Monthly Archives: April 2010

Missional Priority: To Seek and Save the Lost

This post is a much belated entry in the Prologue to Missional Discussion Synchroblog.

I think I am three weeks late answering this question, but the powers that be have not emailed any since then, so maybe I’m golden.

Here are the questions for this round of the synchroblog: Is there a “primary” concern in the mission of God? Is that evangelism, making disciples, societal transformation, or something else? Or, are they of equal value?

I believe there is a primary concern in God’s mission, and that is for persons to know him relationally, to be personally forgiven of their sins and be reconciled to him. The question behind the question is really this: Which is more primary, the gospel of personal salvation or the gospel of the kingdom? This sort of presupposes these are separate concepts. I do believe they are not the same thing, but disagree (with qualifications) that they are separate. Clear as mud, I know.

I believe the gospel, as Tim Keller says, is both one and more than that. But you cannot properly receive and enjoy the “more than that” without the “one.” This is to say that the gospel of the kingdom (which some try to say was Jesus’ gospel) and the gospel of justification by faith (which some say is Paul’s gospel, as if ne’er the twain shall meet) are degrees of magnification of the whole. This is something I explore a bit more fully in my current book in progress, so I don’t want to …

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Cursed be the Cheat, But Blessed be the Name

God through Malachi comes to the end of a series of rebukes of the priests of Israel (for offering polluted and blemished sacrifices) and says this:

Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.– Malachi 1:14

This is a curse you and I bear. We are — every one of us — cheats. Hucksters. Phonies. Charlatans. Hypocrites. We go through the religious motions, we muddle through. We soak in lukewarmness. We vow our best to God and then give him half our heart (or less). And truth be told, there is not a single one of us whose best would not be blemished anyhow, total depravity being what it is.

So there we have it. We sinful, scheming cheats are under a curse. And God, as R.C. Sproul says, “will not negotiate his holiness.”

But he will have his glory one way or another. That is not up for debate. His name “will be feared among the nations.” He has predetermined this, and our sin, though great and total, is not some kind of kryptonite for God’s plans for his own fame. His glory will cover the earth like the waters cover the seas. That’s a promise.

So what to do? Nothing we can do. Just be cursed cheats, I s’pose. Something must give, though. God won’t negotiate the price …

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Winsome to Win Some

The gospel is the most compelling, the most fascinating, the most incomprehensibly wonderful news ever. So how come we don’t preach or teach or talk like it is?

Fog-and-lasers churches don’t trust that the good news is compelling. Sturm und drang churches don’t act like it is.

It is true that the cross is an offense, a stumbling block, “foolishness.” And it is true that attractional-ism is an imbalanced mode of ministry.

But gospel-driven churches ought to be attractive. They ought to radiate joy. Their preachers should be self-deprecating, winsome, and visibly moved by the power of the gospel. If we truly believe the good news is that good, why don’t we make it sound like it is? Why do we sound bored? Angry? Disinterested? Or why do we seem excited about and interested in all sorts things other than the gospel?

This is not about tickling ears. It’s about speaking and living as if we feel that the gospel is true.

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Dudes, Your Wife is Not a Blunt Instrument

I am hearing more and more of husbands who are not tending well to their wives’ hearts. This occurs in the form of “using” their wives for ministry ends and business ends and family ends.

Some church planters and pastors will wield their wives like instruments in building the ministry or furthering the cause.

Some husbands will use up their wives for the cause of a “well-run family” or a “well-ordered home.”

Gentlemen, are you doing this? Are you spending your wife to gain a ministry? That is marital suicide. Your primary ministry is to your wife.

Are you spending your wife to gain your children? That is a lose-lose enterprise, because you will lose your wife’s heart and still not gain your children’s (because they will see how you treat their mama).

The best thing you can do for your ministry and your kids is love your wife gently, tenderly, honorably, affectionately, wisely, romantically, and — above all – Christly.

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Quick Hits #6

#1 Francis Chan is leaving the pastorate. Or at least, he’s leaving his current pastorate. Check out the video interview with Catalyst here. He says, “I’d love to be obscure again.” What an anomaly in the celebrity pastor world.

#2 On a related note, you can now watch the Band of Bloggers presentations on “Gospel Fidelity and Internet Idolatry” at Tim Brister’s blog. My bit was on incarnating integrity and blogging gospel exultation. The feedback was great, and I was grateful for all the hard work Tim, the Sojourn crew, Owen Strachan, and other volunteers put into making it all come together.

#3 One of the attendees, though, who received a copy of the leader kit for my new book Abide wrote me this past weekend to complain about the warmed-over Catholic mysticism and New Age spirituality in the book. I was perplexed. Some of the stuff he put in quotation marks in his email aren’t even actual phrases from the book. The other things he seemed concerned about didn’t sound familiar as something I’d write. As I pressed deeper, I realized he was objecting to some of the language used in the exercise sections of the book, which weren’t written by me, but by Threads editors. Still, my name is on the book, so I am responsible for all that’s in it, I know. Some of the stuff recommended seems kinda frou-frou to me, but I don’t see how one could get “New Age spirituality” from it. The …

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Your Private Life Gives Public Witness

A word of warning for the thousands entering Louisville next week for the Together 4 the Gospel Conference: what you do in the privacy of your hotel room can be a witness against the gospel. Think this is unwarranted?

From Steve Farrar’s Finishing Strong:

A number of years ago a national conference for church youth directors was held at a major hotel in a city in the mid-west. Youth pastors by the hundreds flooded into that hotel and took nearly every room. At the conclusion of the conference, the hotel manager told the conference administrator that the number of guests who tuned into the adult movie channel broke the previous record, far and away outdoing any other convention in the history of the hotel.

My friend Justin Holcomb, who is a sociologist, an author, a pastor at Mars Hill Seattle, director of Mosaic Peace, and the academic dean of Re:Train helped me in looking into this phenomenon, recalling from his own research in an email to me:

I interviewed hotel managers about this when I was teaching in the sociology department at Univ of Virginia. All managers said that porn rates increase during conferences in general. That’s normal because they have more guests. A few admitted that it seems to be the same or a bit more when Christian conferences come to town. One manager was a Christian and he said a line I’ll never forget: “Unfortunately, ‘they know you are Christians by your…porn consumption’ is more truthful than ‘love’ when it …

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The Fantastic Remembrance and Anticipation of the Gospel

Sermon this Sunday is on Malachi 1:1-5. So much meat in just those 5 verses — stuff on election, God’s love, God’s wrath, his sovereignty over calamities, etc. — but the thing I see framing it all is a two-part power of the gospel proclamation that is there. Here is the passage, with the gospel proclamation(s) in bold:

1The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. 2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob 3but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” 4If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.’” 5 Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!”

There is past tense and then future tense. There is “I have loved you” and there is “Your own eyes shall see . . .”

God through Malachi is addressing a half-hearted, spiritually corrupt covenant community. They have predicated their polluted religion on all that God is not presently doing. They are struggling financially and politically. They are muddling through while their enemies seem to prosper.

And God doesn’t say, …

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Quick Hits #5

#1 One of the BHT fellows said it best: “It sucks there won’t be any more new iMonk.” I would have loved to read his take on the Piper/Warren controversy. Although I’m sure I could guess what he’d have said, it’s not the same as actually reading him saying it.

#2 I’m really looking forward to T4G next week. The refreshment of live gospel preaching is something I need for ministry and just my general well-being. Also looking forward to reconnecting with some friends at the Band of Bloggers event and beyond, and of course meeting some for the first time face to face.

#3 Band of Bloggers and T4G may be sold out, but if you’re a student minister or youth worker, The Calling May 8 is still open. It’s in beautiful Maine. All registrants get a free copy of my new book Abide.

#4 The wife flies in tonight for her last temporary visit until permanent move in May. To say I’m looking forward to being with her is an understatement. The last 9 months have been some of the hardest of our lives, but because God is sovereign and sweet, they have been a blessing in some surprising ways. I think as they’ve “watched” us be apart in this time, the people of our church here have developed a deeper affection for both of us.

#5 Brian McLaren is a big baby. If you disagree with him, you are a poor brainwashed zombie under Pharisaical control. Or so …

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Rewarded: Michael Spencer

Our friend the Internet Monk passed away last night. This whole thing happened too fast.

Michael was a maddening, wonderful, special man. In a vast sea of bloggers, Michael was a writer.

I will write more later. Just don’t have the whatever to do it now.

Please pray for his wife Denise, son Clay and his wife, and daughter Noel and her husband.

We love you, Michael. I am glad for you that you are someplace realer.

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Literally, Bodily, Historically, Factually, Supernaturally, Gloriously

The late John Updike, perhaps the last truly great American novelist, wrote one of my favorite poems about the Easter event:


By John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at allit was as His body;if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the moleculesreknit, the amino acids rekindle,the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,each soft Spring recurrent;it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddledeyes of the eleven apostles;it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,the same valved heartthat — pierced — died, withered, paused, and thenregathered out of enduring Mightnew strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,analogy, sidestepping transcendence;making of the event a parable, a sign painted in thefaded credulity of earlier ages:let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,not a stone in a story,but the vast rock of materiality that in the slowgrinding of time will eclipse for each of usthe wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,make it a real angel,weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linenspun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we areembarrassed by the miracle,and crushed by remonstrance.

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