

One man I know has memorized entire books of the Bible. I took some time to ask him how he did it and what the process was like and you know what he said?

“I started with a verse.”

Take the time to really think hard about what thing (or few things) you want to flourish and excel in–perhaps what you want to be defined by–and take the first step.

You cannot expect to be a master theologian overnight.

You cannot expect to climb half-dome or Everest if you haven’t even taken a hike in the hills in your city.

Figure out where you want to be, what it’ll take to get there, and just start taking a step, then a second, then a third, and sooner or later you’ll be amazed at the progress that is being made. But it takes that intentionality and discipline to follow through to even work towards that progress.

You don’t get there overnight, but you can ask yourself “what can I do today to enable me to be able to do tomorrow what I wasn’t able to do yesterday?”

Even with this perspective change in mind, there will still be barriers to this discipline. For me, I know I often come into contact with the fear of not doing well at something. I find it hard to pick up running again because my asthma acts up–because I’m not in cardio-shape, and therefore my asthma picks up; see the dilemma? Or I find it hard to get back into rock climbing because I know how good I used to be, and it’s a blow to my pride to not be as good as I know I used to be, and therefore have to appear like a beginner again.

Essentially, I have a fear of failing and a fear of not living up to expectations (even when the expectations being placed on me are my own).

The Gospel helps remind me that because of Christ’s death on the cross and victory over the grave I know that my failures and struggles will ultimately help shape my future successes and that though I may stumble and fall, I am not defeated, and that I can continue with strength that comes from the Lord (see Philippians 4:13).

So I feel like I’m a little scattered with all this, but I hope you see the concepts really merging together. There’s a lot I wanted to say, and I’m sure a lot of it didn’t come together as ideally as I intended, but I hope that in each area something stuck out at you and stuck with you.

My hope is that this post in some way triggers some thoughts and actions for you to begin assessing and implementing to work towards this concept of “disciplining yourself” as Paul said above.

And ultimately you MUST remember this: there is grace.

We can rejoice and operate in freedom because these strivings and our ability to attain goals do not define us. Christ has accomplished it all for us because He knew we would fall short. He knew we’d mess up, get distracted, and run to other things we know do not ultimately satisfy. And guess what? He STILL chose to die for you.

Christ STILL calls you “brother” and “sister” and accomplished for you adoption into the family of God. This should free us to strive all the more–not to earn what we cannot earn, but because our place is secure in Him and this instills in us a new set of hopes and desires to love and follow Jesus and make much of God with our lives!