Posts Tagged ‘Gospel-centered living’
The stories of our lives as Christians fall into one of two main plot templates: The Sinner’s Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer.
Lord Jesus, I know that I’m a sinner and I can’t save myself. I see now that you died to pay for my sins. Please forgive me and come into my heart. I want you to be in control from this moment forward.
Before things get a little rough here, let me just say that I know a lot of believers who began their journey with this prayer. I’ve used it over the years in times when God has allowed me a front row seat to a person’s decision to follow Christ. I have no doubt in my mind that, when prayed with sincerity, God uses this prayer for His glory. That said, when I say that this is one of the two plot templates for the story of a Christian’s life, I’m referring to it less as a temporal communique, announcing one’s intentions at the moment of surrender, and more as a theological framework for understanding God, His Word, His Gospel, humanity and the relationship between all of these.
As a normative form for basic theology, the Sinner’s Prayer isn’t wrong, it’s just incomplete. It’s a thin plot. And so goes the stories of so many Christians. A few years ago, we conducted an informal study through relationships we had with some fellow pastors. We asked them to casually ask a handful of committed people in their churches to just verbalize the Gospel. Every pastor inevitably came back to us with great distress, admitting that even those they thought would surely respond with ease faltered and sputtered, sometimes merely stitching together fragments of Sunday School answers. Why has this become our reality in the church, that far too many fail to firmly grasp the core of their professed belief?
Lack. Of. Depth. In our ever-increasing busyness we choose to forego the slow, laborious path to depth and wisdom, and instead hitch ourselves to the rocket ship of knowledge and ideas. We’re no longer sleuths–detectives meticulously examining God’s Word. Rather, we’ve become browsers, satisfied when we find one or two sound bites from a gifted preacher. We might have enough to impress in a conversation over coffee but that’s it. If ‘I’m a sinner and I want you to save me, Lord’ is all we ever narrate with our lives, then how can we expect to participate in the complex, mysterious and deep story that is the Gospel?
If you want to truly live out the Gospel, then the Gospel has to live in you. I know these people. Their lives are following a different plot line. The Lord’s Prayer.
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Jesus teaches us profoundly deep truths in this startlingly simple prayer. I encourage you to do a thorough study on it. For our purposes here, though, I just want to highlight the context, order and completeness of the Lord’s Prayer as a plot for our stories.
First, the context. Jesus explodes our present tendencies towards hyper individualism. Notice the pronouns are all plural–our and us, not my and me. God is community, the Father, Son and Spirit. The Body is also community; we are family under our Heavenly Father. In our family, we are only as strong as our weakest member. Jesus reminds us of our dependency on God and each other. It’s not enough to be mindful of your own well-being. (Note the pronouns in the Sinner’s Prayer–I, my).
Second, the order. We find six requests in the Lord’s Prayer. The first three are focused on God and the last three are focused on our need for God. People whose lives tell this story never misplace God as first and highest. But those who live out the Sinner’s Prayer struggle to see God bigger than a solution to a problem.
Third, the completeness. The Gospel as narrative is often summarized by four words: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. We use this as the framework within which we discover its deeper truth and beauty. In the Sinner’s Prayer, we can identify only Fall and Redemption–an incomplete Gospel. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus tells the whole story:
- Creation: “Our Father…”
- Fall: “…forgive us our debts…”
- Redemption: “…deliver us from evil.”
- Restoration: “Your kingdom come…”
It’s all there. As it should be in our lives. My question for you is this: Are you living out the Sinner’s Prayer or the Lord’s Prayer? Each one shapes the way we see God and hence ourselves. The path to meaning and purpose in this life follow’s Jesus’ words. He wasn’t just giving us a prayer to say, He was revealing the thick plot of a life worth living.
As a follow up to my 3 part series on reaching the next generation with the message of the Gospel, I wanted to take a moment and recognize that ”creating an experiential framework” through which we can articulate the story of Jesus extends beyond what we do in service to our community. One reason for this is because a lot of churches struggle with developing a sustainable culture of service; we continue to help each other discover new ways of doing this, but it continues to be a journey. The main reason, however, is because we simply can’t be painting houses and feeding the hungry 24-7. We all have callings and families to care for, work, soccer practice, social lives, etc. Even when we make serving a priority, by it’s nature it can’t be done in a formal way on a constant basis. So, does that mean that our evangelistic efforts are confined to moments of compassion for the hurting? Not at all.
The concept we studied in the post “The Solution to Relational” revealed the profound (and simple) approach to evangelism Jesus shows us with His disciples. Remember that Jesus created a Gospel-shaped moment for his men by including them in the work of the miracle on the hill (John 6:1-13). The point isn’t necessarily that it served thousands, but that it connected those present to the power of the Gospel. This must be the focus of our lives–it is the essence of the Great Commission. When we live this way in the presence of friends who don’t know Christ, we inspire genuine curiosity about God that can lead to a demand for explanation. While we can look to John 6 and many other passages to find outrageous and memorable examples of this, it can also take place in the ordinary, everyday routines that play out in each of our lives.
Such was the case not too long ago in a cafe outside San Francisco. During a recent conversation with my brother Matt (@matthew_bond), youth pastor at Menlo Park Pres., he related a story to me that illustrates how we can create an experiential framework even in the less-than-extraordinary moments. Matt and his friend Jason were talking over coffee one afternoon in a local cafe down the street from his office. Sitting a table nearby was an older man buried in a book. As the man went to stand, he bumped his full cup of coffee, sending it through the air and ultimately… all over the table, the floor, and the book. Total mess. Then, without a thought, Matt and Jason both stood up. Matt grabbed a bunch of napkins while Jason dashed to the counter and grabbed a rag. As the man worked to clean up the spill, Jason and Matt joined in and made short work of the job. As quickly as they swooped in, Jason and Matt were back at a table, this time sitting outside. A few moments later, the man came out and approached them with what seemed like a stern look on his face. He looked at each of them, back and forth, and finally asked, “Was that you two in there? Did you come and clean up my coffee?” Matt and Jason hesitated for a moment, not knowing if he was upset or confused. “Um, yeah. That was us,” Jason said softly. The man continued to examine them. Then, “Why? Why would you help a person you don’t even know?” Matt and Jason looked at each other, trying to process the man’s amazement at this rather small expression of love. Now, as Matt pointed out to me, we would expect their response to be something that pointed to Jesus. For some reason, the dynamic just wasn’t obvious enough to either of them at the moment. “Well, it seemed like the nice thing to do at the moment,” Jason offered.
The point here is that we have the opportunity to create an experiential framework everywhere we find ourselves. Often times they will go seemingly unnoticed, but keep doing it! Some will be blown away by the Gospel and ask you to explain it. When that happens, don’t complicate the situation, just tell them. Let God be God and see where the conversation leads. No matter the outcome, let yourself experience the joy that comes with sharing Christ!
This is just one small story. I want to hear yours! Share with me how you’ve done this recently and what happened as a result (in the comments below.)
I reached a place beyond my limits yesterday.
My brother Matt (@matthew_bond) and I rode our bikes from Menlo Park, CA to Half Moon Bay–a 23 mile journey that took us through a forest, over a thousand foot high mountain, and ultimately to the Pacific Ocean. For many, this would have been a low-intensity Sunday activity, but for me it pressed my body to the very breaking point of my physical capabilities.
It began to look bleak only 20 minutes in when I suffered a severe cramp in my foot. Later my brother would tell me that when he saw me fall to the pavement in pain he was convinced we would be turning back at any moment. I kneaded the cramp out and climbed back on with determination, only to wince as the cramp returned immediately. The night before our ride, I watched a documentary film that followed a well-known German cycling team through the 2004 Tour de France. Its images of crashes, gashes, concussions and perseverance flashed in my mind as I pedaled up the long gentle slope in front of us. If they could do that, then I could do this. We continued forward towards the main 4 mile climb which wouldn’t begin for another 30 minutes. Matt set up a draft that allowed me to recover and rest–30mph over flat and and lazily descending roads to our final checkpoint.
We rested for a moment at the base of the mountain and Matt gave me one more chance to back out. “We can either continue or go back, but if we continue now, we will have to finish no matter what.” I looked at him through clouded eyes. “This is not a choice. We’re going.” He half smiled and climbed on his bike. Around the first corner the ferocity of the ascent confronted me. Steeply up a narrow winding road we went, at a snail’s pace. The pain increased rapidly and my heart began to pound out of my chest. A mile in, as I was losing all sense of my situational awareness, I suddenly felt a hand on my lower back. I glanced to the left and saw my brother arduously spinning with one hand on his bars… he was pushing both of us up the mountain–legs for him and right hand for me. His calm voice occasionally broke the ambient hum of my breath, my bike and the traffic around us. “This is a good pace. Keep pedaling. We can almost see the top. Keep pedaling.” More images of emaciated German cyclists nursing their wounds and launching day after day into the Pyrenees switchbacks strobed behind my eyelids as I fought total collapse.
Finally we reached the summit after 23 minutes of blinding agony up 829 vertical feet. I unclipped and sat down. My lungs burned as I shallowly pumped the 40 degree air in out, in out. Stars danced in my periphery. I couldn’t put a single thought together. “That was… sick,” I heard my brother quietly cheer. For him really, it was nothing. He’s done over 40,000 miles on his current bike in the last four years. But for me, with just over 200 miles in the last 2 months, it was the impossible made possible. The last 7 miles led us down the western face at 50mph–an experience more frightening than painful–to a beached fishing trawler (which painted an accurate portrait of my emotional disposition at the moment), and finally to a small cliff–a club-level seat to the Pacific sunset in Half Moon Bay. We had done it. But how?
As I wax contemplative about what happened yesterday, it occurs to me that living a Gospel-centered life significantly compares to my cycling experience. If you’re truly living out the Gospel, then you will almost immediately come up against barriers–cramps that will try to convince you to quit early. Realistically, those cramps will never really go away. Living like Jesus isn’t about overcoming obstacles, it’s about hope-fueled forward movement despite the things that stand in your way.
Perhaps the most compelling revelation came to me as I thought about the ascent. The motivation and determination to do something impossible came not from my focus on the present, but from what I had observed in those German warriors, and from the hand of one far more experienced, placed firmly on my back. We cannot expect the impossible from ourselves if we refuse to study those who have gone before us or deny the assistance of those around us who are stronger. In order to share and live out the Gospel every day, we must FIRST saturate ourselves with the Gospel itself by humbly looking to those who have done it before and those who are doing it in front of us.
Ephesians 4:11-13 says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” (ESV)
This is the first purpose of evangelism, to build up the body of Christ–each other–in order to accomplish what we see as impossible; that is the expansion of God’s Kingdom through the news of a Savior and Redeemer. Before you set out to change the world through the Gospel, you must first live as one changed by the Gospel. You must share the Gospel with yourself. You must become an internal evangelist.
If they can do that, then I can do this.