In his book, True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia, Jerry Bridges has a great quote concerning the experiential aspect of Christian fellowship. In it he illustrates what should characterize the body of Christ whenever one of its members is suffering – we should behave like our physical bodies do:
Can you imagine the ear making the following comment to the eyes, “Say, did you hear about the serious trouble the foot is having? My, my,isn’t it too bad? The foot surely ought to get his act together.” No, no, our bodies don’t behave that way at all! Instead the entire body cries out, “My foot hurts! I feel awful!”
Why does the body hurt when only one part is injured? It is because all the parts of the body make up one indivisible whole. And when one part hurts, no matter what the reason, the restorative powers of the entire body are brought to bear on that hurting member. Rather than attacking that suffering part or ignoring the problem, the rest of the body demonstrates concern for the part that hurts. This is the way the body of Christ should function.
In his book, Suburbianity, Pastor Byron Yawn addresses the damage suburban Christianity has done to the gospel and the church. But he writes not simply as a critic, but as one who has a heart for suburbanites. With all of the emphasis these days on church planting in cities and urban areas, I fear that many Christians have thrown up their hands and given up on the suburbs, but I appreciate Yawn’s heart for the people who live there and his desire to help them get back to biblical Christianity. Here’s a quote from the introduction:
It’s important to understand that my target audience [in wiring this book] is the Christians wandering aimlessly out in the American suburbs, unaware that they are currently imbibing a designer religion that has no essential relationship to Christianity. I’m writing to soccer moms and white-collar dads. What we count as Christian was made in America. It is not the faith once imported from the streets of Jerusalem. The seeker movement, which reaped its bounty in the materialistic wonderland of the American suburbs over the last several decades, has left behind a biblically desolate landscape behind it. Those who now wander through its vestiges Sunday after Sunday are unaware of the magnificent truth contained in the true message of the church of Christ – the gospel. Much of what they have been told Christianity has to offer, it doesn’t. But what they actually need, it does. My heart hurts for suburbanites. I want them to see it. It is glorious.
In about four weeks my family leaves for California so I can be a part of Grace Advance – a summer training initiative for pastors seeking to give leadership to developing churches. It’s a ministry of Grace Community Church which is the church where John MacArthur has been pastoring for over 40 years. I feel humbled and privileged that the elders of our church are sending me there as we move toward planting a church next year.
At Grace Advance they’re having us read a lot of books this summer, so I thought it might be informative to list them out, especially since I had not heard of several of them previously:
This week I started studying Galatians in the mornings and I’ve been using Timothy Keller’s book Galatians for You as a tool to help shed some light on the text. In the book, Keller says something about Galatians 1:4 that gave my heart fodder for praise. Let me quote the text, then Keller:
“…the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver (or rescue) us from the present evil age…”
Commenting on what it means that Christ gave himself to “deliver” us, Keller says,
“[Jesus] did not merely buy us a ‘second chance’, giving us another opportunity to get life right and stay right with God. He did all we needed to do, but cannot do.”
Do I have to say how profound this is? What would have become of us if the gospel was simply a second chance to “get life right”? We would fail miserably again, running from God in rebellion as we claim our own independence and worth! The truth is that we lack the capacity for obedience altogether. Even if God gave us a million second chances, we would never reach God’s standard. It is true that time along with trial and error is what Thomas Edison needed to invent the electric light bulb, but time for us, left to ourselves, will only result in more sin.
This is why we needed Jesus to rescue us. We are spiritually unable to get life right so we could save ourselves, so Jesus had to get life right for us so he could save us. It is common for Christians to say that we serve “a God of second chances”. To that we should ask, “Second chances to do what?” Is it second chances to get life right or second chances to prove ourselves? If so, we need to be reminded of the gospel which says, “We would use second chances the same way we used the first chance, therefore, we need Jesus to rescue us – the one who does not need second chances; the one who got life right the first time… for us.”
As Christians, we must discuss what it means when the Bible describes God in a certain way, using certain terms. I believe Bible studies and seminary classrooms where we engage in the task of explanation and even friendly debate when it comes to understanding the character of God are wonderful and necessary. We should be people of precision in our comprehension of God, and that takes work. We have to go into study mode, clarification mode, and definition mode, but the attributes of God should never stay in those modes.
As I was studying Psalm 90 last week, I was struck by how Moses (the author) gives significant explanatory attention to the reality that God is eternal, yet he begins the Psalm by praising God for this attribute (vv. 1-2).
Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
Do you get stuck in the duty of defining and explaining while forgetting the duty of adoring worship? Your precise understanding of God should always lead you to acute, pointed praise. Because we do the work of studying and clarifying God’s character, we can praise him in a more specific way, drawing out deeper realities that please him and bless us more. The work of explanation makes worship richer and fuller, because as we study God more, we see that he is so much more amazing than we often realize.
Yet again we have more free content being put out by Desiring God Ministries, and so I want to draw your attention to the Ask Pastor John app for the iPhone or iPad. It provides access to a daily podcast wherein John Piper is asked to shed light on a different biblical or practical issue inside the realm of Christianity.
Each podcast is about five minutes long, but packed with content from a sound theological mind, combined with 33 years of pastoral experience.
Download the app here.
If you are a lowly Android user like me, you can download the Sound Cloud app and subscribe to the Ask Pastor John feed and you’ve got it. Be blessed and may wisdom increase!
Last night as I was reading, When People are Big and God is Small by Edward T. Welch, I came across a quote that made me think. In speaking of our desire to be liked, appreciated, and respected, Welch writes the following:
Aren’t the most popular mission trips the ones that take us from our neighborhood? Russia is easy; our own neighborhood is a constant challenge.
Although short-term mission trips can be rigorous and trying, they are just temporary and they do have us serving people we don’t know in a place we don’t know. We get on a plane, go to a foreign land, work hard at ministry for a week or two, and come back home with our spiritual tank full; feeling good about the fact that we suffered for Jesus.
Now, it does feel good to expend ourselves for Jesus and I think short-term mission trips are a wonderful thing to be a part of. But if we’re not careful we can use them as a justification for not doing the hard, ongoing work of getting to know our neighbors and co-workers, loving them in word and action, sharing the gospel with them, and in so doing, take the risk of being disliked, disrespected, and unappreciated. Maybe there were people in Russia that didn’t like us for the ministry we performed while we were there, but we don’t have to pass them in the hallway or look into their eyes as we say “hello” at the mailbox.
Church, ministry away should never take the place of ministry at home. We must remember that Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Self-denying ministry is not a once-a-year gig in Russia or Abu Dhabi; it should be our daily practice. But may there be no illusions about this being self-denial for the sake of self-denial. No, it is self-denial for our glorious Redeemer because he denied himself for us on the cross.