Gaining By Losing – Sending Out Some of Our Best to Plant Churches

by J.D. Greear

A few weeks ago, I sat at a table with our four church planting leaders, listening to them address our team as they prepared to be sent out from our church. A small lump formed in my throat. Was it a lump of sadness, or one of joy? Honestly, I’m not sure. Probably both. With maybe a little fear mixed in there, and seasoned with a little panic. Was I really excited about this? “Sending” preaches more easily than it is executed. Our church will look different next year when these guys leave. They will leave significant gaps. And of course, as soon as they go, we’ll replace them with four more full time planters, some of whom will come right out of our staff team. And it is painful to think about sometimes.

https://vimeo.com/93131943

As I sat listening to these guys that morning, I had to force myself to open my hands to God. Opened in surrender. Taking my hands off of one of the most precious earthly things to me—my church. Open as on offering of praise and faith in Jesus’ promise. Open in the belief that God builds his kingdom as we let go, not as we hold on. I did it under the table so that no one could see. These open hands represent one of my greatest, and most difficult, acts of faith. But I believe. Lord, help my unbelief.

-J. D. Greear, http://www.jdgreear.com/my_weblog/2014/04/gaining-by-losing-sending-out-some-of-our-best-to-plant-churches.html

The Bittersweet Blessing of a Missionary’s Parents

by J.D. Greear

“The more our vision of church planting catches on around the Summit, the more young people are going to find themselves in an all-too-common dilemma—feeling God’s call to missions while facing parents who are opposed to the idea. I still remember the difficult conversation I had with my parents soon after I graduated college; thankfully, they gave me their heartfelt, if sorrowful, blessing.

One of our key staff members recently went through a situation like this. He felt the prodding of God to join our mission team in Serbia, but his mother wasn’t thrilled about it. Seeing the two of them work through this together has been an encouraging process for both of them, as well as for those of us watching.

The following is a summary of their conversation (shared with their permission), and a reminder—for parents and children alike—that Christ is worth it.”

Daniel,

The Lord has used your spiritual journey over the past several months to show me how much I’ve struggled with letting go of my children. It’s easy to imagine you always being nearby, especially since many of my friends have grown adult children who live close to them. The prospect of you leaving the country for a couple years really heightened that entire struggle.

More than anything, I want you to do God’s will. But I also need you to have certainty that this is exactly what God is calling you to do. Of course I don’t want to worry about you for two years. What mother would? But I also feel the Spirit telling me that this isn’t about me. It’s about faithfulness to God and sacrifice for the Great Commission. So as difficult as this is for your dad and me, you have our blessing.

Mom

—–

Mom,

Thanks for challenging me last night. You were absolutely right that I need to find confidence in the Lord that this is what Christ is calling me to do. That reminder really humbled me and made me seek the Lord more intensely. Is this what Christ wants me to do, or am I doing this from my own ambitions and ideas?

After praying this morning, the Lord gave me a few verses to put my confidence in that this is what Christ is calling me to do.

Matthew 9:35-38, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Christ’s desire is to send out laborers into the harvest field.

Hebrews 13:12-13, “Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore, let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach that he endured. For hear [sic] we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” If we obey Jesus by going outside the camp, he has promised to be there waiting for us.

John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” Jesus left home, the true home, in order to preach peace to me. How could I not leave “home” and go preach peace to Serbians?

To be honest, I’ve been struggling with timidity about this decision—not because it doesn’t seem like Christ is calling me to do it, but just because of personal weakness. I realize it’s a decision that Jesus has given me, a choice I have to make. Having that kind of responsibility can make me want to shrink back in timidity and not make a decision. But as I was praying, I remember Christ, who at the cross, like Abraham, “went out into the void, not knowing where he was going.” Christ left home, suffered for me, so that I could live. I feel compelled by this love to do the same for others. He’s allowed me to experience the greatest joy—knowing Christ. And if I can help people know Christ too, I think the Lord would be honored, and I’d be happy to know that my life has counted. That’s my confidence.

Thank you for your investment in my life. The Lord has really brought to mind all of those times growing up when you told me to lift up my head, not be discouraged, and run the race for the prize. Yesterday, I felt the Lord saying that to me: “Run your race.” Thank you for training me to persevere, knowing that Christ is always with me. He’s done that for me here in Durham, which means I can have confidence he will do the same for me in Serbia. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

Love you mom!

Daniel

—–

Daniel,

Thank you, son. I needed this to hear your confidence. Please know how very proud I am of you and humbled by your obedience. All I truly want for you is total obedience to God’s call on your life.

I will grow through this journey with you on my knees and in prayer every day.

I have been listening to Henry Blackaby’s CD on Experiencing God where he said that sometimes obedience brings crisis into your life . . . and the lives of others around you.

He noted that Jesus’ obedience was conflict not only for him but also for his mother.  I wept thinking about Mary’s broken heart as she witnessed her son’s sacrifice. This humbled me. It puts life into perspective, that it is not about the individual or a mother’s wants.  It is about the greater call, the greater picture.

I love you and celebrate your call.

I love you very much.

Mom

-Posted by J.D. Greear at http://www.jdgreear.com/my_weblog/2014/03/the-sorrowful-blessing-of-a-missionarys-parents.html

Why Plant Campuses, When You Can Plant Churches Instead?

Some helpful thoughts from J.D. Greear:

One of the most frequent objections I get to our multi-site approach is this: “Why do you plant more campuses when you can plant churches instead?” Since our church is committed to church planting, I take this objection very seriously. And at first glance, the objection seems rather intuitive—people and money you could be investing in a church plant are instead being re-directed into a campus. This objection, however, is built upon two assumptions: first, that church planting solves the problem of overcrowding; second, that the multi-site approach competes with—or even precludes—church planting. But neither assumption is true.

1. Church planting does not solve the problem of overcrowding.

Most people who propose church planting as an answer to overcrowding have never actually had to deal with a rapidly growing church. When a church grows so rapidly that its facilities are at (or over) capacity, there are three possible solutions other than going multi-site: 1. Build bigger buildings, 2. Plant new churches, or 3. Turn people away.

We can dismiss the third as unbiblical, leaving us the two previous options. And given the choice between just these two, church planting certainly seems appealing. Buildings are expensive—and large buildings are enormously expensive. So that only leaves one option, right? Plant churches to make more room!

The trouble is, studies continue to show that church planting by itself rarely alleviates the overcrowding in a local congregation. For example, say your auditorium of 700 is filled to capacity each week, with people sitting in the lobby for multiple services, and so you convince 100 of your people to go and start a new church (and convincing that size number is an extraordinarily difficult feat, I might add!). If your church is growing at even 10%, you will make up that growth in less than a year and be out of space again. Even if you plant 10 churches out of your church in 10 years, chances are that you will still be dealing with space problems each year, likely turning people away.

Furthermore, as I allude to above, finding the people willing to leave their church to plant a new one as well as one or two new leaders each year who can do it are both difficult! Yes, everyone in your church should be willing to leave. But there is a gap between what people should do and what they will do, especially in churches that are growing rapidly and filled with young and immature believers.

Church planting is a wonderful and effective evangelism strategy and should be pursued aggressively by every local church, but church planting cannot provide a solution for a church’s space issues. So, by all means, plant churches! But in order to faithfully steward the people God is bringing to your church, you’ll need a different solution.

And so, at the Summit Church, we found our solution to rapid growth in the multi-campus model. In other words, multiplying campuses was not an alternative to church planting. It was an alternative to building a larger building or turning people away.

This is why we only plant campuses in our local city, not cities around the nation. Local campus plants are an on-going alternative to constructing a mammoth building. So when we recognize a large portion of people commuting from a certain area, we begin to think about a new campus there. (You won’t find us planting a campus in New York, Los Angeles, or Tokyo, because no one is currently commuting here from those places, so planting a campus there would be a replacement for church planting.)

Having a local campus not only leaves space at the original venue; it also makes evangelism and community easier for those at the new campus. For evangelism, you may be willing to drive 40 minutes to church, but the guy you just met at Starbucks who doesn’t know Jesus? Not so likely. For community, if you’re driving 40 minutes to church, you’re making that trip once a week and that’s it.

That evangelism and community are best executed locally has become so ingrained to our strategy at the Summit that it is reflected in one of our plumblines: stay where you are, serve where you live; let’s be the church in your community.

2. Multi-site does not preclude church planting; in fact, it encourages it.

This is a new discovery for us: we’ve found that our church planting efforts actually increased after we went to a multi-site model. I once thought we might be an anomaly, but research is beginning to show that our experience is more of the exception than the rule. An extensive study conducted by the Leadership Network found that churches that participate in multi-site strategy are 7% more likely to plant churches as well. Now, 7% isn’t massive, but it’s significant. While the multi-site strategy doesn’t automatically produce church planting, it does create the culture that makes church planting easier.

It’s not surprising to see why. Many of our church planters began as campus pastors, which allowed them to do much of what a lead pastor would do, yet within an environment where they can still learn and have the support of their original church. So for our campus pastors who have an eye toward church planting, it’s a good first step. For others, they discover that their gifts are better suited to campus pastoring—occasional platform preaching, but a strong focus on leading teams, pastoring people, and leading in evangelism.

The multi-site strategy also does something to the psychology of the church itself. Planting campuses—instead of building a behemoth church convention center—lends itself to an outward-facing posture for the church. A large building says, “Come,” but a multitude of campuses say, “Go.” By planting campuses, we communicate that it is more important for us to reach people than it is to build an empire. Our people catch that sort of a vision, and it helps to fuel passion for church planting as well.

By God’s grace, church planting is in the DNA of The Summit Church. We have an audacious vision to see 1,000 churches planted by 2050, because we believe that planting churches in strategic cities is the New Testament pattern for effective evangelism. Whether the church God gives me is 10,000 or 10, church planting will always be our priority. It is a non-negotiable.

Campus planting is—and must be—secondary to church planting. It is an answer to a specific circumstance, and if it failed to address our situation, we will put it aside. But for now, it is helping us better pastor people, reach our community, and plant churches. I believe it remains a biblically faithful, practically wise, and pastorally helpful model.

-J.D. Greear, (Special thanks to Chris Pappalardo for helping pull together these thoughts in the writing and editing of this post!), http://www.jdgreear.com/my_weblog/2014/02/why-plant-campuses-when-you-can-plant-churches-instead.html

Four Reasons the Gospels Could Not Be Legends

“The most popular theory today against the Bible is that the gospels are a bunch of myths and legends. As the theory goes, Jesus was a great guy with some commendable teachings, but the stories we have about him in the four gospels are made-up legends intended to beef up Christianity’s claims.

Entire books have been written on this, but here are 4 brief reasons the gospels simply could not be fabricated legends:…”

Read more from J. D. Greear here: http://www.jdgreear.com/my_weblog/2013/10/four-reasons-the-gospels-could-not-be-legends.html

But What if I Don’t Feel Saved

by J.D. Greear

If you were honest, you’d probably admit there are moments when you do not feel “Christian” at all. Moments in which you care more about what’s coming on TV that night than you do the spread of the kingdom of God in the world. Moments in which you have fallen to that same old temptation for the thousandth time. Moments when God feels distant, almost like a stranger. Seasons in which your emotions for Him are lukewarm, if not downright cold. When you don’t jump out of bed in the morning hungry for His Word. When your mind wanders all over the place during prayer—that is, when you can bring yourself to pray. Moments when you’re not even sure you believe all this stuff.

Does that sound familiar to you? Times like that are familiar to me. Not all the time, not even most of the time, but certainly more often than I’d care to admit.

What do you do in that moment? Pray “the sinners’ prayer” again? Should I call my old church and have the pastor fill up the all-too-familiar baptismal?

The answer is to keep believing the gospel, to keep your hand on the head of the Lord Jesus Christ. No matter how we feel at any given moment, how encouraged or discouraged we feel about our spiritual progress, how hot or cold our love for Jesus, the answer is always the same—exercise faith in the gospel.

On your very best of days, you must rest all your hopes on God’s grace to you in Christ. On your worst of days, it should be your refuge and your boast. Your posture should always be one of dependence on it.

Many people assume the “feeling” of being saved indicates whether or not they actually are saved. Feelings, however, are fickle and dangerously misleading, and Scripture never points us to our “feelings” for assurance. Feelings come from assurance; they are not the basis for it. Assurance is based on the fact of Christ’s finished work; our “feelings” of being saved come from faith in that finished work.

“Feelings” are the fruit of faith, not the source of it. So don’t feel your way into your beliefs; believe your way into your feelings.

-J.D. Greear, http://www.jdgreear.com/my_weblog/2012/07/but-what-if-i-dont-feel-saved.html

Questions About Tithing

by J.D. Greear

“Over the years I have gotten (and had myself) questions about whether or not the tithe (giving the first 10% of our income back to God as prescribed by the law) was biblical. Let me give you brief answer to some of those questions that demonstrate how I have learned to approach them.

1. Isn’t tithing Old Testament law? Aren’t we free of that? Yes and No.

A. Tithing is a part of the law, and Jesus has definitely fulfilled it all in our place so that we are free from it’s bondage. However, the purposes of the law were (generally speaking) 3-fold:

1. To show us what God was like;

2. To reveal how far short we fall of God’s character;

3. To show us how to thrive in the creation God has placed us in.

None of those 3 purposes faded with the death of Jesus. If anything, Jesus’ coming intensified them. We saw more of what God was like, what holiness was like, and what a man acting in perfect harmony with creation was like. As it relates to the tithe, the law reveals the unchanging character of God and how He expects us to view the money HE provided for us. A minimum of 10% that he has given to us, whether we are rich or poor, is to go back into His work. This is how He set up the world order. This is why the “tithe” principle (the first 10% of income going into God’s work) is taught pre-law (Abraham); law (Moses); post-exile (Malachi); and even affirmed under Jesus (Matthew 23:23). God’s purposes for creation haven’t changed. We are no longer under the theocratic nation state of Israel, but how God has set up his economy for His people has not changed. God doesn’t lay the financial weight of the entire world on any of our shoulders, but He has given His people a plan whereby they do their part. The law was given to help people live in the shalom of God. That’s what gives the law (principles like taking a Sabbath and the tithe) an enduring effect. Thus, the idea that 10% of all that God gives to you is given for you to give back to Him remains, I believe, as a good guide to our giving.

Now, let me be clear — Jesus left us under NO PART of the law, not the tithe or any thing else! But the law, in that it reflects God’s character and his ordering of creation, is still good, and still functions as a guide to how we are to live under God in this world. Men and women of God throughout the Bible, including Abraham and Jesus, seemed to recognize that. See John Piper for more on this.

B. If anything, the Gospel raises the level of our response to God’s laws. True obedience, Jesus says, goes much deeper than the behavior standards the law require. For example, the law said “Don’t murder;” yet, Jesus said the Gospel demanded we love our brother always and not hate him, not even our enemies. The law said “Don’t commit adultery;” yet, Jesus said that the Gospel demanded people not even “look on another woman with lust in our heart.” So, if the law says “Give 10%,” what kind of generosity does the Gospel call for? Would it not be GREATER generosity than 10%, just as the other commands were also intensified in Christ? In other words, if the people who saw God’s generosity in the Exodus responded with giving 10%, how much more should people who have seen the cross? This is why you see the early church giving FAR beyond 10%. So overwhelmed by the generosity of Christ, they wanted to pour out their possessions for those in need (2 Cor 8:9).

For Gospel-touched people, tithing should never be the ceiling of their giving, but it should be the floor.

Tithing, in and of itself, is not a iron-clad rule for Christians as it was for Israelites under the law. That said, “giving our firstfruits to God” most definitely IS a biblical principle, true of God’s people in all places and at all times. And 10% is a great place to start with that.

2. Should I give the tithe “pre-tax”, or post-tax? In the OT, God called the tithe a “firstfruit” (cf. 1 Cor 16:2). This meant their giving to God came first before anything else. That teaches pretty clearly that our giving to God comes before Uncle Sam takes his share. God gets the firstfruits, not the second ones.

3. When during the month should I give? The principle of “firstfruits” also show you, in my opinion, that the tithe check should be written first, and not at the end of the month when you see how much left over you have. If you do the latter, you will inevitably never have enough to give God 10%. You’re giving him your scraps. But if you do the former, you will inevitably adjust your lifestyle around what you have left. And, God also will find a way to multiply His blessings to you. I’ve seen that happen in my own life multiple times. It’s pretty exciting.

4. Should we give to the church, or other things? In the OT system, the tithe went to the work of God’s institution, the Temple. Caring for the poor beyond what the Temple did, or funding an itinerant rabbi, etc, all came out beyond the tithe. I believe the implication is that tithing should go to God’s new institution, the local church. Hopefully you have a church that you feel good about how they spend their money (not all on buildings, entitlement perks for members and pastors, etc) and you see them working in the streets and unreached parts of the world. Give some grace here, of course… it’s always easy to play armchair quarterback and talk about how you’d do it differently. I’d say if you trust your pastors, however, you honor God by giving to the institution He ordained. Then, give like a Gospel-touched fool beyond that to all the things God has put in your heart.

I hope this helps. I know some of you might think this is self-serving… as in when people tithe, my own means as a pastor are provided. I guess there’s no way around that for me, but I can tell you that my passion in this area has little to do with that. We have enough people who believe in our church that I’m not worried right now about where my next paycheck will come from. In other words, if this bothers you, we don’t need your money. Give it somewhere else, but I want you to experience the joy of obedience and faith in this area. I’d rather you obey the principle and give somewhere else (even if you come to our church) than I would miss out on this principle of trust and obedience because you think I’m being manipulative. God will take care of us. You focus on obeying Him, and if this feels manipulative, give to someone else besides the Summit Church.

5. How does this work out for your family, J.D.? When Veronica and I first got married, we had to stretch ourselves unbelievably thin to tithe. As God has increased our income over the years, we have yearly increased the percentage of what we give. We now give way above the tithe to our church, and then beyond that to ministries blessing the poor, carrying the Gospel to the world, and some to our church’s expansion project, Believe. We love it. Veronica last night said, “This is so fun… giving.” It really is more blessed to give than to receive. God really has multiplied what we have given to him and given it back to us “in every way,” –financially, in joy, in perspective, etc (2 Cor 8-9). We love it.

Here’s a recent message you might listen to, if it helps.It’s called “A Life Responding to the Gospel: 2 Chronicles 29:2-21″ preached on 2/21/11.

Here’s a tool for those of you who do want to give to our church.

Here’s info our church’e expansion project, Believe.

Always open to your comments! Do you have a great story about God’s faithfulness to you in the midst of your giving? I’d love to hear it. Post it below!”

-J.D. Greear, http://www.jdgreear.com/my_weblog/2012/06/questions-i-get-about-tithing.html

Melchizedek and Superstition

by J.D. Greear

“Melchizedek is one of those enigmatic figures that invites all manner of speculation. I don’t get many opportunities to go into detail about “Mel-chizzle,” so I thought I’d take advantage of this one. Nerds, enjoy.

Some of the language the author of Hebrews uses about Melchizedek—specifically 7:3—implies that he had a miraculous birth and never died. This coincides with information in 2 Enoch, a non-canonical book that relates some bizarre stories about Melchizedek: He was born of a virgin, fully clothed and able to speak, he escaped the flood during Noah’s time by hiding out in the Garden of Eden, etc. Did the author of Hebrews believe these things about Melchizedek? And isn’t it a problem that he gives authority to a non-canonical work?

Did the author of Hebrews believe these crazy things about Melchizedek?

In short—probably not. The statement in Hebrews 7:3 doesn’t necessarily imply agreement with 2 Enoch. It is clear that Melchizedek is the only priest for whom we don’t have a genealogy, which is odd, since in Jewish narrative the genealogy is essential for priesthood. The author of Hebrews notices that and makes a big deal of it. But the author of 2 Enoch takes it a place the author of Hebrews does not. Just because the author of Hebrews makes an observation about Melchizedek similar to that of 2 Enoch does not mean that he agrees with everything else Enoch says.

Verse 3 is not intended to be an ontological statement about Melchizedek, but a typological observation. I read it to say, ”without mother or father in the literary record” and “without a recorded beginning of days or end of life,” and thus “resembling the Son of God who was actually without those things.”

To say that Melchizedek is truly an eternal priest, co-existent with God, thoughtechnically plausible in the language used, is not required, and would clearly contradict other biblical passages.

Admittedly, the phrasing in verse 3 is strange, but we have to interpret ancient authors according to ancient writing styles. We tend to read through a 21st century American lens, not a 1st century Hebrew one. Think of it this way: if 2,000 years from now someone were to pick up a 21st century novel and read, “The sun rose at 5:30 am,” he might say, “They believed that the sun actually rose!” But that would be an error on his part, showing that he doesn’t understand how we use language.

Then there are some scholars who suggest that Melchizedek was aChristophany, in which case the differentiation in language is moot. They appeal to verse 8 that implies Melchizedek was not a mortal man. Again, I read that typologically, to say that Melchizedek resembled one who was not mortal. That’s what verse 3 says–Melchizedek “resembled” the Son of God, not  wasthe Son of God.

Isn’t it a problem that the author of Hebrews interacts with a non-canonical work?

Don’t be thrown off by the fact that the author of Hebrews appears to be dealing with a commonly believed, though erroneous 1st century superstition without first thoroughly discrediting the source.

When missionaries go into a place in which there is an overly superstitious, harmful belief in demons and angels, they can either (a) try to prove that much of what they attribute to the demonic is imagined or (b) proclaim Christ’s Lordship over all of it regardless of the source, so that fear vanishes, in which case the superstition usually does as well.

Missionaries often choose the latter strategy, as it is much more effective, and the writer of Hebrews does as well.”

-J.D. Greear, http://www.jdgreear.com/my_weblog/2012/06/more-on-melchizedek.html

What Melchizedek Teaches Us About Jesus

by J.D. Greear

“We continued our series through Hebrews this weekend with a passage on Melchizedek, one of the more obscure figures in the Old Testament. It’s tempting to skip over Melchizedek, but the author of Hebrews mentions this seemingly minor OT character to teach us four important lessons about Jesus.

1. All of the Old Testament points to Jesus.

Other than the passage in Hebrews, Melchizedek is only mentioned twice. He shows up in Genesis 14 just long enough to receive a tithe from Abram, and then disappears until David mentions him in a prophetic psalm 1,000 years later. And that’s it—outside of Hebrews, Melchizedek gets four verses.

But the author of Hebrews sees Jesus even in this minor Old Testament character. This is what I love so much about reading and re-reading the Old Testament. You begin to see that the entire Bible is woven together to teachone story, the story of the gospel. As Jesus himself said, all of the Old Testament stories—even the obscure ones—ultimately point to him (Luke 24:27).

2. Jesus was both a King and a Priest.

One of the few details we know about Melchizedek is that he was both a king and a priest. This is true of no one else in the Old Testament, and for good reason. The kingly and priestly offices were ones you would not want combined. Just imagine combining the roles of pastor and police officer! Each one had a very specific function to fulfill. The king was the lawgiver, the priest was the counselor. The king stood firmly for truth; the priest sympathized with people in their weaknesses.  The king represented God to the people; the priest represented the people to God.

In Jesus, however, the offices of king and priest converged. With his death on the cross, Jesus brought together absolute justice and the fullness of God’s mercy. By taking our place, Jesus accomplished what justice required for our sin, but in a way that he could still approach us with the tenderness of a priest.

3. Jesus can save anyone, anywhere.

The problem with the OT priests, as the author of Hebrews says, is that they could only represent other Jews. Besides that, they had their own sins to deal with, and even the best of them eventually died. Melchizedek, though, has no genealogy, so he represents a new type of priest, not bound to the nation of Israel.

Jesus is the fulfillment of that new type of priest, not bound to the nation of Israel, nor bound by sin or death. He did not die for a certain type of person. He died for all people everywhere, so that anyone, anywhere could be saved. Or as the author of Hebrews says, He can save to the uttermost (7:25).Jesus’ death opened salvation to all people, so what keeps us from God now is not our sin, but only our unbelief.

4. Jesus deserves our first and best.

When Abram met Melchizedek, he was looking for a way of giving thanks to God. So he tithed to Melchizedek, offering to this king and priest as to a shadow of the King and Priest to come, Jesus Christ. In the same way, we who have been saved by Jesus ought to offer to Him our first and our best. How can we say we have any concept of God’s free grace if we persist in thinking of our money, time, and talents as things that we deserve because we earned them? Certainly our efforts matter, but so much depends on our health, where we were born, and our innate abilities—which all come from God! When we see that it all comes from God anyway, it is much easier to offer back to Jesus our first and our best.”

-J.D. Greear, http://www.jdgreear.com/my_weblog/2012/06/what-melchizedek-teaches-us-about-jesus.html

The AntiPsalm 23

from J. D. Greear

“A couple of weeks ago in the midst of studying through Hebrews 4 and the concept of rest I was reminded of a series that I did a few years back called BreakOut. As we concluded that particular series I told you that our lives are a process of Jesus teaching us to live as free people. In order to do that, we have to find our identity in Him, look to Him as ultimate satisfaction, trust in His grace alone as our basis of acceptance, trust Him completely with our future. This is what God was teaching to Israel as He satisfied them with manna in the wilderness

I read this in an article by David Powlison and it touched me very deeply because it touches on all the dysfunctional places in my life that cause me so much stress, pain and worry. Ultimately it boils down to still being enslaved to myself with all of my “blind, misplaced devotion,” and not having found the freedom in knowing Jesus as my sole Master.

Powlison contrasts Psalm 23, which describes what it’s like to be free in Christ, with its ‘antipsalm.’ I found it cripplingly revealing. The antipsalm first:

Antipsalm 23

I’m on my own.
No one looks out for me or protects me.
I experience a continual sense of need. Nothing’s quite right.
I’m always restless. I’m easily frustrated and often disappointed.
It’s a jungle — I feel overwhelmed. It’s a desert — I’m thirsty.
My soul feels broken, twisted, and stuck. I can’t fix myself.
I stumble down some dark paths.
Still, I insist: I want to do what I want, when I want, how I want.
But life’s confusing. Why don’t things ever really work out?
I’m haunted by emptiness and futility — shadows of death.
I fear the big hurt and final loss.
Death is waiting for me at the end of every road,
but I’d rather not think about that.
I spend my life protecting myself. Bad things can happen.
I find no lasting comfort.
I’m alone … facing everything that could hurt me.
Are my friends really friends?
Other people use me for their own ends.
I can’t really trust anyone. No one has my back.
No one is really for me — except me.
And I’m so much all about ME, sometimes it’s sickening.
I belong to no one except myself.
My cup is never quite full enough. I’m left empty.
Disappointment follows me all the days of my life.
Will I just be obliterated into nothingness?
Will I be alone forever, homeless, free-falling into void?
Sartre said, “Hell is other people.”
I have to add, “Hell is also myself.”
It’s a living death,
and then I die.

The Real Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil.
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Powlison says, “Can you taste the difference?””

-J.D. Greear, http://www.jdgreear.com/my_weblog/2012/05/the-great-causes-of-stress-in-my-life-and-the-antipsalm-23-2.html

Are We Gospel-Centered? 5 Tests

5 Tests to Determine If Your Church is Truly Gospel-Centered -J.D. Greear
http://www.jdgreear.com/my_weblog/2012/03/the-marks-of-a-gospel-movement-on-a-local-church.html
 
The following is a summation of a message given to local pastors and church leaders at the Advance the Church spring regional, 2012. Link to the full audio is below.

Acts 2:41–47 gives us 5 “tests” of gospel-centrality. If we are preaching the Spirit-anointed gospel, these 5 things will be the result in our churches, just as they were in the very first one:

1. Evangelistic effectiveness AND doctrinal depth (Acts 2:41-42, 47)

Acts 2:41 tells us that in one day 3,000 people were saved and baptized, and verse 47  reports that God added daily to their number those who were being saved. The first church grew in a hurry. At the same time, the people were “devoted to the teaching of the Apostles” and were possessed by a great sense of awe over God’s glory.

I often hear church depth place at odds with church width. The early church clearly did both. In reality, the one is impossible without the other. Churches that grow wide without growing deep are not creating “sustainable” width, only generating a little temporary excitement. Churches that don’t grow wide are probably not nearly as deep as they may think. Gospel depth almost always produces gospel fruitfulness (Mark 4:16-17). Understanding the gospel gives you a sense of people’s lostness. You understand the wrath of God against their sin, how imminent His judgment is, how great His grace is towards them. Understanding the gospel gives you humility, because you realize how lost you were before God saved you. Understanding the gospel gives you the faith to believe God for great things, because the gospel reveals how willing and able God is to save. You show me someone characterized by a sense of urgency, humility, love and the boldness that comes from great faith, and I’ll show you someone who will be an effective evangelist!

Healthy churches do both (Col1:5-6). Certain churches within the gospel-centered movement are suprisingly unconcerned with, or ineffective at, evangelism.  They talk a lot about “mission” and “planting churches” but somehow that never translates into evangelism. Some wear smallness as a badge of honor. They love to critique everyone else’s evangelism, but do very little of their own. Charles Spurgeon—no theological lightweight—said, “I would sooner bring one sinner to Jesus Christ than unpack all the mysteries of the divine Word, for salvation is the thing we are to live for.”

A lot of the criticisms directed at rapidly-growing churches seem (to me) to be motivated by about 30% theological concern and 70% jealousy, fear and laziness. This is not to say that there is no validity to the theological concerns, just that those making them should pay attention to their motives. Our arrogance may keep us from receiving the grace God works even in the midst of theological shortcomings. We ought to be humbled by the zeal for souls present in movements that do not achieve, in our view, a full gospel-centrality. As D. L. Moody said to one Reformed critic of his, “It is clear you don’t like my way of doing evangelism. You raise some good points. Frankly, I sometimes do not like my way of doing evangelism. But I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”

2. Gospel-centered churches are characterized by the presence of God.(Acts 2:43)

This first church was full of the Spirit. There are a few things in that chapter that we will not likely experience in our congregations, but verse 43 gives you a classic description of the effect of the fullness of the Spirit—it says the people were “filled with awe.” D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said (and I paraphrase), “The presence of God is a felt-sense of the attributes of God as revealed in the gospel.” Their sense of the “presence of God” was not the result of a musical crescendo or an emotive preacher. It came simply from the preaching of the gospel by ones who really believed it and felt its passions within their souls. Another of my favorite theologians, Jonathan Edwards, described his sense of the presence of God like this:

“Sometimes only mentioning the name of Christ or an attribute of God will cause my heart to burn within me. . . . Suddenly God appears glorious to me. When I enjoy this sweetness it seems to carry me outside of myself. I cannot bring myself even to take my eye from this Glorious Object.”

Note that this sort of experience is not at odds with doctrine, or even beyond doctrine, but flows out of good doctrine. It’s not less than doctrine, it is more. God’s beauty and majesty are not just to be perceived with the mind, they are to be felt in the soul.

Where this happens, there is the joy you see in Acts 2:46-47. It is hard for me to believe that a church can really “get” the gospel when its services are not characterized by joy. Yes, there are times for somberness and mourning and repentance in worship, but the predominant motif of biblical worship is joy. Multiple places in Scripture command us to clap our hands, shout with joy, and to sing and delight in God. They tell us that in God’s presence is “fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11). So how can we claim to have gospel-centered churches if our services are not characterized by exuberant joy?

3. Gospel-centered churches are characterized by fervent, faith-filled prayer (Acts 2:42)

The gospel produces a faith in the church that  makes bold requests of Jesus. You see that referred to here in Acts 2, and fleshed out later in Acts 4:24-31. They expected great things from God, and then attempted great things for God.

The early church was born from prayer. After Jesus ascended to heaven, Acts 1:14 reports that the disciples “were devoting themselves to prayer.” This went on for ten days before the arrival of the Spirit on Pentecost. These believers prayed for 10 days, Peter preached for 10 minutes, and 3,000 people were saved. Today we’re more likely to pray for 10 minutes, preach for 10 days, and see 3 people saved.

Acts shows us a profound connection between corporate prayer and our community getting a sense of the glory of God. When we pray, our eyes are opened to the glory of God. When our eyes are opened to His glory, we preach with boldness, passion and power (Acts 4:24-31). In Acts 7:55-56, we see Stephen lift his eyes to heaven in prayer, catch a glimpse of Jesus’ glory, and in awe begin to proclaim it to those around him. When this happens on a city-wide scale, what you get is a spiritual awakening. Tim Keller gives a glimpse of what this looks like:

InNew York, in 1857, a man named Jeremiah Lanphier was hired to witness to a local neighborhood. He was frustrated by utter ineffectiveness, and so in desperation he turned to prayer. One day he invited people to pray with him—six people showed up. The following week, 20 people came. The next week, 40. Two months later, hundreds were gathering to pray. Soon the entire downtown area was filled with men and women praying. Evangelistic meetings sprang up all over the city, and in 9 months, 50,000 people came to Christ at a time when the population of NYC was 800,000. This was known as the great prayer revival ofManhattan.

I really want to see that happen in Raleigh-Durham. If you scaled the proportions, that would be like 100,000 people coming to Christ in a 9-month period!

4. Gospel-centered churches are characterized by empowered members. (Acts 8:1, 28:15)

A stubborn theme throughout the book of Acts is that God’s most effective vehicles are “regular” people. Consider these facts from Acts: Thirty-nine of the 40 miracles in the book of Acts occur outside the walls of the “church,” in the workplace. The longest sermon in Acts is by Stephen, a layman. That sermon led to the most significant spiritual moment in Acts, the conversion of Saul (Paul). Acts 8:1 notes that when persecution rose up against the church, the church was scattered around the world preaching the gospel. But note that Luke tells you this worldwide fulfillment of Acts 1:8 did not include the Apostles. These anonymous Christians were so effective in ministry that when Paul showed up inRometo preach the gospel “where Christ had never been named,” he was greeted by “the brothers” (Acts 28:15). Early church historian Stephen Neill notes that the anonymity of the major gospel movements in the ancient world is breathtaking: “But in point of fact few, if any, of the great Churches were really founded by apostles. Nothing is more notable than the anonymity of these early missionaries… Luke does not turn aside to mention the name of a single one of those pioneers who laid the foundation. Peter and Paul may have organized the Church inRome. They certainly did not found it…” (History of Christian Missions, 22)

This flows from the very nature of the gospel. The gospel is not about recognizing the gifted, but about gifting the unrecognized. Church leaders who understand that gospel won’t try to build their church around a handful of mega-talented superstars, but rather dedicate themselves to empowering and releasing the church for ministry (Eph 4:11-13). They become committed to raising up other leaders. They judge their success not so much by seating capacity but sending capacity.

5. Gospel-centered churches are characterized by extravagant generosity. (Acts 2:45)

The gospel is that Jesus “became poor for our sake so that through his poverty we might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). When a church gets this, they become extravagantly generous toward others. The first Christians didn’t just give out of their excess. They voluntarily sold their stuff so that their were no needs among them.

Eventually this sort of gospel generosity overflowed into the streets, but it started in the church. As the apostle Paul says in Galatians, “Let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Ultimately, the love that Christians show to one another is a profound statement to an unbelieving world. It is by our love for one another, Jesus said, that the world will know that we are His disciples (John 13:35; cf. 1 Peter 4:9). As Francis Schaeffer said, “the final apologetic that Jesus gives is the observable love of true Christians for true Christians.”

Evangelistic effectiveness and doctrinal depth; fervent, faith-filled prayer; a sense of the presence of God; empowered members and extravagant generosity are 5 things that the gospel produced in the early church. How present are they in your church? If one of these characteristics are missing, is it possible that we don’t understand the gospel as much as we claim to? These are the indelible marks of a gospel movement.

If these are missing from your church, the answer is not to “go and try harder.” We need to ask ourselves, “Why is the gospel I am preaching not producing these things?””

-J.D. Greear, 03-06-2012