May 13, 2011

Maybe we should be glad that people don’t go to church

May 12, 2011

How your attitude to the poor is a measure of your grasp of the gospel

Generous Justice by Tim Keller is subtitled ‘How God’s Grace makes us just’ and the subtitle is itself very telling because the book is not just a biblical defence of the idea that Christians should be concerned to uphold justice in our communities by sharing God’s concern for the needy or  vulnerable. The book is also written to measure our grasp of the gospel and our desire to live in obedience to it.

The main argument of the book can be summarised in the following statement;

A life poured out in doing justice for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith.

For Keller the gospel both shows that Christians have unique motivations for social justice and also that Christians alone have unique power to demonstrate this justice in a radical way that is made possible by the gospel. Keller comments;

The Bible gives us not just a naked call to care about justice, but gives us everything we need – motivation, guidance, inner joy and power – to live a just life.

Elsewhere he comments

We can see what an important and powerful resource the Bible gives us when it provides not merely the bare ethical obligation for doing justice, but a revolutionary new inner power and dynamism to do so. The Bible gives believers two basic motivations  – joyful awe before the goodness of God’s creation, and the experience of God’s grace in redemption.

If Keller is right it seems inevitable that the Christian ought to be more engaged in Generous Justice than his non-Christian neighbour because he has both unique motives and a unique power.

My goal in this post is not to rehearse all of Keller’s arguments. But I would like to highlight a few examples of what it looks like when the gospel is applied to our attitudes to the poor and to matters of justice.

Keller says that Micah 6:8 as ‘a summary of how God wants us to live’. The Chrsitian is ‘to do justice (mishpat) and love mercy (chesedh).’

Justice is at it’s most basic meaning ‘to treat people equitably’. And God is concerned to defend those for whom justice is hard to come by. So

if believers in God don’t honor the cries and claims of the poor, we don’t honor him, whatever we profess, because we hide his beauty from the eyes of the world.’

But justice also calls for radical generosity.

Keller cites Matthew 6 and Jesus description of giving alms as ‘acts of righteousness’.

Not giving generously, then, is not stinginess, but unrighteousness, a violation of God’s law.’

How does the gospel dynamic work to renew our minds and transform our lives so that the gospel leads to generous justice. I want us to briefly look at five examples from the book.

1. The gospel empowers us to be radical neighbours.

If we are to be committed to our communities we need our care and concern to be motivated not by pity for the poor or guilt because we’re more affluent but we need our compassion to be motivated by the conviction that we ourselves have received from Jesus the love that we are seeking to share. As Tim Keller writes reflecting on Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan

According to the Bible, we are all like that man, dying in the road. Spiritually, we are ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Ephesians 2:5). But when Jesus came into our dangerous world, he came down our road. And thought we had been his enemies, he was moved with compassion by our plight (Romans 5:10). He came to us and saved us, not merely at the risk of his life, as in the case of the Samaritan, but at the cost of his life. On the cross he paid a debt we could never pay ourselves. Jesus is the Great Samaritan to whom the Good Samaritan points.

Before you can give this neighbour-love, you need to receive it. Once we receive this ultimate, radical neighbour-love through Jesus, we can start to be the neighbours that the Bible calls us to be.’

2. The gospel changes the identity of the well-off so they have a new respect and love for the poor.

Again a powerful motivator for compassion and respect is that the gospel teaches us to identify ourselves with the poor as Jesus did. We share not just a common humanity but we share even the status ‘the undeserving’ poor.

Keller notes:

My experience as a pastor has been that those who are middle-class in spirit tend to be indifferent to the poor, but people who come to grasp the gospel of grace and become spiritually poor find their hearts gravitating toward the materially poor.

And what this means is

To the degree that the gospel shapes your self-image, you will identify with those in need.

When we see that we too have bankrupted ourselves spiritually if not financially and we recognise that it was our own fault and that we too are in need of great mercy it will lead to Generous Justice.

3. The gospel declares that God identifies with the poor.

Where would we be if God had not identified himself with the poor? Physically he choose to become  poor and marginalized in that he came as a working-class Palestinian Jew not a King or a Lord. He chose not to own a home or to seek the comforts of life.

He stood in the place of us all when he recognised our own spiritual poverty and bankruptcy (Matthew 5:3) and paid our debt.

4. The gospel enables the Christian to sacrifice, take risks and even disadvantage themselves to the advantage of others.

Keller reminds us that the real love that we have received in Christ entailed risk and sacrifice. For the Christian it is a Christ-like love that we offer in return.

The Christian is ready to give not out of his riches but even out of his poverty. He quotes a section from a sermon by the great Jonathan Edwards to demonstrate;

We in many cases may, by the rule of the gospel, be obliged to give to others when we can’t without suffering ourselves…If our neighbour’s difficulties and necessities are much greater than ours and we see that they are not like to be relieved, we should be willing to suffer with them and to take part of their burden upon ourselves.

5. The gospel enables us to overcome racial bias.

The Bible provides deep resources for racial rapprochement. Its depiction of creation cuts the nerve of racism at its source.

And the gospel of grace also serves to kill off any racist instinct.

Racial prejudice is wrong because it is a denial of the very principle that all human beings are equally sinful and saved by only the grace of God. A deep grasp of the gospel of grace, Paul says, should erode our racial biases.

What is at stake?

1. The glory of the gospel in transformed lives

What should we conclude when Christians fails to engage in acts of social justice? Keller would argue we should conclude that Christians have failed to grasp the gospel in all its dimensions and that we need to relearn and reapply the gospel in our attitude to the poor.

I would like to believe that a heart for the poor ‘sleeps’ down in a Christian’s soul until it is awakened.

2. Our witness to the world

Surely the gospel would have a much greater impact if the world saw the power of the gospel at work in the lives of Christians who are motivated to do justice?  An awakened heart is a powerful witness.

Deeds of justice give credibility for the preaching of the gospel. When our deeds contradict our words, our words have no power.


The book Generous Justice is a great example of what happens when we allow the gospel free reign to do its work into all of our lives and every aspect of our thinking.

A true experience of the grace of Jesus Christ inevitably motivates a man or woman to seek justice in the world.

May 11, 2011

How do a couple cope with losing a child? An extraordinary testimony

This very honest and deeply moving account of losing a child and yet refusing to blame God is a story to read. Holding onto hope in the most severe trial is a testimony to the power of Christ in us.

‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.’ Job. 1:21

May 9, 2011

8 lessons in church planting from the forallseasons conference

On Thursday and Friday of last week ‘for all seasons’ church planting conference took place in Birmingham co-hosted by Acts29 Western Europe and 2020birmingham. Audio and video from the conference will be available soon. But here are eight take homes for me from the two days.

1. God is doing amazing things in our nation(s). To have 400 people all seriously thinking about church planting (and a further 220 at a London based conference on planting the day before) highlights a transformation in the church scene in the UK and Western Europe.

2. The atmosphere at the conference was just fantastic.  A real unity was evident and the whole time was remarkably free of tribalism and suspicions of others. There was just a huge desire, borne out of a spirit-filled generosity, to bless others. The attitude was one of ‘how can I help you? How can I bless you?’ By passing on freely anything and everything we really wanted to help others be better planters!  At a dinner with Mark Driscoll on the Thursday evening we had representatives of New Frontiers, FIEC, the Anglican Diocese and Elim Pentecostal all sitting down together thinking how we might work together to get the gospel to the city of Birmingham!

3. Our failure to attempt great things for God is often borne out of fear of men. That means we need to recognise that ‘it is a sin to take too much of a risk in planting but it is as much of a sin not to take a risk out of fear.’ Mark Driscoll

4. On a similar theme it’s not enough for a small church to think we can’t do anything when it comes to church planting. True a small church may not be able to plant itself but it can contribute to a bigger vision (prayer, finances, wisdom and knowledge of a community or city).

A church planting conference should not just be full of church planters any more than a missions conference should be full of people about to head off overseas. As Rick Warren has said elsewhere ‘it is not a sin to be a small church but it is a sin to be a small church with a small vision’.

5. It really does matter what motivates us in church planting. To have a healthy church plant we need a healthy church planter and the gospel at the heart of our motivates is essential.

Steve Timmis challenged us with the question ‘Are we looking to church planting for our justification? Looking to church planting for our place in the world?’ And when that is a danger the antidote to that is remembering ‘church planter, our identity is ‘in Christ’’. And that has huge implications because succeed or fail (humanly speaking) I am secure in who I am.  ‘My church plant can break up into a 100 different pieces but nothing can change the fact that I am ‘in Christ’ Steve Timmis.

6. ‘Every year you plant your church again’. Mark Driscoll reminded us that the way to grow your church plant and be effective in leadership is never to stop being a church planter but to look to the same mindset to keep growing.

7. The 2020birmingham initiative reminded us all that it takes a big vision to impact a big city. If our vision is to plant a church, even a large church, it has to give way to God’s vision which is nothing less than his global fame. If our vision is to reach our cities for Christ rather than plant a church that requires a paradigm shift in our thinking. In the past 10 to 15 years we have undergone one important shift from accidental planting to intentional planting. Now we need the second shift from intentional planting to intentional partnerships in church planting. Working together to fulfil a vision that no one church is equipped to make on its own.

8. Finally, church planting must, if it is to be true to the gospel, never be about empire building. ‘How do I live out my identity? By being a lover of God and a lover of others. Whoever it is about it is never about me.’ Steve Timmis

May 8, 2011

Five words to guide you in any conversation

Justin Taylor‘s blog is one to follow especially for news about good books. His post yesterday included this short extract from Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson’s new book Give them grace to be published soon. The book is a look at grace-filled and grace-fueled parenting. But as you will see from the extract below this advice transcends parenting to discipleship more generally and especially to discipleship of children at church.

Here are five simple words for you to take with you every day: Manage, Nurture, Train, Correct, and Promise. The beginning letters of these five categories are MNTCP. You probably know how making an acrostic can help you remember certain important facts. This is one that will help you remember these categories and will also remind you of one more very important aspect of your parenting—prayer . . . . The acrostic can also stand for Moms Need To Constantly Pray.

  • Does this circumstance simply call for management?
  • Now that the situation has calmed down, do I have an opportunity to nurture his soul with the gospel?
  • Is this the time to train him in how to apply what Jesus has already done for him?
  • Do I need to correct her attitudes or actions so that they are more in line with the good news?
  • Should I remind him of God’s promises, either of blessing for faith or of punishment for unbelief?
  • Finally, is this just a time for me to pray and ask the Lord to show me how the gospel applies to my own heart? Do I need clarity to understand why my child is struggling or resisting right now? Do I need clarity into my heart’s responses so that I am not sucked down into her unbelief, anger, and despair? What is it that bothers me about his attitude? Why?
May 6, 2011

The City Limits

Beautiful. Profound. Inspiring. Time-lapse video of 5 great cities of the world.

With thanks to Andy Shudall for pointing me to this.

May 4, 2011

14 reasons to pray for your pastor this weekend from Richard Baxter

Richard Baxter may have written  The Reformed Pastor in a very different age and time but it’s hard to find a better description of what is involved in the preaching of God’s word Sunday by Sunday. And in his definition of preaching he gives us 14 different reasons to pray that this Sunday the Pastor, in preaching God’s word, would achieve the very end for which it was written.

We are seeking to uphold the world, to save it from the curse of God, to perfect the creation, to attain the ends of Christ’s death, to save ourselves and others from damnation, to overcome the devil, and demolish his kingdom, to set up the kingdom of Christ, and to attain and help others to the kingdom of glory. And are these works to be done with a careless mind, or a lazy hand? O, see, then that this work be done with all your might!

May 2, 2011

Photo from inside the Situation Room of the White House

This official White House photo was taken during the operation against Osama bin Laden. A reminder of the responsibility of governing.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority.

1 Timothy 2:1-2

May 2, 2011

Should we be glad Osama bin Laden is dead?

So Osama Bin Laden is dead. And what should be our response?

Three responses that I’ve observed in the hours since the news broke.

1) Gloating. There are a lot of people taking what I would describe as a perverse pleasure in the death of a man. That should not be so with the Christian. For at least two reasons

a) Our doctrine of creation reminds us that Osama was a man made in the image of God, made for a relationship with him. That is the reason the Lord says in Ezekiel 33:11 ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. ‘

b) Our doctrine of salvation reminds us that we too are sinners. Our sins alone would have taken Jesus to the cross. Any gloating would suggest a self-rightousness that is a denial of the gospel.

2) Sadness. Many Christians have rightly commented that we shouldn’t wish a man dead and have recognised that in lots of ways we are no better. They have suggested that we should grieve over the death of a sinner.

3) Rejoicing. Other Christians have argued that we should rejoice that justice has been seen to be done. That God in his sovereign will has brought an end to a life dedicated to wickedness and to a life that was behind much of the persecution of Christians in the Muslim-majority world.

So what is the Biblical response?

The question as Christians we have to ask is this; is it ever appropriate for Christians to rejoice in the death of the wicked? I would want to argue that the Bible says ‘yes’ it is. In an excellent book, entitled ‘Crying for justice, what the Psalms teach us about mercy and vengeance in an age of terrorism’ John N. Day looks at what are called the imprecatory psalms in which God’s people cry out for God to bring justice and through which God’s people call for vengeance. Such psalms contain verses such as

Break the teeth in their mouth, O God; tear out, O Lord, the fangs of the lion!’ Psalm 58:6


Happy is he who repays you for what you have done’ Psalm 137:8

Day comments:

Christians are continually called to seek reconciliation and practice long-suffering, forgiveness, and kindness after the pattern of God. Yet there comes a point at which justice must be enacted – whether form God directly or through his representatives, such as the state and its judicial system. This response is likewise patterned after the example of God. The inhabitants of Canaan, for instance, experienced God’s long-suffering grace for four hundred years. But then their iniquity became ‘complete,’ and judgment fell.

When God’s people find themselves suffering from gross or sustained injustice, they are in principle justified in calling for divine justice and appealing to divine vengeance.

The Christian must embrace the tension inherent in reflecting both ‘the kindness and severity of God’ (Rom. 11:22)

What can we learn on this day as we reflect on the death of Osama bin laden?

1. I should certainly have prayed more for Osama’s conversion than his death. I should pray for God’s enemies and seek their salvation remembering that I too was an enemy of God.

2. My rejoicing should be a ‘sorrowful rejoicing’ remembering that the Lord does not delight in the death of the wicked. There is no room for gloating.

3. I should remember that in God’s will sometimes justice is seen to be done and that the enemies of God’s people and agents of extreme wickedness are destroyed. God uses human agents to enact his justice.

4. I should remember that where justice is not seen to be done it is right

Apr 30, 2011

The 3 great traps of leadership

Rick Warren lead us in a masterly Bible study on 1 John 2 at the exponential conference yesterday. Here are my notes. Hope you find them useful!

Love the world – don’t love the world

The Christian is to love the world because Jesus loved the world.

John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The Christian is not to love the world because Jesus did not love the world.

1 John 2:16 – Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.

The problem in the church is that we get these the wrong way round. We don’t love godless people (the world in John 3:16) but we do love godless things (the world’s values in 1 John 2:15-16).

We do the exact opposite of what Jesus calls us to do.

That includes leaders too.

The three great traps of leadership

1. The lust of the flesh – our passions.

2. The lust of the eyes – our possessions.

3. The pride of life – success & status

The antidote to these three are integrity, generousity and humility!

1. The lust of the flesh – our passions.

Anything we go to that makes us feel good. It could be sex, food, sleep, TV, internet porn. anything we go to that makes us feel good.

They are a temptation especially to tired, busy, stressed, leaders.

In our tiredness we say to ourselves ‘you deserve to feel good!’

The lust of the flesh is essentially hedonism. One of the three great value systems of the world.

2. The lust of the eyes – our possessions.

‘I see it I want it’. Materialism.

There is an entire industry designed to feed the eyes and to create desires for more.

Pastors are not immune from the love of things and the desire to

3. The pride of life – success & status

‘I want to be ….loved, worshipped’. Secularism is the pride of life.

All three show up in the life of leaders.

How do we fight them?

1. Integrity to fight the lust of the flesh

It means being ‘a unit of one’. Refusing to compartmentalise life.

Integrity is not about being perfect but it is about being honest.

It is also about remembering that when you sin you never sin by yourself. It may be private but it is never merely personal. It always affects other people in your life.

2. Generousity to fight the lust of the eyes

The only antidote to get, get, get is to give, give give.

You are most like Christ when you give.

Everytime I give my heart grows bigger and I break the grip of materialism.

3. Humility to fight the pride of life.

Humility is not denying strengths but being honest about weaknesses.

How do you know that yuo are humble?

a) You can learn from anybody

b) You refuse to defend yourself when attacked

c) You look to Jesus to provide

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