Bible in Pulpit

Is the Preaching Any Good?

One of the most fundamental truths to understand about the church’s corporate gathering is that Jesus is a giver.

Jesus, our Savior and salvation — the one to whom we are united by faith — gave himself to us by becoming like us. He then gave himself to us by dying in our place. And still today, every week when the church meets, he gives himself to us through the preaching of his word and the sharing of his Supper.

This matters because, as surely as we have received him as the God-man and trusted in his finished work, we should anticipate that there is yet more of him to experience in weekend worship.

More of Christ

More of Christ, after all, is the great aim of the Christian life. Paul’s goal in ministry was to present everyone mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28). His one-thing-I-do ambition was to know Christ more (Philippians 3:10–14). His great prayer for the church was that Christ dwell in our hearts (Ephesians 3:17) — with the view of us reaching the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13), that is, to grow up in every way into Christ (Ephesians 4:15).

It really is all about Jesus.

And exactly how we get more of him is chiefly through the means of grace he has ordained — the word and the “sacraments” of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or as Marcus Peter Johnson calls it, “the audible and visible gospel” (see chapter 8, One with Christ). But for now, let’s just focus on the word part — the audible gospel, the preaching.

Many of us know that Bible-intake is fundamental to our sanctification. It’s the bread and butter of spiritual growth. And many of us also know that “not neglecting to meet together” is another habit on the path to spiritual maturity. But have we seen the relationship between the two? Have we connected the dots that one of the primary means of grace in the worship event is Jesus extending himself to us through his preached word?

Setting Himself Forth

In Preaching: A Biblical Theology, Jason Meyer makes the case that the faithful preaching of God’s word is always an encounter with God himself. This means that through the heralding of his gospel, through the vocal means of a human minister, Jesus sets himself forth to be believed and enjoyed.

It matters little who the preacher is, or how skilled he is in communication, or the measure of his IQ, as long as he is faithfully unfolding the text of Scripture. It’s in that moment when the very presence of Jesus is mediated to us. Jesus himself, by the power of his Spirit, comes to sit by us, to speak to us, to effect more of his likeness in our lives, to deepen our union. Therefore, we are freed to walk into the corporate gathering with this kind of expectation.

This is what Jesus does when his word is proclaimed, and we ask, is the preaching any good?

sunrise-road

The Boldness of Knowing Jesus

The people of Jesus should know Jesus. That is the inescapable impression we get from reading the Book of Acts. We see it in the church’s boldness — that is, the church’s outspoken clarity about the identity and significance of Jesus.

This boldness actually hems up the entire story of Acts with its key appearances in Peter’s first sermon (Acts 2:29) and Paul’s concluding hospitality ministry (Acts 28:31), not to mention several mentions throughout the gospel’s advance (Acts 4:132931;9:27–2813:4614:318:262826:26). From start to finish, and everywhere in-between, we see that the life of the early church was consumed with Jesus. They knew him and were open about him. This is the boldness that characterized the church then and should characterize the church today. But how exactly?

Getting to the How

How do we live with this kind of clarity and outspokenness about Jesus? How do we live bold?

It has to do with knowing Jesus. I mean, really knowing Jesus, as if our lives depended on it. I think that’s what’s happening in the portrait we see from Acts. Back then, and here now, grasping the glory of Jesus isn’t an extracurricular activity to our discipleship, it is our discipleship. Who he is defines who we are. If we know anything, let us know him. For if we can convince our neighbors to vote like us, but we know not Jesus, we are just pushy religious people. And if we are well read, and understand the numerous pitfalls among the emerging millennial generation, and if our church has a podcast, so as to be heard, but we know not Jesus, we are nothing. Nothing. And the list could go on.

So then, let us know Jesus. Let us press on to know Jesus, theologically, biblically, personally.

What I hope to do in the rest of this post is sketch a vision for knowing Jesus like this, which implies two things I want to make clear. First, knowing Jesus like this is not the full experience of how I know him now. I have come to know Jesus (or rather be known by Jesus, Galatians 4:9), but I am not writing as an aged saint with decades of communion in my background. I am writing as a mere disciple with a vision — one who has tasted and seen Jesus’s goodness and who, by grace, has an appetite for more. So hear my words as aspiration and hope, not as experience and advice. I am writing as someone like you.

Second, this vision of living bold isn’t an over-romanticized view of the early church. The first-century Christians had their own troubles. And in fact, much of the theological truth we understand about Jesus today has come as the gold of yesterday’s doctrinal furnaces. This is not an exercise to “get back” so much as to step forward — to build upon the grace given to our forefathers in order to wait well now for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is vision. And every vision must navigate between the extremes of historical adulation and chronological snobbery. Only one has ever done it perfectly. We must live as faithfully as we know how for such a time as whenever it is. And an indispensable part of that in every generation of the church is to know Jesus. Here is a snapshot of what that might look like today.

To Know Jesus, Theologically

This is the nuts and bolts section. Jesus is God of God, Light of Light, True God of True God. He is “begotten, not made,” the early creed said. He is of the same essence as the Father. He is the second person of the triune God — the one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity, having neither persons blended nor essence divided. The person of the Father is distinct, the person of the Son another, and that of the Holy Spirit still another. But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one. Their glory is equal, their majesty coeternal. And it was through the Son — the uncreated, immeasurable, eternal Son — that all things were made. And it was him, who for us and our salvation, came down from heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit, became incarnate by the virgin Mary, and was made truly human. Fully God, fully man, one person with two natures — glorious hypostatic union. This is Jesus.

Do we know him like this? Over centuries, the church has pressed deep into biblical concepts to faithfully articulate the identity of Jesus and guard against error. Individuals and communities devoted their lives to this cause. Over against the encroaching tides of new thought-systems and complex philosophical cultures, orthodox doctrine has persevered. The truth has stood, and stands. And we should know it. The Athanasian Creed (from which much of the preceding paragraph borrows) claims that knowing Jesus theologically is a matter of life or death. To not keep the doctrine of the Trinity (including the doctrine of Christ) means you will “doubtless perish eternally.” Again, this is not extracurricular to the Christian life. This is the heart and center.

Practically, I think a good step in this direction is to memorize the Nicene Creed The idea is not that every Christian become a seminary-level expert on Christology. Rather, the hope is that we would be acquainted with the primary theological categories and have at least one creedal go-to. The Nicene is a good one.

To Know Jesus, Biblically

The triune God has revealed himself preeminently in Jesus Christ. And his testimony is the organizing principle of Scripture. We should know him there.

The Bible is the story of God’s glory and grace that stretches centuries and cultures and literary genres, all pointing to and holding up the definitive witness of Jesus — who is the Word of God made flesh (John 1:14), the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Hebrews 1:3), the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8), in whom all the fullness of deity is pleased to dwell (Colossians 2:9), who upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3).

Jesus reminded his disciples that everything written about him in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled (Luke 24:44–45). Peter said that God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets that his Christ would suffer (Acts 3:18). Paul said that the gospel mystery of Jesus was made known through the prophetic writings (Romans 16:25–27). From Genesis to Revelation, the Book is about Jesus. That’s the point in the Redeemer mentioned in Genesis 3 who would come to crush the serpent (Genesis 3:15). That’s why God promised Abraham that through his offspring all the peoples of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:1–3). That’s why he told Moses that there would be a prophet like him who would rise up in Israel and speak his word (Deuteronomy 18:15). That’s why God told David that he would have a son who would be enthroned as King forever (2 Samuel 7:16), a King to whom Solomon still looked and the prophets eagerly proclaimed.

The Redeemer, the Son, the Prophet, the King — he’s the one the whole world longed for. And then he came. Born in Bethlehem, in a stable, the promised one came. And he lived the perfect life, tempted in every way we’ve been tempted, yet he never sinned. He trusted his Father and was faithful to the end, to the point of death, even death on a cross. On a cross. A cross where he suffered in the place of sinners, where he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. The cross of his condemnation brought us peace. The scene of his forsakenness became the grounds to our adoption. Jesus, by faith in him, reconciles us to the Father. Jesus makes us no longer enemies, but sons and daughters. No longer dead in Adam and destined for wrath. But now, because of Jesus, we are alive in him, alive to God, filled with his Spirit, and drawn into this very story of his glory.

Practically, this means we read the Bible. Jesus’s people are Bible-people. Let us read it through, and study it, and memorize it, and every time we open its pages breathe this prayer with our hearts: “Show us Christ.”

To Know Jesus, Personally

We want to know Jesus theologically and biblically because we know him personally, and in order to know him more personally. We can’t extract any of these perspectives if we’re to really know him, and especially not this one.

If we focus exclusively on the theological side, it could become all about not falling into error. If we focus exclusively on the biblical side, it could dwindle down to a cerebral exercise of one exegetical discovery after another for the sake of exegetical discovery. But if we know him personally, the uncreated Son is the one who saved us. The Suffering Servant is the one who suffered for my sins. The priest after the order of Melchizedek is the one who prays for me, who knows all of my failings and weaknesses and who never tires to plead for me. If we know him personally, he is not just the Jesus of theological categories, or the Jesus of canonical testimony, he is Jesus my Lord and my God. Jesus, our Savior.

Practically, this means we commune with him as we learn of him. It means we think about Jesus and we talk about Jesus. It means we love him.

This is the joy we have been saved to, that we know Jesus, and in knowing him, live in outspoken clarity about his identity and significance.

Unsplash-green-stars

Live Bold

To live Christianly in a culture of confusion is to live boldly.

There is some explaining to do here. On one hand, the above sentence is simple and agreeable at face-value. On the other hand, there’s a sense in which it will resonate with certain personalities while alienating others. Does our culture really need Christians to live bold? What does that even mean?

The answer hangs on our understanding of “bold.” And if we’d learn from the Book of Acts, the answer is yes — the call of Christian living is to live bold the way Luke shows us. It’s not so much because our culture needs it, but because “boldness” is an identity-shaping element of the church.

How’d They Do That?

It started when Peter and John said some annoying things in the Jerusalem of AD 30.

After Peter’s sermon in Acts 3, after healing a man at the temple, Luke tells us that the Jewish leaders were fed up with Peter and John “because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 4:2). The leaders didn’t like this for more than one reason. In one case, the Sadducees (who were part of the leadership) disputed the resurrection in general. But at the same time, and more significantly, the issue is what the “resurrection of the dead” signified for the history of the world. This was the real deal. This was what really disturbed the leaders, Sadducees and Pharisees alike. In essence, when Peter and John proclaimed “in Jesus the resurrection of the dead,” they were saying that the end-time blessings of the resurrection age had intruded the present age for the sake of everyone who believed in Jesus (Alan Thompson, The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus, 79–81).

This is important to wrap our heads around. These end-time blessings of the resurrection age were the hope of Israel, as Paul calls them in Acts 28:20. These Jewish leaders knew all about them — about the pouring out of the Spirit and the triumph of God’s salvation and the defeat of his enemies. They had read Joel 2:28–32 and Isaiah 12:3–6 and Jeremiah 51:24. They understood what the resurrection age meant. And now these fishermen-turned-preachers were walking around “their” temple saying that this age had arrived in Jesus, the guy they killed. Peter and John were telling the Jewish people that Jesus had launched a new and long-awaited epoch in the history of humanity. This didn’t sit too well with “the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees” in Acts 4:1, nor with the whole Sanhedrin gathered in Acts 4:5–6.

But it gets worse.

Peter and John were arrested and escorted to stand trial before the same court that condemned Jesus. These were the “rulers and elders and scribes,” or we might say, the professionals of Old Testament interpretation in that day. So they asked Peter and John how they did what they did (Acts 4:7). How did Peter heal the man at the temple? Where did they get this teaching on the arrival of the resurrection age?

Astonishing Boldness

The profound answer to their questions is Jesus, which is precisely what Peter says. “Hear me loud and clear,” he explains, “Jesus is behind this work.” He speaks with meticulous care, Galilean accent and all, as he continues, “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11–12).

The response of the leaders reveals something crucial. Luke tells us that they took note of Peter and John’s “boldness” (Acts 4:13). The leaders saw their “boldness” and “perceived that they were uneducated, common men.” That last bit means that Peter and John weren’t trained in the rabbinical schools of their scribal accusers (David Peterson,Acts of the Apostles, 194). Peter and John were not skilled interpreters of Scripture. They didn’t travel down the long educational path to be groomed for Jewish leadership, and yet they had this “boldness.” How could they be both unschooled and so bold? This was absolutely astonishing to the leaders.

But why was it astonishing? It has everything to do with what “boldness” means. It’s more than a general confidence. It doesn’t mean zeal enough to holler. Peter and John’s “boldness” was in what they said about Jesus. Or more specifically, their boldness was in how they were so outspoken about the identity of Jesus in their use of the Old Testament. That is what is happening in Acts 4:11. Peter quotes Psalm 118:22 to tell the Jewish leaders about the world-transforming significance of Jesus. He says thatJesus is the “stone” rejected by the leaders who has now become the “cornerstone.” Indeed, a new day had dawned — a day that the Lᴏʀᴅ had made (Psalm 118:24) — all because of this Jesus who was crucified, dead, buried, who is now raised and ascended.

And this blew the minds of the Jewish leaders. How in the world do these untrained fisherman know how to read the Scriptures like this? How can they be so frank and open about who this Jesus is? So the Jewish leaders were astonished. Astonished, that is, until they recognized that Peter and John had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).

Because Jesus Taught Them

So that explains it. Jesus had taught them how to read the Bible. Peter and John had been around Jesus, who, as we saw in Luke 24, said the whole thing was about him (Luke 24:44–48). Boldness, then, at least in this instance, is not red-faced passion or impenetrable extroversion. Rather, it has to do with speaking — which is not so much about how we speak, but in what we say about Jesus, even when we presume our hearers won’t be happy with it.

That’s how Peter and John disturbed the peace in Acts 4. Now, as modern readers, we could simply observe what’s happening here and move on. But I think there’s more.

Later in Acts 4, after Peter and John are released from Jewish custody, they gather with their friends for a prayer meeting (Acts 4:23). Luke actually gives us the insider glimpse of what they pray. It is more Old Testament interpretation centered on Jesus (Acts 4:24–27). And then, well, we see “boldness” again. These believers ask the Father “to grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29). Then Luke shows us that God answers their prayer: “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). Notice again that boldness has to do with speaking, and this time the whole church is getting in on it.

The Greek word behind “boldness” (parresia) shows up throughout the New Testament. It’s range of meaning includes courage or fearlessness, which is in mind in places likeHebrews 4:16. It also can mean outspokenness or frankness — “a use of speech that conceals nothing.” And interestingly, right along with the several verb-uses, each of the five occurrences of parresia in Acts is connected to speaking (Acts 2:294:132931;28:31). F. F. Bruce actually translates it “freedom of speech” in Acts 4:13 (The Book of Acts, 94–95). The two uses outside of chapter 4 are in Peter’s first sermon when he explains that Psalm 16 is about Jesus (Acts 2:29–30); and then in the very last verse of the Book of Acts that describes Paul’s ministry: “[He] welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30–31). So the two bookends to apostolic proclamation in Acts include “boldness,” which, if I might be so bold, means to be outspoken about the identity and significance of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And this is the “boldness” to which we’re called.

Christian in a Confusing Culture

Luke, the theologian-historian, is writing for us. He intends to answer big questions in the minds of his Christian audience, in part to assure us of the “continued outworking of God’s saving purposes” (Thompson, 19); and to form a “coherent theological perspective” that tells us who we are (Thiselton, “Hermeneutical Dynamics,” 13). While the book is historical, and therefore, mainly descriptive, it can take on a prescriptive function when Luke emphasizes things through repetition or key placements throughout the storyline — which is the case in how the apostles spoke so openly about Jesus.

Luke wants the church-for-all-time to imbibe this kind of boldness — to know Jesus and what his gospel work means for the world. To know Jesus and speak clearly about who he is. This is being Christian in a confusing culture. This is how we’re called to live.

dsc058293.jpg

Why Sex Is Central in Our Lifetime

From Rod Dreher’s article, “Sex After Christianity.”


… It is nearly impossible for contemporary Americans to grasp why sex was a central concern of early Christianity. Sarah Ruden, the Yale-trained classics translator, explains the culture into which Christianity appeared in her 2010 book Paul Among The People. Ruden contends that it’s profoundly ignorant to think of the Apostle Paul as a dour proto-Puritan descending upon happy-go-lucky pagan hippies, ordering them to stop having fun.

In fact, Paul’s teachings on sexual purity and marriage were adopted as liberating in the pornographic, sexually exploitive Greco-Roman culture of the time—exploitive especially of slaves and women, whose value to pagan males lay chiefly in their ability to produce children and provide sexual pleasure. Christianity, as articulated by Paul, worked a cultural revolution, restraining and channeling male eros, elevating the status of both women and of the human body, and infusing marriage—and marital sexuality—with love.

Christian marriage, Ruden writes, was “as different from anything before or since as the command to turn the other cheek.” The point is not that Christianity was only, or primarily, about redefining and revaluing sexuality, but that within a Christian anthropology sex takes on a new and different meaning, one that mandated a radical change of behavior and cultural norms. In Christianity, what people do with their sexuality cannot be separated from what the human person is.

It would be absurd to claim that Christian civilization ever achieved a golden age of social harmony and sexual bliss. It is easy to find eras in Christian history when church authorities were obsessed with sexual purity. But as Rieff recognizes, Christianity did establish a way to harness the sexual instinct, embed it within a community, and direct it in positive ways.

What makes our own era different from the past, says Rieff, is that we have ceased to believe in the Christian cultural framework, yet we have made it impossible to believe in any other that does what culture must do: restrain individual passions and channel them creatively toward communal purposes.

Rather, in the modern era, we have inverted the role of culture. Instead of teaching us what we must deprive ourselves of to be civilized, we have a society that tells us we find meaning and purpose in releasing ourselves from the old prohibitions. …

Read the entire article.

(HT: @drmoore)

bench

Watch Out or the Devil’s Gonna Get You

In rural America, off a country road, on the soft soil of a weathered field, stands a sobering message for every passer-by: Go to church or the devil will get you!

The words are neatly strewn across a homemade billboard adorned with flood lights and a painted silhouette of a red figure, apparently Satan, holding a sling-blade. Go to church, the warning hisses, or be his victim.

As hokey as it sounds, the warning is right, you know, at least in a sense.

Now to be clear, if the sign means (and it likely does) that you’d better attend a weekly meeting or else Lucifer will eat your lunch, then no, that’s not right.That would be Anglo folk religion — more akin to African animism than anything Christian.

But, more positively, if “go to church” means be part of a gospel-shaped community, and “the devil will get you!” means you’re more susceptible to his schemes apart from such community, then the sign is absolutely right. By all means, if this meaning is the case, go to church or the devil will get you. Here’s why: first, Satan is real and he hates you; second, God designs that Christians persevere in faith by means of one another.

Satan Wants to Destroy You

John Piper recently shared a few stories from his years of pastoral ministry at Bethlehem Baptist, including one instance, early in ministry, when he casted out a demon. The topic is immediately riveting. Right? But in case we mismanage its significance, Piper reminds us:

Before I tell the story I should say, I think people tend to think in terms of “extraordinary” when they think of the devil. And the New Testament pictures the devil not mainly as doing something extraordinary, but as doing very ordinary, deadly, horrible “arrow-shooting” at our hearts. So lift up the shield of faith, quench the fiery darts of the devil— that’s steady state, daily Christianity. . . We have an enemy who is everyday trying to destroy us.

Still, truth be told, this reality doesn’t impact us the way it should. And as much as we’d like to believe our strong faith is behind our not thinking much of the devil, it is probably our negligence. Paul told the Corinthians that he showed mercy to the sinner “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11 , emphasis added). He suggests that we know what the devil is up to.

But do we?

Let us not forget that Satan lies (John 8:44 ), that he blinds the minds of unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4 ), that he disguises himself (2 Corinthians 11:13–15 ), that he works signs and wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9 ), that he strangles our efforts at fruitfulness (Mark 4:1–9 ), that he causes disease and sickness (Luke 13:16 ), that he is a bloodthirsty murderer (John 8:44 ), that he hinders our ministry plans (1 Thessalonians 2:17–18 ), that he accuses us before God (Revelation 12:10 ), and that he tempts people to sin (2 Corinthians 11:3 ).1

This last point is really important: he tempts us to sin. We are tempted everyday — several times everyday. Yes, the problem is with us first. We are severely flawed individuals with indwelling sin. Repent, don’t blame. But an adversary is also prowling around, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8 ).That someone is you. Satan wants to devour you — to maneuver in such a way that there be in you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God (Hebrews 3:12 ).

Our Words in Jesus’s Power

This is where gospel-shaped community comes in. God has designed our warfare to include one another. We can’t wield the shield of faith alone. We need brothers and sisters to come alongside us to hold up our arms. More specifically, we need brothers and sisters to speak faith-building words to our souls.

After the warning of temptation, Hebrews 3:12 says “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

You see, the household of God is a talking family. We say things to each other, powerful things to each other about the truth of God and the victory of Christ.We exhort one another — be it encouragement, warning, or counsel — and the Holy Spirit breathes upon what is otherwise babbling to effect real devil-defying faith in our lives. This kind of speaking is a glorious staple of gospel-shaped community. And Satan wants you to have no part in it.

Satan wants us isolated from one another. He wants to find us all alone in the thunderstorm of our own thoughts, when we’re stuck in the sounds of our sinful souls. It is the oldest trick in the book, that he’d catch us when we’re perusing the tree by ourselves (2 Corinthians 11:3 ). We’ve too often repeated that scene of Genesis 3. But then imagine God’s truth crashing into the picture.Imagine that happening today as we gather together.

The only reason our words have any power is because of the Word who came in person. The Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8 ).When Jesus died on the cross in our place he disarmed the demonic rulers and shamed them in his triumph (Colossians 2:15 ). Jesus lives. Jesus reigns! And he will come again for his church against whom the gates of hell will not prevail.

Love his church. Surround yourself with voices of gospel truth and be that for others. And then be assured, because you are God’s, that the devil will not get you, nor will anyone be able to snatch you out of your Savior’s hand (John 10:28–29 ). Matter of fact, absolutely nothing will be able to separate you from God’s love in Christ (Romans 8:35–39 ).


1 See John Piper, “Resist the Devil! ” January 1, 1989.

dsc05831.jpg

Raise Your Hand If You Agree

I have no good memories of third-grade math.

To be honest, I don’t remember most of my elementary school days, but math in Mrs. Smith’s classroom is strangely familiar. Maybe it is because that’s where a school subject first became hard for me, or because the homework was such a drag. Or, actually, it may be because third-grade math was the first time I realized I was a crock.

It happened like this. Soon I noticed my friends were picking up math quicker than I was. I can’t recall the exact lessons — just that I wasn’t good at them. And everyday, during that math hour, Mrs. Smith would have students step up front and rehearse homework problems on the board. My classmates would write out the problem and swiftly solve it. They would carry numbers here and make a few notes there, and voila! — the answer.

But what seared this exercise into my memory was that after every answer was offered, Mrs. Smith would ask the rest of the class if they had the same answer. “Raise your hand,” she would say. “Raise your hand if you agree.”

I don’t know that my real answer ever lined up, and to me it didn’t matter. When she asked for the class consensus, I would simply swallow the knot in my throat and scan the arms in the air around me. If there were enough hands held high, and the key kids were in (you know, the smart ones), I’d stick my hand up too. I didn’t really know what I was doing, or what I really thought, but I passed as if I did. It was a hollow agreement, a conviction by association. It was the same problem I fear persists today with many Christians who call themselves pro-life.

The Hollow Agreement

According to the statistics, 1.2 million abortions are performed each year in the United States. But we should not assume that 1.2 million abortions mean that all 1.2 million women are pro-choice. The numbers showing the racial inequality that exists in the abortion industry are outrageous. Most abortions occur with women who are minorities (66%), economically disadvantaged (69%), and live below the poverty line (42%). But none of these are 100%. Of course, abortions also occur with white women (34%), and those who are not economically disadvantaged (31%), and those who actually identify themselves as born-again Christians (13%).

Thirteen percent equals 156,000 women a year. Which means, there are quite a few girls who probably come from evangelical families, attend an evangelical church, say they are pro-life, and still have abortions.

To be clear, the point here is not to overdo the demographics behind abortion. I hate abortion of every kind, and I want it to end everywhere. I don’t intend to draw attention to the fact that self-attested Christians have abortions, as if that’s the epidemic upon which we should focus. The point I want to make, the epidemic of which I lament, is that our pro-life convictions too often prove too shallow.

Hopefully the above numbers get our attention and overturn the thinking that assumes the problem is “out there.” Hopefully these numbers make us realize that more than a few folks sitting next to us on Sunday mornings are just like me in third-grade math. They raise their hand because that’s what everyone else in the room does. They pass by (and even vote) like they have a conviction. But they really don’t. They — you? — have a conviction by association, a conviction that flakes the first moment the issue gets real for them. Ignorance is still a problem, even among those who are supposed to know. For not all who are identified as pro-life belong to pro-life. And I believe it would make a difference if all who said they were really were, like deeply and truly really were.

Some Steps Forward

So then what do we do?

Let’s deepen our conviction. We should be better at resourcing than rhetoric. It can do some good to hold up signs and state the stats, but all slogan and no substance won’t last. We may get attention from outside the church, but we won’t help the reluctant inside. As one pro-life apologist points out, “for too long the pro-life movement has been shouting conclusions rather than establishing facts.” We need to be clear about the humanity of the unborn and the inhumanity of abortion. One means to do this is the wise use of abortion pictures1, along with several other resources, whether specific ministries, important books2, or corporate study material. Our churches should have these and run the gamut in their use, from just making them available to starting regular reading groups. The hope is to really know and believe the truth, such as when life begins and why it matters.

Let’s have the conversations, which involves life outside of formal settings. The rights of unborn children should be a familiar topic among our friends. We shouldn’t assume that every Christian we know has a robust view on life, or even that our own stance is fully matured. We should talk about it. Bring it up. Make this an injustice that you expressively feel and want to influence others in. Brainstorm ways you can help in your communities and mobilize a team to make something happen, as small as it may seem.

Let’s love, truly love, single mothers, which means stepping up in tangible ways for women who find themselves unexpectedly expecting. This means partnering with pregnancy support centers, building real friendships, mentoring, and more. This can be a complex issue, especially when some fear that support for such pregnancies condone the fornication behind them. To be sure, sometimes it can. But it doesn’t have to, and it shouldn’t. Believing fornication is sin and that every life matters doesn’t form two opposing truths, despite their causality relationship. We must love single mothers without a stigma on their situation. The church must be clear on what sin is, but scarlet letters are not in the gospel’s alphabet. This plea has even greater urgency in some Christian subcultures, like the Belt where I grew up. It would not have been voiced, but the silent consensus suggested that the guilt of abortion is preferred over the shame of unwed parenting. Loving single mothers means the stigma must go. Love is not plausible words, but power.

And power is what we need. Power is what we need if our conviction is real, and not just raising hands.


1For a realistic look at abortion, see abortionNO.org (Gregg Cunningham) andthecaseforlife.com (Scott Klusendorf).

2Justin Taylor recommends three books, organized by beginner level to advanced: 1) Stand for Life: A Student’s Guide for Making the Case and Saving Lives, by John Ensor and Scott Klusendorf (Hendrickson, 2012); 2) The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture, by Scott Klusendorf (Crossway, 2009); 3) Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case against Abortion Choice, by Francis Beckwith (Oxford University Press, 2007).

tumblr_mvyxfkaRb41st5lhmo1_1280

A Prayer for Community

Father, thank you for the church. Here is the wonder of the gospel: We would hate you and hate one another, separated from you by our unrighteousness, and separated from one another by walls of hostility. But we are here now as your children, looking at one another with love, united as a new family, a new humanity, reconciled to you and reconciled to one another.

This is the victory of Christ. He died for us, bearing the penalty we deserved for our sins. And he died for us, abolishing the barriers that divided us from one another. Our fellowship is the testimony of his glory: your mercy through Christ, by the Holy Spirit, has triumphed and continues to triumph in our hearts and lives. So Father, for this we praise you! We praise you.

That the Lord of lords and the King of kings, the preeminent being and ruler of the universe, that he would walk into our midst and look at us, the Judge of the nations, that he would look at us and say , “Here are my mother and my brothers and my sisters! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother”

Jesus, that you would be our brother. Our God and our King and our Savior and our true and better Brother. It is too much for us. It’s too much. And so we stop in wonder. . .  Who is like you, O Lord? Who is like you? Who can make this up? This is inexpressible wonder. Surely you hear our songs with gladness. Thank you. Amen.

tumblr_mvyxs1KLTN1st5lhmo1_1280

God Is Great in All the Earth

Over the past couple years I’ve had the joy of occasionally leading corporate prayer at Bethlehem’s Sunday night service. I write them out and read them, every time. By grace I mean it when I write it and I mean it when I voice it. Though I’ve archived them all, they’ve not been posted before. But perhaps they might be helpful — one more little means to direct our hearts and minds to the Lord and the wonder of his grace.

The prayers are typically angled by whatever the theme is of that particular service. This most recent theme was the greatness of God in all the earth.

________

Father, we come now and ask for a view of your greatness.

The nations rage and the kingdoms totter, you utter your voice and the earth melts. You have brought desolations to the end of the earth, you make wars to cease, bows to break, spears to shatter, and chariots you burn with fire. You speak and summon the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting, you measured the waters in the hollow of your hand, you make grass to grow in deserts that no man will ever see, you give food for lions and know every time a goat gives birth.

You know every star in the sky, every sparrow that falls on the earth, and every hair upon our heads. Your judgments are unsearchable, your understanding beyond searching out. You are greater than that which can be imagined, counseled by no one and constrained by nothing. Utterly independent and gloriously sovereign, you are great, you are good, and you do what you want.

And we don’t answer back, indeed we can’t. We are dust, our lives are vapors, you know our frame is like grass. You are eternal, your knowledge is incomprehensible, you dwell in inapproachable light. To see you would melt us, for you are holy and we are sinful.

For we have tried to be creatures apart from you. We have abandoned the glory of reflecting your image and have instead sought to forge our own. We have hoisted up for ourselves other gods who are not gods, and thus deserve your everlasting wrath.

But though great, you are not distant. You do not keep silent. You are high and lifted up, and yet you came and lived on this earth. Father, you have sent your Son, Jesus Christ, the word made flesh, who has come to reveal your glory and redeem your people. So that when he died in our place on the cross we see the preeminent display of your character, when he rose from the dead we witness the triumph of your greatest victory, and when we believed the news about this we experienced the power that it all accomplished.

Once separated and dead, now reconciled and alive, brought into fellowship with you, we realize that your sovereign prerogative is always aimed at your glory and our good. Glory and goodness that we will behold and delight in forever.

Thank you. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Putting the “Christian” in Christian Friendship

Is there anything distinctive about Christian friendship? What’s different about how two fellow followers of Jesus relate to each other, compared with two friends who don’t identify with Christ? Romans 15:2 helps us consider one essential component of what puts the Christian into Christian relationships.

“Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”

Who Is Our “Neighbor”?

“Neighbor” can be used very broadly (as Jesus does in Luke 10:29), but in this case, Paul is plainly talking about fellow believers (as he does in Ephesians 4:25). This is confirmed in the verb “to build up” — a word which Paul reserves exclusively for the church. We’re talking about Christians here in Romans 15:2 — Christian neighbors, fellow followers of Jesus with whom we share some proximity. So we could say this text carries significance for Christian friendship.

And the imperative is to “please” them, to accommodate them, to make their welfare of higher interest than our own. To please our Christian neighbor is to serve them. Undoubtedly, this will be for our own joy — no one is really served when it’s done in stiff reluctance. But it being for our joy doesn’t mean it’s always (or often!) comfortable. Pleasing our neighbor will take sacrifice. It’s not typically easy — it’s “not to please ourselves.” We’re giving something up for something better and that better is the building up of our brother or sister.

Sacrificially Build Up One Another

The sacrificial building up of one another — this is what makes Christian friendship, well, Christian. It’s Christian both in the adjective (sacrificial) and in the verb (building up).

Sacrificial building up (“not to please ourselves”) means it’s Christian in its manner. The foundation to our serving, our sacrificial edifying of others, is rooted in the example of Jesus. We’re to have the Philippians 6:6–8 mind among ourselves. He didn’t give prominence to his own comfort when he “left glory.” Nor when he prayed in the Garden. It wasn’t easy when he bore our sins and suffered the wrath we deserved. Yet even in the midst of the pain, there was a joy set before him. It wasn’t easy, but it was glorious. And when we walk in that example, it works the same way (1 Peter 2:21). It shocks the world — for the glory of God.

But this sacrificial building up is not only Christian in its manner. It’s also Christian in its goal. The friendship goes beyond discussing the latest scores (though it may involve that), or the newest app (though that may be a part, too), or the best book we’ve read (another good one). The purpose is to build them up. This is what the pleasing is about, for their good. It’s about their conformity to Jesus. Our little place in their life is to serve the goal to which God has elected them, Jesus has died, and the Spirit is working. We want to build them up.

For Your Friends

Now then, let each of us, by grace, please our neighbor for their good — count them more significant than ourselves, and their needs more pertinent than our own; to build them up — play the God-ordained role of a means of grace in their lives, investing in their transformation into the likeness of Jesus. Let’s stir this Christian intentionality in our relationships — that we not seek to please ourselves, but that we pursue the pleasing of our neighbor for their good in Jesus.

Read the original post at DG.