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I had a great time with the nearly 300 folks at the Houston ENDURE Bootcamp. Clear Creek Community Church was an incredible host with great facilities and humble staff. I was blessed just to be around them. It was a great couple days of training, connecting, dreaming, repenting, and so on.
Carter on Marriage
Matt Carter’s talk on Marriage was outstanding, challenging us to be the kind of fathers and husbands that leave a legacy of grace. Quoting from Edwards’ daughter, he charged us to be the kind of fathers that earn the appelation: “I thank God, for my father is a mercy to me.” Wow. Yes, Lord, make me a mercy to my children. Check out his video:
Here are the manuscripts from my talks:
- Here is the audio and manuscript from my The Problem of Community talk at the Acts 29 ENDURE bootcamp. I ended up changing a third of it right before the session, so it’s a bit disjointed.
- Here is the outline from my Missional Communities in Cities and Suburbs workshop from ENDURE.
In his Institutes, John Calvin makes a wonderful distinction between what he calls “Legal repentance” and “Evangelical repentance.” After a close reading of this text, it is abundantly clear that Calvin would be quite happy with our contemporary nomenclature of “legalistic” and “gospel-centered” to communicate the difference between legal and evangelical repentance. Consider his descriptions:
Legal (legalistic) Repentance
“Legal repentance; or that by which the sinner, stung with a sense of his sin, and overwhelmed with fear of the divine anger, remains in that state of perturbation, unable to escape from it.”
This kind of repentance rises and falls with the effort of man. It leaves us upset with ourselves and fails to carry us to joy in Christ. It is a man-made trap of moral performance, an act that keeps us in the jaws of guilt never to experience the liberation of grace. Legalistic repentance is the antithesis of gospel-centered repentance. It exchanges grace for law, Christ for man, peace for anger and produces no real change at all.
Evangelical (Gospel-centered) Repentance
“The other they term Evangelical repentance; or that by which the sinner, though grievously downcast in himself, yet looks up and sees in Christ the cure of his wound, the solace of his terror; the haven of rest from his misery.”
This kind of repentance rises and falls upon the grace of God. It brings about a bittersweet conviction that is less bitter than sweet. Instead of beating us down, it lifts us up. Gospel-centered repentance makes much of the death and resurrection of Jesus on behalf of sinners. It carries us to Christ, where we find perfect forgiveness, acceptance, and rest. Gospel-centered repentance is the antithesis of legalistic repentance. Gospel repentance exchanges law for grace, man for Christ, anger for peace, and produces lasting change in the life of man.
Timmy Brister pulled me into his blog in an attempt to refine the Gospel-centered language a little more.
The main theme of “gospel | community | mission” Lead09 is open to people of all ages. We are excited to see the Church come together for Lead09, with people from high school to retired pastors; college students to pastors; lay leaders to paid staff. Lead09 strives to not only talk about community, but display it.
If you sign up now, get a free copy of Total Church and entered into a drawing for an ESV Study Bible. I’m looking forward to returning to New England, working with the Josh’s, and speaking alongside Tim. I am just about to send the titles of my talks to LEAD.
Hope to see you there!
Boundless is running a new article (Failed Disciple), a version of a post I wrote a few weeks back on Creation Project called Confessions of a Failed Disciple. This article was adapted from the introduction to my forthcoming book Fight Club: Gospel-centered Discipleship, which is getting very close to being finished! An excerpt from the article:
“Along the way, I’ve come to understand that following Jesus alone is not really what it means to be a disciple. Both the church and the parachurch taught me that being a disciple means making disciples. I was told that this meant two primary things. First, I should be active in “sharing my faith.” Second, I should find Christians who are younger in the faith to tell and show what it means to be older in the faith.
It took me quite a while to realize that this practice of making disciples was incomplete. Making disciples requires not only “sharing my faith,” but also sharing my life — failures and successes, disobedience and obedience.
Making disciples is not code for evangelism, nor is it a spiritual system whereby professional Christians pass on best practices to novice Christians.”
Does vision or personality drive your church? What role does leadership really play in influencing an entire city? In this blog exchange between Tim Keller and one of his church members, Keller backs away from the personality-driven ministry, while affirming leadership as the fuel of ministry, acknowledging some has higher octane than others.
QUESTION: Tim, I had an interesting conversation with the pastor of an…NYC church this past week. I was discussing the need for churches in this part of the city and the vision God has placed on my heart to see churches planted throughout the city and my dedication to seeing one here, in Brooklyn Heights/Dumbo. I was frustrated and haunted by his focus on mere ‘survival’. Not only that, but when I mentioned that I was attending Redeemer, he kindly insisted that Redeemer’s success was the result of an advantage ‘they’ have over other churches. His response to my inquiry was, “Tim Keller”. Naturally, I spent the next couple of days pondering his observation. Is Redeemer what it is because of Dr. Keller and his persona? I mean no disrespect, but my answer is an emphatic ‘no’…. It is the vision of Redeemer Presbyterian Church and the passionate embodiment of that vision that has allowed Redeemer to focus on things beyond mere survival. In the relatively short number of days that I have lived in New York City, I have lived beneath the banner of Jeremiah 29, and have found nothing short of Shalom. Numerous friends are amazed, even shocked, at the number of friends and acquaintances my family and I have made. I have no doubt that it is the result of our view of the city, largely influenced by this vision. If Redeemer’s advantage is ‘Tim Keller’ then every church has the same advantage. There is an example to follow. Living the vision, Brad
REPLY: Brad, Thanks for a great letter, and for defending me against a “false compliment.” I get this a lot—“How are you going to start a movement—only you can do the things you do?” It’s very frustrating to me, especially because Redeemer-model churches have already prospered and grown in cities like San Francisco, Boston, Washington, DC, and many other cities, both in the States and abroad. The distinctives of gospel-centrality, a balance of evangelism, community, justice and cultural renewal, and a concern for the whole city, not just our own tribe could be likened to an engine. The leadership and preaching gifts of any individual pastor, using this metaphor, would be the “fuel.” Naturally, some pastors have “higher octane” gifts than others, but the “engine” will run on just about anything. Thanks for realizing that it’s primarily the model and the vision that God is using, and only secondarily the giftedness level of the pastor! ~ Tim
- Notice Keller’s quick identification of temptation to self-flattery. He deflates it with truth by calling it a ‘false compliment.’
- Notice his emphasis on the gospel not personality as ‘the engine” of ministry, and that the gospel does not require high octane fuel. It will take my low-grade unleaded, praise God!
- Notice the importance of vision over personality, a lesson we all need to learn and continually pray and practice.
The book You Can Change, by Tim Chester, promotes a gospel-centered approach to sanctification by asking ten major questions. The real fruit of the book comes through the required Personal Change Project, an endeavor reminiscent of the Personal Counseling Project required by David Powlison’s Dynamics of Biblical Change (and quotes CCEF authors throughout).
The Trinity and Change
Chester gives a little more attention to the role of the Trinity in producing personal change than most books on this topic. The Trinity gives us a new identity: 1) children of the Father 2) bride of the Son and 3) the home of the Spirit. He emphasizes the role of the Spirit in giving us the desire to do what is right, believe what is true, and cherish what is good. The simple emphasis on surrender to our inclination to do what is right and believe what is true was a refreshing reminder that the Spirit is already at work in us and that, very often, we simply need to yield to him. The Spirit opposes sinful desires and promotes God-honoring desires. The challenge is to “sow to the Spirit” by “saying yes to whatever strengthens our Spirit-inspired desires.” When we fail to yield to the Spirit, Scripture calls us to repentance and faith. The way we begin and continue in the Christian life is the same—repentance and faith in Christ.
Who is God?
Ten questions guide the reader through categories similar to Dynamics (heat, thorns, root, fruit, etc). In order to get to “the root”, Chester says that we must find “the lie behind every sin” and then identify one of four truths we are refusing to believe: 1) God is not great 2) God is not glorious 3) God is not good 4) God is not gracious. While a little simplistic, this typology is helpful and moves towards Christ being the expression of God’s greatness, glory, goodness, and grace.
Pride and Preciousness of Christ
The chapter on what stops change was personally transforming. Chester claims that pride isn’t just a sin; it’s part of the definition of sin. In sin we lift ourselves up over God, but in the gospel grace flows down to us. We need to give up on ourselves, to repent of self-reliance in sanctification and receive God’s grace for change. As one prone to self-reliance and pride, this was a word of grace. Jesus not only shows me humility but humbles me through the cross. The god of self-reliance (or self) is not merciful. When I let it down, it does not forgive. Instead, self-reliance beats me when I am down saying: “You could have done better. You need to work harder. You can do it.” But the gospel tells me the truth: “You can’t do it, but God in Christ through the Spirit can do all things through you.” When I let Christ down, he does not beat me; he dies for me. When I rely on him, not on myself, I discover that he not only dies for me but also lives for me, changing me into his very own image. This is a humbling, transforming, gospel-driven way to live and I am grateful for it!
Austin City Life musicians have written some remarkable songs over the past 12 months. Now, after singing them and experiencing the transforming presence of God through them, we are excited to announce that our first EP, ONE, is coming out.
The album includes:
- Songs that focus on Gospel, Community, and Mission
- A Martin Luther hymn re-write on the Holy Spirit
- Colossians 1:15-20 to progressive, soul-stirring music
In an effort to deepen our church in personal and communal gospel living, we will be working through Tim Chester’s You Can Change this summer. We have cast vision and trained our leaders on cultivating communities that speak the truth in love to one another. However, it has become apparent that we also need to equip our communities to help one another live in the gospel. When someone shares a pattern of sin or a false belief they need to be encouraged or challenged by someone else in their City Group to believe what is true, to live in the pattern of grace. I believe You Can Change will help us do that. Here are a few reasons why:
- It is about Gospel-centered change: “The secret of gospel change is being convinced that Jesus is the good life and fountain of all joy.”
- It heads off Gospel-distorting approaches to change: 1) Proving ourselves to God 2) Proving ourselves to others 3) Proving ourselves to ourselves.
- Personal Change Project: Every chapter includes Reflection Questions for discussion and a Personal Change Project that helps us identify an area of sin in which we need gospel-centered change. This a powerful process.
- Ten Key Questions: Each chapter raises an important question that leads us through the process of gospel-centered change. See Table of Contents here.
- It emphasizes Faith and Repentance as key to change: “We begin the Christian life in faith and repentance, and we continue the Christian life in faith and repentance.”
- Chapter 7 changed me on the spot: “If you let any of those gods down, they will beat you up. If you live for people’s approval or your career or possessions or control or anything else and you don’t make it or your mess up, then you’ll be left feeling afraid, downcast or biter. But when you let Christ down, he loves you still. He doesn’t beat you up; he dies for you.”
Steve Timmis is an innovative leader in The Crowded House and Porterbrook Traning Centre and now European Director for Acts 29 in the UK. I’ve had the joy of working with Steve on a few things and my respect for him grows each time. Here are some outstanding resources on cultivating gospel-centered missional communities.
- Session 1: Gospel-centered Principles – an outstanding explanation of the Gospel summarized as: “Jesus, God’s promised Rescuer and Ruler, lived our life, died our death and rose again in triumphant vindication as the first fruits of the new creation to bring forgiven sinners together under his gracious reign”.
- Session 2: Gospel-centered Practices – focuses on the “how tos” of GCs, addressing language, structure, mission.
- Session 3: Gospel-centered Practices – focuses on more best practices on leader development, etc.