Do More! (Ministry Mondays)

I have been a college pastor now for a little over 1 year, and there is a lurking feeling that always seems close by. It is the feeling that maybe as a leader I am not calling the people I serve to do enough. Or maybe the feeling is that in becoming a college pastor, I sense I have joined a game. The competition is among churches to see who can be doing more, creating bigger vision, going higher, climbing over bigger obstacles, and changing the biggest part of the world. I am not saying I have actually been engaged in this competition; I’m simply saying I sense I am a part of it (if it exists at all).

I haven’t done this much, but if I meet with other pastors or college pastors, I feel like we are supposed to talk about the things we have done, are doing, and want to do. “We have grown this much, we now have this many small groups that are doing this much stuff in the city. Our goal is to see every soul on earth saved.”

Again, at the very least, this is just a personal problem. And the problem is, when I look at the vision of other churches, I don’t know that I have as big of a vision as them. I haven’t set as high of goals. Maybe in my ministry we don’t have as many small groups, we haven’t grown as fast or as much, and right now we would simply love to see a handful of people get saved in our city, let alone in Kiribati.

Here is the problem I see in this line of thinking: what I don’t feel the need to talk about is what, as a ministry, we talk about most often. I don’t feel the need to explain the heart of our preaching and teaching, or small group discussion, or what we tell our neighbors, the homeless, or the hurting in our city.

Our emphases in what we talk about when we talk about God (see what I did there?) is not the high life of church. It is basic. Important? Yes. But it is like the foundation that no one pays attention to once it is laid. The high life, the building, is that announcement you are making this Sunday about how you want to raise 2 million dollars to translate a Bible in the language of the Comoros people; or how you are going to end sex-trafficking entirely, in all the world (2 things I would love to be a part of if it goes down!).

But if that is the high life, I am not a part of it, unfortunately. My college ministry is on no track to translate the Bible for those who don’t have it; we don’t talk about how we are going to change the world, because honestly, I can’t even change my heart. Would we love to be a part of both of those things, of course! But we don’t have goals like entirely eradicating poverty from Waco. Does that make us small-minded? Because if that is “big,” consider us small.

But I don’t think all of that should be our center, or primary emphasis. My emphasis when I preach, or in small groups, or in discipleship groups, or in counseling, is what Jesus has done, not what we should be doing. It is about what Jesus accomplished, not what I hope we accomplish. By focusing emphatically and constantly on what Jesus has already done for us, I am trying to kill that nagging feeling produced by God’s Law that says we are not doing enough. I am trying to kill it by agreeing with it; “No, we have not done enough, and never will. But Jesus did do enough.”

Our vision, primarily, explicitly, implicitly, emphatically, and constantly needs to be what Jesus has already done, his enoughness, and the vision he already has and will carry out to make “all things new.” Maybe when this gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is our primary and permeating focus, we might just be a part of something eternally worthwhile, whether we classify it as big or small.

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You’re So Spiritual

Some people are so spiritual I cannot stop thinking about them. Their prayer lives are passionate and constant. Their obedience darn near perfect. Their willingness to look like a fool for Jesus puts me to shame. They refrain from watching a movie on Friday night, or a football game on Saturday to spend extra time in the Word, on top of their consistent daily quiet times.

They are consistently sharing the gospel with other people. They are willing to go through awkward moments in order to share about Jesus. It seems they are always aware of some sin to confess, some problem they are dealing with. They are always moving up, moving on to greater and greater spiritual maturity. They are so spiritual, I can hardly stop thinking about them. They are so spiritual, they can hardly stop thinking about themselves.

And that is their problem. That is my problem. Self-centeredness in the name of Jesus. Who among us doesn’t wish we could describe our prayer lives as passionate and constant, our obedience near perfect, our evangelism bold and consistent? But who among us wants to be described as someone constantly focused on ourselves? Constantly focused on our growth, or lack thereof? Constantly focused on how other people just don’t seem to get it; they just don’t seem to get how great Jesus is, how worthy he is of our lives?

It seems confusing. On the one hand, we want their prayer life, missional zeal, and obedience. On the other hand, we are trying to run away from self-centeredness, and they (which is most often you and me) seem to have a full dose of both. Why?

The reason is that spiritual maturity, in so many of our lives, has become the pinnacle of Christianity. Spiritual growth and maturity has become in our thinking the ultimate goal in being a Christian. What is the aim of the Bible and Christianity? To become more like Jesus, we say. We become so wrapped up with that concept that we forget what Christianity is actually all about: Jesus becoming like us for God’s glory.

The pinnacle of the Bible is not you becoming more like Jesus, you having a better prayer life, you sharing the gospel more, you repenting more, you believing more. In short, you are not what Christianity is all about. Neither your sin nor your sanctification (that is a big word meaning growth into Christ-likeness) is what Christianity is all about. Christianity is all about Jesus, the perfect God-man, being regarded by the Father as sin, on your behalf; being treated as you deserve on his cross, that God might treat you as only Christ deserves. Jesus became like you before you ever took one measly step in the direction of becoming like him.

And besides, if we only knew how sinful we really are, how sinfully tainted our prayers and repentance are, how unwilling we so often are to submit to our Father, we would think much less of ourselves and much more of Christ. On your best day, in your greatest place of maturity, have you arrived at perfection? No? Well, that is the only thing that God’s law accepts. Absolute, spotless perfection. Without it, you have nothing to attract God’s love and affection and acceptance. On your best day, in your best season of sanctification, you desperately need the blood of Jesus, which has already been poured our superabundantly on the cross, on your behalf, in your place, for your sin.

So, lets stop believing in our prayer lives, our missional endeavors, and our sanctified-awesomeness, and start believing in Jesus, trusting in Jesus; giving our nothingness to God, receiving Jesus’ everthingness.

What to Look For in a Church: The Gospel (Pt. 1)

Many Christians in America have been taught that the gospel is for non-Christians only. At one point, they were not Christians and the gospel was brought to them. Now, as Christians, they have the gospel in their heads and hearts and what they are supposed to do with it is give it to non-Christians.

Is this true? Absolutely. We should bring the gospel to non-Christians, making disciples.

Is this the whole truth? Absolutely not. If that is all we say about the gospel, that it is for non-Christians, we are wrong, and the results are devastating for us. Devastating.

The gospel is the good news that God became a man, Jesus, lived a perfectly righteous life, died in the place of and for imperfect, unrighteous sinners, and rose from the dead. His life, death and resurrection is sufficient to cleanse us of our sin and bring us into a right, adopted relationship to God. 1 Cor. 15:1-4 “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you…For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sin accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,“.

This gospel, this good news, is the foundation for our eternal life, yes. But it is also the foundation and fuel for our daily lives. Let me illustrate this with a simple question: If you are a Christian, how often do you doubt God’s love for you? How often do you wake up, and for reasons unknown to you, struggle to believe God is for you, not against you?

Follow me here. If you answered never, I think you are lying or God is unbelievably merciful to you everyday. If you answered sometimes, you are like many Christians. If you answered, “Every day I sense the struggle to believe the good news that God loves me unconditionally in Christ,” then you are like me and, I think, most Christians.

Now, if it is true that the gospel is the bedrock, the foundation of our relationship with God and eternal life, could there be anything more important to fight for every day than our faith in the gospel? That seems logical.

But let me take it a step further. The gospel is your fuel for Christian living. When you became a Christian, God did not initially show you grace, and then say, “Ok, now that you are saved and in the Kingdom, it is time to keep yourself in the kingdom by your good works.” Our security in God’s love is not dependent on our works any more than our initial salvation, or justification.

If you don’t believe this, your life as a Christian is, quite frankly, going to be miserable. Daily you are going to fail and thus daily believe God is angry with you. Daily you will sin and thus daily believe you need to make atonement for your sins.

Then, all your good works will be filthy, sinful acts, because they will be done out of self-righteousness, trying to be righteous apart from Jesus. All your good works will be done motivated by fear, not faith, which is sin. Check it.

Maybe that is why we are told by Paul in 1 Tim. 6:12 to “Fight the good fight of the faith…”

You see the gospel is not just for non-Christians, but for Christians! Actually, the more you grow in the Christian life, the more you realize how sinful you are. And the more that happens, the more you will see how much you need the good news of God’s grace in Christ, every single day.

What does this have to do with looking for a church? Really simply, here it is: if a particular church is not preaching the gospel, not just as a tagline at the end of a sermon (for all the non-Christians present), but as the main event of Sunday, as the lifeblood of small groups and discipleship groups, as the greatest story imaginable, as the fuel for daily Christian living, as the spark for all our worship, then they are doing it wrong.

Look for a church that is amazed at the gospel, that believes it is the power of God for salvation and daily sanctification (growth). Look for a church that knows the difference between moral commands and good news, that doesn’t act like you can save and cleanse yourself. 

Look for the gospel and do not compromise until you find it.

 

The Scandal of the Gospel

The reality of grace is scandalous, and not just to the non-Christian ear. It is scandalous to the Christian ear. If when you talk about grace Christians feel like they are hearing something scandalous, even too scandalous, you are probably talking about the grace of God that the Bible talks about.

Romans 3:8 “And why not do evil that good may come?…”

Romans 6:1 “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”

Romans 6:15 “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!”

You just read three instances in which Paul, the author of Romans, expects those who are reading Romans to come to the conclusion that because of the gospel, they can and/or should continue in sin. Paul had people say things like, “Why shouldn’t we do more evil that good may come?” (see Rom. 3 for full context). He knew that the scandal of grace would make people have thoughts like that.

The gospel contains in it a message scandalous to our natural ears because we are accustomed to the idea that we only get what we worked for, whether it be reward or punishment. If someone works to deserve punishment, and they get reward, then a huge mistake has been made. The wrong needs to be righted.

But the gospel doesn’t work like that. It is the exact opposite. The bad people get all the good stuff when they stop working and start believing in the Good One–Jesus–who did all the good stuff on our behalf. It is those who do absolutely nothing who end up getting everything, all because Jesus did everything on our behalf.

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5).  

That is pure Bible. And pure scandal. It might make you think, “Wait. Is Paul saying, are you saying Collin, that I don’t have to do anything to be forgiven of all my sin for all eternity?” Yes that is what Paul is saying and that is what I am merely reiterating.

“But wait. Are you saying that I can just keep on sinning, and never turn from my rebellious ways and I will just get more grace? Am I to continue in sin so that grace may abound? Am I to sin because I am not under law, but under grace?”

You may think that because the gospel of grace sounds so scandalous. Just because the gospel may cause you, or others to think that way, doesn’t mean you are preaching a false or twisted gospel. Actually, it is probably an indication that you are preaching the biblical one–the only one. The one that contains in it a message of scandalous grace.

The answer to those thoughts and questions is (from a few translations), “By no means!” or “May it never be!” or “Certainly not!”

The gospel does not encourage, enable, or excite us to sin. Rather, the gospel enables us and excites us to obedience. The gospel frees us from the guilt and power of sin. It proclaims, “Not guilty!” over those who believe in Jesus. You are excited to obedience as a loving, thankful response to who Jesus is and what he has done for you. Your obedience earns you nothing because you have already been given everything freely in the gospel. You are also enabled to obey by the Spirit in you. The gospel frees you from your former slavery to sin to be a slave to God.

Your obedience in the Christian life will be far, very far, from perfect (James 3:2). You will may feel like you crawl more than you walk. But God counts you as perfect because of Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection. Rejoice in that day after day, moment by moment. The gospel will stir you on to more growth into Christ’s likeness.