Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It's About the Gospel, Stupid!

It is interesting how you can be humming along in ministry, comfortably busy, enjoying what you are doing, convinced that you are making a real difference, when God hits you with a simple, basic truth that stops you in your tracks.  Has that ever happened to you?  It has been happening to me over the past couple of weeks.
 It started at Montana Bible College’s Pastors and Leaders Conference.  The theme of the conference was Christ Close to Home.  It was meant to be an encouragement for churches to do a more effective job in connecting with their community in a variety of ways.  The keynote speaker was Dr. Art Azurdia from Western Seminary in Portland.
While Dr. Azurdia said some great things, there was one thought that kept on popping back into my brain.  It was simple idea.  That thought was: It’s about the gospel, stupid!  (In case you are worried, the stupid was aimed at me.)  Dr. Azurdia called us to what he called a worldly Christianity, meaning not a Christianity that marched in step with the world’s values, but a Christianity that was in the world, impacting the world with the gospel.  His primary text was John 17:17-19.

17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.  (ESV)

While he had much to say about these verses, what hit me over and over again was the centrality of the gospel.  Sanctification.  Truth.  Consecration.  All these words led back to the gospel.  We can talk about all kinds of things, but the bottom line is that in light of heaven, life makes no sense unless it is spent in the work of the gospel.  The basis for any ministry is not what we can accomplish, but what Christ has already accomplished.  I had to ask myself the question, over and over – has the cross gripped me as the single most important thing in my life.  Does everything in my life come back to the cross?  Because as a Christian – not a pastor or a leader, but a Christian – everything in my life should come back to the cross. It’s about the gospel, stupid!
In addition, last week I started reading the book How People Change by Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp.  My associate and I had agreed to start reading and discussing it in our weekly meetings.  The first chapter of the book is entitled “The Gospel Gap.”  In it, the authors suggest that there are three facets to the gospel, only two of which the church teaches well.  We do a good job teaching the past facet of the gospel – salvation and forgiveness.  We do a good job teaching the future facet of the gospel – eternal hope.  But we do not do a good job teaching the present component of the gospel – how the gospel applies to today.  This “gap” in our gospel presentation has caused many believers to be blind to God’s daily provision of grace through the gospel.  We struggle to do the right thing, underestimating the presence and power of indwelling sin, and do not depend on the present provision of God in Christ and his call to growth, change, repentance and faith.  Again, I heard it – it’s about the gospel, stupid!

Why has God brought such a simple truth to the fore in my life?  I am not sure.  I do know that my wife and I are helping others deal with painful situations in their lives, those soul-sucking type of situations where people are tempted to have no hope.  In these situations, we need to help them apply the freeing truths of the gospel.  I also know that in my preaching and teaching – whether from the pulpit, in our men’s class – I need to make sure my messages are not about doing the right thing or teaching others in the right way but rather how the gospel applies on a heart level to each of our lives. 

I don’t know what else God has in store for me to learn from this, but one thing I do want to remember always.  It is this:  it’s always been and will always be, about the gospel, stupid!  May I never wander from that truth, the only truth that can set people free. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What in the World is Love?

I am excited about this weekend – Missoula will be hosting a marriage seminar by Paul David Tripp entitled Redeeming the Realities of Marriage.  Ticket are available at the Garden of Readn or online through
Dr. Tripp’s book – What Did You Expect? – is the best book on marriage I have ever read.  It gets to the heart of the real issues in marriage better than anything else.

To whet your appetite for the conference, let me share with you some of Dr. Tripp’s thoughts on what love is.  He defines love as “willing self-sacrifice for the good of another that does not require reciprocation or that the person being loved is deserving.”  That definition is a powerful one.  It also begs the question – what does that kind of love look like in marriage?

Here are some of the ways Dr. Tripp shares in his book:
1.         Love is being willing to have your life complicated by the needs and struggles of your husband or wife without impatience or anger.
2.         Love is actively fighting the temptation to be critical and judgmental toward your spouse, while looking for ways to encourage and praise.
3.         Love is the daily commitment to resist the needless moments of conflict that come from pointing out and responding to minor offenses.
4.         Love is being lovingly honest and humbly approachable in times of misunderstanding, and being more committed to unity and love than you are to winning, accusing, or being right.
5.         Love is a daily commitment to admit your sin, weakness and failure and to resist the temptation to offer an excuse or shift the blame.
6.         Love means being willing, when confronted by your spouse, to examine your heart rather than rising to your defense or shifting the focus.
7.         Love is a daily commitment to grow in love so that the love you offer to your husband or wife is increasingly selfless, mature and patient.
8.         Love is being unwilling to do what is wrong when you have been wronged but to look for concrete and specific ways to overcome evil with good.
9.         Love is being a good student of your spouse, looking for his or her physical, emotional, and spiritual needs so that in some way you can remove the burden, support him or her as they carry it, or encourage them along the way.
10        Love means being willing to invest the time necessary to discuss, examine and understand the problems that you face as a couple, staying on task until the problem is removed or you have agreed upon a strategy of response.
11.       Love is always being willing to ask for forgiveness and always being committed to grant forgiveness when it is requested.
12.       Love is recognizing the high value of trust in a marriage and being faithful to your promise and true to your word.
13.       Love is speaking kindly and gently, even in moments of disagreement, refusing to attack your spouse’s character or assault his or her intelligence.
14.       Love is being unwilling to flatter, lie, manipulate, or deceive in any way in order to co-opt your spouse into giving you what you want or doing something your way.
15.       Love is being unwilling to ask your spouse to be the source of your identity, meaning and purpose, or inner sense of well-being, while refusing to be the source of his or hers.
16.       Love is the willingness to have less free time, less sleep, and a busier schedule in order to be faithful to what God has called you to be and to do as a husband or a wife.
17.       Love is a commitment to say no to selfish instincts and to do everything that is within your ability to promote real unity, functional understanding and active love in your marriage.
18.       Love is staying faithful to your commitment to treat your spouse with appreciation, respect and grace, even in moments when he or she doesn’t seem to deserve it or is unwilling to reciprocate.
19.       Love is the willingness to make regular and costly sacrifices for the sake of your marriage without asking anything in return or using your sacrifices to place your spouse in your debt.
20.       Love is being unwilling to make any personal decision or choice that would harm your marriage, hurt your husband or wife, or weaken the bond of trust between you.
21.       Love is refusing to be self-focused or demanding but instead looking for specific ways to serve, support and encourage, even when you are busy or tired.
22.       Love is daily admitting to yourself, your spouse, and God that you are not able to love this way without God’s protecting, providing, forgiving, rescuing and delivering grace.

There is a lot of stuff there, but when I read them over, there are a quite few that hit me personally.  I am sure that is true of you as well.  Let’s seek God together, asking for His strength to love our spouses as God intended us to love them.