This Mystery

reflections on theology and life

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Context, not compromise

bullhorn guy

Not a good exam­ple of contextualization.

At his blog, It Is Writ­ten, Dr. Bob Gon­za­les has put together an excel­lent series on con­tex­tu­al­iza­tion – a manda­tory tenet of mis­sional churches and the bête noire of John MacArthur — or what can bet­ter be described as “accommodation.”

In his lat­est install­ment, Gon­za­les help­fully reminds us:

[W]e need to accom­mo­date our com­mu­ni­ca­tion to the peo­ple we’re try­ing to reach, to the peo­ple we’re try­ing to edify because God accom­mo­dates him­self to us in his rev­e­la­tion and because the ser­vants of God, like Jesus and like Paul the apos­tle, accom­mo­dated their com­mu­ni­ca­tion to their audi­ence. Broth­ers, if we want to win souls, if we want to see our churches grow, if we want to increase the edi­fi­ca­tion of our cur­rent mem­ber­ship, then we must become all things to all men. We must accom­mo­date (not com­pro­mise) in the area of communication.

Indeed, con­tex­tu­al­iza­tion prop­erly defined and prop­erly done doesn’t water down the gospel; it makes the offense of the gospel as clear as possible.

Chan: How not to make disciples

Some­times there’s an awfully long dis­tance between the head and the heart. Fran­cis Chan shows us the dif­fer­ence between know­ing and doing:

Rebuild where you live, live where you rebuild

I’m very moved and moti­vated by what I see the Rebuild Net­work (therebuildinitiative.org) doing to plant churches in urban areas. But there’s more to them than plant­ing, and there’s some­thing to learn from them in all churches who want to focus on dis­ci­ple­ship and mission.

Here’s a video that tells the story of the first church they planted. I just love this.

On Decem­ber 15, 2007, 25 fam­i­lies made the com­mit­ment to move from Den­ton, TX to Atlanta, GA to plant a church that was in the city, for the city, and looked like the city. It became the Rebuild Network’s first church plant—Blueprint Church.

The Trellis and the Vine, revisited …

About three years ago, we as the elders at our church read Colin Mar­shall and Tony Payne’s The Trel­lis and the VineI’m revis­it­ing it now as I’m read­ing it with one of the new dea­cons in some trellis-and-vine style discipleship.

I’m sad­dened to see how poorly we’ve adopted what the authors recommend.

Trellis and the VineChap­ter one pro­vides a beau­ti­ful para­ble com­par­ing the work done in churches to a vine grow­ing on a trel­lis. The authors ask us, are we putting our effort into build­ing a trel­lis (cre­at­ing pro­grams) or cul­ti­vat­ing the vine (grow­ing peo­ple.) The argue — and I agree — that way too much goes into cre­at­ing struc­ture and force-fitting peo­ple into that struc­ture, rather than build­ing, train­ing and grow­ing peo­ple for ministry.

Chap­ter two of the book out­lines the “Min­istry Mind-Shifts” that the writ­ers rec­om­mend and which they flesh out in detail in later chap­ters. They say we need to transform:

  1. From run­ning pro­grams to build­ing people
  2. From run­ning events to train­ing people
  3. From using peo­ple to grow­ing people
  4. From fill­ing gaps to train­ing new workers
  5. From solv­ing prob­lems to help­ing peo­ple make progress
  6. From cling­ing to ordained min­istry to devel­op­ing team leadership
  7. From focus­ing on church polity to forg­ing min­istry partnerships
  8. From rely­ing on train­ing insti­tu­tions to estab­lish­ing local training
  9. From focus­ing on imme­di­ate pres­sures to aim­ing for long-term expansion
  10. From engag­ing in man­age­ment to engag­ing in ministry
  11. From seek­ing church growth to desir­ing gospel growth

Get­ting buy-in on these as prin­ci­ples is not the dif­fi­cult part. Get­ting buy-in on these as actions? That’s where the work is.

My friend, the ‘God-soaked geek’

No doubt many of you have seen this video from Desir­ing God about their start through the efforts of my friend Moe Berg­eron. John Piper called him a “God-soaked geek” in a tweet pro­mot­ing this video.

As Dr. Piper wrote, “For decades, Moe was a fac­tory worker and bi-vocational pas­tor on the rugged spir­i­tual soil of New Eng­land. He was one of the first to believe in the power and poten­tial of com­put­ers ‘talk­ing’ to each other, and he may have been the first that dared to dream about a rad­i­cal new way to freely spread the gospel.”

Be sure to visit the site Moe edits: Christ My Covenant and also Piper’s Notes, the orig­i­nal online archive of John Piper.

‘And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites …’

I’ve had the plea­sure this school year of teach­ing the 7-12th grade Sun­day school class at my church in a study through Matthew’s Gospel. We’ve got a really bright bunch of teens who are very good at think­ing deeply about the impli­ca­tions and appli­ca­tions of the text.

We had some espe­cially engag­ing dis­cus­sions in , which begins in : “Beware of prac­tic­ing your right­eous­ness before other peo­ple in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” We talked about how we should be giv­ing, pray­ing and fast­ing in a way such that we guard against doing it in a way so as to be seen by others.

How strik­ing is the warn­ing of . Yet daily I see pas­tors (and those who aspire to be pas­tors copy­ing those chatty pas­tors) post­ing 140-character per­sonal prayers. Are they not doing the social media equiv­a­lent of stand­ing and pray­ing “in the syn­a­gogues and at the street cor­ners, that they may be seen by oth­ers” ()? So that they can be re-Tweeted or like-buttoned?

Why do those need to be on Twit­ter or Face­book? Is it so that they are seen by others?

Encour­ag­ing oth­ers to pray using social media is prob­a­bly just fine. Using social media so that your prayers can be seen by oth­ers? I think Scrip­ture coun­sels against that.

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

Don’t let that be you.


6:1 “Beware of prac­tic­ing your right­eous­ness before other peo­ple in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trum­pet before you, as the hyp­ocrites do in the syn­a­gogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by oth­ers. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giv­ing may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hyp­ocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the syn­a­gogues and at the street cor­ners, that they may be seen by oth­ers. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gen­tiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hal­lowed be your name.

10 Your king­dom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and for­give us our debts,
as we also have for­given our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temp­ta­tion,
but deliver us from evil.

14 For if you for­give oth­ers their tres­passes, your heav­enly Father will also for­give you, 15 but if you do not for­give oth­ers their tres­passes, nei­ther will your Father for­give your trespasses.

16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hyp­ocrites, for they dis­fig­ure their faces that their fast­ing may be seen by oth­ers. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fast­ing may not be seen by oth­ers but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

19 “Do not lay up for your­selves trea­sures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for your­selves trea­sures in heaven, where nei­ther moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your trea­sure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of dark­ness. If then the light in you is dark­ness, how great is the darkness!

24 “No one can serve two mas­ters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You can­not serve God and money.

25 “There­fore I tell you, do not be anx­ious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than cloth­ing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they nei­ther sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heav­enly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anx­ious can add a sin­gle hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anx­ious about cloth­ing? Con­sider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they nei­ther toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomor­row is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of lit­tle faith? 31 There­fore do not be anx­ious, say­ing, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gen­tiles seek after all these things, and your heav­enly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the king­dom of God and his right­eous­ness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “There­fore do not be anx­ious about tomor­row, for tomor­row will be anx­ious for itself. Suf­fi­cient for the day is its own trou­ble. (ESV)


6:1 “Beware of prac­tic­ing your right­eous­ness before other peo­ple in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. (ESV)


6:1 “Beware of prac­tic­ing your right­eous­ness before other peo­ple in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trum­pet before you, as the hyp­ocrites do in the syn­a­gogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by oth­ers. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giv­ing may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hyp­ocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the syn­a­gogues and at the street cor­ners, that they may be seen by oth­ers. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gen­tiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hal­lowed be your name.

10 Your king­dom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and for­give us our debts,
as we also have for­given our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temp­ta­tion,
but deliver us from evil.

14 For if you for­give oth­ers their tres­passes, your heav­enly Father will also for­give you, 15 but if you do not for­give oth­ers their tres­passes, nei­ther will your Father for­give your trespasses.

16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hyp­ocrites, for they dis­fig­ure their faces that their fast­ing may be seen by oth­ers. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fast­ing may not be seen by oth­ers but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

19 “Do not lay up for your­selves trea­sures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for your­selves trea­sures in heaven, where nei­ther moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your trea­sure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of dark­ness. If then the light in you is dark­ness, how great is the darkness!

24 “No one can serve two mas­ters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You can­not serve God and money.

25 “There­fore I tell you, do not be anx­ious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than cloth­ing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they nei­ther sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heav­enly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anx­ious can add a sin­gle hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anx­ious about cloth­ing? Con­sider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they nei­ther toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomor­row is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of lit­tle faith? 31 There­fore do not be anx­ious, say­ing, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gen­tiles seek after all these things, and your heav­enly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the king­dom of God and his right­eous­ness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “There­fore do not be anx­ious about tomor­row, for tomor­row will be anx­ious for itself. Suf­fi­cient for the day is its own trou­ble. (ESV)


“And when you pray, you must not be like the hyp­ocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the syn­a­gogues and at the street cor­ners, that they may be seen by oth­ers. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (ESV)

Loving God, loving neighbor

In Defense of Jesus, the New LawgiverI was revis­it­ing John G. Reisinger’s In Defense of Jesus, the New Law­giver tonight, par­tic­u­larly his dis­cus­sion of .

He is pretty much on the mark (more on that after the quote.) And it’s why in our sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion, we look to Christ and not a check­list, because it’s not a check­list writ­ten on our hearts.

[W]e are just as emphatic that it does not mean that God inscribes a New Covenant list of rules on the heart of a Chris­t­ian. We are skep­ti­cal of any attempt to cre­ate a new list to replace the old list. There is no New Covenant Deca­logue. We dis­avow the way some NCT peo­ple use the term law of Christ. We do not think there is a con­crete, unchang­ing, all-inclusive, revealed list of the spe­cific laws of Christ any more than there was a con­crete, unchang­ing, all-inclusive list of God’s moral law revealed at Sinai. Under the New Covenant, God puts “love God, love neigh­bor” into the heart of every per­son in Christ by the Spirit. There is a sense in which the com­mands to love God and love neigh­bor are as suf­fi­cient as a com­plete list would be.

– Reisinger, John G. In Defense of Jesus, the New Law­giver. Fred­er­ick, MD: New Covenant Media, 2008. Print. p. 117–8.

I say “pretty much on the mark,” because it is the giv­ing of the Holy Spirit to dwell in the heart of the believer that ful­fills . The very nature of God — His love — in the Spirit of Christ is His law writ­ten on our hearts.


31 “Behold, the days are com­ing, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their hus­band, declares the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my peo­ple. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neigh­bor and each his brother, say­ing, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the great­est, declares the Lord. For I will for­give their iniq­uity, and I will remem­ber their sin no more.” (ESV)


31 “Behold, the days are com­ing, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their hus­band, declares the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my peo­ple. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neigh­bor and each his brother, say­ing, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the great­est, declares the Lord. For I will for­give their iniq­uity, and I will remem­ber their sin no more.” (ESV)

The inheritance of the saints

Charles Spur­geon called Christ and the Inher­i­tance of the Saints: Illus­trated in a Series of Dis­courses from the Colos­sians, the expo­si­tion and devo­tional on by Scot­tish divine Thomas Guthrie, “brilliant.”

Thanks to Google books, it’s avail­able as a free down­load.

And it is brilliant.


12 giv­ing thanks to the Father, who has qual­i­fied you to share in the inher­i­tance of the saints in light. 13 He has deliv­ered us from the domain of dark­ness and trans­ferred us to the king­dom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemp­tion, the for­give­ness of sins.

15 He is the image of the invis­i­ble God, the first­born of all cre­ation. 16 For by him all things were cre­ated, in heaven and on earth, vis­i­ble and invis­i­ble, whether thrones or domin­ions or rulers or authorities—all things were cre­ated through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the begin­ning, the first­born from the dead, that in every­thing he might be pre­em­i­nent. 19 For in him all the full­ness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to rec­on­cile to him­self all things, whether on earth or in heaven, mak­ing peace by the blood of his cross. (ESV)

An audacious statement

Studies in the Sermon on the MountOne of the most trea­sured the­o­log­i­cal tomes on my book­shelf is D. Mar­tyn Lloyd-Jones’ Stud­ies in the Ser­mon on the Mount, a work col­lected from 60 ser­mons by the Doctor.

In a recent dis­cus­sion on the role of law in the believer, I was reminded of some quotes from that book.

First, is the auda­cious state­ment of in which Jesus declares Him­self to be the ful­fill­ment of the Hebrew Scriptures:

It is, in other words, that all the law and all the prophets point to Him and will be ful­filled in Him down to the small­est detail. Every­thing that is in the law and the prophets cul­mi­nates in Christ, and He is the ful­fill­ment of them. It is the most stu­pen­dous claim that He ever made. (p. 163)

Is the Ser­mon on the Mount cod­i­fi­ca­tion, or is it a descrip­tion of the believer?  The “blessed are” state­ments of the Beat­i­tudes are indica­tive in the Greek; they are descrip­tive of the new crea­ture that is the believer.

About the Law — which Paul calls our pedagogue/tutor/guardian, Lloyd-Jones wrote:

The gospel of Jesus Christ does not treat us like that. It does not treat us as chil­dren. It is not another law, but some­thing which gives us life. It lays down cer­tain prin­ci­ples and asks us to apply them. Its essen­tial teach­ing is that we are given a new out­look and under­stand­ing which we must apply with respect to every detail of our lives. That is why the Chris­t­ian, in a sense, is a man who is always walk­ing on a kind of knife edge. He has no set reg­u­la­tions; instead he applies this cen­tral prin­ci­ple to every sit­u­a­tion that may arise. (p. 216)

Lloyd-Jones fur­ther explains:

What is of supreme impor­tance is that we must always remem­ber that the Ser­mon on the Mount is a descrip­tion of char­ac­ter and not a code of ethics or morals. It is not to be regarded as law – a kind of new “Ten Com­mand­ments” or set of rules and reg­u­la­tions which are to be car­ried out by us – but rather as a descrip­tion of what we Chris­tians are meant to be, illus­trated in cer­tain par­tic­u­lar respects. It is as if our Lord says, “Because you are what you are, this is how you will face the law and how you will live it.” (p. 21)

It is not a new set of let­ters (“For the let­ter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” ESV).

Ulti­mately, the eter­nal stan­dard of right­eous­ness is Christ Him­self, the rev­e­la­tion of and reflec­tion of God, the per­fect image (Greek eikon) of the Father. He is and always has been the right­eous­ness that the Law pointed to. And He is the stan­dard of our right­eous­ness. No law has ever encom­passed His holi­ness, the only stan­dard that mat­ters.  No law, no let­ters can encom­pass the right­eous­ness that exceeds the scribes and the Phar­isees.  Only the liv­ing Torah, Christ whom the writ­ten Torah pointed to, is that righteousness.

Christ’s teach­ing, Paul’s exhor­ta­tions, all point to being that which we as new crea­tures are recre­ated to be.

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; lis­ten to him.” ( ESV)

The Spirit of Christ, indwelling the believer and inform­ing him in His word is not a set of rules. Look­ing at God’s law merely as rules to fol­low inher­ently misses the heart and focuses on the exter­nal. What the Law pointed to was ful­filled in Him and in is being ful­filled in us. While it is shrouded in this body of death now, it is real­ized fully in glory.


17 “Do not think that I have come to abol­ish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abol­ish them but to ful­fill them. (ESV)


He was still speak­ing when, behold, a bright cloud over­shad­owed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; lis­ten to him.” (ESV)

How amazing is grace

A clip of Tul­lian Tchvid­jian explain­ing why grace is so amaz­ing … and why it angers people.

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