The Sabbath Proclaims the Gospel

sheep

When most people think of Sabbath-keeping, their minds run to rules. They picture a list of activities to avoid.

This hardly does the Sabbath justice. The Sabbath was a key ingredient in God’s covenant, and keeping the Sabbath proclaimed wonderful news about God’s grace to his people.

The Sabbath as a Sign

God’s Sabbath command is rooted in creation and made plain on Mount Sinai, but the first extended discussion of the Sabbath is in Exodus 31.

After God gives his blueprints for the tabernacle, he tells Moses what to command Israel about the Sabbath (Ex 31:12–17). God doesn’t owe his people a reason for his laws, but that’s what we find here.

We learn that the Sabbath is a sign. Exodus 31 says the Sabbath is a sign in two ways, both of which are profound statements about the Lord.

First, the Sabbath points to God’s sanctifying work.

You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, `Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. (Ex. 31:13)

When the people keep the Sabbath, they are to remember God’s work to sanctify them. God alone is the one who sets apart, who makes holy, who calls the people his own.

The Sabbath also points to God’s work and rest during that first creation week.

It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed. (Ex. 31:17)

We’ve read before that God rested on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2) and this reasoning also appears in the ten commandments (Ex. 20:11). But here we are also told that God was refreshed.

In what way was God refreshed on the seventh day? Was he tired? Was he feeling spent and overworked?

Of course not. God’s refreshment came from completion. He finished his work, rested, and was refreshed. (See Gen. 2:2.) There’s a special refreshment that comes after completing a project.

The Sabbath is Holy

The discussion in Exodus 31 makes one thing clear: the Sabbath speaks about God. The command is deadly serious because it involves the way the people understand and remember what God has done.

In particular, Israel must keep the Sabbath because it is holy. They do not make it holy by their observance; rather, they observe because the day is holy. God has make the day holy.

The Sabbath is a sign pointing to God’s work, not what the people need to do. In the same way, the Lord’s Day points to the finished work of God.

From the cross Jesus announced that his work was finished (John 19:30). His body rested in the grave on the Sabbath but burst forth on Sunday morning. Jesus’s resurrection was a verification, a jubilant trumpet call announcing the finished work of God to set apart people for himself.

The Refreshment of the Lord’s Day

Without getting into the thornier issues of modern Sabbath observance, there are a few things we can say with confidence.

The Lord’s Day points to God. While the fourth commandment certainly has implications for our behavior, the ground of the command is God’s work. We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and his atoning work for us by worshipping on the first day of the week. This very act of corporate worship points to God’s sanctifying work—setting aside his people and making us holy.

The work is finished. We rest because God rested. The day is holy because God made it holy. We rejoice because of the resurrection.

The command is not a burden. The command was obeyed and fulfilled perfectly by Jesus. As God’s children, we now have power to obey from the Spirit. The command to observe the Sabbath is not a burden, it is for our refreshment.

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (Heb 4:9–10)


Photo Credit: 童 彤 (2017), public domain

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King David and Intimacy with God

hands

Most Christians know that King David was a man after God’s heart (1 Sam 13:14). What did that look like?

Part of the answer lies in Psalm 139. David’s cry in last two verses is remarkable.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23–24)

This is a powerful, intimate prayer. Christians would do well to pray this way.

But there’s an approach to this prayer that’s all wrong. Too many treat this prayer as self-improvement, asking God for a home inspection so you can do the patching and remodeling.

As with everything in the Bible, we need to read and pray this prayer in context.

David Knows God

David knows God, and this is evident throughout Psalm 139. What David knows about God gives him comfort, strength, and zeal. Consider what David says about God.

God has already searched and known him (v.1). David is asking God in verse 23 to do something familiar.

God knows his actions, thoughts, and words (vv.2–4). God knows David’s thoughts and his words before they’re spoken. God’s knowledge is overwhelming (v.5).

God is everywhere (v.7). David cannot escape God’s Spirit or his presence. Day or night—the darkness makes no difference to God (vv.11–12). And God is not coolly studying David; he is leading and holding David with his hand (v.10). David enjoys God’s love in addition to his knowledge and presence.

God made him (vv.13–15). God knit and intricately wove David together inside his mother. Think of the detail and care in those words!

God knows all his days (v.16). Before David’s birth, God knew not just the number of his days but the days themselves.

God shares his thoughts with David (vv.17–18). David knows that God’s thoughts are numerous, and precious.

God provides his presence (v.18). After awaking from pondering God’s thoughts, David is cheered and comforted by God’s faithful, ongoing presence.

God can slay the wicked (vv.19–22). David appeals to God’s power, authority, and justice.

The Gospel in Psalm 139

The thought of God searching us can be terrifying. Maybe you imagine a blinding, prison-yard spotlight, sweeping across the grounds, leaving nothing hidden.

But, for God’s children, this isn’t the right image. David has already been searched and known by God. Because God is merciful, God’s hand on David is “wonderful” (v.6). If a sinner calls the hand of a holy God upon him wonderful, there’s only one explanation: this hand belongs to a father, not a jailer.

David knows the evil in his heart that rises against God.

For my iniquities have gone over my head;
like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me. (Psalm 38:4)

But, by faith, David also knows that his sin has been forgiven.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Psalm 51:7)

Because David is God’s child, the searching of God is for the purpose of discipline and holiness, not judgment and punishment.

Let’s Pray

So, let’s pray Psalm 139:23–24. But let’s pray it in context.

We’re not praying for self-improvement. Christians have given up on the idea that we can improve ourselves.

We’re not praying for purity so we can get closer to God. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and by the gift of faith, God has already brought us near to him! No work or repentance of our own could accomplish any more.

Let’s pray this psalm because we are beloved children of God, and his faithful love compels us to repent of all that offends him. Let’s pray because we need the knowledge of God and the work of the Holy Spirit; our self-knowledge is inadequate and incomplete and so often inaccurate.

Let’s pray this psalm because we trust God not only to show us our sin, but to “lead [us] in the way everlasting.” God won’t simply point the way down the proper path, but he’ll take our hand and walk with us.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23–24)


Photo Credit: Kelly Sikkema (2016), public domain

Ordinary Ingredients of Christian Growth

Fad diets exist because healthy diets are boring. We don’t like to hear about vegetables and exercise; we’d rather lose ten pounds in a week by taking some radical step.

But fad diets don’t work. The most reliable path to a healthier body is the one doctors have been recommending for decades.

Ordinary Means

So it is with our spiritual lives. We think mountaintop experiences will provide the jolt we need to grow closer to God.

But the truth is both more mundane and more wonderful. We don’t need to climb the mountain; God has come down! By his Son and by his Spirit, he dwells with his people. As a consequence, God uses ordinary means to make us grow.

Four Ingredients

My recent Bible reading has shown me four ingredients of Christian growth. (This list isn’t comprehensive.)

The Word

God’s word gives us growth.

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. (1 Peter 2:1–3, NASB)

We need the Bible like newborn babies need milk: desperately!! Surely you’ve seen a hungry baby. We should long for God’s word with the same urgency. Without the Bible, we simply won’t grow.

Community

God has created a healthy interdependence within the church.

  • God gave the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11–12). God gives people to equip the saints, and the purpose is the body’s growth.
  • The goal of this building up is “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” Paul wants us to aim for “mature manhood” and “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13). In the growth of the body, we will find maturity, fullness, and unity. Notice that Paul mentions “knowledge” specifically, so community is not just about emotional support. We are to help each other grow in understanding as well.
  • We are to grow past the adolescent stage, where we are “tossed to and fro by the waves.” Instead, “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph 4:14–15). Much has been written about the phrase speaking the truth in love, but in context it must involve steadying, correcting help that leads to growth. By definition, this cannot be done in isolation.
  • The “whole body” is “joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped.” Every single part of the body is necessary to join and hold it together, and “when each part is working properly,” the body grows and “builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:16). Every part of the body is necessary for the body’s growth, and no part grows without the body.

Repentance

Christians are not to walk as the Gentiles walk. Instead, they have been taught

to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22–24)

This is the process of repentance. Note the three distinct parts: put off, be renewed, put on. We identify and turn away from our sin, we remember our new God-given identity, and we adopt the godly behavior or thought that replaces sin. To help us, Paul lists five examples of this repentance in Eph 4:25–32.

Beholding the Lord

There is a glory present in the new covenant that was veiled in the old. The veil keeping people from God is removed for those who turn to Christ.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17–18)

As we behold the glory of the Lord, we are transformed from glory to glory. Though “beholding” sounds mysterious, it must include a few actions.

We cannot behold the Lord without delighting in the Bible, the unique place where we hear of Christ’s glorious work. We meditate on God’s glory—thinking about his character and work, thanking him for his love and grace, anticipating the excellencies of his presence. The word leads to our meditation which leads to prayer.

Powerful Means of Growth

It may not be flashy, but God faithfully causes growth from the most ordinary of means: regular Bible intake, membership in a local church, repentance of sin, and beholding the glory of the Lord in meditation and prayer.

God takes weak and ordinary people and uses them in extraordinary ways. He does the same with the ordinary ingredients of Christian growth. They may not be radical, but they are powerful.


Photo Credit: Rohit Tandon (2016), public domain

Giving Detailed Thanks for Coffee

coffee-mug

On one level, God’s will for us is plain.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess 5:16–18)

Putting aside the complex issue of God’s will, Paul’s exhortation makes it clear that thanksgiving must be a central part of the Christian life. Paul also writes that we should be “…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father…” (Eph 5:20).

What does this sort of universal, always-on thanksgiving look like?

Give Thanks to God

Principally, God’s people should be thankful to be God’s people, because this is a gift. Just look at Exodus 15:1–18 where Moses sings and exults in God’s Red Sea deliverance.

For the Christian, all of God’s gifts flow from the supreme gift of salvation, and we should thank him for every one.

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1 Tim 4:4–5)

Moses’s song in Exodus 15 is a model of thanksgiving for us. Our modern ears might find it repetitive, but Moses is slowly rehearsing every powerful, saving work. Every detail is important, because God is in all of the details.

We glorify God when we thank him specifically. In particular, we draw attention to his generosity, power, and love when we delight in all the blessings that come from a particular gift. After all, God foreknew and planned every last blessing we experience!

Specific, Exuberant Thanksgiving

My aim is to model this type of thanksgiving.

I love coffee. This isn’t exactly a controversial opinion on the internet, since roughly 114% of Twitter bios mention it. But I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about coffee recently. (I’m teaching a class on it in the fall.)

This is just a case study; coffee isn’t the point. My aim is thanking God everywhere, at all times, for all things. I’m just getting started; how about you?

Thank You, God, for Coffee

God, thank you for coffee. What a good, pleasurable gift you’ve given!

Thank you for the way coffee tastes. I love the way the flavor varies by the origin and roast of the bean; from nutty to fruity to chocolaty, the differences are delightful. Thank you for the unmistakable jolt to my tongue when I take my first morning sip.

Thank you for the smell of coffee. You’ve created such a warm, enticing smell with this drink that many who don’t enjoy the drink welcome the smell. The intensity of the aroma over freshly-ground beans is arresting and invigorating. Thank you for the way the smell of the grounds is released by the water, pulling me like a tractor beam to the mug.

Thank you for the stimulation coffee provides. You created caffeine, and like everything you created it is good. How generous you are to give a safe chemical in a delicious form that helps so many focus, think, and create.

Thank you for the ritual that goes along with coffee. You’ve given us a welcome, peaceful process to create this great drink. From boiling to scooping to grinding to pouring, the predictable rhythm of those ten minutes is a respite from the rest of the day. Thank you for the opportunity to breathe and rest while the coffee brews.

Thank you for the beauty of coffee. Though I make it much more for its taste than its appearance, in the right hands coffee is gorgeous. You’ve created so many different shades of brown that complement and accent each other so perfectly.

Thank you for the availability of coffee. The bean is grown in limited parts of the world, but you’ve blessed the farming, processing, and distribution of coffee so that most countries have easy access.

Thank you for the conversations that coffee inspires. You’ve made it natural, at least in the States, to build friendships over this drink. So many people meet to plan, pray, study the Bible, or ponder your world while drinking coffee.

Thank you for the food that goes so well with coffee. Donuts, bagels, eggs—these all pair perfectly with coffee. This drink you’ve created is wonderful by itself, but it shines in harmony with every cake, pie, and pastry around. What delicious combinations you’ve made for us to enjoy!

God, we see your goodness and overflowing generosity in coffee. It points us to your character, your love, and the gift of your Son for us. Thank you!


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Photo Credit: karl chor (2015), public domain

Technology and the Purpose of Family

The Tech-Wise FamilyWhat is the purpose of the family? Why did God structure our lives to involve these people, so close to us, for so many years?

In his latest book, The Tech-Wise Family, Andy Crouch answers this question with two words.

Family helps form us into persons who have acquired wisdom and courage. (53)

Wisdom and Courage

As so many have observed, the “information age” has not made us wiser people. Access to facts is not the same thing as wisdom.

Knowledge, these days, is very easy to come by—almost too easy, given the flood of search results for almost any word or phrase you can imagine. But you can’t search for wisdom—at least, not online. And it’s as rare and precious as ever—maybe, given how complex our lives have become, rarer and more precious than before. (56)

Crouch argues that wisdom is essential, but by itself it doesn’t have an impact. Wisdom makes a difference when it brings about action.

If all we needed were wisdom, that would be challenge enough. But it’s not all we need. Because we need not just to understand our place in the world and the faithful way to proceed—we also need the conviction and character to act. And that is what courage is about. (56)

How do we become people of wisdom and courage?

The only way to do it is with other people. We need people who know us and the complexities and difficulties of our lives really well—so well that we can’t hide the complexity and difficulty from them. And we need people who love us—who are unreservedly and unconditionally committed to us, our flourishing, and our growth no matter what we do, and who are so committed to us that they won’t let us stay the way we are. (58)

The Place of Technology

Crouch discusses technology in the context of the family. In particular, he writes about the relationship between technology and the reason family exists.

For technology, with all its gifts, poses one of the greatest threats ever conceived by human society to the formation of wise, courageous persons that real family and real community are all about. (62)

Crouch views the goal of technology as “easy everywhere,” and since this ethos often stands in opposition to growth in wisdom and courage, we need help.

What it all adds up to is a set of nudges, disciplines, and choices that can keep technology in its proper place—leaving room for the hard and beautiful work of becoming wise and courageous people together. (18)

Crouch is not against technology. He is simply passionate enough about the development of healthy, wise families that he doesn’t want anything (including technology) to stand in the way. So technology needs to be in “its proper place,” which Crouch summarizes in the preface in six ways.

Technology is in its proper place when…

  • it helps us bond with the real people we have been given to love;
  • it starts great conversations;
  • it helps us take care of the fragile bodies we inhabit;
  • it helps us acquire skill and mastery of domains that are the glory of human culture;
  • it helps us cultivate awe for the created world we are a part of and responsible for stewarding; and
  • we use it with intention and care. (20–21)

Recommendation

Though Andy Crouch begins The Tech-Wise Family with vision and principles, the book is stuffed with practical suggestions. He writes about the guidelines his family has tried to follow with regard to technology, and at the end of each chapter (in a “Crouch Family Reality Check”) he reveals how successful they were.

At its core, this is not a book about technology. This is a book about family, and a fine one at that. Crouch will provoke you, surprise you, and make you laugh. He models a way to approach technology neither as a gushing fanboy nor a fussy grump. His winsome vision of the family is primary, and technology must take a supporting role.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and I think many parents will benefit from reading it.

Thanks to Baker Books for providing me with a review copy of this book.


Disclosure: the links to Amazon.com in this blog post are affiliate links, meaning that I get a small percentage of any purchase you make on Amazon if you make that purchase after clicking through this link.

Six Ways to Respond to God’s Steadfast Love

Breezewood truck

Driving the Pennsylvania Turnpike can be rough, especially when you’re tired. The hills and farms all look the same, and it’s easy to get lulled to sleep by the endless pattern of signs: speed limit, exit, service plaza; speed limit, exit, service plaza.

Many of us read Psalm 136 this way. Every verse contains the refrain “for his steadfast love endures forever.” Though you may exult in this truth in verse one, you weary of it by verse 13. Your eyes skip along to the “interesting parts,” neglecting the other half.

But there’s gold in the repetition.

Behold the Promise of God’s Love

This psalm is a masterpiece, painting God’s work through history with the brushstrokes of his love.

The psalmist begins by highlighting God’s goodness and his supreme position above other gods (vv. 1–3). The next six verses describe God’s work as creator; he made the heavens, spread out the earth, and created the sun, moon, and stars (vv. 4–9).

Beginning in verse 10, the psalmist writes of the pivotal deliverance from Egypt. The psalm slows down, crediting God with each step along the way—the Passover, the Red Sea, and the defeat of Pharaoh (vv. 10–16).

In their journey through the wilderness, God gave his people victory over nations who opposed them. In verses 17–22, the psalmist rehearses God’s military might and his provision of land. This stanza connects God’s promise-keeping love (see God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12:7 and 17:8) to his commitment to fight for his people.

The psalm closes with a summary: God remembered, rescued, and provides for his people (vv. 23–25), so we should thank him.

Sing the Refrain of God’s Love

Through all 26 verses, the refrain is the same: “for his steadfast love endures forever.” Behind God’s creative work, his saving work, his fighting work, his providing work—through all the high drama, God’s love is the explanation.

And God’s love is not reserved for the mountain tops. His steadfast love is revealed in the valley of the wilderness years (v. 16) and the mundanity of mealtimes (v. 25).

God’s steadfast love is behind and underneath everything he does. None of his characteristics or actions can be separated from his love. We can easily affirm this integration when considering the exodus or promised land, but it applies equally to God’s justice and wrath (see vv. 15, 17–20). From top to bottom, God is love.

Grasp the Steadfastness of God’s Love

If the biblical authors highlight and underline their writing by repetition, we should pay careful attention to this refrain. It appears in each and every verse—26 times in all.

For his steadfast love endures forever.

Notice the whopping three references to time in this refrain. God’s love is steadfast. His love endures. His love endures forever.

It’s hard for finite humans to digest that word, forever. Everything we see, do, or know comes to an end. What is true for food and clothing we also witness in our emotions. We’d like to claim that our love (for a spouse, for a parent, for a child) is steadfast, but we know better. In anger or impatience, apathy or bitterness, we withhold our love from those most dear to us.

How different God’s love is from ours! His love is steadfast, never diminishing in volume, never weakening in strength, never retreating, never tainted. Though we may feel alone or unloved, reality is different—his love endures forever.

We struggle to digest this truth; we’re prone to dismiss or forget God’s love. In times of suffering, loss, or deep sadness, we often resist with our heart what we know with our mind. Like the psalmist, we need to repeat this truth as often as possible: God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Personalize the Beauty of God’s Love

Here are two ways to internalize God’s love.

Put the psalm on repeat. Read Psalm 136 every morning and evening for a month. (Read every word, careful not to skip the repeated line!) Listen to it on your phone or tablet. Like the woodpecker, a persistent tapping in the same spot sometimes yields a breakthrough.

Write your own version of this psalm. Take up a journal, recount God’s work in your life, and end each line or paragraph the same way: “For his steadfast love endures forever.”

Consider the Cost of God’s Steadfast Love

God’s love for his people reached a crescendo in the incarnation. He aimed to redeem his people, and he had to deal with their sin, once and for all. In his steadfast love, God sent his Son. For his love is a pursuing, costly love.

God demonstrated his abiding, enduring love in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. When Jesus was “made sin for us” on the cross, the Father withdrew his protective love for a time. The Father’s love for his people was manifest in wrath toward sin, and the Son was crushed for our iniquities. Jesus knew the Father’s full fury; he experienced the absence of God’s love so we would know it forever.

Give Thanks for God’s Steadfast Love

Why does the steadfast love of God matter? How does it change us?

One clear application comes out of this psalm: Give thanks. This is the only exhortation in the entire psalm, and it appears four times (vv. 1, 2, 3, 26). In fact, all of the descriptions of God, including the refrain about his love, are given as fuel for thanksgiving.

So give thanks to God for who he is. He is the Creator, Savior, Conqueror, and Provider that Israel needed then and that we need now. Thank God for all the ways his steadfast love has rung out in history and in your life. Don’t hesitate to include the routine aspects of your day; from the miraculous Red Sea crossing to God’s provision of food, everything flows from his love.

And as you give thanks to God, remind yourself and everyone around you about his love. It is steadfast, and it endures forever.

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: Ben Schumin, Creative Commons License

My View from the Worship Team

worship

I’m on the worship team at church, so when it’s time to sing, I’m looking out at the congregation. I see it all—the joy, the struggles, and the boredom. I’m reminded how Jesus welcomes all of us, that his body is made up of all sorts of different people.

To the passionate, early 40s woman—It lifts my heart to see you worship God. You close your eyes, lift your hands, and focus on every word. Not all of us are so demonstrative with our bodies in worship, but your love for God can’t come out any other way. I see the joy in your face and I see the children around you—they’re watching. You’re giving them a picture of devotion to our Savior. I’m so glad you’re part of our family.

To the young father near the front—I love to see you teach your son to sing. You crouch down and point to the words on the screen, helping him to follow along now that he is starting to read. The church needs men who sing, and it’s great that you’re training him in these early years. You’re helping build up the body of Christ; I’m glad you’re part of our family.

To the silent man in the back pew—you sit as far away from the preacher as possible. You stand during the songs, but you don’t sing. You don’t look bored as much as you look angry. You sit by yourself, though you act like someone is forcing you to attend. I hope you find our church is a safe place to doubt, to ask questions, or to simply show up as you are. I don’t know you well, but I’m glad you keep coming back.

To the two older ladies in the back—you are a treasure! You have trouble standing during the praise songs, and you might not be able to see the screen. I know we don’t always make our services easy for you, but I love seeing you here. You are models of faithfulness, wisdom, and grace, quick with a hug or an encouraging word for anyone that needs either. You point me to our Savior with your steady trust in him. I want to be like you as I grow older; I’m glad you’re part of our family.

Our church isn’t perfect. We’ve got a lot of learning and loving and growing to do. But as God gathers his imperfect people around his perfect Son, I’m glad to be a part of this family.


This post is an imaginative essay. I don’t sing on the worship team, and none of the people in the essay are specific individuals in my church. These characters are amalgams of people I have seen and known (and imagined) over time.


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Photo Credit: John Price (2015), public domain

Christians Must Be Fluent in the Gospel

Gospel-Fluency

The gospel of Jesus Christ is more than a greeting at the door of the church. It is the bedrock truth that energizes, sustains, comforts, and motivates a Christian throughout his life.

Jeff Vanderstelt wrote his new book Gospel Fluency to help us see the gospel as a language we must learn to speak.

We need the gospel and we need to become gospel-fluent people. We need to know how to believe and speak the truths of the gospel—the good news of God—in and into the everyday stuff of life. In other words, we need to know how to address the struggles of life and the everyday activities we engage in with what is true of Jesus: the truths of what he accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection, and, as a result, what is true of us as we put our faith in him. The gospel has the power to affect everything in our lives. (Gospel Fluency, Kindle location 223)

The Gospel is How We Change

This is a strong, helpful book. Jeff Vanderstelt fills his writing with stories, suggestions, and biblical truth.

My favorite chapter was Chapter 9 (Fruit to Root). In this chapter he writes about diagnosing our beliefs and how the gospel shapes our repentance.

A basic assumption in this chapter is that our behaviors are not the worst sin problem we have.

Part of our job in growing in gospel fluency is paying attention to the overflow of our hearts. What comes out in the form of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors finds its origin inside of us. Too often, we focus our attention on changing the external rather than addressing the internal. (Gospel Fluency, Kindle location 1464)

At the bottom of our sinful behavior are usually lies we’re believing about God. Vanderstelt helps us see the bad fruit in our lives and trace it to the bad root. He uses four questions to uncover unbelief.

  1. What am I doing or experiencing right now?
  2. In light of what I am doing or experiencing, what do I believe about myself?
  3. What do I believe God is doing or has done?
  4. What do I believe God is like? (Gospel Fluency, Kindle location 1477)

Vanderstelt uses a story about his wife to help explain how these questions are used in practice. When uncovering unbelief, ask the questions in this order. You’ll arrive at the lie(s) you’re believing about God, at which point it’s time to confess your sin.

So often, when people are led to confess their sins, they only confess their sinful behaviors. In other words, they confess the fruit. They say: “I’m sorry I lied. Please forgive me.” Or: “I looked at pornography. I know that’s wrong. Please forgive me.” The problem, however, is that they need to confess their sinful beliefs—the roots, the stuff below the surface that is motivating and producing their behaviors, the sin beneath the sins. All sin stems from wrong beliefs—lies we believe—and ultimately from our unbelief in Jesus. And because we generally don’t go beyond the fruit to the root, we end up aiming at behavior modification instead of gospel transformation. “I’m sorry, I promise I won’t do it again” or “I’m going to try harder in the future” are among our typical responses. (Gospel Fluency, Kindle location 1535)

The gospel brings us to the truth about God. Vanderstelt then suggests working from “root to fruit” by asking those four questions in the reverse order. Our lives are changed as we confess our faith and see the grand implications of the gospel.

Commendable

Chapter 9 is worth the price of the book, but wait, there’s more. His chapter on listening was excellent. He sets all of his application within the context of a local church, showing how learning to speak fluent gospel is a community project.

I’m grateful to Jeff Vanderstelt for writing this book. I recommend it!

Thanks to Crossway for an advance reader’s copy of this book.


Disclosure: the links to Amazon.com in this blog post are affiliate links, meaning that I get a small percentage of any purchase you make on Amazon if you make that purchase after clicking through this link.

Now, We Laugh

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The victory seemed sure. Against the odds death lashed this man to the wood, this wonder who spoke so much of life. Jesus had assaulted death’s kingdom at every turn, and now, with a final cry, he ran out of breath.

His body found a tomb, and fear stationed a rock and guards. These bouncers would let no one in.

They faced the wrong direction. They missed the show.

∞∞∞

Who knows what sounds or sights burst inside. Perhaps it was ear-splitting, a blinding flash. Maybe it was quiet and small, a hiccup of life stirring the body.

Jesus flung death aside and the boulder with it. The grave clothes lay discarded on the ground. The mighty guards passed out from fear, replaced by heavenly officers.

As he walked out of the tomb, Jesus laughed at death. The righteous Son of God had finished his work. Now he pulsed and thrummed with life.

∞∞∞

We follow our Savior between the times. We see the hatred and the grabbing of the old way, kicking and jerking toward and within us. We mourn and cry and resist.

But we are not all mourning. We know the new way. We laugh at the good news—not because it’s funny, but because it’s so good. We are amazed and overcome and grateful, and we laugh the laugh of those who are free.

We laugh that the good news would be spoken to us. We laugh that we would be loved and adopted. We laugh that we would be promised such a future.

∞∞∞

Death will make its final, futile attempts. It will throw us in the ground, a stone on top.

Who knows what sounds or sights will come. Jesus will fling death aside and the stone with it. The heavenly officers will take us further up and further in to the city coming down.

As we join the throng, we will laugh at death. Where is your sting? Where is your victory?

∞∞∞

Without the curse, without frustration and thorns, we will rejoice forever. In the presence of our Father, we will know as we have been fully known. In our joy, we will laugh.

That joy is not just for Then. It is not just for Easter morning. It is for now and now and now, because the bond Jesus secured cannot be broken. We are grabbed and held by everlasting, full-to-the-brim love.

We will laugh forever because we will be with God, safe. And we laugh now, because we need the practice.


Photo Credit: cheriejoyful (2011), Creative Commons License

The Gallery (First Quarter, 2017)

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Over the past year I’ve felt like a pedestrian beside a busy interstate. Cars whiz past incessantly. I can’t think with all the noise.

It’s the internet, guys. I don’t use it so good. I’ve sought out what’s new-new-new, and it’s left me malnourished and unsatisfied.

In an effort to slow down, think, and let the best of the internet sharpen and edify me, I’m starting an infrequent (but regular!) blog series. I’m calling it The Gallery because that’s the image that best fits my idea.

I’m trying to find a happy middle between a daily roundup and The Best of The Year. I want to call attention to some of the best articles, videos (not this time), and podcasts I’ve noticed that might still have relevance. For now, I’ve settled on posting this roundup once a quarter.

These are the best things I’ve run across in the first three months of 2017. They deserve multiple readings or listens. Their quality demands thoughtful consideration (or reconsideration).

This isn’t the best of the internet, because I have no desire to cast my net as wide as possible. This is the best of what I encountered, taking all my preferences and oddities into account. Enjoy.

Articles

  1. Mathematics for Human Flourishing, by Francis Su (personal blog) — As the outgoing president of the Mathematical Association of America, Francis Su gave a plenary talk at the big, national math conference in January. Francis Su is a Christian and you can hear it in the way he talks about mathematics and opportunity. This is one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard, and it’s the only one at a math conference I’ve ever seen get a standing ovation. I was in the room and I could tell something special was happening. At this link you’ll have the chance to read, listen to, or watch the speech. (For the math-squeamish, don’t worry—there’s no math in the talk at all!)
  2. “But I didn’t mean to be racist”, by Jemar Tisby (Fathom Magazine) — I’ve been thinking a lot about race and the church over the past 6–12 months. Jemar Tisby has been a consistently helpful voice. In this article he writes about the difference between intent and impact, and he calls white evangelicals to empathy. This is worth reading prayerfully.
  3. The Mad Truth of La La Land, by Jennifer Trafton (The Rabbit Room) — La La Land was the best movie I saw this quarter, and it’s made me think a lot. This article helped me process the movie, the characters, and the ending. And Jennifer Trafton showed me what the movie teaches about love. Top notch.
  4. Confessing the Sin of Platforming, by J.A. Medders (personal blog) — What an honest, revealing, God-glorifying personal essay this is! J.A. Medders writes about rejection and his desire to be known. I suspect everyone who writes online struggles with this. (I do.) I needed to read this.

Podcasts

  1. Cultivated (Harbor Media) — Mike Cosper hosts a great interview podcast with Christians about faith and work. Cosper asks his guests about their sense of calling and listeners are treated to some great stories. This podcast launched in the fall of 2016, but there were some great episodes released in January and February.
  2. Pass the Mic (Reformed African American Network) — The tagline for this podcast is “Dynamic Voices for a Diverse Church.” Tyler Burns and Jemar Tisby host this podcast which aims to “address the core concerns of African Americans biblically.” I have learned so much from this podcast. The hosts and guests have helped me to grow a bit in understanding what minority citizens experience in the United States and in the church. I love that the hosts, even while acknowledging the difficulty and frustration that goes with racial reconciliation, proclaim the power of the gospel in every episode. All the episodes are tremendous, but I especially enjoyed the interview with Andy Crouch.

Photo Credit: Ryan McGuire (2014), public domain