Tuesday, August 12, 2014


The other night I had a dream that I was being forced to sit under the ramblings of a prosperity “preacher”. As I sat and listened to this so-called preacher explain how and why God blessed him with his millions I began to get infuriated. I got so mad that I woke my self up. I literally sat upright from a dead sleep, filled with anger because of what I was hearing.

It was about that time that I realized the things I was hearing in my dream were actually being said on the television in my room. My wife had stayed up later than me to finish watching some show and she must have fell asleep with the television on. Apparently 4am is primetime TV for all those who are looking to God like a lottery ticket, because at 4am some huffing and puffing preacher comes on the TV to tell you how to open the window of heaven in order to fill your wallet.

This guy (who is preaching in front of many people who are literally in tears over what he’s saying) begins to explain that God wants all Christians rich and that he is going to pray for God to bring somebody into the life of all of his hearers who would be in their life just to give them money. He explains that the only reason this person will want to be around you is to bless you financially. He then asked everybody to get out their wallets and open them up so he can pray for their wallets to be filled. He goes on to say, “Even you at home; get out your wallet. If you don’t have a wallet draw a picture of a wallet and I’ll pray for it.”

There are so many things wrong with this picture that I don’t have room enough to address them all in one blog post but for now let me simply address this heretic’s view on prayer. First off, think about yourself. How do you understand prayer? What type of things do you pray for? Though many of us despise the so-called prosperity gospel, far too many in the church pray very similar prayers.

Jesus said, “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:9-13). Jesus certainly tells us to pray for needs such as daily bread, but the idea behind our asking for daily bread is that we will be so about the business of the Kingdom that we won’t have time to focus on our daily bread. Prayer is directly linked to the fulfillment of the coming of the Kingdom.

John Piper says it like this, “Prayer is meant by God to be a wartime walkie-talkie, not a domestic intercom...not for the enhancement of our comforts but for the advancement of Christ's kingdom.” It seems to me Piper is saying something very similar to Christ here. One of the main implications of what Jesus says and Piper says is that Christians are to use prayer as a means to get the gospel of the Kingdom out into the world in order that people from every tribe, tongue, and nation would repent and believe and bow the knee to King Jesus.

Matthew 24:14 says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” This implies that when the gospel reaches all those the Lord wishes it to Jesus will return and the Kingdom will come in its fullness. In their book Faithmapping, Daniel Montgomery and Mike Cosper say, “The gospel of the kingdom is the announcement that life with God, under the rule of God, is made immediately available to us through Jesus, our King.” Jesus came to earth, lived a perfect life, had the wrath of God that all sinners deserve poured out upon himself while He hung on a cross, died the death that all sinners deserve, and rose from the dead on the third day conquering sin, Satan, and death for all those who will repent and believe in this message. That being the case, the prayers of the church should be focused on getting this message out in order to push back the darkness and fulfill the Great Commission. The last thing Christians should be doing is holding an open wallet in front of some guy who is promising them the world if they will merely send a check to his “ministry.”

Remember what the Word says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:10). “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul” (Mark 8:36)?

So please, don’t fall for the nonsense these prosperity preachers are dishing out. They are lies that deceive, distract, and disappoint. When you pray, pray with great intention for the cause of the Kingdom. Get your eyes off of yourselves and turn them to Christ. Jesus is better than a full wallet any day. And the thing this world needs more than anything is something that money cannot buy anyway. The greatest need in the world today is for people to be born again, and this only happens through the preaching and hearing of the gospel (Romans 1:16-17, 1 Peter 1:22-25).

We should be praying for God's Kingdom to come, yes for our good, but most importantly so that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). Or as Jesus put it, so that Our Father in heaven would be hallowed or glorified. 

So, what are you praying for?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Wake Up and Share the Gospel

Colossians 1:3-6
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing-as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth...

The gospel is the good news about the person and work of Jesus Christ. I LOVEthe gospel! I truly believe with all my heart that the gospel is the power of God to make disciples (conversion), and the power of God to mature disciples (sanctification). This message is truly one of the biggest passions of my heart.

I really love this passage in Colossians, for many reasons, but perhaps the greatest is because it so communicates my heart. First off Paul says that he thanks God for the faith and love of the Colossians; and he says the reason they have this faith and love is because of the hope they have laid up in heaven, the hope of Christ, the hope of the gospel. Then after he says that he explains why that is the case.

When the gospel comes in it bears fruit and increases. Paul says, “the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing-as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth...” So, someone becomes a Christian when they hear the gospel and understand it (truly understand it which leads to repentance and faith). And from that day on it bears fruit not only in them but also through them and increases out into the world. In other words, when the gospel does a work in somebody, it also does a work out of somebody. This is what is called Gospel In ~ Gospel Out.

Most new Christians are always excited and eager to talk about Jesus. Why is that? Because they recognize the profound work that God is doing in them through the gospel. They want to talk about what excites them. They want to talk about what they care about. But, with that in mind, many of us think of this as merely a passing phase. “Sure that guy is on fire for Jesus now, but he’ll cool off after a while.” And if we’re honest that usually happens. But why?! I think it is because we stop being amazed by grace. We stop marveling at the gospel and then we become cold, sleepy Christians who keep the amazing news about the person and work of Jesus Christ to ourselves.

So, what are you? Are you a cold, sleepy Christian? Or are you an excited Christian who burns with a white hot passion for the gospel? So many churches are full of nominal and sleepy Christians; so much so that the Christians who are on fire for the Lord feel out of place. I pray that God would revive our churches and give us new passion for the gospel. Tim Keller says, “In a revival, sleepy Christians wake up, nominal Christians get converted, and non-Christians get reached… When sleepy and nominal Christians get revived, attractive and bold in their witness, people who would never have believed before begin to get converted.” The gospel goes in and the gospel goes out; it truly bears fruit and increases.

So what are some things we can do to pull us out of our slumber?
1.      Pray
2.      Read, meditate on, and memorize Scripture
3.      Sit under the preached Word
4.      Gather with God’s people and celebrate the gospel
5.      Preach the gospel to yourself over and over again
6.      Always keep an ongoing cycle of confession and repentance going. This requires you to be in community with some people. These should be close gospel-centered friendships, and of course your spouse.
7.      Share the gospel with and love and serve the people around you.
8.      Seek to meet new people who you can build relationships with, share the gospel with, invite to church, etc…

Number eight is by far the hardest one for me. I get so caught up in my day to day routine that I forget to slow down long enough to engage the people around me when I’m out and about. I heard a new church planter say the other day that he and his core group committed themselves to meeting 7-14 new people a week (each) and sharing the gospel with them and inviting them to church. If everybody in the church committed themselves to doing this I believe we would really start to see the kind of thing that Tim Keller was talking about (Lord willing).

I don’t know about you, but I’m not content with being a cold, sleepy Christian. I want to fight for gospel amazement. I want to be a part of a church that has the kind of faith and love that Paul talks about in Colossians. I want the gospel to work in and out of me. I want to pour out my life for the fame of Jesus among all peoples. What about you?   

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Success is not always immediate results…

Think with me if you will about what the modern day church in America looks like in contrast to the way Jesus did ministry. Most churches in the western world define themselves by what programs they offer, what events they host, what type of music they have, and the personality of the pastor. Jesus’ ministry however, was very basic; He simply focused on preaching, teaching, and discipleship. Often the main concern in the western church is to draw a crowd, whereas Jesus often retreated from crowds in order to disciple His apostles. Why did Jesus do this? In Robert Coleman’s book The Master Plan of Evangelism he writes:

“Why did Jesus deliberately concentrate his life on comparatively so few people? Had he not come to save the world? ... Surely the Son of God could have adopted a more enticing program of mass recruitment. Is it not rather disappointing that one with all the powers of the universe at his command would live and die to save the world, yet in the end only have a few ragged disciples to show for his labors? The answer to this question focuses at once on the real purpose of his plan for evangelism. Jesus was not trying to impress the crowd, but to usher in a Kingdom.”

Jesus’ view of ministry was not one of quantity but of quality. Yes, Jesus cared/cares deeply about the world, and we know that He is saving people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. But what we see in His ministry is not a neglect of the world but a ministry that takes the long view in order to have a larger impact. Jesus’ example makes us ask ourselves the question, “What if instead of trying to casually impact everyone, we focused our efforts to radically impact a few?”

Robert Coleman continues:
"Here is where we must begin just like Jesus. It will be slow, tedious, painful, and probably unnoticed by people at first, but the end result will be glorious, even if we don't live to see it. We must decide where we want our lives and ministry to count - in the momentary applause of popular recognition or in the reproduction of our lives in a few chosen people who will carry on our work after we have gone. Really it is a question of which generation we are living for."

The way in which many churches do ministry often seems to be having much immediate success; but how many are actually agents of true lasting change in their people, their community, and out into the world? How many are really seeing lives transformed? I heard David Platt say in his sermon at Together for the Gospel this year, “If we’re not careful we will deceive ourselves, mistaking the presence of physical bodies in a building for the existence of spiritual life in a church.” So, in other words, numbers do not equal success. We can’t measure success by immediate results. Ultimately what equals success is faithfulness to the gospel; and God’s Word teaches us that faithfulness to the gospel will lead to true lasting impact and change.

A vision for something closer to Jesus’ ministry philosophy…

If we don’t need a whole bunch of programs to do ministry, what do we need to reach people and transform lives? I propose three things: gospel-centered discipleship, community, and worship. These three not only transform the lives of the individuals who make up a local church, but they also transform the church as a whole, the community the church is in, and on out into the world; and this all works together to glorify God.

The gospel is the glorious message that tells us that God has made a way for lost wicked sinners to be reconciled to Him and live forever with Him in a world free of sin and its effects through His Son, Jesus Christ. It is at the center of the Christian life because it is what creates and empowers the Christian life in every stage; therefore every aspect of the Christian must be tethered to the gospel. A person hears the gospel and gets knowledge of this glorious message. Faith comes upon hearing this message and as that faith grows the character of this person will begin to grow in Christlikeness. As the person becomes more and more like Christ the person’s faith and character will lead to action; the action of being a doer of the word. And then the cycle continues because the riches of God’s grace in the gospel are unsearchable; we’ll never reach the bottom of this glorious well (Romans 11:33). So, for the individual, discipleship—the Christian life really, would flow something like this.

Now for the church as a whole there is a similar pattern of life. Like the individual, the church as a whole is created and empowered by the gospel; therefore every aspect of the church must be tethered to the gospel. God accomplishes His purposes for His people through His Word (Gen. 1:3; Isa. 55:10-11; Acts 12:24), so the doctrine of a church is crucial. As gospel doctrine is laid out week in and week out through discipleship and preaching the lives of the members begin to be transformed by the power of the gospel leading to a gospel lifestyle. As the lifestyle of the members of a church become more and more in step with the gospel (Gal. 2:14) the overall culture of the church begins to become gospel-centered.

To be gospel-centered means that the gospel and Jesus himself is our greatest hope and boast, our deepest longing and joy, and our most passionate song and message. It means that the gospel is what defines us as Christians, unites us as brothers and sisters in Christ, changes us from sinners to saints, and sends us out to live our lives with intentionality to edify the saints, evangelize the lost, and worship God. A gospel-centered church is about Jesus above everything else. The sermons we preach, the lessons we teach, the songs we sing, the prayers we pray, the way we do life with one another, and the way we live our lives when we are scattered into the world will be focused on and saturated with the gospel and its implications.

As this culture becomes established in a church it will begin to shine out the nature and character of God to the watching world, leading to true gospel witness. As the witness of a church grows in gospel clarity it will have more of an impact on the surrounding community because as Christ says, it will shine out like a city on a hill. So, the greater the gospel transformation in the church the greater the gospel witness. The greater the gospel witness the greater the influence, impact, and evangelistic witness on the world. And this too is an ongoing cycle. So, for the local church, life would flow something like this.

The gospel creates something beautiful and powerful…

In his new book The Gospel, Ray Ortlund says, “Gospel-centered churches are living proof that the good news is true, that Jesus is not a theory but real. . . . When the doctrine is clear and the culture is beautiful, that church will be powerful.” So simply through gospel-centered discipleship (evangelism and helping others pursue Christlikeness), community (living life together and fulfilling the “one anothers” of the New Testament), and worship (both corporate worship through the preaching of the Word, prayer, and singing, as well as living a lifestyle of worship), we can become true agents of change for the mission of the gospel in our city and to the nations.

This may sound great but in real life this is slow moving, hard work. Along with the church being made up of a bunch of repentant sinners, the world is made up of a bunch of unrepentant sinners; add that combination to an already fallen world and a real enemy who hates the gospel and gospel-centered churches and you have a recipe for grueling hard work. But, by God’s grace this vision for the church can be accomplished. As Robert Coleman said, “It will be slow, tedious, painful, and probably unnoticed by people at first, but the end result will be glorious, even if we don't live to see it.” So, the question is, are we willing to put in the time and effort to see gospel transformation in ourselves, our churches, our communities, and the world? Are we willing to pour our lives into a few as Jesus did in hopes of having a more meaningful impact? When each member of a church focuses on discipling a few and living lives that are in step with the gospel I truly believe we will have a much bigger impact than we ever could through an event or a program. Oh, how I so long to be a part of something like this...

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Gospel is the Answer

Gospel Centrality is Biblical

Ephesians 3:10
[S]o that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

In the circles and camps that I run with, gospel centrality is becoming something we hear a lot and see in a lot of book titles. A lot of people treat the idea of being gospel-centered as a passing fad. While the term gospel-centered may be fairly new the concept is completely biblical. Ephesians 3:10 is one of my favorite verses when it comes to gospel-centrality. I don’t have the time to unpack all of Ephesians to show you exactly why I think 3:10 is crucial to the concept of being gospel-centered, but this quote from Mark Dever gets at the heart of it. “Christian proclamation might make the gospel audible, but Christians living together in local congregations make the gospel visible (see John 13:34-35). The church is the gospel made visible.”[1] So what I am saying is that Ephesians 3:10 teaches that God makes the gospel visible to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places and also to the world through His church.

Don Carson says, “The gospel is regularly presented not only as truth to be received and believed, but the very power of God to transform (see 1 Cor 2; 1 Thess 2:4; [Rom 1:16-17])...
One of the most urgently needed things today is a careful treatment of how the gospel, biblically and richly understood, ought to shape everything we do in the local church, all of our ethics, all of our priorities."[2] The gospel must be the focal point of everything we do as a church and it must drive everything we do as Christians. It is the power to make and mature disciples, so this is what should define us as Christians and local churches. So we must preach and teach the gospel and then live out the implications of the gospel. As Paul puts it in Galatians 2:14, we must live lives that are in step with the gospel.

The idea behind this is that in the church you have gospel doctrine through the preaching and teaching of the Word and gospel culture through the lives and relationships of the people that make up the church. Only when the doctrine and the culture of a church are in step with the gospel is a church living out Ephesians 3:10 and proving to be truly gospel-centered. A church can’t be truly gospel-centered if it is lacking in either of these areas.  

Gospel Centrality is the Answer

In my church I hear people talk often of reaching younger people. By younger people they mean my aged people (20s-30s) and below. They ask questions like, “Why don’t they care about the church? Why don’t they have a desire to grow?” These are fine questions to ask, but how we respond to these questions are what’s really important. The typical response is to come up with bigger and better programs, events, and productions in hopes that it will attract these disinterested folks and change their current disengaged status. While the motives behind these efforts are well and good, the efforts themselves are misguided. As long as we measure success by numbers and not faithfulness to the gospel we will never be a true gospel-centered church. 

If programs, events, and productions aren’t the answer, what is? Put simply, gospel centrality is the answer. Francis Schaeffer put it like this, “If the church is what it should be, young people will be there. But they will not just ‘be there’—they will be there with the blowing of horns and the clashing of high-sounding cymbals, and they will come dancing with flowers in their hair.”[3] So, when the church lives out the mission of Ephesians 3:10, paying attention to both gospel doctrine and gospel culture, the watching world, including young people will see and will be attracted to it, eagerly attracted to it. Ray Ortlund puts it like this, “We accept that the truth of biblical doctrine is essential to authentic Christianity, but do we accept that the beauty of human relationships is equally essential? If by God’s grace we hold the two together—gospel doctrine and gospel culture—people of all ages will more likely come to our churches with great joy.”[4]

Francis Schaeffer shows this to be true in the early church. “One cannot explain the explosive dynamite, the dunamis, of the early church apart from the fact that they practiced two things simultaneously: orthodoxy of doctrine and orthodoxy of community in the midst of the visible church, a community which the world could see. By the grace of God, therefore, the church must be known simultaneously for its purity of doctrine and the reality of its community. Our churches have so often been only preaching points with very little emphasis on community, but exhibition of the love of God in practice is beautiful and must be there.”[5]

So we can’t neglect doctrine or culture, they are both import. Ray Ortlund says it like this:
“Gospel doctrine - gospel culture = hypocrisy
Gospel culture - gospel doctrine = fragility
Gospel doctrine + gospel culture = power
Only the powerful presence of the risen Lord can make a church this gospel-centered. . . . People will see him in us as we build our churches into gospel cultures with the resources of gospel doctrine, taking no shortcuts.”[6]

So there you have it; as people hear and see the gospel in the church people will become interested and engaged. The gospel is the answer. We over complicate things by trying to come up with the next best thing to reach the world, but Scripture is clear, the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). We must focus on what is truly important. We must stay centered and saturated with the gospel of Jesus Christ for the sake of our doctrine and our culture. Anything less loses the power to transform lives and falls short of the beauty of Ephesians 3:10.

The Gospel Attracts the Elect

When my eyes were opened to the beautiful riches of mercy and grace that are in the gospel I not only fell in love with Christ, but I fell in love with His bride the church. When I learned that I was created for more than just trying to enjoy myself and avoid pain and discomfort, I became recklessly abandoned for the mission of the gospel. The idea of pouring out my life for the fame of Jesus among all nations was and is incredibly attractive to me versus the American Dream. When I learned that through the gospel I had been brought into a war against sin and Satan and by pursing holiness and making disciples I could push back the darkness and my life could have an eternal impact on this world for Christ, I felt truly alive for the first time.

Jesus promised that the elect will be attracted by the gospel (John 10:16). When the elect hear the gospel and respond in repentance and faith they are made alive to the true purposes they were created for. Evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and the like, are all tied to the gospel and these are things the elect live for. Church and the Christian life was never meant to be a safe, moralistic, country club where we sing songs and put on shows (though I certainly believe we must sing out in corporate worship). The church is a gospel-centered people who make the gospel visible to the world and make war on sin and Satan. When we stop worrying about the next best thing and numbers and start worrying about the gospel and the mission of the gospel, then we will become the gospel-centered church Ephesians 3:10 speaks of, and then we will begin to reach this world for Christ.

Let’s Pray for Gospel Centrality in Hopes of Gospel Transformation

The gospel is good news, not good advice. The gospel is not something we do but a message about something that has been done for us. The gospel is the glorious message that tells us that God has made a way for lost wicked sinners to be reconciled to Him and live forever with Him in a world free of sin and its effects through His Son, Jesus Christ. This is glorious news that should be shared. The Bible is clear, the gospel is the power of God for salvation for all who will believe; so we must preach this gospel to unbelievers in hopes of their justification and we must preach this gospel to ourselves and other believers in hopes of sanctification.

As men and women of God the gospel should shape and mold every aspect of our lives, everything we do, and everything we are. The gospel is what we need. The gospel is what this world needs. We have been saved so that we would live in this world as gospel-centered, gospel-saturated ambassadors for Christ, pleading with this world to be reconciled to God. As we allow the gospel to center and saturate us the grace of God will transform the doctrine and culture of our churches… As pastor Ray Ortlund has said, “How does change happen? Not by our brilliance or will power. Not even by our agreement with the gospel. We change as we press the gospel into our hearts deeper than ever before.”[7] So, join me in going deeper into the gospel and praying that Christ transforms us into the gospel-centered church He saved us to be, for the evangelization of the world, the edification of the saints, and the glory of God.  

[1] Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (Nashville: B&H, 2012), xi.
[2] D. A. Carson, “What Is the Gospel?—Revisited,” in For the Fame of God’s NameEssays in Honor of John Piper, ed. Sam Storms and Justin Taylor (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 165.
[3] Francis Schaeffer, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century (Downers Grove, 1970), 107.
[4] Ray Ortlund, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 22.
[5] Francis Schaeffer, The Church Before the Watching World, 62.
[6] Ray Ortlund, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 23.
[7] Ray Ortlund in Jared Wilson’s book, Gospel Wakefulness (Wheaton, Crossway 2011), 9.