First and Foremost: News

I’ve been helping with an on campus ministry called IMPACT on Fallbrook High School campus that is essentially a place where kids are drawn in by free pizza and a fun time with friends, and then are exposed to the gospel for about 5 minutes at the end.  While the students run the games and provide the entertainment, I am the speaker.

It’s been challenging to come up with messages that communicate the truth of the gospel in different ways and from different perspectives while maintaining their attention.  They need to go to class. They really only came for the pizza.  They’re simply not interested.  I see it as a challenge.

I like looking for illustrations that tell the story accurately, clearly, succinctly, and engagingly. It’s also been difficult in such a short message. So sometimes I like to get some help from people who can do it well.  One of the best short illustrations I found online, by John Piper, went like this:

Christianity is not first and foremost a religion. It is first and foremost news. It’s news.

It’s like we’re in a war, in a concentration camp, and suddenly you’re hearing on the smuggled-in radio that the troops of deliverance have landed in helicopters five miles away. They’re conquering everything in their path and they’re just about to get to the gate and open the doors. And having lived all your life in this concentration camp, you’re now going to be set free.

That’s Christianity. It’s news that God sent rescue troops into the world, namely Jesus Christ, and that at great cost to himself he has conquered our enemy the Devil, opened the gates of the concentration camp, and welcomed us home. And then you add the beautiful image of bride and bridegroom and realize that this is not just a soldier who simply frees you go and do what want to do. He’s you’re husband, as it were, who has been separated from you for years and years, and you’re the wife who has been in the camp. And when the gates are opened there he stands on the other side, and the kinds of affections are huge.

I remember watching at the end of the Vietnam war some of those magnificent videos of men who had been away from their wives, some of them I think up to five years. I remember watching them run toward each other and seeing them sweep their wives off their feet. My heart leapt and my tears flowed when I watched that kind of reunion.

So when I think about what is missing from the average person’s picture of Christianity, I want to show them that there is such a freedom that is offered us because of what Jesus Christ did to die for our sins, and such a sweet reunion with the one for whom we were made.

It’s news. Not rules. Not religion.  It’s good news.  Thanks again, John.


Fighting Loose Living by Killing Legalism


What is their role in the Christian life?

If you were to survey an entire high school asking this yes or no question, I bet 80% of them would say YES.

“Is Christianity primarily about following a set of specific rules?”

Essentially, most people have no idea that salvation has nothing to do with rules.  And until you debunk that, telling a student to follow Jesus because Jesus loves them is like telling a patient to fill out more forms because doc is concerned.

No thanks.

Thank Tim Keller for this insight

The Story of a Masai Warrior Named Joseph

One of the least likely men to attend the Itinerant Evangelists’ Conference in Amsterdam sponsored by the Billy Graham Association was a Masai Warrior named Joseph. But his story won him a hearing with Dr. Graham himself. The story is told by Michael Card.

One day Joseph, who was walking along one of these hot, dirty African roads, met someone who shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with him. Then and there he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. The power of the Spirit began transforming his life; he was filled with such excitement and joy that the first thing he wanted to do was return to his own village and share that same Good News with the members of his local tribe.

Joseph began going from door-to-door, telling everyone he met about the Cross [suffering!] of Jesus and the salvation it offered, expecting to see their faces light up the way his had. To his amazement the villagers not only didn’t care, they became violent. The men of the village seized him and held him to the ground while the women beat him with strands of barbed wire. He was dragged from the village and left to die alone in the bush.

Joseph somehow managed to crawl to a water hole, and there, after days of passing in and out of consciousness, found the strength to get up. He wondered about the hostile reception he had received from people he had known all his life. He decided he must have left something out or told the story of Jesus incorrectly. After rehearsing the message he had first heard, he decided to go back and share his faith once more.

Joseph limped into the circle of huts and began to proclaim Jesus. “He died for you, so that you might find forgiveness and come to know the living God” he pleaded. Again he was grabbed by the men of the village and held while the women beat him reopening wounds that had just begun to heal. Once more they dragged him unconscious from the village and left him to die.

To have survived the first beating was truly remarkable. To live through the second was a miracle. Again, days later, Joseph awoke in the wilderness, bruised, scarred—and determined to go back.

He returned to the small village and this time, they attacked him before he had a chance to open his mouth. As they flogged him for the third and probably the last time, he again spoke to them of Jesus Christ, the Lord. Before he passed out, the last thing he saw was that the women who were beating him began to weep.

This time he awoke in his own bed. The ones who had so severely beaten him were now trying to save his life and nurse him back to health. The entire village had come to Christ.

This is one vivid example of what Paul meant when he said, “I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body.”

There is something profoundly freeing and stabilizing to know that Christ calls us to sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. It stabilizes us from being thrown off guard when it comes. And it frees us to choose it when love beckons us. And it begins to free us from the incredible seduction of American prosperity.

***this excerpt is taken from John Piper’s sermon called Called to Suffer and Rejoice: To Finish the Aim of Christ’s Afflictions, found here.

How the Gospel is Essential for All of Life

Me on Half Dome

Lately the recurring theme in and around my life has been the gospel. It has come at me from every angle- sermons, books, videos, etc, but it is coming with a fresh perspective. An essential perspective that I’ve overlooked for too long.

I recently finished How People Change by Paul David Tripp and Timothy Lane. It is categorized as a biblical counseling book. It’s essentially on how God changes people from who we were before salvation to people he wants us to be, mainly focusing on the heart.

Chapter 1 is called “The Gospel Gap.” His premise is that for most of us Christians, there is a gaping whole in the middle of the gospel. We all understand what the gospel did (cleansed us from our sins) and we know the future benefits of the gospel (go to heaven someday) but we don’t know the everyday, right-here-right-now implications of the gospel. How does the fact that Jesus paid the penalty for my sins by dying on the cross and raising back to life affect me RIGHT NOW? How does this affect me when I take our car into the shop and am told that the repairs are going to take a while and cost me more than I can afford? How does the gospel affect me when I’m tired from a late night and just want to relax but my wife wants me to do the dished? Is there any practical correlation between the two events: JESUS’ DEATH & LIFE and MY STRUGGLE?

That is the gap in the gospel. Even after reading the book I’ve been thinking about how these go together. We, by and large, don’t know how these two events correlate. And to find the correlation we have to back track a little. In order for the gospel to have an affect on your daily life, you have to first address the issue of idolatry.

FACT #1: WE ALWAYS WORSHIP. Idolatry, as defined in Romans 1:25, is “exchanging the truth of God for a lie and worshiping a created thing rather than the creator.” Idols are not always bad things, they are, as Mark Driscoll puts it “Good things, made into God things, and they become bad things.” Humans were made to worship; we are unceasingly worshiping–the question is “WHAT are you worshiping.”

FACT # 2: WE WANT FUNCTIONAL SAVIORS. We worship things that we believe can act as functional saviors. We want salvation– we want happiness, fulfillment, purpose, satisfaction, joy, etc. So we turn to things that can offer us some kind of practical salvation in our daily lives. For some of us, our HELL is a life of obscurity in the background, where no one notices us. Our SAVIOR is popularity and influence. Our MEANS of attaining our savior is manipulation and cutting corners. For some girls, their HELL is being called ugly. Their SAVIOR is the adulation and complements of other people. Their MEANS of attain their savior is by dressing skimpy and spending money on clothes. Men may think HELL is a life without being able to satisfy sexual desires. Their SAVIOR is sex. Their MEANS of attaining their savior is pornography or a immoral relationship. Popularity and influence are not bad. Adulation and complements are not bad. Sex is not bad. But when GOOD things become GOD things, they’re BAD things. And the way you know that they’ve become your functional savior is this: you feel like you need it and you can’t live without it.

FACT #3: WE WANT SALVATION. We are all searching for salvation–our IDOLS are what we think will get us that fulfillment, satisfaction, happiness, joy, and purpose we so badly desire.

FACT #4: SIN COMES FROM IDOLATRY. All sin comes from our idolatry. The idols that we set up in our heart cause us to worship things that are not God. And that’s where all sin comes from– I won’t lie if I am worshiping God, because if I’m worshiping God that means I’m not worshiping my reputation, and the reason that people lie is usually to protect their reputation.

So ALL sin comes from misplaced worship: idolatry.

And the way to conquer idolatry is to uncover the lie of the idol. Remember Romans 1:25. The first thing idolaters do is “exchange the truth of God for a lie.” Every idol lies the same way, saying “worship me and I will give you what you need.”

The gospel is your iconoclast. The gospel is fashioned to destroy idols. And the gospel does this with three truths:

1) Jesus has, through the gospel, given you “life abundantly in Christ” which is more satisfying that any idol.

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 But you have to “taste and see” for yourself to believe me. I can’t convince you that it’s more satisfying that all other idols.

2) Jesus has, through the gospel, given you every resources you need

“His divine nature has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…” and “No temptation has overtaken you except that is common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide a way of espcape, that you may be able to endure it.” Because Jesus conquered sin, we are free from it.

3) Jesus has, through the gospel, secured a future for you.

This works two ways: First, it’s the promise that God will not leave us all alone to live, but will continually be working on our sanctification day in and day out. Every dilemma should be looked from the perspective that “God is using this for my good and His glory! He’s using it to turn me into a person more like Jesus.” Second, it’s the promise that God already has a final destination for us. “Our citizenship is in heaven.” says Paul. We’re all taken care of, and no matter what happens in this life, we can live in hope and joy of the unmoving promise of heaven.

And that is why the gospel is essential for all of life. It gives me the fullest life, it gives me everything I need for life, and it secures a future for me in this life and the next.

Those three truths are freeing.

And all you have to do is receive Jesus by faith. Wow!

How the Gospel Changes Us

Jesus beatenYou who know me know that I can’t stand lessons or sermons or advice that tells me that I need to be a certain way. Don’t tell me I need to love people more, I already know that. Tell me how to change my heart so that I will love people more. Advice that aims at changing my behavior first is a short-cut, it’s shallow, it breeds legalism, and it’s ultimately fruitless and futile–most importantly, it’s lacking grace. As a pastor I need to stop demanding behavior and start shepherding hearts toward a grace-filled life. The first step in doing this is repentance.

Repentance is the act of turning from sin toward obedience to God, motivated out of love for God. For many of us, the act of repentance is very easy in concept, but incredibly difficult–borderline impossible–in deed. Why? Because repentance involves much more than the will. According to Paul in 1 Corinthians, “for godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what EARNESTNESS this godly grief has produced in you, but also what EAGERNESS to clear yourselves, what INDIGNATION, what FEAR, what LONGING, what ZEAL, what PUNISHMENT…”

Earnestness for reconciliation, eagerness for restoration, indignation at our sin, fear of its consequences, longing for righteousness, zeal in pursuing it, willingness to endure punishment for it– these are not acts of the will. I cannot will myself to feel these things. So how can I come to this state of repentance? If we are to turn from our sins in repentance, what must we do?

Paul gives us a great hint in Romans 2:4 “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” God’s kindness to humanity in Jesus Christ, that is the GOSPEL, is what leads humanity to true repentance, which results in a changed heart. Knowing, understanding, and experiencing God’s grace to us, through Christ, will lead us to repentance. The grace of the gospel is the most practical and useful message for all people of all ages, because it leads us to repentance.

And true repentance is what changes our lives.

The Point: BECOME AN EXPERT ON THE GOSPEL (know what exactly Jesus did for you and how his death burial and resurrection affects you TODAY)