Read with an Eye Toward the Gospel

I read a lot of blogs and magazine articles by Christian authors, and I appreciate how much I learn from this. Sometimes these authors clarify an issue or a point of doctrine. Sometimes they give an opinion I don’t agree with, and I have to think about why. Often, they encourage me. It really is an amazing age that the Church is living in.

A trend I’ve noticed lately in the Christian magazine/blogging world is articles titled something like this:

  • Ten Things Pastors Can Do to Increase Giving
  • Five Lessons We Can Learn From the Mistakes of (Fill-in-the-Blank Church or Pastor)
  • Four Steps to a Productive Personal Quiet Time
  • Eight Strategies for Getting People to Serve
  • Three Indicators You Should Leave Your Church

Personally, I’m drawn to articles like this. I’m a self-proclaimed structure-fiend and list-maker. I was a technical editor for years, and my goal was to boil information down, create easy-to-follow steps, and be concise. But I think there are some dangers in articles like this. As the Church continues to navigate the Information Age, we need to be prayerful, discerning readers who read with an eye toward the Gospel.

It’s never really that simple

Whether you’re a pastor helping a congregation wrestle with the idol of money, a church body that’s been through a scandal, or an individual making the decision to leave a church, it’s never as simple as list-style articles make it seem. There are always more factors and details than the writer could ever convey. Will the writer give you some things to consider? Yes. But is what they wrote all you should consider? No.

If we follow four, eight, or ten simple rules, strategies, or lessons, we’ll have enough money and enough missionaries, and we’ll look healthier than the church down the street.

This style of article can also give the impression that all we have to do is follow the rules and avoid all the snares, and nothing messy will happen in our churches. If we follow four, eight, or ten simple rules, strategies, or lessons, we’ll have enough money and enough missionaries, and we’ll look healthier than the church down the street.

My church was recently the case study for a lessons-we-can-learn article. Were the four lessons the author pointed out good lessons? Yes. But was the crisis my church went through really that simple? Not on your life. There were much more than four lessons to be learned. And if someone came in to my church, or any other church, and made sure these lessons were learned, would it fix everything? Not by a mile.

People are not projects

As an editor, I also wore the project manager hat, so naturally, I like lists, and articles written in this list style make me want to start checking off boxes. Is my pastor doing X, Y, and Z for missions? Is my congregation giving X amount of dollars based on our size? Check! Check! Check! Woo hoo! But when we think in terms of checklists, we often make people into projects, and we start thinking about how we can fix them or get more results from them rather than about how we can love them. Jesus loves his church from the collective Church spread throughout the world, to local congregations, down to each individual—and none of them can be boiled down to a simple project.

When we think in terms of checklists, we often make people into projects, and we start thinking about how we can fix them or get more results from them rather than about how we can love them.

Articles cannot replace the counsel found in reading God’s word, praying, and gathering with God’s people

The here-you-go, problem-solved tone of most list-style articles often makes it feel like you don’t need to look anywhere else for counsel. And that is appealing. Why? Because it takes work to read, understand, and apply God’s Word. Prayer often doesn’t give the instant answers or insights we want. And being part of God’s family on a local, tangible level is messier than being part of God’s family on the Internet. But these—the Bible, prayer, and community—are the primary means by which God speaks, and reading articles should just be a small part of that larger context.

Only the Gospel can transform

Whether it’s a list of strategies, steps, or lessons learned, no list has the power to change people; the most a list can do is point us to the One who can. Moses brought the ultimate list down from the mountain, and no one but Jesus could check everything off. When we boil things down to a simple list, we can miss the opportunity for the Gospel to shine through the weaknesses of our churches, pastors, leaders, and members. We think we can fix our church’s giving problem, erase our pastor’s scandal, convince people to serve, or have the perfect quiet time, and we make ourselves the judges of the progress.

There is so much good and helpful information for us to read, and the Holy Spirit can use list-style articles to bring clarity, to help us reflect, and to convict us of sin, so read all the three-things-you-should-do articles you want, but don’t lose your Gospel focus as you do.

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Eternal Perspective

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 2 Cor 5:16

It finally happened: the shift away from how little girls relate in the world to how big girls relate in the world. I think this shift happens with boys too, but I’m more acquainted with how it looks from a girl standpoint.

We’ve moved from the simple “Hey, you’re a girl. I’m a girl. Let’s play.” of the playground to the more complicated “Let me assess how my social status will be impacted by associating with you.” of school hallways and soccer practice. My daughter is still mostly in the simpler place—she just wants everyone to be friends. So, she is struggling to wrap her mind around why girls she’s known in one setting would give her the cold shoulder in another setting. Or why someone would agree to do something with her, but then back out when another offer comes along.

“We used to play American Girl dolls together, but now she won’t talk to me. Why?”

“Why would she say she would do something with me, but then go with someone else instead?”

Here’s the reality—this kind of stuff doesn’t go away. And, in fact, for Christians, we sometimes deal with it more. I desperately wish I could put this reality off—watching it breaks my heart. But instead, I’ll think about how to give her an eternal perspective.

Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners

Jesus is a friend to sinners. I want my daughter to understand that the girls who mistreat her are sinners—but, almost more importantly, that she is too. She also has the propensity to snub someone or to look out for her own interest over another person’s feelings. The main difference between her and most of the girls she knows is that she has a friend in Jesus—she can go to him when she is hurt; she can go to him when she hurts others. Jesus offers his grace to her, and she can offer that to others.

Directing her frustration, anger, or disappointment at individuals would be to misdirect it. What she’s really mad at is this present darkness and the evil one who caused all this brokenness, not the sinners who Jesus longs to redeem.

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

I also want her to understand that who she is does not depend on her friendships; it is rooted in the only One who can be a true friend. He bore all her sins and grief, and there is no one else in the entire world who would do that for her. He loves her with an unbreakable love—a love that is dependent on his loyalty, not hers. What a friend! It won’t matter if some girls on the soccer team snubbed her. At the end of her days, all that will matter is that she was counted among Jesus’ friends, and he will have a place of great honor for her.

It is hard to live in the already and the not yet. In this life she will have trouble, no doubt. She may even have more trouble because of her faith in Jesus. But Jesus is her friend now; he has already prepared a place for her—it’s true now, and it will be true then. And it should change her perspective.

Your Turn

  • In what relationships have you lost or never had an eternal perspective? How are those relationships suffering?
  • Do you believe that Jesus counts you as friend? Do you see him as the most loyal, loving, and trustworthy friend you could ever have? If not, why?

“I Believe. Help My Unbelief.” (Hebrews 3:7-19)

“…Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son.” (Heb 3:6). I’m going to say that again, “Christ is faithful.” Let that wash over you for just a moment. If you’re like me, you live much of your Christian life operating under the idea that it’s you who has to be faithful. But let me tell you this: any faithfulness you have flows out of Jesus’ faithfulness to you—and he is faithful to those who belong to him. So, when we “hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” we are demonstrating our belonging to him; we are assured we are in his house.

With verse 6 in mind, we can look at verse 7, which starts with a hearty “therefore” and proceeds with a warning taken from Psalm 95. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…” And the writer of Hebrews will say this two more times. He is reminding us that we’ve seen this story before—we know how this plays out. God’s people, Israel, were in the desert testing him (Exodus 17:1-7), and God patiently proved himself time and again. But they didn’t listen; they didn’t trust him. “They went astray in their hearts and did not know his ways.” (v. 10)

If you’re like me, you live much of your Christian life operating under the idea that it’s you who has to be faithful. But let me tell you this: any faithfulness you have flows out of Jesus’ faithfulness to you.

In the desert, the people focused on their circumstances rather than believing God’s promise. (Am I alone? Or does this sound familiar?) They even wanted to go back to their slavery because somehow that seemed better—at least slavery was predictable. The road to redemption is never easy. Ask anyone who has wrestled to bring some shameful, besetting sin to the foot of the cross. Ask Jesus, who walked the road of redemption through his suffering creation to pay for all those sins. That generation did not enter God’s rest—not because they couldn’t tough out their situation, but because they didn’t believe.

Unbelief. It’s a surprisingly benign word for such an insidious heart condition.

My husband is a firefighter-EMT. There are some professions that give you a very real sense of how broken this world is, and firefighter-EMT is one of them. One season, he went on several particularly tragic calls in a row—two sets of parents who lost children, a young man who took his own life, a marriage so sick that it ended in a scene Quentin Tarantino couldn’t conjure. “Career-enders” as they call these types of calls. I saw my husband trying to white-knuckle his way through that season, trying to tough it out and forgetting that God could be trusted. He was buried in the circumstances, and he dreaded going to work. But by God’s grace, through the exhortation of some of his brothers in the faith, and by holding to his original confidence in God and His goodness, my husband came through that season.

Unbelief. It’s a surprisingly benign word for such an insidious heart condition. It’s not an ugly word like rape, murder, gluttony, or deceit—words that instinctively register as negative in the conscience of most people. In John 6:29, Jesus says the work of God is to believe in the one he has sent. In Luke 9:24, the father of a demon possessed boy says to Jesus, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” And here in Hebrews 3, the author says Israel was unable to enter God’s rest because of unbelief. One of our biggest struggles (maybe it is our biggest struggle) is to believe—to believe that Jesus is who he said he is, to believe that he has forgiven us of all our sin, to believe that he is ruling and reigning even when things don’t make sense to us, to believe that he loves us with a,

“Never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.”
—Sally Lloyd-Jones

Therefore, the warning, “take care my brothers…” is very necessary—there is a precedent for it. Sin is deceitful; it can harden our hearts; it can cause unbelief; it can rob us of God’s rest. And instruction is necessary too:

God has spoken by his Son, so our hearts cry, “Jesus I believe! Help my unbelief!”

Your Turn

  • What sin are you a slave to or do you keep going back to? What might it look like to walk the road of redemption in regard to that sin?
  • What circumstances are you toughing out on your own? Who might you call on to exhort you?
  • What are some promises God has for his children? How do they encourage you?