Monthly Archives: May 2010

The Long View: Variations on a Theme

In these days of insta-church and fast forward ministry, it’s refreshing to read takes on ministry that reflect the more biblical imagery of farming and shepherding. Some variations:

Kevin DeYoung on The Glory of Plodding

Tim Chester on Slow Church

Bill Streger on Taking the Long View

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Review: Transforming Church in Rural America by Shannon O’Dell

I accepted a review copy of Shannon O’Dell’s Transforming Church in Rural America somewhat disingenuously. I fully expected not to like the book at all, but I didn’t say that to the New Leaf Press rep who asked if I’d be interested in it. Because I was interested in it; I just figured I’d hate it. With a subtitle like “Breaking All the Rurals,” I was anticipating yet another implicitly condescending plan for transplanting megachurchianity into small, rural churches.

To be fair to myself, there is actually a touch of that in this book. But to be fair to O’Dell, it is clear that his ministry and this literary product of it are based on a love for reaching the lost and a heart for rural communities and the small churches in them. So many outside the rurals — and a few inside — think of pastoring a small church as something you do on your way in or out of ministry, like it’s the 3rd World of pastoral ministry, only not as “sexy” as mission to the real 3rd World. To his great credit — and to the great strength of his book — Shannon O’Dell is not one of these.

In the very first chapter, he challenges assumptions and rebukes condescension about small churches in rural areas, even laying out a biblical case for the primacy of “the wilderness” in Scripture, which is something virtually unheard of in today’s missional conversation. Then late in the book, O’Dell writes …

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Multiple Benefits. One Benefactor.

Much theological confusion can result in conflating justification and sanctification. These are separate “events.” But both events are all of grace. Even our working out of salvation with fear and trembling is the result of God working in us. Our gracious Father prepared our good works beforehand, that we might walk in them.

From Sinclair Ferguson:

This first thing to remember, of course, is that we must never separate the benefits (regeneration, justification, sanctification) from the Benefactor (Jesus Christ). The Christians who are most focused on their own spirituality may give the impression of being the most spiritual … but from the New Testament’s point of view, those who have almost forgotten about their own spirtuality because their focus is so exclusively on their union with Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished are those who are growing and exhibiting fruitfulness. Historically speaking, whenever the piety of a particular group is focused on OUR spirituality that piety will eventually exhaust itself on its own resources. Only where our piety forgets about ourself and focuses on Jesus Christ will our piety nourished by the ongoing resources the Spirit brings to us from the source of all true piety, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.– James 1:17

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The One Source of Total Salvation

The finished work of Christ is that beautiful spring from which flows our forgiveness from sins, our justification before God, our receipt of Christ’s righteousness, our adoption as sons, our reconciliation with the Father, our reconciliation with our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ, our sure sanctification, our grounds for the Spirit’s fruit, our position as a royal priesthood, our serving as Christ’s ambassadors in the advancing kingdom of God, our resurrection from the dead, our eternal reward, our enjoyment of the new heavens and the new earth, and our participatory witnesses of God’s restoration of all things.

The gospel of first importance produces a myriad of blessings I suppose that were every one of them to be written the world itself could not contain the books. Grand thing, then, that God is remaking the world to broadcast them best.

The large tree of salvation, with branches enough for bird of every kind and from every place, grows from the mighty mustard seed of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Review: Holy Subversion by Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax’s book Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals is small, short, and unassuming. Like a hand grenade.

And like a grenade, it packs quite a wallop. Trevin’s book — which covers the major idols of modern society — tracks along the somewhat recently rediscovered approach to discipleship as repentance from idolatry and redirection of worship to the One True God by using the “gospel” language of the early church under the Roman Empire. If Jesus is Lord, N.T. Wright reminds us, then Caesar is not. So Trevin transports that key exchange into our modern context: there is nothing new under the sun except the endlessly innovative marketing employed by the gods of the age.

One by one, Trevin reveals to his readers the Caesars of self, power, success, money, sex, and leisure, and sets forth plainly and persuasively how the Christian life requires renouncing the abuse of good things as god things and the subverting of this idolatry with the worship of Jesus Christ.

This is the most helpful and powerful part of Trevin’s effort, however: He roots out and reveals this idolatry in the active practice of Western evangelicalism. From sniffing out ambition and zeal for “success” in seminary student surveys to clearly rebuking the reverence of Self epidemic in modern churches, Holy Subversion gets very personal very quickly. But Trevin never writes high-handedly or bitterly. Indeed, I can think of few among the young-types, restless-types, and Calvinist-types who are as winsome — on both …

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The Gospel Empowers Its Own Implications

This post from Justin Taylor is really important.

A taste:

The dominant mode of evangelical preaching on sanctification, the main way to motivate for godly living, sounds something like this:

You are not _____;

You should be _________;

Therefore, do or be ________!

Fill in the blank with anything good and biblical (holy; salt and light; feed the poor; walk humbly; give generously; etc.).

This is not how Paul and the other New Testament writers motivated the church in light of the resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit. They did give imperatives (=what you should do), but they do so only based on indicatives (=what God has done).

The problem with the typical evangelical motivation toward radical or sacrificial living is that “imperatives divorced from indicatives become impossibilities” (to quote Tullian Tchividjian). Or another way that Tullian puts it: “gospel obligations must be based on gospel declarations.”

Yes. This is crucial for anyone aspiring to gospel-centered teaching and preaching, and to anyone aspiring to gospel-centered ministry, from how we teach our children Bible stories and Bible lessons to how we “gospel” each other in small groups and classes.

Last weekend I had the great privilege and blessing of speaking to youth pastors, youth workers, and youth themselves at The Calling conference in Auburn, Maine. In a morning session, I preached to impress the importance of gospel-centrality for all of life, and therefore all of ministry. In the afternoon session, I preached a message called “The Empowering …

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I Have Seen the Face of the Pilot, and He Smiled

It seems a storm caught a seafaring vessel off a rocky coast. The wind and waves threatened to drive the boat to its destruction.

In the midst of the terror, one daring pas­sen­ger, contrary to orders, made his way across the ship. Groping along a passageway, he found the pi­lot house. There he beheld an intriguing sight; the ship’s pilot was lashed to his post. Secure against the raging elements, he held the wheel fast, turning the ship, inch by inch, once more out to sea. The pilot saw the watcher and smiled.

The daring passenger found his way below deck where other passengers huddled. Encouragingly, he said, “I have seen the face of the pilot, and he smiled. All is well.”

– Often attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson.

HT: Anthony Carter

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Apply the Gospel to Everything

“In order to grow in Christlikeness, we’ve got to intentionally apply the gospel to everything we are and everything we long to do. We’re not to sever our obedience from [Christ’s] perfect sinlessness nor disconnect our mortal life from his resurrected life. We’ve got to understand ourselves in the light of our new identity, seeing ourselves as we truly are: sinful and flawed, loved and welcomed. Only these gospel realities have enough power to engender faith, kill idolatry, produce character change, and motivate faithful obedience.”

- Elyse Fitzpatrick, Because He Loves Me

May the glory of the gospel fill up your being like the waters cover the seas.

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We Call it Contemporvant

Quoth Homer Simpson, “It’s funny because it’s true.”

“Sunday’s Coming” Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

(HT: @GlennLucke)

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When the Storms Come

This article makes me sad. Not (just) because it details the devastation of the floods in Tennessee, a place that is near and dear to my heart, but because of quotes like these:

“My whole life was gone.”

“In a matter of 30 minutes, everything you worked for, everything you thought was valuable, it all looks like trash.”

I understand that losing one’s home and stuff is awful. I would be upset too. So let’s grant some grace for shell shock here.

But let’s also be reflective enough to ask how our homes and stuff become “My whole life” and “Everything I thought was valuable.”

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