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)

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.

Popular Passage, New Perspective

I’ll try to keep this brief and to the point. Philippians 4:13 is one of the most well known passages in all of scripture: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

It is said by athletes after victories, people dedicating themselves to diets or fasting, even people getting back to the gym or working on resolutions. While those are all fine and well I found myself looking at this passage (and it’s prior two verses) very differently.

As some of you may know I’ve been in a pretty difficult season for the last couple of months for various reasons (which are touched on in two posts prior to this one Trembling… and A Hope That Overwhelms Grief), and I believe that as I am coming out of this season (praise God!), I see these two spectrums more clearly than ever before. Let’s take a brief look:

“I have learned in whatever situation (that) I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” ~ Philippians 4:11b-13 (ESV)

I have come to realize (for myself, and perhaps for you as well), that it takes both ends of the spectrum–lowly and abounding, plenty and hunger, abundance and need–to see this sort of true contentment Paul talks about.

Experiencing both ends of the spectrum have made me realize that in this world there is constant change and fluctuation, and sometimes these changes can be indescribably difficult, but we can echo with Paul that in the midst of these changes there is a True Stability, and that Stability is something so necessary and so ever-present for us. This Stability is the means by which we are strengthened and the reason we can praise God, even in the midst of the most seemingly unbearable situations.

Paul is revealing a truth all of us must realize today: This true stability and abiding presence that we long for–that sustains us in all of these seasons whether good or bad–is Jesus Christ Himself.

In Him and Him alone will you find this contentment “in any and every circumstance” and a “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

God is bigger and more inclusive than you imagine

The following excerpt has really been challenging my paradigm of God. In times of suffering, difficulty, and trial it is so easy for me to get focused inward–on myself or my own circumstances–and lose track of looking outward–particularly to the Gospel truths and who God is amidst it. In a world where there is so much turmoil, inconsistency, and pain God promises to be a steadfast, firm foundation whose promises are always true and who is eternally unchanging (see Psalm 118, Hebrews 12:26-28, 2 Timothy 2:19, and Hebrews 13:8).

“Over the years I’ve seen Christians shaping God in their own image–in each case a dreadfully small God. Some Roman Catholics still believe only they will grace heaven’s green pastures.. There is the God who has a special affection for capitalist America, regards the workaholic, and the God who loves only the poor and the underprivileged. There is a God who marches with victorious armies, and the God who loves only the meek who turns the other cheek. Some, like the elder brother in Luke, sulk and pout when the father rocks and rolls, (and) serves surf-and-turf for a prodigal son who has spent his last cent on whores. Some, tragically, refuse to believe that God can or will forgive them, for: my sin is too great.

This is not the God of grace who “wants everyone to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4). This is not the God embodied in Jesus that Matthew came to know. This is not the God who calls sinners–which, as you and I know, means everybody.”

From The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning (p.42).

—–

I could dissect this quote for hours, but for the purpose of this particular posting I will draw out only one thing that comes to mind: God is so much bigger and so much more inclusive than I give Him credit for or imagine; and when I reflect on this truth it is so remarkably calming–freeing, even. This massive God is powerful, not particular. Sovereign, not slave-driving. Victorious, not defeated (or defeatable!).

This is the God who sees me at my lowest and has the power and compassion to lift me up. This is the God that, as the book of Hebrews says, aligns with me in my weakness and is “mindful of me” (Psalm 8:4). This is the God I sing about, pray to, look towards, and live to proclaim. This is not some manmade idea to help make sense of a complex world. This is a God both higher than our intellect while also closer than our most intimate emotions.

Quite simply: This is a God worthy of our worship.

Session One: Preaching Two Words [Law & Gospel] (Justin Holcomb)

Justin Holcombbook

[These are Session 1 Notes from the Preach The Word 2013 Acts 29 West Regional Conference in Reno, NV]

[ UPDATE: VIDEO FROM SESSION ONE IS NOW AVAILABLE HERE ]

—–

Law – bad news

Gospel – good news

They necessarily interrelate

“In this room are thousands of people represented.. We MUST be able to properly communicate this relationship between law and Gospel”

Big idea: if you are talking about law (God’s condemnation/curse/’no’) and you get that muddied up with His divine acceptance, you rip out the bullseye of the Gospel (what people need most)

–Gal 3:1-3,10-14

Christ died to set us free

Christ fulfilled the law and obeyed it perfectly so that we are declared righteous

We are set free from the bondage of the law, sin; we are called what Jesus was (pure, perfect)

Justification: your sins are forgiven and you are declared righteous

(This is all Gospel)

We will be looking at 3 Hooks (theses):

Drawn from: CH Walther (theologian) “The Law in Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible”

Thesis 1: The doctrinal content of the entire scripture (OT and NT) are made up of two doctrines that differ fundamentally (with different functions) — law and gospel

–Characteristics of the Law –

what to do

Condemns

Is good

The revealed character of God

Everything in scripture that commands

–Characteristics of the Gospel –

what was done

Pardon

Everything in scripture that declares the glory of God’s deliverance

The problem is not the law, but us

Michael Horton: “the triune God directs us by His law but delivers us by His Gospel”

–10 commandments–

First 4 are how we relate to God

Second 6 are how we relate to each other

Exodus 20: these exist and should be followed “so that your days will be long in the land” (with law yields promise)

Law: perfect, true (Psa 119; 1 Tim 1:8)

Holy, just, and right (Rom 3; Romans 7)

Romans 7 – the law can do nothing to save us (shows what obedience is but can’t cause it)

It is a diagnostic, not a cure

Law does not enable fulfillment or affect what it commands

The function of the law is not to enervate obedience (that’s what Grace does)

The law accuses, but the Gospel gives

“The more we hear these things the better it comes out of our mouths to others”

Calvin: “this Gospel does not impose any commands but rather reveals God’s goodness, mercy, and benefits”

_Story of flooding the neighbor’s house (dad: ‘I have absorbed all the payment. Go and play’)

Deserved condemnation, discipline, punishment.. But instead got an exchange (took the anxiety/despair/payment, and gave joy)

That is the Gospel. That’s offensive.

His kindness didn’t make me think “what more can I get away with”

   It captured my heart

–What about Jesus? [3 points]

He says, “I didn’t come to abolish the law but fulfill it” (Matthew 5:17)

-1) Jesus summarizes the law when asked “What is the greatest commandment?” (Matthew 22 quoting Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18) – He’s commanding love

Not ‘do things that look like love’

-2) Jesus intensified the law:

He sharpens the spear of the law to further pierce our hearts (Sermon on the mount = Jesus as the intensified Moses)

Repeats the 10 commandments but intensifies them (except the Sabbath.. Think about that…)

Sets the standard even higher (beyond our outward obedience to our inward thoughts)

–“What the heart loves the will choses and the mind justifies”–

At the end of the sermon on the mount, just to be sure we get it he adds the ultimate intensifier: “be perfect” (Matthew 5:48)

J Gresham Machen: “the new law in itself can only produce despair, it really leads us straight to the cross.”

-3) Jesus applies the law

(Cf Rich Young Ruler in Mark 10:17-22 and Luke 18:18-23)

Jesus gives the guy the second tablet of the law (commandments 4-10)

Jesus says “sell your stuff” because he knew the guy was worshipping the other idols (draws to the first tablet)

Jesus let him walk away sorrowful because the guy didn’t get on his knees and repent (that’s what the law does; you can seek to perform the law and live a life completely void of repentance)

Repentance is not just for access to the family but the family vernacular

Thesis 2: “only he is an orthodox teacher who not only presents all articles of faith in accordance with Scripture, but also rightly distinguishes from each other the law and Gospel” (not only knowing the truths of the Gospel, but rightly distinguishes law and Gospel) (its Law Gospel)

They go together and in that order

-Law without Gospel is despair, condemnation

-it’s not likely 50% law/50% Gospel; use discernment.

All Law (not even just God’s law) makes us think “how can I get around it?”

We’ll use the law to make ourselves look good but not for obedience’s sake

–It’s also not Gospel without law (“God thinks you’re awesome”)

It’s like a bullet being shot at you but hitting Jesus (“I should’ve died but he took the bullet for me”)

There’s a weightiness to it.

Bobby Cox (manager of the professional baseball team the Atlanta Braves) has the MLB record for ejections in a game.

And the players and umpires loved him (he would get ejected so the players wouldn’t)

He would substitute himself on behalf of the players; that elicited their adoration and commitment to him.

-The order matters: “the needle of the law precedes the thread if the Gospel”

Nowhere in scripture do you see gospel then law.

“Don’t replace the ministry (or the fruit) of the Holy Spirit with exhortation of the human spirit”

“The law cannot do any more in sanctification than it did in justification” – John Murray

J Gresham Machen: (begging for good news) “what good does it do to me to tell me that the type of religion presented in the Bible is a very fine type of religion and that the thing for me to do is just to start practicing that type of religion now?… I will tell you, my friend. It does me not one tiniest little but of good…what I need first of all is not exhortation, but a gospel, not directions for saving myself but knowledge of how God has saved me. Have you any good news? That is the question I ask of you. I know your exhortations will not help me. But if anything has been done to save me, will you not tell me the facts?”

If your people leave bent over and more burdened, you’ve missed it.

Thesis 3: Rightly distinguishing the law and the Gospel is the most difficult and the highest art of Christians in general and theologians in particular. It is taught only by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience.

“The cross is where God’s ‘no’ and ‘yes’ converge”

You need the ministry of the Holy Spirit and discernment, because we are going to mess this up

But rest assured, God cares about this more than we do.

“Your job is to proclaim. Not entertain or be a life coach”

“The only appropriate response to law and gospel’s (right) proclamation is repentance”

It even catches you before you sin! … “I want to go.. Oh… I’m sorry, God”

If this is true, what the people we lead need to see is that we (leaders) need this information deeply.

They need to see you need it. (You’ve got to be a Grace junkie; an addict; show them that anything less than this will crush you)

-They need to know that you place your heart and life at the mercy of God because of the grace of God in Jesus.-

People must see both severe, divine law and also scandalous, divine love.

Be desperate for the Gospel.

“Love God with everything you have all the time, and then love the neighbor as yourself… How are you doing with that?”

“Read the sermon on the mount. That’ll flatten out your self-righteousness”

Group Confession: “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.” (From the Common Book of Prayer)

“One day as I was passing into the field, this sentence fell upon my soul: “Thy righteousness is in heaven.” And with the eyes of my soul I saw Jesus at the Father’s right hand. “There,” I said, “is my righteousness!” So that wherever I was or whatever I was doing, God could not say to me, “Where is your righteousness?” For it is always right before him.

I saw that it is not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness IS Christ. Now my chains fell off indeed. My temptations fled away, and I lived sweetly at peace with God.

Now I could look from myself to him and could reckon that all my character was like the coins a rich man carries in his pocket when all his gold is safe in a trunk at home. Oh I saw that my gold was indeed in a trunk at home, in Christ my Lord. Now Christ was all: my righteousness, sanctification, redemption.”

~ John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners

The law condemns but the Gospel provokes worship.

Read 1 Timothy 1:6-17 (drives you to humility, rejoicing) — understanding the debt paid

Steve brown: Key Life ministry’s slogan = Radical Freedom, Infectious Joy, Surprising Faithfulness

Phil 2:13 (God works in you so you want to do and actually do the law)

The very thing that condemns you apart from the Gospel, Jesus compels you to long after.

God’s kindness leads you to repentance.

Augustine: love applied is the work of the Holy Spirit.

So what is the secret to ministry? We have received this Good News and it changes us, and because of that people say “God is with you and I want to follow you”

“The one word of grace depends on two words: Law and Gospel”

The Claims of Jesus

The reason Jesus Christ has to argue, and the reason we have to show him arguing, is that not only in the Bible but ever since (and we all see it), when people come to Jesus Christ, they read his statements, they read his life, and they always try to take them and pour them into their existing assumptions about reality.

So people say, ‘Yes, Jesus Christ … basically he said what all the religions say: it’s all about love.’ Or, ‘Yes, Jesus Christ … basically he’s saying what all the philosophers have said: it’s really about living an unselfish life. It’s really about leading a life of character.’ Jesus Christ continually comes and says, ‘No, no, no. No one has ever said what I’m saying. No one has ever claimed the things I’m claiming.’

What he’s saying continually in here is ‘I demand you listen to me. I do not come into anybody’s live to revise or supplement or add to your current worldview. I come in to blast out all of your foundational assumptions. I demand to be the thing through which you see everything. I’m here to open up new vistas, new realms of knowledge. I’m here to explode your paradigms.’

~ Tim Keller