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There is one thing that the churches experiencing historic revival have in common: they seemed overrun with the sense of the glory of God. They preached the gospel and the response was, as some describe, that “glory came down.”
Now that’s not something you can schedule. You can’t advertise it on the church signboard: “Every Sunday: Glory comes down.” But it is something we can aim for, yearn for, cast a vision for, desire, crave, proclaim. You can’t program the glory, but you can plead for it.
See, nobody ever said, “We changed our music style and revival broke out.”
Nobody ever said, “We moved from Sunday School classes to small groups and the glory of God came down.”
Nobody ever said, “You would not believe the repenting unto holiness that happened when our pastor started preaching shorter sermons.”
(I’m just sayin’.)
No, all those things and more can be good things. Done for the right reasons, those can be very good moves to make, but the glory of God is best heard in the proclaimed gospel of Jesus Christ. So that’s where the glory-aimed church is going to camp out.
We all talk a big game about the glory of God, but it is a rare church that takes God’s glory seriously as the purpose of everything.
I preached on the servant-hearted harmony and burden-bearing of Romans 15 to my church last Sunday, and one point I stressed is that we aren’t to strive for these things in order to become an impressive church. The exhortations of Paul in Romans 15:1-5 are there so “that together,” verse 6 reads, “you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I cast the vision over to Ephesians 1. Why has he blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places? Why has he chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him? Why has he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will? Ephesians 1:6: “For the praise of his glorious grace.”
I took them to 1 Peter 2:9. Why did he make us a chosen race? Why did he make us a royal priesthood? Why did he makes us a holy nation? Why did he call us a people for his own possession? “That we may proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Over and over again, from Old Testament through New, we learn the foundational truth echoed by the Westminster divines, that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” We make realized the 5th of the Reformational solas: Soli Deo Gloria, “to God alone be the glory.”
A gospel-centered church makes that not just a spiritual slogan but her spiritual blood. A gospel-centered church is not aiming to be the nicest church in town. That’d be nice. A gospel-centered church is not aiming to be the most popular church in town. That’d be cool. A gospel-centered church is not aiming to be the smartest church in town. That’d be okay.
No, a gospel-centered church doesn’t aim to be the anything-est church in town because it’s not comparing itself to other churches, but to the holiness of God, which will shrink the church down to size in its own estimation and make her hunger for the holiness that only comes from the riches of Christ in the gospel. A gospel-centered church aims to be a gospel-proclaiming church in town. Because that would be glorious.
A gospel-centered church is okay with its own decreasing — in reputation, in acclaim, in legacy, even in (gasp) numbers, but especially in self-regard — so long as it serves the increasing of the sense of the glory of God.
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
— Romans 15:7
No, Victoria Osteen is not exactly right when she says we ought to do good for ourselves instead of for God, but neither is she totally wrong. She’s derailed and in the ditch, but the right track is in eyesight.
Osteen is not totally wrong, because walking with God is a — let the reader understand — happy thing. It’s a different kind of happy, to be sure. But it’s a happy thing nonetheless. Not happy-go-lucky. Not happy in moments or gifts. But happy in the Sovereign, in the Giver. George Whitefield preaches:
“As it is an honorable, so it is a pleasing thing, to walk with God. The wisest of men has told us, that ‘wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths peace’. And I remember pious Mr. Henry, when he was about to expire, said to a friend, ‘You have heard many men’s dying words, and these are mine: A life spent in communion with God, is the pleasantest life in the world’. I am sure I can set to my seal that this is true. Indeed, I have been listed under Jesus’ banner only for a few years; but I have enjoyed more solid pleasure in one moment’s communion with my god, than I should or could have enjoyed in the ways of sin, though I had continued to have gone on in them for thousands of years. And may I not appeal to all you that fear and walk with God, for the truth of this? Has not one day in the Lord’s courts been better to you than a thousand? In keeping God’s commandments, have you not found a present, and very great reward? Has not his word been sweeter to you than the honey or the honeycomb? O what have you felt, when, Jacob-like, you have been wrestling with your God? Has not Jesus often met you when meditating in the fields, and been made known to you over and over again in breaking of bread? Has not the Holy Ghost frequently shed the divine love abroad in your hearts abundantly, and filled you with joy unspeakable, even joy that is full of glory? I know you will answer all these questions in the affirmative, and freely acknowledge the yoke of Christ to be easy, and his burden light; or (to use the words of one of our collects), ‘His service is perfect freedom’. And what need we then any further motive to excite us to walk with God?” (Whitefield, Walking with God)
The gospel cannot puff us up. It cannot make us prideful. It cannot make us selfish. It cannot make us arrogant. It cannot make us rude. It cannot make us gossipy. It cannot make us accusers. So the more we press into the gospel, the more the gospel takes over our hearts and the spaces we bring our hearts to, and it stands to reason, the less we would see those things antithetical to it.
You cannot grow in holiness and holier-than-thou-ness at the same time. So a church that makes its main thing the gospel, and when faced with sin in its ranks doesn’t simply crack the whip of the law but says “remember the gospel,” should gradually be seeing grace coming to bear.
It works out this way individually. The most gracious people you and I know are people who have had an experience of grace and fixate on grace. The least gracious people we know are people who may know about grace academically, “theologically,” but don’t seem the least bit changed by it and really have a fixation on the law. They have an inordinate fixation on who did what wrong and what they deserve.
The same dynamic takes place in churches. Where grace and law are taught academically but law is “felt” as the operating system of the church, you will likely have a stifling, gossipy, burdensome environment. Where grace and law are taught theologically but grace is felt as the operating system of the church, you will see people begin to flourish, breathe. (You’ll also attract more sinners, which is where religious people start getting a little antsy.)
But the message of grace made preeminent will generate an atmosphere of grace.
This is why the harmony with each other of Romans 15:5 is “in accord with Jesus Christ.” It’s not predicated on having a bunch of stuff in common. It’s not predicated on common race or social class. It’s not predicated on a common special interest or political cause. It’s not predicated on all being theology nerds, liking the same authors, being Reformed or Arminian or somewhere in between. It’s not predicated on all being Republicans or Democrats. It’s not predicated on all being for social justice. It’s not predicated on all being homeschoolers or public schoolers. It’s not predicated on music styles or preaching styles or anything like that. All of that sort of commonality produces a very fragile harmony.
It is instead predicated on our common Savior, Jesus Christ, compared to whom we are all sinners who fall short of God’s glory, and from whom we have all received grace upon grace. It’s impossible to bask in the glorious grace of Jesus Christ and at the same time toot your own horn. So the more that we together focus on the gospel of Jesus, the more together we will walk in accordance with him and therefore in harmony with one another. “Gospel doctrine,” our friend Ray Ortlund says, “creates a gospel culture.”
I am not a big fan of using the blog to raise money for stuff, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t let you know about an important missional opportunity in this New England region so many of my readers care deeply about.
I would like to introduce you to Redemption Church and invite you to partner with my church in Middletown Springs, Vermont as we seek to plant worship of our Savior in the burgeoning mission field of Rutland, Vermont.
Since my family’s arrival here in 2009, our church has seen a steady increase in mission-minded believers with a heart to plant a gospel-centered church in the downtown area of Rutland, Vermont, the largest town nearest us and the second largest town in the state.
Our church has more than doubled in the last 4 years, and we have already established a solid, mature, multi-generational core team in the city of Rutland that has already begun the work of community groups and evangelism. Our plan now, Lord willing, is to move from twice-monthly prayer gatherings to weekly “simple church” gatherings with the goal of launching public worship services for Redemption Church on Easter Sunday, 2015.
You are likely aware of the spiritual climate in New England generally and Vermont specifically, but to give you some perspective about the mission field in our area:
o The state of Vermont is regularly charted as the least-churched, least-religious state in our nation. There is roughly 1 church for every 5,000 people, and those churches are all over the map theologically.
o There are roughly 16,000 people in the city of Rutland proper and only 2% attend any church.
o There are approximately 5 evangelical churches not in decline in the greater Rutland area and there are none directly in downtown.
o There is a growing epidemic of poverty, physical and sexual abuse, and drug addiction in the city. $2 million in drugs is imported to VT daily. (The New York Times recently highlighted Rutland’s growing heroin problem.)
o While there are a few evangelical churches doing good work in our region, the need for gospel-centered missional churches is great.
Middletown Springs Church has been praying and planning toward our role in serving God’s work in this important mission field for years now, and we believe God would have us move forward now, sending our own Rutlanders out into their own community and launching an extension of our church, a “satellite campus” of sorts with its own elders, ministries, and vision. Until we have identified a lead planter to take over the work, I will be providing the primary preaching and leading.
Here’s where you come in: We need you to pray for this work. I am sending this to you because I know you have a heart for God’s mission in the world, including in the hardest regions of our own nation. Rutland fits the bill. Please pray for us. But you should also know that Middletown Church is still a small, rural congregation made up of folks with average resources employing a modest budget.
Our church has dedicated approximately 9% of our projected annual operating budget to fund this specific work. We are seeking to raise the remaining need to further God’s mission in the city. Can you help?
If your church or organization would feel led to serve our mission this way – either with regular financial support or in a one-time gift — you can contribute by making your contributions out to Middletown Springs Community Church, writing “Redemption Church Plant” in the MEMO portion* and sending them to:
Middletown Springs Community Church
PO Box 1213
Middletown Springs, VT 05757
We would be incredibly grateful if you could help in this way. Whether you are able to make this commitment or not, I’d be grateful if you would share this need with any family or church you think might be interested in partnering with us.
There is lots to share with you about our efforts here. If you’d like to know more about the church plant or mission in the region in general, please don’t hesitate to message me at jared AT gospeldrivenchurch DOT com. We will also send regular updates on the work to all of our prayer and financial partners.
I hope you will understand I hate asking for money, and while God doesn’t need it, his servants in New England certainly do!
* (Alternatively, if you prefer electronic giving, you may use our church PayPal account email: mscchurch AT gmail DOT com. Please make sure to designate to Redemption Church Plant in the note section.)
Thanks for reading.
Nakedness is still considered (mostly) immodest today and people with good sense don’t let anybody but their spouse or their doctor see what they normally cover up, but in the biblical times, nakedness was considered extremely shameful. To see someone in their nakedness was an extreme violation, an act of disrespect, of dishonor.
Whether Ham sees his father on purpose or not, we can’t rightly say, but in any event he appears to find Noah’s shame amusing and he goes and tells his brothers, probably joking about it. He has an opportunity to cover his dad’s shame and instead he exposes him further.
What’s interesting about this event in the context of this passage is that Ham’s sin is treated as more serious than Noah’s. Noah has drunken himself into passing out — we’re not talking “getting buzzed” here, we’re talking about getting blacked-out drunk — but the emphasis of wrongdoing in the passage is on Ham for laughing about it.
This doesn’t mean that drunken exposure is not a sin. But it does seem to mean that denying a sinner grace is a bigger one. Couldn’t we say that Jesus certainly had harsher words for the outwardly tidy religious leaders of his day than the drunks? He told them all to “sin no more,” but he seemed to regard intentionally squandered opportunities to cover shame as somehow more heinous than (so-called) “sins of the flesh.”
We commit the sin of Ham whenever we hear of someone’s struggle, of sin, of failure, and instead of figuring out how to bring grace to them, we “run and tell.” We gossip. We pile on.
We should note that in all the Bible’s words about reproof and rebuke and discipline, the Bible never says to “confess one another’s sins.”
And Ham has capitalized on his father’s great vulnerability by heaping more shame on his shame.
But his brothers had more grace.
Genesis 9:23 reads, “Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.”
Some translations read “the garment,” indicating that this garment is the one Noah had with him in the tent, suggesting that Ham even further exposed Noah by taking it fully off and out of the tent with him. Almost as if Ham wanted his father’s shame exposed in order to enjoy it. (I wonder if there’s a lesson there for our tabloid culture and the spiritualized schadenfreude evident on Christian social media about those falling away.)
In any event, Shem and Japheth with the utmost care and reverence, go to cover their father. They do not treat his sin casually. But they do treat it with mercy.
It is possible Peter has this image in mind in 1 Peter 4:8 when he writes, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
This is what Christians do when confronted with the sins of others; they do what they would want done for them — not shaming, not ridiculing, not lording over — a demonstration of grace.
This doesn’t mean not mentioning someone’s sin or never confronting or rebuking or preaching against sin — it just means doing so with reverence for God and with grace, not to demean or squash or humiliate, but to provide the shelter of God’s love.
Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.”
— Ruth 4:9-10
Boaz is that rare man who does things because God is real (Ruth 3:13). So behind and within all of his provision and care for Ruth is the desire to glorify God. We see this even in his expressed motivation upon winning Naomi’s land and Ruth’s hand from the redeemer with first dibs. He says he has purchased them to perpetuate the names of dead relatives. Clearly Boaz is a “worthy man” (Ruth 2:1) and not just in the sense of financial means.
Were it not for Boaz’s larger-than-self vision, we would not have the story of Ruth. Her faithfulness, her commitment, her optimism, her submission are to her praise and God’s, but Boaz’s faithfulness — his full-of-faith-ness — in redeeming her puts her on the map. Against the dark backdrop of the book of Judges’ lawless grotesqueries, in which every man did what was right in his own eyes, Boaz shines with the predawn radiance of God’s glory in Christ.
Do you know the name of the kinsman redeemer first in line?
In Ruth 4:1, Boaz calls him “friend,” and the Hebrew behind that word roughly translates to “so and so.” Whether his reasons for passing on Ruth were good or bad, old so-and-so’s name is not perpetuated. But we know who Elimelech, Mahlon, Naomi, and Ruth are because Boaz honored them by honoring God.
And because Boaz honored them by honoring God, his own name is perpetuated, and his son’s, and his son’s son, and his son’s son’s son, and so on until the lot of them spill into Matthew 1, and what we learn there is that Boaz has redeemed Naomi’s plot of land and Ruth’s widowed hand in order to perpetuate the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
And this is why any of us are redeemed: not just so that we’d be personally forgiven and fulfilled, but so that God’s name and Christ’s lordship would be magnified in every nook and cranny of our lives spreading into every square inch of the world until we spill into the life and world to come. We are redeemed for his namesake and to perpetuate his name (Malachi 1:11).
And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake . . .
— Ezekiel 20:44
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
— Ephesians 5:31-32
Among the many riches and depths of Paul’s words on marriage in Ephesians 5 are these two:
1) Marriage is meant to make us holy more than happy (all apologies to Gary Thomas).
2) Happiness and romance are byproducts of a healthy marriage, but the ultimate purpose of marriage is the magnification of Christ.
Therefore, if we want a gospeled marriage, we will take to heart what God is saying here about husbands and wives and one-fleshedness and sacrifice and submission and respect and cherishing. Because God knows what he’s talking about. He designed the thing. And it’s not like he didn’t anticipate all the reasons we’d come up with to explain why these admonitions don’t exactly apply to our situations. Like, we all know we’re married to sinners, but couldn’t have God given us a, you know, less sinny sinner to be married to?
But this is exactly what marriage is for. This is what the marriage vows are for. You don’t really even need that “for better” stuff in there, that “in richness” and “in health” stuff. Nobody in their right mind is bailing during the good times. No, the vows are for the other stuff. “For worse.” “In poverty.” “In sickness.” The vows exist because sin is real. Sure, we may not know what sins will become real in our relationships, putting stress on the covenant, but the vows exist because sin does.
The vow of the gospel exists because sin does.
See, the story of Christ and his bride is very messy. Very difficult. It is a sordid history, to be sure. One of the most vivid illustrations we get is that of the prophet Hosea who was commanded by God to take a prostitute for a wife. And she keeps cheating on him and prostituting herself, Hosea stays faithful through all the pain, the heartache, the dishonor, the confusion. He stays faithful. Why? Because God had joined them together. And because God in his astounding wisdom and artistry was showing Hosea – and us – what it is like for Christ to love his church.
When we stand at the altars making our vows, we really don’t think the bad will be that bad. We expect sin but not that kind. But our holy bridegroom Jesus Christ makes his vow knowing full well what he’s forgiving. He knows us inside and out. He knows what we’re guilty of and what we will be guilty of. He knows just how awful it’s going to get.
Every day, you and I reject the holiness of Jesus in a million different ways, only a fraction of which are we conscious of. If Jesus were keeping a list of our wrongs, none of us would stand a chance. At any second of any day, even on our best days, Jesus could have the legal grounds to say, “Enough of this. I can’t do it any more. You’ve violated my love for the last time.” The truth is, you’ve never met a wronged spouse like Jesus. You’ve never met a disrespected spouse like Jesus. You’ve never met a spouse who more than carried their weight like Jesus. He’s carrying the entire relationship on his back. This thing is totally one-sided.
And yet: He loves. And he gives. And he serves. And he approves. And he washes. And he delights. And he romances. And he doesn’t just tolerate us; he lavishes his affection on us. He justifies and sanctifies and glorifies.
I don’t know what you come away from Ephesians 5:22-33 thinking. Maybe you read it and think, “Sacrifice? Submit? No way. I can’t do this.”
Husbands are thinking, “I cannot sacrifice for her.”
Wives are thinking, “I cannot submit to him.”
And we can’t — at least, not the way God wants us to.
God knows this. He knows we are terrible obeyers. He knows we are self-interested sacrificers and stubborn submitters. And he gave up his life for us anyway. He died to forgive all our sins and rose again that we might never have them held against us.
Be still, our beating hearts. Here’s a groom worth swooning over.
I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God.”
— Ezekiel 16:62-63
… for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God . . .
— from Acts 5:38-39
It has been asked in a variety of ways from the outside and the inside since the so-called “young, restless, and Reformed” tribe hit the threshold of unignorable visibility: Can this movement be sustained? Is it just a fad? What are your concerns, fears, and cautions for this subculture? (Aren’t they really just “Together 4 Calvinism?”)
Only God knows.
Whether one sees the tumult of the last few years as growing pains or death throes probably depends on what one is hoping for.
The internal squabbles and the external accusations.
The debating and the excluding and the parting of ways.
The scandals, the sins.
These could all mean the tribe is on its way to the dustbin of history, a “flash in the pan” as they say. Or it could be a great settling, a great sanctifying, a great re-reforming around Jesus.
My prayer as we sort out a lot of our junk is that the great settling I’m seeing throughout the tribe — the growing up, the looking up to the older and wiser and gentler, the increasing self-reflection, the spreading quietness, all of it — will be its strengthening. Yes, Lord, let the settling be a strengthening.
May we lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and may we run with endurance the race that is set before us. May we actually, truly, for the growth of the church and the joy of the world and the glory of Christ be gospel-centered.
When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
— Genesis 9:16-17
The rainbow was thus marked as the sign of God’s promise not to visit wrath on the earth by way of the flood. But it is bigger than that, isn’t it? The rainbow is another sign of God’s promise to remove his wrath from his children.
The Hebrew word for “bow” in this text is the exact same Hebrew word used for the kind of bow one uses in battle, as in the ol’ “bow and arrow.” What God is talking about in this promise is that he is laying his weapons down.
In his commentary, Marcus Dods writes:
They accepted it as a sign that God has no pleasure in destruction, that he does not give way to moods, that he does not always chide, that if weeping may endure for a night joy is sure to follow. If any one is under a cloud, leading a joyless, heartless life, if any one has much apparent reason to suppose that God has given him up to catastrophe, and lets things run as they may, there is some satisfaction in reading this natural emblem and recognizing that without the cloud, nay, without the cloud breaking into heavy sweeping rains there cannot be the bow, and that no cloud of God’s sending is permanent, but will one day give place to an unclouded joy.
We keep seeking peace, peace, where there is no peace, and we only find our true lasting eternal joy-saturated peace when it comes by the Spirit of God straight from Father God in the gospel of the Son of God. It is in Christ Jesus’ work that we see that God “lays down his bow.”
And we can keep seeking peace even in God’s good gifts — work, family, recreation, food, art and culture, the great outdoors — but we can’t find the peace that endures forever until we find it in the gospel. Because cultivation and justice, while ordained by God, are administered by man and therefore can never truly satisfy.
But the covenant of grace is administered by God himself. So when we seek peace there, we truly find it. It’s not tainted by sin because God is holy and his Son is sinless.
And until we find peace in the gospel, in fact, we find only the search for peace and therefore no peace at all: “There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked” (Is. 57:21).
But for the Christian? “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Is. 26:3).
I love this excerpt from John Bunyan’s “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners”:
One day as I was passing into the field, this sentence fell upon my soul: “Thy righteousness is in heaven.” And with the eyes of my soul I saw Jesus at the Father’s right hand. “There,” I said, “is my righteousness!” So that wherever I was or whatever I was doing, God could not say to me, “Where is your righteousness?” For it is always right before him.
I saw that it is not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness IS Christ. Now my chains fell off indeed. My temptations fled away, and I lived sweetly at peace with God.
Indeed, Ephesians 2:14 says “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.”
The rainbow, then, is a sign of God’s promise that he has hung up his bow, and it’s a reminder to himself of his grace toward the earth, and in the same way, the cross is a sign of God’s promise that he has hung his Son up to die and it’s a reminder of his grace toward you that because Christ has taken the wrath, the wrath is taken. It is over, done, finished, removed, satisfied, propitiated.
At the cross of Christ, the wrath of God owed to sinners is absorbed, satisfied, set aside for all eternity. Dead and done with. His anger is gone, his love remains and it endures. The lovingkindness of our Lord is everlasting. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies are new every morning.
Every day you mess up, and maybe you fess up, but you’re even messing up in your fessing up. But God’s love is constant, always forgiving, always covering, always sustaining, always sourcing real peace deep inside.
Maybe you need to hear this today: Christian, God isn’t angry with you. His smile is over you. Zephaniah 3:17 says he “rejoices over you with gladness; he quiets you by his love; he exults over you with loud singing.”
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
(Apply directly to the forehead.)
Because Christ has come to take the condemnation, he takes it away into the wilderness and casts it into the void, and his precious blood is given as a covering for you; it speaks a better word than the blood of Abel, because while Abel’s blood cried out for the justice we keep seeking, Jesus’ blood cries out that justice has been accomplished. Every sin of yours — past present and future — has been accounted for and paid for, and now that the gospel takes dominion in your heart, it bears fruit and multiplies from one degree of glory to another, in mercy after mercy, precisely because we have received Christ himself and John 1:16 says that from his fullness we all received “grace upon grace.” There is a radiant kaleidoscope of blessings in the gospel.
We can breathe. We can wipe our brow. We can unclench our fists. God has laid down his bow.