The Gospel in 25 Words +/-

What is the gospel?  The facts of the gospel are clear. Paul explains it in all of his letters, most explicitly in 1Corinthians 15.3-8.  The gospel begins with the basic facts of Jesus life, death, and resurrection.  But the gospel is also the interpretation and application of these facts.  The gospel informs, guides, and judges all that we do including our doctrine, our behavior, our relationships, our leadership, our marriages, even our finances.  Before we understand HOW the gospel applies to other areas of our lives, it is important that we meditate on the basic.  It is denial of this basic understand that leads to all bad teaching & living:

1.  The gospel means I am accepted, therefore I obey;  NOT, I obey, therefore I am accepted.

2.  The gospel means work and live FROM my righteousness, not FOR my righteousness

3.  The gospel means Jesus dies the death I deserved on the cross, then gives me the perfect life I don’t deserve through the resurrection.

4.  The gospel is the news of what God our King has done through Jesus to save me, NOT “how-to” instructions on how to save myself

5.  The gospel is NOT that we develop a righteousness apart from God so that we’re deemed “good”, then owed and accepted, rather, that He develops a righteousness through Jesus and gives it to us freely.

6. The gospel is not that “it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’ve been good,” but that “it doesn’t matter if you’ve been good, as long as you believe in Christ as your Savior”.

7. The gospel means Jesus is enough.

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Church Planting Lesson #20: Doctrinal Mercenaries

Our church has been going through Paul’s first letter to Timothy.  As Paul had warned when he first left the church at Ephesus (Acts 20), “fierce wolves” have risen up from among the leadership and are causing all kinds of problems–leading sheep astray.  The letter is a direct charge to Timothy, to draw lines, take stands, and shoot false-teaching wolves.   He charges Timothy to protect SOUND DOCTRINE which accords with the gospel.

The last book of the New Testament, Revelation, begins with Jesus’ seven letters to seven actual churches.  The first is written to the same church at Ephesus.   It appears that, perhaps in response to Paul’s letter and Timothy’s leadership, the Ephesian elders learned all-to-well how to fight false teachers.  Jesus commends their intolerance for wolves and courage to shoot them.  In the same letter Jesus commends them for fighting, he condemns them for their failure to love Jesus. This letter to Ephesus shows the danger of becoming Doctrinal Mercenaries, how we can get very good at fighting false teachers while failing to actually fight for Jesus.

Our charge to defend the truth is not merely a call to become more polished theologians and apologists; it is a charge to see Jesus as supremely better than anything else, to give Jesus central priority in our lives, and to find our ultimate joy in him.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of doctrinal mercenaries, assassins with a quiver full of theological arrows looking for someone to kill.    Their attacks spring unexpectedly, picking fights where there was no battle to win, motivated by little more than showing off their bow-staff skills.  Regardless of how well the mercenary wields the Sword, the surprised individual can’t help but feel like a helpless victim.  They immediately become defensive because they feel they are under attack–and they are.

And sadly, it seems, many of these killers are reformed in their theology.  I used to be a mercenary and responsible for perpetuating the myth that Calvinists are, as one pastor put it, “Elitist…Self-Righteous…part of the Calvinist Machine.”  A foolish person was responsible for making something good and biblical look bad and threatening.   The tragic irony of it all is that those who hold to Reformed Doctrine should be the humblest people you know.  Humility is inherent in Reformed Theology.  A Reformed biblical understanding of sin and grace should take us to a clearer understanding of our total brokenness, and a deeper appreciation for the power of the gospel.  It should lead us to where Paul lives–1Timothy 1.15.

In the end,  mercenaries rarely admit they are mercenaries, but the signs of obvious.   They fight for the wrong things the wrong way, with the wrong people, in the wrong places, at the wrong time. There are lines to draw and battles to fight–Jesus fought some too.  The difference is that assassins are trained to kill, to find an unsuspecting target, to strike a fatal blow, and then to get away.  The theological soldier,  one who genuinely love Jesus and His Word, fights for truth when they have to, not because they want to.  And when they fight, they don’t fight to win as much as they hope that his opponent might love Jesus and His Word too.

Why is this a church planting lesson?  Two reasons.  1) You will meet a lot of doctrinal mercenaries who will want to challenge your Bible knowledge, authority, and theology.  It is one thing to entertain honest questions.  It will require some discernment as to whether or not the guy is there to kill you or learn.  Don’t waste your time with mercenaries.  In fact, the best thing you can do for a hiding ninja assassin is simply say, “I see you”, they’ll run. 2) The second, and more important lesson, is don’t become a doctrinal mercenary.  There are certainly theological truths you hold and want to protect as a young church.  But you’ll be tempted to shoot anyone who disagrees or questions.  Fight that temptation.  Hold the line of gospel truth with grace and humility–the heart of greatness, the heart of our God.

10 ways to know your pastor has “arrived.”

Know that your pastor or church has “broken through” , “arrived”, or otherwise made it to the “big time” when:

1.They take (or are given) a new title like “apostle”, “movement leader”, or “grand puba”.

2. They drive a motorcycle, or some a European vehicle “gifted” by a generous congregant.

3. They invent new names for old doctrines to make them more palpable.

4. They change the name of their church blog to myrealname.com

5. They launch a “[enter Greek word] School of Ministry” , charging big $$ to their one student.

6. They start a fan page on facebook dedicated to themselves.

7. They change their church web address to their myrealname(and my wife).com

8. They add words to the name of their church like “global”, “international”, or “life center”.

9.  They have their pod-casted sermons being used evaluate the quality of their “real” pastors.

10.  What they say about Jesus, and how they say it, is talked about more than than Jesus himself.

Church Planting Lesson #19: Why you do what you do

LESSON #19:  Know why you’re doing it.

We must always check our motivations for serving.   When you first begin as a church planter, it’s much easier to talk about pure motivations than it is to actually maintain them.   The planter has an opportunity to pass or fail the “trial of motivation” every Sunday morning.  Even if the planter claims not to care how many people show up, or that anyone said anything about his sermon afterward, or that he hasn’t seen a “decision for Jesus” for a while…he’s lying.  Every gathering is an opportunity to feel good or bad about himself, to boast in what he is doing or in what Jesus has already done.

Attitudes reveal motivations. When a Sunday morning, Bible Study, or similar gathering does not go as expected (“they” don’t show up, “they” don’t respond, “they” don’t sacrifice) you will be tempted to self-pity, self-righteousness, or any number of self-centered attitudes.   It becomes about you–a position you can easily justify–because you have sacrificed time, energy, money, love, given everything for “them” and, well, they don’t seem very appreciative of all you’ve done, and certainly not deserving.   And very quickly you realize that your motivations are no longer gospel-centered.  In fact,  it sounds like you’ve replaced Jesus as the center of all things. 

All that we do is to be for the glory of God. As image bearers, that is our purpose and privilege. And there is no greater joy though its pursuit requires Spirit-empowered discipline.

  1. We plant and lead churches for the glory of God, not ours. Jesus is the one that plants, grows, shrinks, and closes churches.  Like the farmer, our job is to till the soil, plant seeds, and fulfill our responsibilities as steward of the field.  But Jesus is the one that controls the weather, the growth, and the harvest–whether it be feast or famine.  And He is glorified in either one.
  2. We preach the gospel and evangelize for the glory of God–not to “save” people. God is glorified by the proclamation of what He has done, regardless if anyone believes it or not.  We share the gospel because it is by His Word that God has decided to save people–but our primary motivation is not the command to do it OR the benefit of salvation.  We cannot help but speak with joy about the glories of what Jesus has done.
  3. We resist sin to pursue the glory of God. We do not resist sin primarily because it is bad for us and those we love.  We do not flee from addictions so those we’ve hurt will forgive us.  In other words, we don’t resist sin to avoid consequences.  We resist sin and pursue God because we want Him above anything else.    And that pursuit will in turn bless us and those we love.
  4. We serve others for the glory of God. We prepare, sacrifice, and love that we might serve others for the glory of God.  In essence, we live out the gospel every time we lead a Bible Study, host a small group, serve in a ministry, or even counsel a friend.  We do not serve because of how it will benefit us, though we hope we’ll get some sort of “spiritual tingle” out of it.  We serve, regardless of who shows up, who thanks, who abuses, who participates, or who even notices because we want to magnify what God has done for us–the gospel.
  5. We eat and drink for the glory of God. 1Corinthians 10.31 teaches us to glorify God in whatever we do.  Whether we’re eating, drinking, working, or acting as a husband, father, wife, mother, or friend.  That question is never what will I get out of this situation, person, or moment, rather, it is always how can I glorify most through this situation, to this person, and  in this moment.