Heaven: Christ is Central

In his book, God is the Gospel, John Piper asked:

The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there? (pg. 15, emphasis mine)

Let’s have the Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, answer that for us. Spurgeon said:

Oh, think of heaven without Christ! It is the same thing as thinking of hell. Heaven without Christ! It is day without sun; existing without life, feasting without food, seeing without light. It involves a contradiction in terms. Heaven without Christ! Absurd. It is the sea without water, the earth without its fields, the heavens without their stars. There cannot be heaven without Christ. He is the sum total of bliss; the fountain from which heaven flows, the element of which heaven is composed. Christ is heaven and heaven is Christ. You shall change the words and make no difference in the sense. To be where Jesus is is the highest imaginable bliss, and bliss away from Jesus is inconceivable to the child of God. (quoted in Spurgeon on the Christian Life, pgs. 176-177)

If you don’t treasure Christ now, you may not be bound for the heaven of the Bible.

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Counterfeit Gospels

On Sunday we talked about the danger of counterfeit gospels and the need to be aware of them. Trevin Wax, an author (and blogger/editor/publisher),  has written on counterfeit gospels in both book and article form. Here are some of the counterfeits he has noted:

Therapeutic Gospel: Sin robs us of our sense of fullness. Christ’s death proves our worth as humans and gives us power to reach our potential. The church helps us find happiness.

Moralist Gospel: Our big problem is sins (plural) and not sin (nature). The purpose for Christ’s death is to give us a second chance and make us better people. Redemption comes through the exercise of willpower with God’s help.

Social-Club Gospel: Salvation is all about finding fellowship and friendship at church. The gospel is reduced to Christian relationships that help us enjoy life.

Activist Gospel: The kingdom is advanced through our efforts to build a just society. The gospel’s power is demonstrated through cultural transformation, and the church is united around political causes and social projects.

Mystic Gospel: Salvation comes through an emotional experience with God. The church is there to help me feel close to God by helping me along in my pursuit of mystical union.

Churchless Gospel: The focus of salvation is primarily on the individual, in a way that makes the community of faith peripheral to God’s purposes. The church is viewed as an option to personal spirituality, or even an obstacle to Christlikeness.

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Racial Reconciliation

Brandon and I have had the privilege of being at the MLK50 Conference this week. The conference was hosted by The Gospel Coalition and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. As the conference sponsors have said; “The 5oth anniversary of King’s tragic death marks an opportunity for Christians to reflect on the state of racial unity in the church and in the culture. It creates the occasion to reflect on where Christians have been and look ahead to where we must go as we pursue racial unity in the midst of tremendous tension.”

Here are three talks from the conference that I believe are particularly important for white Christians to hear.

Racial Justice and the Uneasy Conscience of American Christianity

Welcome to MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop. We are joined by Russell Moore for the first keynote of the conference: Racial Justice and the Uneasy Conscience of American Christianity Watch the entire simulcast at MLK50Conference.com/simulcast #MLK50Conference

Posted by ERLC on Tuesday, April 3, 2018

 

Understanding and Overcoming the Inconsistencies in White Evangelicals on Racial Issues-Matt Chandler

Matt Chandler kicks off day two of the #MLK50Conference with his keynote, Understanding and Overcoming the Inconsistencies in White Evangelicals on Racial Issues. Before he speaks, we have a special song from The Village Church.Watch the entire simulcast at MLK50Conference.com/livestream

Posted by ERLC on Wednesday, April 4, 2018

 

Christian Hip Hop and the Next Generation of Christian Racial Unity-Trip Lee

Trip Lee is here to talk about Christian hip hop and the next generation of Christian racial unity. Watch the entire simulcast at MLK50Conference.com/live. #MLK50Conference.com/livestream

Posted by ERLC on Wednesday, April 4, 2018

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The Gardener

“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’” –John 20:15-16a

On John’s note that Mary supposed the resurrected Christ to be “the gardener,” Sinclair Ferguson and Alistair Begg wrote:

Adam was to ‘garden’ the whole earth, for the glory of the heavenly Father. But he failed. Created to make the dust fruitful he himself became part of the dust. The garden of Eden became the wilderness of this world. But do you also remember how John’s Gospel records what happened on the morning of Jesus’ resurrection? He was ‘the beginning [of the new creation], the firstborn from the dead.’  But Mary Magdalene did not recognize Him; instead, she spoke to him, ‘supposing him to be the gardener.’

The Gardner? Yes, indeed. He is the Gardener. He is the second Man, the last Adam, who is now beginning to restore the Garden. (Name Above All Names, pg. 34)

Ferguson and Begg are pointing out that the failure of Adam and the resulting curse upon creation happened in a garden. Now with the work of Christ, the Second Adam, the beginning of the new creation is also taking place in a garden. Christ bore the curse and was resurrected as the beginning of the new creation which will eventually result in Him making all things new (Rev. 21:5). Here is how two theologians summarized this truth:

In a garden Adam fell down into death; in a garden-tomb, Christ rose up from it. –Michael Reeves (Christ Our Life, pg. 32)

Just as the first Adam received life in the garden, so Jesus emerges as the last Adam in resurrection life out of the garden tomb. –Brandon Crowe (The Last Adam, pg. 195)

The resurrection changes everything! Indeed, without the resurrection we have no hope and could only be pitied (1 Cor. 15:17-19). G.K. Chesterton said it this way:

…the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away…What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn. (quoted in Christ Our Life, pg. 52)

Friends, the resurrection is true and gives us a hope that is unsinkable. Christ, the firstfruits, is the guarantee of the full harvest to come! (1 Cor. 15:20)

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“Gospel Fluency”

“…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” -Ephesians 4:15

In his book, Gospel Fluency, Jeff Vanderstelt wrote the following referencing the verse above:

…if we are to help one another grow up into Christ in every way, we need to learn how to speak the truths of Christ into everything—every aspect of life, every situation we face, and every issue we address. (pg. 30, emphasis mine)

This is where his concept of gospel fluency comes in. We typically use the term “fluency” when it comes to speaking a second language. A person can learn some of the vocabulary and grammar of a second language. However, they will not become fluent in that language until they can sit with native speakers and have a smooth conversation.

To be a Christian, one must know the gospel. Yet, as we grow in the gospel we become more fluent in speaking gospel truth into every situation we and our fellow believers encounter. Let me hit pause for a second. If this sounds strange to you, it shouldn’t. As we say at Redeemer, we don’t graduate from the gospel, but rather we press deeper into it. After all, the riches of Christ are inexhaustible.

Ok, back to gospel fluency. Vanderstelt wrote:

You gain fluency in a language when you move from merely translating an unfamiliar language into a familiar one to interpreting all of life through that new language. It happens when you can think, feel, and speak in a language. (pg. 40)

He continued:

I believe such fluency is what God wants his people to experience with the gospel. He wants them to be able to translate the world around them and the world inside of them through the lens of the gospel—the truths of God revealed in the person and work of Jesus. (pg. 41)

Just as you need conversation partners to become fluent in a second language, so you also need them to become gospel-fluent. Where are those partners found? In the local church, of course! Vanderstelt emphasized the local church when he said:

You become fluent through immersion in a gospel-speaking community and through ongoing practice. You have to know it, regularly hear it, and practice proclaiming it. (pg. 43)

He continued:

Gospel fluency begins in you, gets worked out within community, and is expressed to a world that needs to hear about Jesus.

Your ongoing development in the gospel best occurs through involvement in a gospel-proclaiming church—a people who gather regularly to hear the good news of Jesus spoken. Please, if you want to grow in gospel fluency, gather with a church that regularly preaches the good news of Jesus Christ. (pg. 43)

Let’s strive to press deeper into the gospel together in hopes that we indeed gain gospel fluency. This fluency, speaking the gospel to one another in every situation, is exactly what we need as we seek to help one another follow Jesus.

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One Another

I had the privilege of spending this past weekend in Boston with Pastor Kevin Sanders, his family, and church family. In the Sanders’ home, I noticed a list sampling some of the “one another” passages from the New Testament. I thought to myself; “Wow! What a good and healthy practice, to be thinking on these passages often.”

I offer them here and ask you to think on these verses and God’s call to you as a church member, to love your fellow church members. (By the way, it would be near impossible to practice these “one anothers” outside of being committed to a local church.)

ACCEPT ONE ANOTHER

  • “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7 ESV)

TEACH ONE ANOTHER

  • “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16 ESV)

BEAR ONE ANOTHER’S BURDENS

  • “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2 ESV)

BEAR WITH ONE ANOTHER

  • “… with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,” (Ephesians 4:2 ESV)

BUILD UP ONE ANOTHER

  • “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:19 ESV)

CARE FOR ONE ANOTHER

  • “… that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” (1 Corinthians 12:25 ESV)

COMFORT ONE ANOTHER

  • “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:18 ESV)

CONFESS FAULTS TO ONE ANOTHER

  • “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16 ESV)

BE DEVOTED TO ONE ANOTHER

  • “Love one another with brotherly affection.” (Romans 12:10a ESV)

ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER

  • “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV)

FORGIVE ONE ANOTHER

  • “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32 ESV)

BE HONEST WITH ONE ANOTHER

  • “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:9 ESV)

EXHORT/WARN ONE ANOTHER

  • “…exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13 ESV)

HONOR ONE ANOTHER

  • “Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10b ESV)

BE HOSPITABLE TO ONE ANOTHER

  • “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:9 ESV)

BE KIND TO ONE ANOTHER

  • “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32 ESV)

LOVE ONE ANOTHER

  • “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8 ESV)

MEMBERS ONE OF ANOTHER

  • … so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:5 ESV)

PRAY FOR ONE ANOTHER

  • “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16 ESV)

BE OF THE SAME MIND WITH ONE ANOTHER

  • “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus…” (Romans 15:5 ESV)

SERVE ONE ANOTHER

  • “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the Flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13 ESV)

SPUR ONE ANOTHER ON

  • “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” (Hebrews 10:24 ESV)

SUBMIT TO ONE ANOTHER

  • “… submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21 ESV)

In a blog post, Ray Ortlund offered some “one anothers” you don’t find in Scripture that are worth reflecting on as well. He wrote:

…is also striking to notice the “one anothers” that do not appear there (in the New Testament).

For example, sanctify one another, humble one another, scrutinize one another, pressure one another, embarrass one another, corner one another, interrupt one another, defeat one another, sacrifice one another, shame one another, marginalize one another, exclude one another, run one another’s lives, confess one another’s sins…

Let’s strive, by God’s grace and His guidance given in Scripture, to love ONE ANOTHER well.

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The Christian Counterculture

In the previous post, I wrote of how the church is to be a counterculture. This week I finished reading Nancy Pearcey’s recent book, Love Thy Body. After noting how the early church was countercultural within its Greek and Roman contexts, which were contexts “of social chaos that results when sexuality is untethered form marriage and family,” Pearcey challenged the church today. She said, “Christians will once again need to muster their courage to be radically countercultural…they will once again need to be prepared to minister to the victims…wounded by the sexual revolution.” (pg. 190)

She then described what an apologetic, motivated by “profound compassion” as historian Michael Green has said, looks like. Pearcey wrote:

The reason (Christians) speak out on moral issues should not be because their beliefs are being threatened or because they feel “offended.” They should erase the word offended from their vocabulary. After all, Christians are called to share in the offense of the cross. This is not about us.

Christians must make it clear that they are speaking out because they genuinely care about people. No matter how compelling the case for a biblical ethic, people rarely change their minds based on intellectual arguments alone. They are even less likely to change if all they hear is moral condemnation. People must be drawn in by a vision that attracts them by offering a more appealing, more life-affirming worldview. Christians must present biblical morality in a way that reveals the beauty of the biblical view of the human person so that people actually want it to be true. And they must back up their words with actions that treat people with genuine dignity and worth. (pg. 190, emphasis original)

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“Talking Points”

Recently in a sermon, I mentioned the importance of the church being a counterculture for those who will be seeking refuge after the idols touted by the world fail them. When this happens many will turn to an alternative idol, but there will be those who will be weary of sorting through the rubble of idol collapse after idol collapse. These refugees will be seeking some truly Good News that offers the Rock of Ages on which they can securely rest their lives without fearing yet another collapse.

The church has that Good News and it’s the Gospel which points to Christ, the Rock of Ages.  As we proclaim the Gospel, the fruit of the Gospel should be evident in our lives. This fruit gives both credibility to our words and adorns our words. It’s Gospel Fruit in the life of the church that provides the counterculture that will be the refuge many will seek (are seeking).

It’s important that we, as the church, think well about difficult issues facing our surrounding culture. One important aspect of thinking well is thinking with others. Books can provide good conversation partners. I want to introduce you to a helpful series of books (booklets, really) by Pastor Vaughan Roberts. The series is entitled, “Talking Points.” The purpose of these short booklets is to introduce difficult issues and possible responses by the church. However, their purpose presses further in that they are intended to then be discussed with others. Let me introduce you to the first three books of the series.

Transgender (74 pages)

“…the Bible brings great news to our culture with its identity crisis. And great news for people who are trying to work out who they are. It’s wonderfully freeing to know that we live in a world made by a loving God, where identity is not something we’ve somehow got to create for ourselves. Our identity is a given. We’re human beings, made in the image of God; we are creatures, not machines. (pg. 38)

Assisted Suicide (62 pages)

We may lose our job, and feel worthless. We are not, because our value does not depend on what we do; it depends on who God has made us. We may fail an exam, or not find a marriage partner, or suffer from a debilitating illness—and think we are worthless. We are not, because our value does not depend on our intelligence, or ability, or marital status, or physical ability; it depends on God, who made us and loves us.

This should also make us see others differently. The most helpless infant, the most vulnerable and incapable disabled person, the most dependent old person who has lost their memory and their ability to cope—all of them have lives that are truly valuable because they are made in the image of God. (pgs. 39-40)

The Porn Problem (80 pages)

Sex is not simply recreational; it is profoundly relational. (pg. 23, emphasis original)

Porn, which is by its nature selfish and unrelational, not only demeans sex; it also harms us. (pg. 24, emphasis original)

Porn not only demeans sex; it also cheapens people. (pg. 29)

Remember, the fundamental problem that causes slavery to porn is not our psychology or biology, but our sin. And to counter that, we can’t rely on self-help. We need a savior. Only Jesus Christ can truly set us free. (pgs. 46-47)

These books are certainly not exhaustive and you are sure to find points you wish to nuance with greater precision, but these are important issues that need to be discussed. And discussion is exactly what these books are intended to spark…so, take up and read.

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A Final Exhortation

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (7:24)

On this past Sunday, we concluded our study of the Sermon on the Mount. Sinclair Ferguson offers this final exhortation in his book on the Sermon. He wrote:

What does it mean to build on a solid foundation? It means more than hearing God’s word taught and becoming familiar with it, or even agreeing with it. We can do all that and still be a spiritual fool (7:26). Obedience to Christ’s word distinguishes the wise man from his foolish neighbor. (pg. 170, emphasis original)

He then concluded:

…Jesus did not preach it (the Sermon) in order to be admired for his homiletical skills. He preached it to produce obedience. He preached it so that the authority people recognized in his preaching might be realized in their lives. (pg. 171, emphasis original)

Ferguson’s final line is so compressed and rich it’s worth repeating:

(Jesus preached the Sermon) so that the authority people recognized in his preaching might be realized in their lives.

“And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority…” (7:28-29a)

How will we respond? Amazement? Agreement? Admiration? Mere Hearing? May we hear and believe with the Word taking root, bearing the fruit of obedience.

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Denying Self

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” -Matthew 16:24

In the sermon on Sunday, I offered the following statements from Sam Allberry on this call from Jesus. Allberry states:

Denying yourself does not mean tweaking your behavior here and there. It is saying ‘No’ to your deepest sense of who you are, for the sake of Christ. (pg. 9)

He further explained:

the gospel demands everything of all of us. If someone thinks the gospel has somehow slotted into their life quite easily, without causing any major adjustments to their lifestyle or aspirations, it is likely that they have not really started following Jesus at all. (pg. 10, emphasis mine)

Christian, where is denying self (or dying to self) lacking in your life? Are there areas in your life where the gospel has “slotted” in “without causing any major adjustments”?

  • Is sin reigning in a particular area of your life because you aren’t denying yourself, but are instead gratifying the flesh?

Christian, we have great freedom in Christ and have been called to use that freedom to serve others. (Gal. 5:13-14)

  • Are you denying yourself in order to serve others (fellow church members, spouse, children, neighbors, coworkers, etc.)?
  • Here is a quick test: Serving requires sacrifice and sacrifice costs you something (time, effort, physical/mental/emotional energy, money, etc.). If you don’t have many costs, then you aren’t doing much serving (denying of self).
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