Monthly Archives: August 2015

Saturate

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Jeff’s heart is now in print. Saturate comes loaded with a passion for Jesus and is filled to the brim with the gospel. In many ways it reads like one of his sermons. Frequently, he stops whatever narrative he is recounting or point he is making to challenge the reader personally. Jeff’s philosophy spills out onto the pages of his book through his life story. In the telling we discover a brutal honesty and a raw and refreshing vulnerability. When the gospel has it’s effect, there really is nothing to hide and so Jeff is wide open.

The church is the people of God on mission for God in everyday life. Thanks to Jeff and others increasing numbers of Christian people are coming to this basic conclusion. We are  finally getting the memo that Church is not a place you go to. It’s not a weekly dispensary designed to give religious consumers the goods and services they feel they need. But what does a church for everyday life look like? That’s where this book proves very helpful. Jeff’s teaching on understanding our identity as Christians and his practical helps at becoming intentional about everyday rhythms made alive though his stories are invaluable.

A great companion volume for this book would be Everyday Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis

The Transforming Power of the Gospel

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This book, intended for Christians, walks the believer in Jesus, through what he is supposed to believe. Set against the cultural context of the west, the gospel as Jerry presents it seems ever increasingly counter-cultural.

God’s Hatred — A massive part of the good news story is the complete holiness of God. The hatred God has for sin is overwhelming. There is no “relax, take it easy, no big deal” attitude when it comes to God and sin. His holiness will not tolerate any sin ever. The guilt of offence is proportional to the greatness of the one whom we have offended and since God is the greatest of great, we have a problem.

Sin is very, very bad — Our culture is at war with the very concept of sin. Nobody in our world want’s to speak of it. Poor choices, extenuating circumstances, lousy environment, mental illness, unwise decisions etc. are the preferred explanations we give for the bad stuff we do. However, the gospel defines all the bad stuff as sin, and sin according to the Bible is a complete disregard for God, a rebellion against his authority, and a defiance against his way, and, as the story goes, all of us are full of sin. Nobody seems to want to think in those terms anymore. But those are the terms set before us if the good news is to truly be good news.

Jesus meets us in our mess — Some people deal with the reality of guilt through self condemnation, they are forever beating themselves up. Others go in the opposite direction and embrace self righteousness as their coping mechanism. They have no time to consider their own guilt because they are too busy judging others and proving to anyone interested (and anyone who is not) just how good they are. Jesus comes and through him we acknowledge our guilt. We no longer condemn ourselves or justify ourselves we simply in faith give our sin over to God through Jesus. The good news destroy’s the performance based life — we don’t have to prove ourselves anymore, we are loved.  The good news also destroy’s the guilt based life, we don’t have to punish ourselves any more, we are forgiven.

Am I really cursed? — Do we really believe that we deserve the curse of God? Unfathomable, in our modern cultural context, but yet that is the belief of every single Christian.

Gratitude as motivation for obedience — If we are convinced that we are deserving of judgment but yet we receive eternal reward because of Jesus’ sacrifice, then the overwhelming response to this grace can only be gratitude. We do not obey God’s wishes because we live in fear of judgment or in expectation of reward we obey them out of a thankful heart coming from the great love that has been showered upon us.

Don’t think about rewards think about grace — Jerry attempts to divert the reader from considering eternal rewards as a motivator for obedience, I get that, however, if eternal rewards are a non-factor, why do the Scriptures talk about them so much? Jerry does not attempt to answer that question. Perhaps, we are supposed to think of eternal rewards, not so much as a reason for obedience, but rather a cause for joy. The anticipation of what will be is great fuel to help us persevere now, most especially when times are tough. This forward look of the gospel’s consummation, is a big point, I think, that was missed.

Dependant Responsibility — This was a major point in this book. The Holy Spirit does the work of transformation. Salvation and growth in a persons life are all the work of God. However, the human is responsible. How does that work? Jerry sorts this paradox by going into a classroomish explanation of the synergistic vs. monergistic works of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes when you break the story down into it’s highly technical parts you loose a little something, at least for me anyway.

Repentance — I was struck at the necessity of regular repentance for the Christian. Getting into the habit of giving all the junk over to Jesus is tremendously beneficial for helping the follower of Jesus remember the gospel story he is believing.

Everyday Church

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Another book about the church. There are a lot of them out there. This is one of the better ones. These men offer us a powerful critique of where the church has lost it’s focus, but they don’t just blast away, rather, with a gracious spirit they offer some tremendous assistance in moving forward. For 2015 this book receives my strongest recommendation. If you are at all interested in the church, read this book. Below is simply a compilation of snippets, woven together, to give you a taste.

If I build it will they come? Merely opening our doors each Sunday is no longer sufficient. Offering good products is not enough. What is clear is that great swathes of America will not be reached through Sunday morning services. (15) Since the Bible no longer has authority in public discourse increasingly less and less of our population has any interest in church attendance whatsoever. (19) Our persistent ‘come to us’ mind set suggests that we really believe that people who refuse to come in the front door are beyond the reach of Christ. We cannot assume people will come to us. We must go to them. (28) We cannot assume that people feel any need or obligation to attend church (37) – they don’t.  Even if we could produce cool church events, we would create a generation of Christian consumers who look to the church to entertain them. (49) – Sadly, this in many cases is exactly what we have done. When church becomes a performance in which most people are observers of the super-talented, the people of God eventually become disenfranchised. (96)

What about persecution? It is a daily thing to experience marginalization and hostility. (36) We need to discover or recover the sense that if this year we are not imprisoned it has been a good year .(38)

What is evangelism? It’s not a question of “improving the product” of church meetings and evangelistic events. It means reaching people apart from meetings and events. (17) Programs are what we create when Christians are not doing what they are supposed to do in everyday life. (50) It is not simply that ordinary Christians live good lives that enable them to invite friends to evangelistic events. Our lives are the evangelistic events (89) When we think of evangelism, we should not first think of guest services, evangelistic courses, street preaching, or door knocking. We should think of Gary at a meeting of the resident’s association. We should think of Hannah in her office. (90)

Being the church The church needs to understand itself as a people sent on a mission together rather than the storefronts for vendors of religious services and goods. (98) The gospel community is the core unit, when understanding church. These little communities on mission should be the primary organizing principle of the church.  It is within these collections of people that the work of evangelism, pastoral care, discipleship, and sharing life take place. A gospel community is a network of relationships that will probably have a regular meeting, but they are sharing life throughout the week (105) However you do church, let it be nothing less than the people of God on mission together. In this way we are a city on a hill and a light of the world. (111) Everyday church fills everyday, but it does not necessarily fill it with extra activities. It’s fundamentally a matter of becoming intentional about the everyday stuff of life. (143) No new life is possible without the Spirit of God, so we arrange to pray together because we see it as our  primary missional activity. (149) Everyday church is not primarily about a structure but about a culture or ethos. (155) Weekly Sunday gathering is important but it cannot achieve all that the New Testament envisions for church life. It cannot be a context for the one anothering of the New Testament. Moreover, if it is seen as primary, then all these other things are viewed as secondary. If the bulk of a churches time and energy goes into the Sunday meeting, then everyday church will not happen. (160)

Where are the lost? If we could place people on a range of one to ten depending on their interest in the gospel, where one is no interest and ten is a decision to follow Christ, lots of evangelism assumes people are at around eight. We teach our gospel outlines. We teach answers to apologetic questions. We hold guest services. We put on evangelistic courses. We preach in the open air or knock on doors. All these are great things to do, but 70 percent of the population is at one or two. (112) It’s not so much attractional events that will win people it is attractional communities. (88)

Speaking the gospel story into peoples stories. — Obviously, people do not use the categories creation, fall redemption, and consummation. But they will talk about who they are and what they are meant to be (creation) They will talk about what is wrong with them or what is wrong with the world — somebody or something will be blamed (fall) They will also have a sense of what needs to happen for things to be put right (redemption) and some sense of the state of affairs that they are hoping will give them meaning or satisfaction. (consummation) Creation = my identity who I am. Fall = My problem. Redemption = my solution. Consummation = my hope.  (115)  People are throwing out their versions of this grand story all the time or job is to look for points of intersection. (119)

Measurements of success — What is a good church? What criteria do we use to make assessments? Preaching? Youth Work? Music? For the apostle Peter a good church is characterized by love, compassion, forgiveness, generosity, service, and grace…A good church is a church in which the believers share their lives together as an alternative and authentic society. (140)

Re-thinking professional ministry — The most important evangelistic work of the minister appears to be not in the church and the pulpit but in two other kinds of relationships: one to one meetings with non-Christians and the ‘lapsed’ and group situations, particularly those where there is an opportunity to talk about the nature of faith. (24) Authentic leadership can be bi-vocational, and in a marginalized context this may be preferable. Unbelievers are often suspicious of professional clergy. They are more willing to listen to someone who works hard with integrity in a “normal” job. It also brings leaders into contact with people who would never attend a church service. (146)

Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret

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Hudson Taylor moved to China from England in the 1800’s, to tell the Chinese people about Jesus. He endured incredible hardship and difficulty but in the end the China Inland Mission was created and over the course of the last couple centuries thousands upon thousands of Chinese have put their hope in Jesus.

What made Hudson Taylor tick? That is what this book, which is made up largely of his own writings, is all about.

A Burden for the Lost — Hudson believed with all his heart that the world needed Jesus. Without Jesus there could only be eternal condemnation. Over and over again this point comes up in his writings.

(Do I really believe that people are lost without Jesus?) 

Prayer – Understanding God as father was a real truth for Hudson Taylor, therefore, he believed, he need only ask God for things and not men.  Hudson put himself in incredibly challenging situation’s because of this perspective. Whether he was down to the last rice kernel in his cupboard or the last penny in his bank account, he simply left these concerns with God and waited patiently. He is quoted as saying “It’s God himself, not God plus a bank balance, in this truth I was freed from care and anxiety” 

(Do I really trust God as my father?) 

In Christ – Taylor had a major crisis of faith. His daughter died, then his wife, then a war started between England and China in the whole mess the Chinese accused him of stealing babies, and the English accused him of forcing the Chinese to convert at gunpoint. With money running out, grief running high, and danger ever present, Taylor began to crumble. However it was in this crucible that Taylor realized a most powerful truth: Christ was already in him, and he in Christ, the promise was sure, Christ would never leave. He had long been trying harder, working later, worrying more — all efforts to become more like Christ were his efforts when all along Christ was already in him. upon this realization tremendous victory came, and serenity like never before was the result through out the rest of his life. It was said of Taylor: “The serenity of the Lord Jesus concerning any matter was his most ideal and practical possession.” 

(Am I still trying to impress Jesus by all my efforts) 

God’s kingdom is first and we work together. Denominations were distinct in those days, and less even then today did they work together. However, Taylor was more then willing to set aside denominational differences to spread the gospel. He also was never mislead, like so many other missionaries of that era, into thinking that white english culture must be transported into the Chinese world at par with the gospel. There was no “to be a Christian is to be an english gentleman” thinking in his mind. He completely adopted Chinese culture, hair, and dress, and when addressing the value of indigenous ministry he said.

“The hope for China lies in them. I look on foreign missionaries as the scaffolding round a rising building; the sooner it can be dispensed with the better”

(Am I still full of unhealthy bias and foolish pride in my culture, my traditions, and my way )

Wrestling with priorities. The incredible cost of overseas missions in those days upon families remains a struggle for me to accept. When addressing the tragedy of having to leave behind seven children in England for yet another foray into inland China, Taylor’s second wife said the following:

“I feel so ashamed that the dear children should affect me more than millions here who are perishing — while we are sure of eternity together”

As I see it, these children were gifted by God to the Taylor’s and they should not have been abandoned for any reason. Granted they were cared for, looked after, and educated but nothing can replace the godly influence of mom and dad. Parenting and spreading the gospel in foreign lands are equally high callings because both are all about discipleship. One should never come at the expense of the other. Using the surety of eternity together as a justification for abandonment, is by any measurement, poor.  It is also a flimsy assumption given that so many children have shipwrecked their spiritual lives as a direct result of parental vacancy.

(Am I functionally abandoning my children by the distractions of technology and business, am I absent though present?) 

The Gospel means cross bearing. Taylor was a quiet man, but his quietness was not evidence a passivity. He truly rested in Christ, but his rest did not indicate laziness:

There is a needs be for us to give ourselves for the life of the world. An easy, non-self-denying life will never be one of power. Fruit-bearing involves cross-bearing. There are not two Christ’s — and easy-going one for easy-going Christians, and a suffering toiling one for exceptional believers. There is only one Christ. Are you willing to abide in Him and thus bear much fruit.