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.

 

 

 

The First Word of the Gospel

Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:14 – 15

Repentance is an accepted, but unpopular idea within the modern Church. To ears attuned to having our best life now, repentance sounds somewhat ‘retro’, associated with old-timey fire and brimstone preaching. It’s almost as if repentance is just Hell repellant. This is a sad observation when we talk about the good news, because repentance is the first word of the gospel.

There is so much to be gained for disciples of Jesus when we develop a full grasp of the true meaning of repentance. It is more than being emotionally sorry for sin or the act of simply turning away from those things that dishonor the Cross. Repentance is turning toward God, it is facing our Lord Jesus and keeping Him in sight as disciples.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” Jeremiah 17:9

The emotion of sorrow expressed for sin is both good and bad. It is good that we are distressed in heart for those things that fail to bring glory to our Savior. Here the heart does us a favor by making us mindful of our thoughts and actions. Without action however, we can be led astray by that same heart convincing us that we have repented of sin. James speaks to this behavior in chapter 1, verses 22-24 when he describes the man who hears the word but fails to follow it. Sorrow can remind us of the beauty of God’s word but it must be followed by action. We must turn our hearts toward God, recognizing the error of our ways and hope and peace and joy in His.

“Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but He will heal us; He has injured us but He will bind up our wounds.

After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.

Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”  Hosea 6:1-3

Oh, the beauty of repentance! The act of turning back toward the Lord is so much greater than just averting our eyes from sin. There is no promise of restoration in the sweeping of our vision as our eyes may land on another of the temptations that surround us. No, we must turn our hearts fully in the direction of the Lord, and in doing so, we become the recipients the renewal that our souls groan for (Romans 8:26).

Do we meditate on the privilege of repentance? There is an underlying assumption that the sovereign God of perfect holiness owes us, His creations, a chance at forgiveness, the opportunity to be sorry. How dare we assume on any such thing! It is only by His grace and mercy that those in constant rebellion have a chance to repent. The Father portrayed in the parable of the Prodigal son (Luke 15:11-24) owed no such mercy to the rebellious teen who demanded his father’s treasures and the right to drift headlong into depravity. But such was the love of his father who watched the horizon day after day for any sign of his returning boy, that when the prodigal turned back in humility he was restored as though he had never wandered. The chance to repent of our rebellion and turn back to our Father is not owed to us. But God, who so loves the world, made the sacrifice that does away with the penalty of our sin, and blesses those who repent and believe that He has done this for them with life.

 “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3-4

Repentance, the first step in the receipt of the good news, is to become like a child. It is to recognize that we are immature before God. It is to acknowledge and believe that we cannot have life in full apart from God. Repentance is the act of turning toward God in His grace and believing in our total dependence on Him for life and for salvation. Repent and believe the good news.

* The title of this post was borrowed loosely from Richard Roberts important book, Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel.

No Gospel at All

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned. Galatians 1:6 – 8

The gospel that is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” is sure and unchanging. The gospel of God’s grace is not subject to the vagaries of history or culture or religious tradition or human desire. It is the sure and steadfast gospel, consistent from beginning to end, that saves. The Apostle repeated the good news to the church in Corinth as pressures threatened to wrest the true gospel from their grasp, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures…” This is the gospel that saves.

“Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Acts 2:38

A gospel that presents itself as little more than a golden ticket to heaven is only one half of a gospel. A gospel that requires no more than your assent to the idea of Jesus or even that you like His offer of salvation from an eternity in Hell is only a part of the good news. Jesus Christ comes into the world as both Savior (Acts 5:31) and Lord (Rom 5:11), the two not divisible. A gospel then that proposes grace and an eternity in God’s presence without humble repentance is not a gospel that saves.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” Luke 9:23-24

A gospel that does not lead the hearer to pick up their cross and follow the Lordship of Jesus Christ is not a gospel that saves. A gospel of “grace” that enables a one-time proclamation of belief (Rom 10:9) but does not require a subsequent adherence to the commands of Jesus to continuing and ongoing repentance, belief and service is a partial gospel. Works! Works! Not at all! Yes, one must “confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” but the requirement continues that this same person must believe this fact “in your heart” in order to be saved. To believe in your heart is to believe in the depths of your soul, to a transforming degree. A gospel that does not result in transformation of the earthly desires to follow ones own will and submit to the Lordship of Christ is but a part of the good news.

The true gospel sets men and women free. Once enemies of God, belief in the true gospel reconciles a person in this most important relationship. The true gospel is an invitation and the power to bring humanity back into right relationship with God, to be restored to a place in the kingdom of heaven (Col 1:21-22). We must not allow any partial or false gospel replace this good news and we who believe must continue in our faith, “not moved from the hope held out in the gospel (Col 1:23).

I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…” Romans 1:16

Gospel Square 1The gospel that the Apostle spoke of is good news, stupendously good news. God had intervened in history, entering personally into the morass of human rebellion against Him and making a way out, a way to be freed from the entanglements that drew them to destruction. Jesus Christ entered the world in purity, lived a life of perfect holiness and died as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. His death atoned for all sin. When Jesus was then resurrected on that third day, He demonstrated indisputably that He had overcome death and broken the entrapping bonds of sin. The long-awaited promises to Israel were fulfilled and the blessing of God extended to all who would believe that Jesus was their only avenue of freedom from the bondage of the Fall.

That is fabulously good news. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Romans 10:15

The Apostle quoted the prophet Isaiah in this assuring statement. The prophet communicated to God’s people Israel that their exile would end, that they would be released from their captivity in Babylon, that freedom was imminent. Good news to be sure, fantastic even. Except, the power sin remained and, while physically freed, people were still held in its vise-like grip. Better news was still to come.

The better news is Jesus. Jesus, the savior who died for the “sins of the whole world” 1 John 2:2. The amazing news is Jesus who overcame death and its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55-57) and gives all who will believe that victory. Jesus not only makes the way of atonement, He shepherds believers along the path of life (Hebrews 7:25) until they are rejoined with God in perfect communion.

This is good news. This is the gospel.

 

Doing Good or Doing Well

11982286463_f7b221c1d3_k

The Metrics of Mission

Measuring the performance of a missional church community is not performed using the same yardstick as many modern churches utilize. While the paramount measure of success in some church circles is bottoms in seats, the missional church evaluates their adherence to the missio dei by how many seats are provided for bottoms. Rather than making a mission of increasing the budget year over year, a missional community will consider the percentage of their budget turned around into the mission field. Tallying the noses of the churched kids who attend a VBS is one number, taking the VBS under various guises to the unreached children of the area is an entirely different count. In every missional metric the priority is reaching, touching and influencing the lives of our neighbors with the truth and reality of the gospel.

As Willow Creek discovered years ago, the metric used to evaluate success doesn’t always align with God’s intention for the church. Their numbers in terms of attendance and conversion were staggering by any measure but the culture that generated those numbers also came at a high cost. As the adage goes, they were a mile wide and an inch deep. “Go and make disciples” had reduced to “baptize them”, a crucial measure but only half the mission. The Commission is holistic and intended to build a self-replicating community of believers who will join the cycle and further the mission.

The missional church may never attain the size of a market-entertainment-self help driven church. That will always be more attractive to the itching ears of our time. The missional body will grow, perhaps not as numerically quickly, but in a more important aspect, they will grow spiritually. The numbers in this world may not impress but the results in the Kingdom ahead will be staggering.

image by Roland Tanglao