The Growth Gospel

There is no place nor social context in which the gospel of Jesus Christ is not true. From East to West, from the highest height to the deepest depth, there is no place where the Gospel is not good news. When the Lord commissioned His church to take that good news to the nations, He knew this to be true and permitted no artificial boundaries:

gospelGrowth“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

This is good news for us at home among our local church family and our neighbors, and it’s also good news for us in our missional efforts in the neighborhood andd abroad. The good news of the mercy and love of God as seen in the sacrifice and resurrection of His Son remains consistent for every human being. None is excluded, no one is separated from the promise, no sin is too great, no reprobation too deep that cannot be forgiven in the atonement of Christ.

“For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile — the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:12–13

Truth demands action on our part. Our commission is not just to maintain the base camp, to keep the campfire stoked. We have trusted in the gospel and know the blessing of forgiveness and our restored relationship with God. Considering this, we must be carriers of the gospel so that others can experience the same relief and the same blessing. What was true of the gospel in the first century is true today, perhaps even more so, given the multitude of communication channels and the ability to put ourselves within the borders of all nations.

All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. Colossians 1:6

Plant a seed, trust in the power of the spirit to water and nurture it and pray for the gospel to grow.

 

Book Review | Reappearing Church by Mark Sayers

To Be Sipped and Not Gulped…

indexWhat if the cultural bottom is just the first step up in revival for Christ’s Church? The answer forms the premise of Mark Sayers’ new book ‘Reappearing Church’. Using biblical and historical precedent, Sayers proposes that the small devoted ‘remnant’ (cf. Isaiah) not given over to the suffocating culture can be the spark of a renewal movement. I will always remember his memorable culturally current description of the next step: revival is renewal gone viral.

Sayers is one of the Church’s cultural prophets who brings a bridge of a sociological viewpoint to God’s people. The culture is a challenge to be sure, but when it is understood we find that God has already given His people assurance that it can be overcome by his presence. The Revival that is needed will not come through legislation or cultural surrender as so many are wont to do. It will come through a small remnant who trust in the transformative process of the presence of God.

Sayers is a rare gift to the church. His writing is not of the 12-step genre. Rather, he is a deep thinker who invites the reader to join him in a meditative examination of the air we breathe. The only how-to included in the volume is the introduction which suggests that we gather a small cell of like-minded revivalists around us to pray through the material. Beyond that, the chapters give small bites to savor on the way to personal transformation. ‘Reappearing Church’ is not a fast read. You will want to slow down and think and pray deeply about each of individual subjects. Read it as your invitation to join the Remnant.

Good News | Hopelessness Defeated

29863962483_562ceffb39_zVarying degrees of hopelessness are an accepted part of life in our world. Better stated, hopelessness has marked life since the moment that rebellion against God entered the mortal plane. Hope requires a foundation, and when it is vested in the ever shifting, rapidly changing, only marginally trustworthy structures of the human world, that foundation can crumble in an instant. Claiming hope while secretly wondering when the ground beneath our feet will give way is no hope at all.

True hope is found in the one thing that never changes; true hope is found in the promises and assurances of God. Through the prophet Malachi, God gives hope to the descendants of Jacob saying I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. (Mal 3:6)  God gave similar assurance in the midst of the words of doom that the prophet Isaiah was charged with proclaiming, God gives this hopeful reminder about the proper placement of hope, The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever. (Isa 40:8)

The Savior Jesus Christ, Son of Man and second member of the Trinity, never changes. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Heb 13:8) Faith in Christ results in an unchanging hope. This is a hope that may be buffeted by the challenges and trials of life but whose roots driven deep in the rock allow it to bend like a reed and not be broken. This is a hope that may be challenged by the many worldviews that swirl about but are ultimately found wanting. Hope rooted in Jesus is hope that will carry you through the worst storm, shine light in your darkest hour and can be counted on when all else inevitably fails.

The gospel of the life, sacrificial death and the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ fuels the hope of all those who put their faith in this good news of God’s love through His Son. God’s eternal promises from the seconds after the hope-stealing rebellion in the garden come to fruition in the Savior and remain, unchanging, into eternity. The deeper the good news settles in our soul, the greater our hope. The more the good news defines our lives, the greater our hope.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. An I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:16-19)

Be hopeful.

Book Review: Church by A.W. Tozer

We Are the Body

For many Christians, the Church that Pastor Tozer describes in this new collection is almost a foreign entity given the diluted experience that they have each week. Tozer had a deep love for God and His Church, and it pours forth on the pages of this newly published collection. Many of the words have been previously published but Moody Publi418289shers has assembled new topical collections of these and other unpublished works on themes important to the modern church. The ‘Church’ collection is inspiring reading as Tozer speaks of the importance of Christ’s Bride, not criticizing for long, but rather, reminding the reader of the world-changing purpose of the assembled Christians.

For those familiar with Tozer’s writing, each chapter is the expected gem. His holiness and earnest devotion to God’s Church is not sanctimonious, it draws the reader deeper and deeper in an invitation to the same devotion. The Church is not a social organization, a club to which we can give passing notice. It is the living, breathing organization through which God works to affect the spiritual transformation of His world. Tozer can be both gentle and firm as the moment dictates and, in both instances, the reader is encouraged to commit themselves and be likewise.

If you are new to Tozer, consult the classics alongside this volume: The Pursuit of God and  are good primers. If Tozer has long been on your reading list [as he has mine] you will savor his words and be encouraged in your faith and your ministry, as you probably expect

Fitted with the Gospel of Peace

The apostle Paul describes the tools of spiritual warfare in the new covenant world, naming it the Armor of God in the final chapter of Ephesians. In verse 15 we encounter a phrase unique in the Bible when he speaks of feet fitted with readiness, the readiness coming from “the gospel of peace”, a phrase found only here in the Greek New Testament. Paul gives this command as the foundation of our spiritual armor, steadying our life as each of the component parts works together.

This imagery echoes back to the messenger of peace prophesied in Isaiah 52: How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation”.  Though barefoot, this messenger carried the ‘good news’ of peace to those in exile that restoration would be on the way, that their long bondage would be ending. He shouts a message from the mountaintops that peace had been made with the King, enmity had ended. For the reader [hearer] of Paul’s epistle, this imagery could not be missed and was, in fact, amplified by the Apostle’s magisterial writing in Romans.

“For if, when we were god’s enemies, we were reconciled to him though the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved though his life!”  Romans 5:10

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1

Those set free by Christ know this peace. The Gospel brought this peace and emboldens the peacemakers. The good news sent from the King to the exiles brought hope and in Jesus, the message came to life. As believers have embraced the message, they have surrendered their sovereignty to the true Sovereign. The announcement of the treaty that followed the Lord’s sacrifice gave definition to peace. Knowing, truly knowing, the peace that comes of the gospel propels the freed soul to share this good news with others. We want those around us to know the same freedom, to enjoy the same peace.

The blessing that comes of the gospel of peace is likewise twofold. We are blessed in salvation and in knowing the peace with God that the forgiveness of sins provides. Blessings are also inherent in the calling to proclaim the good news of peace. To be entrusted with such a precious task and message is to feel the love of God, to know the trust of the King.

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news…” Isaiah 52:7

Book Review | A Christological Must Read

High King of Heaven Ed. John MacArthur

One of the most difficult tasks in theological writing is to bridge the technical with the practical. Pastors are challenged to do this each week, studying and understanding God’s Word in its language and context and then putting that technical knowledge to use by the hearer of the sermon. Greek forms and cross-references are interesting but the task at hand is help the Christian hear God speak through the Bible. This challenge applies to an even greater degree when it comes to theological literature. Numerous are the excellent technical tomes in the pastor’s library as are the numbers of practical books on the shelf. Few offer a bridge between the two worlds, but “High King of Heaven” succeeds in being one of the small number that offer this link.

Edited by John MacArthur, High King of Heaven is a compendium of articles touching on the person, work and the Bible’s witness to Jesus Christ who “after he had provided purification for sins, eh sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Heb 1:3) The 23 authors of the individual chapters might cause you hesitate to engage the book, thinking that the potential unevenness might not be worth the effort but let me allay your fears. MacArthur has done a wonderful job as editor (no doubt aided by Phil Johnson) and the book reads smoothly from page to page. Though each author has a unique style, the book as a whole speaks of the magnificence of Jesus Christ with a single voice.

Who should read this book? Though labeled as a contribution to the Systematic Theology library, the chapters are accessible by any Christian familiar with the Bible. There are technical points that are explained well enough that almost anyone can understand them and there are practical points that can be filed for later use if they don’t fit the reader’s immediate context today. “High King of Heaven” is a book that invites you to engage it deeply, marking it up, planning for a second full read. This is not a volume that will be read and then shelved with so many others. This is going to become a standard reference volume, even for those theologians outside of the MacArthur-Calvinist circle.

Gospel Blessing | The Gospel Saves

“The time has come” With this announcement, Jesus proclaimed that the single most radical shift in all of history had begun. The plan that God had made for the salvation of His beloved creatures and the redemption of His world was entering the final phase, one that would lead the Savior from Galilee to Cavalry. His announcement was earthshaking, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

As Mark states in the first verse of his gospel, the good news is about Jesus Christ, the son of God. But the good news is also Jesus Christ, the son of God. The rightful king had come, bringing the kingdom of God near to His creatures in the incarnate form of Jesus. Repent, Jesus says, and believe this incredible news; turn back to God, turn back to home and be blessed by this act of your loving Father.

The gospel is more than an idea, it is a divine force. Among its countless blessings is the power to salvation (Rom 1:16). St. Paul repeats this idea in the first letter that he wrote to the church at Corinth. In that letter he dealt with several disturbing issues that had come to cause weakness in the church and required correction. Having dealt with those issues, rebuking in some cases and gently correcting and others, Paul reminds them of their common foundation, their unity in the gospel. He reminds them that all believers share one common truth; each was saved by the gospel of Jesus crucified and risen again:

“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.” (1 Corinthians 15:1 – 2)

The power of the gospel is inherent in its content. God in Christ died to pay the penalty due sinful man. Penalty paid, life is restored as Jesus demonstrates his mastery over the grave, removing for all believers the sting of death. And none of this is left to conjecture: three days hence Jesus rose from the tomb appearing to those with eyes to see. All good news, all gospel, but also a call to action.

The gospel calls us to pause and consider the great sacrifice made on our behalf, our undeserving behalf. Because Jesus endured this, because God planned this, because you are hearing this good news the invitation to turn back toward God – to repent – is seen in a whole new light. No longer is it just one man calling another to change their behavior. It is an invitation to turn back toward home, to turn back toward the life that you were created for, to turn back to the one who sacrificially loves you. This is the gospel. This is the gospel that saves.

Book Review: Feels Like Home by Lee Eclove

Let me say this up front, this belongs in every pastor’s library and should be read regularly. Pastor Eclov has given the Church a necessary corrective to the attractive, grow bigger at all costs attitude that can become the dominant outlook in your church. This was not the intent of the Lord when he handed Peter the keys; we were not to adopt the worlds values and methods in the hope that we might be able to ‘share’ the gospel with those who come to the show. The Lord’s plan was to live the gospel, joyful and sacrificially, showing (not telling) what Jesus has brought about in our lives together.

Eclov emphasizes the community of believers over the show. The Church is to be family, celebrating and worshipping and bearing one another’s burdens, all in testimony to what Jesus has done for us. This is the picture of church St. Francis had in mind when gave that famous proclamation to ‘Preach the Gospel at all time times, and if necessary use words.’ Though unsaid in the book, Eclov’s guidance reminds the church that the Gospel is not just for evangelizing, it is for us to give to one another to lift, to calm, to encourage, to love.

Church as home, church as family. Reminders of the sometimes forgotten nature of ministry that Pastor Eclov walks through in encouraging chapter after convicting chapter. Growth for growth’s sake is not a biblical guiding principle, church as family is. Read this excellent book (ignoring the mid 70’s cover art) and then prepare to read it again, little by little. Thank you Lee.

Book Review: The Unsaved Christian by Dean Inserra

A Mission Field Nobody Wants to Engage

The presence of the unsaved thinking of themselves as Christians has been a reality forever. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus himself warns against putting stock in a false conversion saying, “not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus says it, but the state of the modern church is often resistant to hearing and heeding the admonishment. As author Inserra relates, cultural Christianity has embedded itself deeply in the Church, its comforting lack of accountability enveloping people in a warm embrace of false belief.

Inserra structures is excellent book along the lines of a missionary guide for an unreached people group. The interaction that he shares at the beginning of the book with his seminary classmate sets a challenging tone. While Pastor Inserra looked at his brother’s assignment to Northern California as an incredible challenge (the land of proud unbelief), his brother turned the table to warn him against the assumptions that came with an assignment to the Bible Belt. This bracing moment is when he began to really examine the reality of faith amongst those who proclaimed a belief in Christ as a part of their everyday life. Examination proved that this belief was anecdotal in some cases, cultural in most of them and simply a part of being a citizen of the South for many. The chapters of the book that follow the analysis give the reader excellent study points for ways in which to approach each of these groups and more.

“Unsaved” is a quick read but not shallow. As someone involved in ministry, I can see a face to go along with each of the belief types that he describes. This personalization gives the reader the opportunity to think through the conversation that you want to have in the way that you want to approach that person. It didn’t begin the book with high hopes because I thought it was simply stating the obvious, but Inserra has performed a valuable service for Christ’s church, saying the hard things that need to be said in love.

 

The Gospel is Grace

The Gospel of IS Grace

“From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”     John 1:16 – 18

The Gospel is sometimes referred to as the gospel of grace. There is a tremendous amount of truth in that label, but it can also lead to a diminishing of the fullness of the gospel. Our elementary school grammar lessons taught us that a preposition connects a modifying word, an adjective or adverb, to a noun. The purpose of this construct is to give the reader or listener a more detailed definition of that down. This is why it is so important to be cautious in selecting those words that we attach to gospel. The Good News needs no modification. That God, in his great mercy, intervened in history to reconcile humankind to himself is the greatest news that one could ever receive. That this invitation to reconciliation is addressed to everyone takes your breath away.

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life…”     John 3:36

The Gospel is power; power to save, power to regenerate, power to make holy that which is unholy. (Rom 1:16-17). The Gospel is not just words or an idea or a theological concept, the Gospel is divine power. It is the incarnation of God’s grace, it is alive and growing. The apostle Paul writes to the church at Colosse, “all over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.” (Colossians 1:6)

“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”     Matthew 6:45

The grace of God is made manifest in his benevolent care for his creation, despite the fact that it has rebelled against Him. The result of this common grace should be the universal recognition that God is present and active in the world. It should result in gratitude as God demonstrates his goodness to all but the rebellious mind is devoted to denying these truths by any means possible.

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”     Hebrews 4:16

Our greatest need has been addressed in the Gospel. Salvation comes by grace; salvation comes by the power of the gospel. The Gospel is God’s merciful grace embodied.  The Gospel IS grace.