Jesus Outside the Lines – Great deal

jesus-outside-the-lines_saulJesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Side by Scott Sauls, and Forward by Gabe Lyons.

For a limited time, this book by friend and fellow pastor, Scott Sauls, is only $5 (Kindle).

But this book is worth the full price, even for just the first chapter on politics alone!

Go check it out, buy a copy (or 12) for yourself and your friends. And please share with others!

Here’s a sample of some of the goodness that lies within!

“When the grace of Jesus sinks in, we will be among the least offended and most loving people in the world.” – Scott Sauls, Jesus Outside the Lines


“What matters more to us  — that we successfully put others in their place, or that we are known to love well? That we win culture wars with carefully constructed arguments and political power plays, or that we win hearts with humility, truth, and love? God have mercy on us if we do not love well because all that matters to us is being right and winning arguments. Truth and love can go together. Truth and love must go together.” – Scott Sauls, Jesus Outside the Lines


“Christianity always flourishes most as a life-giving minority, not as a powerful majority. It is through subversive, countercultural acts of love, justice, and service for the common good that Christianity has always gained the most ground.” – Scott Sauls, Jesus Outside the Lines



Learning to Have What it Takes…from Mary

lightstock_8127_small_user_3970569In my studying this week for our upcoming Advent sermon series on the songs of Christmas from Luke 1-2, I have been thinking a lot about Mary, the virgin who would carry and bear “the One who created her,” (Augustine).

While there are some very good reasons why as a Protestant, I do not want to ever advocate for ascribing to Mary a more prominent or necessary role in the work of redemption (nothing less than the fact that she herself rejects such a position or posture of being a co-Redeemer with Christ or even a necessary mediator on our behalf to Christ; cf. Luke 1:46-55), I am utterly astounded at what she has to teach me about the nature of faith and growing in it as a follower of Christ.

She, a teenage girl, has a lot to teach me, a middle-aged man, about growing in the gospel.

Take for example the fact that when she goes to greet her cousin who is also with child, Elizabeth, she takes the praise directed at her and redirects it all back to God (Luke 1:39-55).

She is not concerned so much with herself as she is her God, her Savior, and her Lord.

Here’s a great quote from Jared C. Wilson in the new ESV Men’s Devotional Bible that sums up what I’ve been pondering and wrestling with this week in particular.

“Am I strong enough? Do I have what it takes? Will I be able to get ahead in the world and provide for my family? Will I be remembered? Does what I do matter in the long run?

Most men think about these things often, both explicitly in their worries and implicitly in their actions. And these are not, in themselves, wrong things to think about. But because sin is real and our flesh is always at war against the spirit, too often these areas of concern become ares of self-concern. We have in mind with these questions our own name and renown, our own glory.

In Luke 1:39-56 we find these very issues in play, and what can be humbling for the Christian man is to see that we learn their proper context and proportion from a teenage girl!

Mary has been blessed with the greatest blessing anyone could ever receive – to bear the Messiah, King Jesus, in her virgin womb. She knows that she will, from this moment on, be considered blessed by future generations. And yet, her song of praise is not to or about herself – it is about the glory of God.

Her soul is not full of itself; it is magnifying the Lord (v. 46).

When she examines herself, she sees only lowliness, poverty, weakness. But when she sees herself in the light of God’s grace, she sees his glory, his riches, his strength working through her song of praise: ‘His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation’ (v. 50).”

Brief Introduction to Advent

Hark the Herald This week we will be kicking off a new sermon season as we focus our attention on Advent and the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. Below is a brief introduction to help us collect our thoughts and turn our hearts towards God this Christmas season.
“The joy of God goes through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable. It does not deny the anguish, when it is there, but finds God in the midst of it, in fact precisely there; it does not deny grave sin but finds forgiveness precisely in this way; it looks death straight in the eye, but it finds life precisely within it.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Advent is the season where we anticipate the arrival of Christ coming to perfectly redeem, restore, and renew the world, even as we look back and remember His first coming many years ago in Bethlehem.
It is a season of joy, as well as sorrow; of delight as well as expectant longing; for while we wait for the world to come, we experience the world as it is. And yet, we are reminded of a glorious reality – that God invades this world with His presence.
As everything around us is invaded by the Christmas season – from neighborhood decorations, music on the radio, menu items at home or in our favorite restaurants, and even the very clothes and colors we wear – let us remember that it is all a tiny picture of the even greater invasion – God, in Christ, came to earth, to be born of a virgin, in a manger, in order to bring joy to the world!
Come Lord Jesus Come!

Single Greatest Test of Christian Faith & Maturity

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the gospel centered life and Paul letter to the Romans

Martyn Lloyd-Jones on authentic faith.

“There is no better test of our spiritual state and condition than our missionary zeal, our concern for lost souls. That is always the thing that divides people who are just theoretical and intellectual Christians from those who have a living and a vital spiritual life.”

-Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans – God’s Sovereign Purpose, Romans 9:1-33

We Need a Hero

We Need A Hero

One of the most iconic songs to come out the 80’s, was Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero”. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

Where have all the good men gone

And where are all the gods?

Where’s the street-wise Hercules

To fight the rising odds?

Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?

Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need

I need a hero

I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night

He’s gotta be strong

And he’s gotta be fast

And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight

I need a hero

I’m holding out for a hero ’til the morning light

He’s gotta be sure

And it’s gotta be soon

And he’s gotta be larger than life

– “Holding Out for a Hero

We need a hero. That should go without saying. The world we live in is a mess.  War. Terrorism. Murder. Microagressions. Racism. Bias. 

When we live in a world where there’s a battle over whether #blacklivesmatter or #policelivesmatter is more important or necessary (by the way, both are!), you know you have problems. But what kind of hero do we need?

That all depends on our predicament.

Some might say we simply need a good example to follow. That we have it within our own capability to come up with the solution to the problems of this life.  The British poet W.H. Auden living in New York in the 1930’s-40’s recounts that he left his Christian upbringing and was a secular humanist; basically believing that man could be educated and put into a better environment in order to make the the world a better place. He held this view until one day when he went into a movie house in 1939. He went in to watch a German movie reel on the invasion of Poland. He was frightened when the people in the audience got wrapped up into the movie and started to yell “Kill them” whenever the Poles were portrayed on screen.

He had thought that if we had the right education, right cultural setting, we would move beyond the barbarism and inhumanity of the chaos and calamity around us. But this one incident shattered that. Because of his worldview, he couldn’t admit to himself how bad the world was. Without sin, he couldn’t account for what he had just seen, and was without hope (education, enlightenment, reason had failed). He didn’t have the resources to meet what he saw. He returned to his Christian roots and found hope for what he encountered.  (Check out this great write up over at First Things).

On the other side of the world, not in a movie theater, but in a extermination concentration camp, there was another man observing and suffering the same atrocities that riled up the crowd in the movie theater in New York – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Observing the cruelty and inhumanity around him, he could have thought that the problem is other people. If we could simply get rid of the “other”, the world would be alright (funny how that’s the very same thought that animates all totalitarian regimes and “ethnic cleansing” campaigns). Instead, he reasoned and concluded the following:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” (The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956)

Auden and Solzhenitsyn were confronted with the fact that the world is the way that it is because we are the way that we are. And having the right upbringing, credentials, education or experiences won’t solve it. We need more than an example (the view of Human ability and the Myth of Human Progress; also called Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism in theological circles).

But neither will it do any good to simply get rid of the problem people, because there is no clean cut separation (the view of Human eradication and “cleansing”; Pride, Arrogance, and Superiority). All of us are both victims and victimizers of our world, environment, and other people.

The picture Paul paints of our predicament is one of human solidarity with the original man – Adam. As Adam went, so did all humanity – his posterity. Our problem is more than the cumulative total of our individual actions and certainly greater than just “them” over there.

We need a hero.  And he’s got to be larger than life – at least the life as we now currently know it.

Enter Jesus.

This is Paul’s whole point in Romans 5:12-21. Paul is contrasting two men who represent two humanities: the merely human, and the more human than human.

Just as in Adam all are in sin and under it’s rule and reign, are transgressors of the law of God, and contribute to the problems in the world by thinking of themselves as greater than God the Creator of all, so then many can come into a state of mercy, grace, and renewal in Christ.

Jesus Christ comes to not merely reverse the work and effects of the “first man”, Adam, but He comes as the “last man” or the “second Adam”, to not merely put things back together again, but to make it better than ever before. There is a progressive nature to Christ’s work that doesn’t just repair what is broken, but makes it utterly beautiful instead of miserable.

Jesus Christ lived the life not only we should have lived, but Adam should have as well. And now that He has done it, we don’t have to be only enslaved to sin, even if we still feel it’s effects (death, destruction, and dysfunction). There is a new way to live, by the larger than life hero, Jesus Christ.

How then should we respond?

Faith in Christ, not ourselves. The way of the human race is to trust in our own instincts, abilities, and progress. Christianity cuts that off at it’s root. We don’t have the resources to get ourselves out of our own problems – the same heart that got us into it all won’t get us out of it, at all. But because of Christ’s work in living, dying, and rising again, we don’t have to. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace, through faith,(Romans 3:23-24). We live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us; not ourselves.

Repent of Sin. Our contribution to the misery of the world is still something we deal with. We need to repent of the bad things we do and the good things we don’t do. But we do so not to earn, achieve, or merit God’s favor, but because our fundamental identity has shifted. Repentance could be described as simply “aligning our thoughts, actions, and habits with the new life of Christ He gives us by His Spirit.” It’s not about “dos” and “donts”, but becoming more “who we are” and “who we are meant to be” in Christ.

Work for renewal. Just as repentance is taking on the characteristics of our new identity in Christ (in union with Him), we can and should actively work to make the world around us, in our respective spheres of influence, look and act more and more like the world it will be one day. Jesus is not just doing a work in us – “Taking the evil out the people/[so that] then they’ll be acting right.” (Tupac, Changes) – but through us, to redeem all things to Himself.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20 ESV)

How can you partner with Him in making your little corner of His world reflect His image, His truth, His beauty, and His goodness?

War is Over. Now the Battle Begins.

How do you know God loves you, really? When life and everything around you gives evidence of sin and suffering, what basis do we really have for continuing on?

This past week at Christ Church Mansfield, I endeavored to show from Romans 5:1-11 that there is a way to break through without breaking down in the midst of our sin and suffering, our chaos and catastrophes, or our flaws and failures.

It’s only by gaining gospel resiliency by looking ahead, looking around, and looking back, that we can have confidence to keep moving forward, knowing that with God, the war is over. Now we can fight the battle of living by faith.

Here are six practical signs that you actually are rejoicing in the gospel, even in the midst of sin and suffering:

  1. Regularly meditate and enjoy the Gospel. You study God’s Word in such a way as to better see (understand) and savor (enjoy) who God is and what He has done for you. Over the years, I have found it helpful to have a plan for reading through and studying the Bible. I even put together a sample plan for our church, which you can download here if you’d like. But there are some great reading plans available elsewhere: YouVersion, He Reads Truth or She Reads Truth, as well as the ESV Bible app. Another great resource to help you navigate the Bible with a “gospel lens” is the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible
  2. Interpret and process your life through the lens of the Gospel. What is most true of you is not your feelings, emotions, reactions, or circumstances of your life, but rather the Word of God regarding you in light of the Gospel. When you mess up (and you will), or when “life” happens to you (which it will), start to process it all not by saying, “What a mess I made there. How could God love me?” but “God loves me, despite me. Despite my flaws and failings, despite my record, yes, even now, God still loves me. I am far worse than I think, but also more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope!” That’s the beauty of the Gospel!
  3. Repent of Sin and Walk in Newness of Life. Sin is both the bad things you do (commission) and good things you don’t do (omission), but, and perhaps, more disturbingly,  anything other than God you boast in. We can make a “mini god” out of anything, and more times than not, we make one in our image and likeness. We are to repent of that tendency to find value, worth, significance and strength in anything we can do or make for ourselves, and instead, willingly and joyfully strive after obedience (“newness of life”), out of love and gratitude, not guilt or fear. Don’t doubt God’s love when you discover more character flaws – draw closer to Him! Remember the two aspects of the gospel: You are worse off than you think, but more loved and accepted than you ever dared hope! (In case you are wondering, yes, the repetition is purposeful. The Gospel leaks out of us, so we have to, in the words of Martin Luther, beat it back in there continually!) Here are some great resources that have helped me get this over the years:
    1. Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller
    2. Repentance  by C. John Miller
    3. How People Change by Paul Tripp and Tim Lane
    4. We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry by G.K. Beale
  4. Stop Taking Matters Into Your Own Hands. When we sin, or when we suffer, the tendency is to “do something about it”. Miroslav Volf paints the picture vividly in his masterful book, Exclusion and Embrace when he says that our instincts when we have been hurt, harmed, or wronged is to reach either for a shield (self-protection) or sword (others’-destruction). Instead, we are to let the open arms of the God-man, Jesus Christ, on the cross welcome us “in” to the happy life of God Himself. Don’t quiet your conscience when you’ve messed up, discover you’re a wreck, and rediscover that you are a failure with reference to your performance or your circumstances. Hold tightly to God’s love for you in the Gospel, even as you let go and stop clinging to your own performance, record, or anything you can do to take matters into your own hands.
  5. Embrace Self-Forgetfulness When Faced with Criticism. Take criticism well, letting it illumine and inform the areas of your life where you can repent and live out a new obedience. (And yes, that is another reference to a Tim Keller book that has had a huge impact on me in regards to this – right now it’s $1.99 on Kindle, or $4.69 in paperback).
  6. Worship Your Way Through It. The only way we can break through without breaking down is by focusing your eyes on Jesus. See and savor Him as your highest, greatest, and most enjoyable reward. Nothing – not even death, let alone failure, fear or frustration – can intimidate you out of holding onto Jesus above all else. Sing with the saints:

Look and see our God

And celebrate the power of the cross

And the empty grave

And now we’re free

Let the Redeemed

Lift up your heads

O look and see our God!

(“Look and See” by The Village Church)