Things May Turn Out Bad (at first)

For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.
1 Thessalonians 2:1-2 

PersecutionFriction often accompanies the growth of the gospel in a life and in a community. It’s not practically plausible, nor biblically guaranteed, to think that growth of the gospel in my life or in my community is going to usher in an age of tranquility or ease. Things may turn out bad (at first).

Paul and Silas hit the road together in Acts 15, fully intent on travelling to see the growth of the gospel in the neighboring regions. Biblical historians refer to the trip as “Paul’s second missionary journey.” Early in the journey they picked up an enthusiastic young convert named Timothy. As your read the narrative (Acts 16:1ff) you get the idea that they were planning on heading deeper into Asia, but God was directing elsewhere. Eventually, the clear call to Macedonia came, and before we know it, they’re in Philippi. They are preaching the gospel, and in one instance Paul even delivers a young girl from a demonic spirit. Things are looking good!

Then it all breaks loose. Paul and his companions are dragged before the officials of the city, and they are thrown into prison without a trial. Paul would later refer to this entire event as “being shamefully treated at Philippi.” You would think these events would be enough to scare the gospel right out of Paul, Silas, and Timothy. Not exactly.

From Philippi they headed to Thessalonica (Acts 17), where they continued to preach the gospel of Jesus. Why did they continue? Paul said it: “our coming to you was not in vain.”

There is a great God-ordained purpose in gospel witness.

Circumstances aside, the proclamation of the gospel is a God-ordained mission. In reality, gospel witness may (and often will) be met with suffering, shameful treatment, and conflict. We will be misunderstood, misquoted, even shamed or persecuted for what we believe.

So how do you carry on?

We carry on in our God. Paul claimed “boldness (courage) in our God to declare the gospel of God.” The beautiful truth is that God gives courage to His children to declare his gospel in spite of resistance. If the mission of the gospel were a human mission, friction could easily derail it. We’re just not strong enough in ourselves. But the resolve to carry on in the midst of conflict is God-ordained and God-empowered. There is great hope in this.

Posted in 1 Thessalonians, 2theSource, Engaging Mission, Evangelism, Gospel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t Blame Francis

Francis

St. Francis of Assisi, wondering why 21st century Christians keep misquoting him.

Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.

Have you heard this needlepoint worthy quote before? It is commonly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, a renowned figure in church history who lived in the late 12th/early 13th century. You don’t have to dig too deep to find out that poor Francis is the frequently misquoted as he receives credit for this little quip. It is unclear where this catchy Christianism derives from, but it wasn’t Francis.

In hearing this phrase quoted in sermons over the years, I’ve often wondered about the mentality it breeds. Is this a valid posture on evangelism? After a more thorough examination, I think it is safe to say that the false dichotomy it creates is a Christianese crock. Scripture just doesn’t support this approach. Not even a little bit.

Our actions are important, and they certainly need to back up our claims of faith (the Epistle of James comes to mind here, as well as 1 John). But “preaching the gospel” in the Bible is clearly a verbal activity.

One example:

In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12, Paul described his ministry (alongside Silas and Timothy), in the city of Thessalonica. The result of that ministry was the birth of the Thessalonian church. Paul certainly addressed the Christ-centered conduct that they displayed with the Thessalonians:

  • (v. 5): For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed- God is witness…
  • (v. 6): Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others…
  • (v. 7): But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children…
  • (v. 9): You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you who believe.

It sounds like their actions were preaching a pretty sound gospel, right?

On closer examination, however, the entire context of these words is saturated with verbs of proclamation. While there are 4 references to their behavior among the Thessalonians, there are 8 references to the actual preaching of the “gospel of God” that they did.

  • v. 2: “to declare”
  • v. 3: “our appeal”
  • v. 4: “so we speak”
  • v. 8: “to share with you”
  • v. 9: “while we proclaimed to you”
  • v. 12: “we exhorted, we encouraged, and we charged you.”

What do we learn from this? First, can we set Francis free? As you study his life you find out that he was a phenomenal preacher and a man who lived out (and constantly proclaimed) the gospel. Second, let’s modify the phrase to reflect a more biblical mentality.

Preach the gospel at all times. And let your life be a place where the gospel rings true.

Posted in 1 Thessalonians, 2theSource, Engaging Mission | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

As Long As (by Brent Kimball)

“As Long As” – Reflection on Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26)

Uzziah, who was only 16 years old when he became king of the southern kingdom, has always intrigued me. He was one of the longest reigning kings of Judah and during his reign Judah was safe and prosperous. The commentary on his life is that “he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD…” (2 Chronicles 26:4). Yet, the progression of his life is sad. Notice this; this same chapter notes that Uzziah set himself to seek God and that he was instructed by Zechariah in the fear of God. And it says, “As long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper (verse 5). Later in the chapter it reads that he was “marvelously helped, till he was strong” (verse 15).

THEN IT HAPPENS (verse 16) – “But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God…” He began as a young man seeking God and God helped him in his life and leadership. With God’s help he became strong and prosperous. When he got strong he became prideful. When he became prideful he was unfaithful and it cost him dearly. What are we to make of this? We want to do what is right in the eyes of the LORD. We want to seek God. As we seek God surely he will make us strong, but then what? In our strength will we maintain humility and our dependence on the Lord or will be become prideful? I think I am willing to pray, “Lord, if I being strong will lead to me being prideful then please keep me weak; if in my weakness I will be faithful to you” (2 Cor. 12:7-9).

Posted in 2theSource, Leadership | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Why Is Your Church Doing Life Groups?

In a couple of hours I’ll be headed to the first Life Group sync at LPC in 2015. The “sync” is an event where our current and future life group leaders gather for training that includes large group sessions of vision casting and small group breakouts on various topics. I’m really excited about the event. I get to kick it off this morning at 9am with a brief session I’m calling “The Reason Life Groups are a Thing at LPC.”

Why are Life Groups a thing for us? Thanks for asking.

It’s not because the church manual of the nations says “Life Groups should be a thing at your church.” That’s not the reason. Not even a little bit. Life Groups aren’t a program we put on because we somehow feel obligated to be a church with groups.

Life Groups are a thing because as a church we exist to glorify God as a community being transformed by Jesus Christ. And practically speaking, that can’t happen at LifePoint simply by gathering on Sundays as a big group. We have come to realize that if an individual Christian simply experiences life as a series of anonymity-laced connections to a big group, they’re not going to get very far. The gospel of Jesus takes deep root in our lives (because of God’s grace and by God’s Spirit) through multi-layered connections within Christian community. Without the deeper-level connection that being in life group community brings, it is very difficult for things like discipleship, care, and mission to effectively take place in a life.

Discipleship: this is learning to walk with Jesus. When we gather to worship as a big group we are taught and edified as we engage revelation and response, and this is vital. But if you have lived as a Christian for very long you know that you don’t really practically learn how to follow Jesus day after day through (simply) listening to sound teaching. Walking out what you learn is something that happens with other people. Growing in our walk with Jesus isn’t a solo trot. We grow on this journey as we walk it together. An isolated Christian is a biblical anomaly.

Care: In a big group church context caring for people’s needs is frankly impossible if the entire body doesn’t step up to the plate. We use terms like “pastoral care” to refer to the necessity of caring for people through the ministry of presence as they lay in a hospital bed, lose a loved one, celebrate a new baby, or need counseling and guidance in life. The problem is that most Christians grow up assuming that pastoral care is something simply reserved for some class of professional clergy. This is far from the biblical reality, and I’d argue that it’s not only practically unattainable, but theologically short-sighted and restrictive. Paul says in Ephesians 4 that when the body of Christ is equipped and all the joints and ligaments are working properly that it will “build itself up in love.” A suffering person doesn’t need a professional clergyman at their bedside, they need a loving Christian. That Christian can be a vocational pastor, but in most instances it won’t be, and if the vocational pastors of our world are doing their jobs every bedside will have caring Christians mourning with those who mourn and rejoicing with those who rejoice.

Mission: For the mission of the gospel to move forward in an exceedingly pluralistic culture, we don’t need bigger buildings, flashier ministry programs, and more mass mailings. We need the church to be the church. The church facility is not intended to be the gravitational center of your Christian galaxy. Every Life Group that is planted in another neighborhood, school district, and section of our community becomes an outpost for the mission of Jesus. These neighborhoods where the church lives out discipleship and care become epicenters for mission. A dying world is no longer attempting to peer through the ornate stain-glass windows of cathedrals to get a look inside. But they’re looking at your life and mine, living out the gospel right next door.

You can sign up for a Life Group at LifePoint here.

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Learning to Live Outside the Womb

ViolaThere is a difference between being born and learning how to live. Carissa and I are about 6 weeks away from welcoming our 4th baby girl into the world. Little Viola Grace (who is waving to you in this pic from last Thursday) will be born sometime in early March, and the procedure (a scheduled C-section) will probably take about 30 minutes. In the first weeks of her life she’ll cry and cry and poop and poop, all while learning how to breathe, eat, and live life after being born. It’ll take a few months for her to learn to hold her head up, by about 6 months she’ll be sitting up, and within 6 months after that she’ll take her first steps. Soon after that she’ll be running around the house, putting everything in her mouth, and eventually (oh what a glorious day this will be) our 4th baby girl will be potty trained. A couple years will pass before she enters school. Twelve more years and she’ll graduate and head off to college. I’ve heard it goes pretty fast.

Viola will learn how to live as a human being outside of the womb during those first 18 years of life, and in some ways for the entire duration of her life. She will be born in about 6 weeks, but she will learn how to live outside of the womb for many years after that.

Our spiritual lives parallel, in some ways, the pattern of (for lack of a better term) our physical lives. Spiritually speaking, when we believe the gospel of Jesus we are “born again,” but there is a difference between being born again and learning to live alive. Often time people use the word “sanctification” to refer to the journey God leads us on as we learn to “live alive.” Sanctification is one of the major themes of the letter of 1 Thessalonians.

Paul begins his letter to the Thessalonians by clearly playing his hand. The “why” of this letter is obvious from the start. This is a church that was planted through the gospel (Acts 17:1-9 tells the story), but that still needed to grow deep gospel roots. Paul didn’t stay as long as he would have wanted in Thessalonica, and he wrote this letter soon after he left. He wrote to help them get rooted in the gospel of Jesus, the good news they had come to believe.

To do this, Paul begins the letter (as he does many of his letters) reminding the Thessalonian Christians that they have been “chosen by God” and are “loved by God.” Many of the New Testament letters begin this way because God’s grace in salvation is a major key to understanding (and growing in) the gospel. You could say: Gospel roots grow in the soil of God’s grace.

If I think salvation is based upon something I did or something I deserve, I’m trusting in my own worthiness to save me. If I think salvation is based upon how I measure up to a behavioral standard that other people have placed on me, I’m trusting in the perception of my own righteousness to save me. If I think salvation comes through gaining God’s approval, I’m trusting in my own ability to save me. None of these mindsets produce the soil in my life where the gospel takes root. Instead, they produce other outcomes.

  • If the soil is my worthiness: religion gets rooted in my life, not gospel.
  • If the soil is other’s opinions: duplicity takes root in my life, not gospel.
  • If the soil is my ability to gain God’s approval: condemnation takes root, not gospel.

However, if the soil is God’s grace, if I come to terms with the fact that my salvation is planted in God’s grace, the seeds of the gospel take deep root.

Gospel roots teach me:

1) It is not my abilities or morality or works that saved me, Jesus’ work saved me.

2) Measuring up to other’s standards or expectations doesn’t save me, Jesus measured up to God’s standard for me, that’s the root of my salvation.

3) My goodness doesn’t get God’s approval, God’s love for me and grace toward me is revealed in and through Jesus.

Growing in the gospel liberates us from trying to save ourselves, and positions us to rest in God’s grace in Jesus. God’s grace brings us to life, and it’s only through His grace that we learn to live alive.

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Not Feeling It?

lutherThe feelings fight is a major front on the journey of faith in Jesus. If we base our faith on our feelings, rather than a more stable force, we will consistently struggle with assurance of salvation, trust in God, and understanding of God’s character. The reality is, God’s Word is more sure than our feelings. This poem is attributed to Martin Luther. Hopefully it encourages you today.

“Feelings come and feelings go,
And feelings are deceiving;
My warrant is the Word of God–
Naught else is worth believing.

Though all my heart should feel condemned
For want of some sweet token,
There is One greater than my heart
Whose Word cannot be broken.

I’ll trust in God’s unchanging Word
Till soul and body sever,
For, though all things shall pass away,
His Word shall stand forever!”

Posted in 2theSource, Bible, Discipleship | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Men, Check This Out

About a month ago I launched a new site specifically geared for men called “Men of LifePoint.” If you enjoy reading 2thesource, and you’d like to subscribe to a site that is specifically geared for men, you need to check this out, or make the men in your life aware of it. It’s easy to subscribe, just like 2thesource, you can enter an email address and get the updates as new content posts. It’s been a huge hit so far, with hundreds of men connecting in just the first couple of weeks.

This weeks posts:

Boo-Yah: A Memorial for Stuart Scott
Fuel: What is Your Life Running On?
The Real History of the Mob 

Other popular posts from the first month: 
The Stage: Richard Sherman and Matt Damon
DIY Mule Deer Hunt
Your Porn is Their Problem
Christmas Gifts: Hand-Made 

The contributors to the site include the pastors, elders, and men of LifePoint Church.

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