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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Gospel Life Disconnect in the American Church

A friend posted a great quote on her blog:

“No amount of activity in the King’s service will make up for neglect of the King Himself.”–R.M. M’Cheyne

What a great quote. It kind of reminded me of this passage of Scripture:

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:38-42 ESV)

But it also reminded me of these two passages:

“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:22-23 ESV)

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV)

Anyway, the quote got me thinking about something that has been on my mind a lot. Often (in America at least) we preach a truncated gospel. We preach about creation and the fall, that every person is a sinner, that none of us can pay the price of our sin, that we need saving from the consequence of our sin (in particular eternal death), that Jesus came to pay the price of our sin, that through trusting Jesus (believing in Him and following Him), we can be saved (in particular from eternal death). And then we often stop here. And from here, many times a person becomes a Christian and then is groomed to focus the rest of their lives on sharing the gospel with others who do not yet know and trust Jesus. The result can be a joyless and awkward performance-driven striving to live “on mission”.

There is a hugely obvious missing link here. The key lies in this question: What relevance (beyond evangelism) does the gospel have in the life of a Christian after he or she is “saved”?  In other words, what does life with the King Himself look like?

The truth is that the gospel has implications in the life of a Christian beyond being saved from eternal death. We are not just being saved from eternal death, we are being saved to eternal life with our Good and Perfect God of the Universe! He is the God of love who created us. That life starts here on earth. We get to enjoy fellowship with Him and with His people, and He by His Spirit is transforming our hearts and character into His likeness. He is in the process of leading us into our new identity in Him as children of God and co-heirs with Christ. He is leading us into freedom from the things that have been bondage to us—like our sin and the sin committed against us. He has promised to not leave us as orphans. He has promised that all of the things that He is doing and allowing in our lives have a glorious purpose that He is bringing us to that makes everything worthwhile (and that is saying a lot considering the type of suffering there is in this world!). This brings comfort and joy in this life that supersedes (and often defies) our life circumstances. The more we meditate on Him, learn about His character and promises in His word, the more we communicate with Him through prayer and song, the more we fellowship with His people, the more we feel and experience the reality of this comfort and joy in this life. And we live in tremendous hope beyond this earthly life because we are promised to one day be with Him--finally unburdened by sin and suffering and completely free to enjoy our Creator in whose presence “there is fullness of joy” and at whose “right hand are pleasures forevermore”. (Psalm 16:11 ESV)

The Bible has much to say about this aspect of our salvation.  We see in books like Romans and Ephesians where the first section focuses on how God saves sinners and then the books transition into how the reality of this good news affects the life of a believer in community within a family, in a workplace, in a church, among neighbors and as citizens of a government. We are exhorted to live out of the reality that God so scandalously loved us while we were His enemies that He sacrificially gave of His life to rescue us and that He continues to love us scandalously by graciously transforming us from one degree of glory to the next in this life time. This has profound implications for the life of a believer! We are not left on our own to deal with our sin and wounded-ness alone, but rather God by His Spirit helps us by teaching us truth and empowering us to change as we behold Him and His character and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are equipped to help us with the unique gifts God has given them for the purpose of loving and helping others in the Body of Christ (and we have the privilege of using our unique God given gifts in the same way)! We are called to forgive others as God has forgiven us and to love others as God has loved us. We are called to participate in the unity of God the Father and God the Son through God the Spirit, alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ. As we live by the Spirit in the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ, the Spirit grows us and transforms us and produces in us spiritual fruit such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. We become disciples of Jesus.

Interestingly, this concept is contained in the Great Commission itself (the foundational text for the “missional” life):

“’Go therefore and make
disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”(Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)

This life of abiding in Christ and experiencing the realities of relationship with Him and His people is the life of a disciple--it is the point of being saved! EVERY CHRISTIAN NEEDS THIS! There are no super-Christians. It doesn't matter if you have been a Christian for decades or whether you are unusually gifted or whether you are in leadership or whether you are famous. There are no self-sufficient Christians. Every human being is wounded by this life and its trials and sorrows. Every human being is wounded by their own sin and by the sin committed against them. Some appear more “needy” than others, and yet we all are in great need.  The truth often is that some are better at hiding and denying their neediness, or white knuckling, or being distracted through life than others.

But so many times, God’s people are taught to believe in Jesus and then to go and make disciples without really even learning what it is to be a disciple, to live a gospel saturated life, to live in gospel community, or to grow in the knowledge of Jesus through studying the Bible! Of course the result is often joyless "obedience" or walking through the motions, performance-driven despair, and even an agenda-driven awkwardness at best and lack of love at worst.  Sharing our faith becomes more like selling a product. It feels like one of those awkward pyramid scheme pitches. Church becomes a big business of producing converts who in turn produce converts. And all the while we secretly feel condemnation because we do not know joy, we do not feel brotherly affection, and (although we are quick to say that we want to live for the glory of God) we have no idea what the glory of God is! Sometimes we feel "used" by God and His people (in a negative sense) because we are so focused on "doing" rather than first experiencing the riches of an ongoing relationship with God and His people. We are slower to open ourselves up to one another and we are slower to humbly listen to counsel from one another, preferring our independent lives or engaging in “community” so long as it is the warm and fuzzy conflict-free type.  We live in fear and hide our true lives (especially our weaknesses and sins and struggles) from each other.  As a result, we are quicker to part ways when disagreement and conflict arises because we do not invest in living out the gospel in safe communities where we image God to one another in humble, persevering, and sacrificial gospel love.  Our definition of “success” becomes the numbers of “converts” we have, rather than actually experiencing and showing others how to experience the riches of knowing Christ and growing in things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control by His Spirit!

When we abide in Christ and the application of the gospel in our lives every day, sharing our lives and our faith with others becomes a bi-product of our love for God and our love for people. We want to share about who God is because He is revealing marvelous things about Himself to us! And we want to serve and bless people who know Him and people who don’t because we start to see God’s creation through His eyes of love. And the Holy Spirit births in us sincere, authentic, and unforced love for others. And we find ourselves even loving those who are difficult to love or those who have hurt and betrayed us. Living “missionally” (aka a life of efficacious love that demonstrates the gospel to others) becomes an unforced outflow of the gospel life of a disciple.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Few Great Quotes From the First Couple Chapters of "No Ordinary Marriage: Together for God's Glory" by Tim Savage

“No Ordinary Marriage Together for God’s Glory” by Tim Savage.

“We all know that one of the greatest social scourges of our day is the failure of marriages, and not just marriages that collapse in separation and divorce, but also those which, while remaining “intact” become severely strained and emotionally scarred. One recent study reveals that nine out of ten marriages are ‘filled with dissatisfaction in every dimension of the relationship’  Nor is this just a modern malady.  Marital unhappiness has been a blemish on every age. Martin Luther, the great sixteenth-century Christian Reformer whose own marriage became a model for generations of German partnerships commented on the absence of good marriages in his day: ‘When I see a husband and a wife who are at one I am glad as if I were in a garden of roses. It is rare.’ ” p 16-17
“…we would expect God’s glory to be the most treasured ingredient of marriage. Most often, it is not.  We treasure other things far more—rings, sex, babies. But this is because we understand divine glory only in part. We imagine it to be exceedingly brilliant, even blinding, causing our spines to tingle and our breath to be stolen away. Emanating direction from God himself, we suppose it to be matchlessly beautiful, utterly awe-inspiring, and somewhat terrifying.  Beyond that, we find it difficult to quantify.  For most of us, the glory of God remains an abstraction cloaked in a mystery.  Yet divine glory is more accessible than we might think.  According to King Solomon, the whole earth is filled with Gods’ glory (Ps. 72:19).  That means everywhere we look, from the tiniest molecule to the largest ocean, we see evidence of God’s glory.  Woven into the fabric of every bird of paradise, every polished agate, every towering sequoia, every emerald lake, every microscopic atom, and, especially every human being—woven into every visible component of the physical world is a breathtaking display of the glory of the One who fashioned those components. And not just the visible world, but also the invisible universe—or multiuniverse as astral physicists now name interstellar space. In the words of King David, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God’ (Ps. 19:1)”  P. 20
“’[For this cause], a man shall leave his father and his mother and [be united] to his wife, (v.24)’ Naturally we want to ask, For what cause shall a man be united to his wife? The context supplies an answer: because of everything God has done to form this union, be-cause of his involvement at every stage of its development, be-cause of the heavy allotment of glory he has invested in this partnership. We marry, not primarily for our own benefit and pleasure, nor principally for the comfort of mutual own benefit and pleasure, not principally for the comfort of mutual affection, nor ultimately for the joy of bearing and raising children—we marry be-cause in a work of unparalleled glory the Lord built this union.  We marry because of his glory.” P. 23
“The blessings of a union cemented by God’s glory are manifold.  First of all, such a marriage will be invulnerable to the vacillating circumstances of life.  For many couples, change threatens marital harmony.  When time steals away the youthful features of a wife or produces hormonal swings and unpredictable emotions, husbands may be tempted to look elsewhere for more attractive and predictable companionship.  When the stresses of work erode a husband’s self-respect and diminish his capacity for sensitivity, a wife may be tempted to look further afield for her encouragement.  But this will be the case only if partners focus on the oscillating drama of feminine beauty and masculine strength.  If, instead, they cling to the glory of God as the rope that secures their union, the fluctuating circumstances of life will, far from destabilize their marriage, provide grounds for a deeper bond.  This is because the glory of God is stronger in its capacity to bind than circumstances are in their capacity to divide.” P. 25
“…when spouses fix their gazes on the glory of the Lord, they need never despair over apparent incompatibilities. While it is always important before marriage to assess the compatibility of a potential  partner, the matter becomes moot after marriage. No alleged incompatability will ever be able to break apart a husband and a wife, who focus on the glory of God. Differences are inevitable in marriage: one partner may be quiet and deliberate and the other excitable and spontaneous; one may prefer directness and the other withdrawal.  But such differences will never become ‘irreconcilable,’ a line of thinking too convenient for husbands and wives today.  Even the most disparate partners will be unified by the glory of the Lord, because divine glory is more able to bind than incompatibilities are to divide.” P. 25

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Neediness in the Family of God

The audio from my husband, Kristian Ellefsen's, sermon on the "Children of God" from August 5th is available here: preached on how God calls us to be needy.

This sermon got me thinking about a lot of things. One of them is church culture.

By “needy”, Kristian is not talking about being demanding of others to meet our needs. He is not talking about idolizing people or allowing or expecting people to fill a role that only God was meant to fill in our lives. He is not talking about an obsession with self or an unhealthy introspection. He is not talking about selfish excuses not to love and humbly serve those around us. He is not talking about laziness or suggesting we do not seek to work hard and excel in the things that we are called and equipped by God to do. Rather, he is talking about a humble posture that acknowledges that we do not exist apart from God’s sovereign hand. We need Him for everything. We were created to need Him. And an important way that God administers His grace, love, and help to us is through each other!

Being needy tends to be a negative term in our culture and even in churches--especially the longer you are a Christian and especially if you are in leadership. It is just one of the ways the church has borrowed secular business principles in a way that is not consistent with living as the family of God. Drive or ambition that is funneled through self-sufficiency and individualism is something that is prized in the business world and the competition that it breeds often leads to tremendous innovation.

And yet, the Bible presents a radically different way of living where we are called to humility and an acknowledgment of our dependence on God firstly, but also we are told that we were created to rely on one another as we image Him to each other and administer His grace to each other. While at times our “achievements” and feelings of independence in life can deceive us into thinking we are self-sufficient, Acts 17 tells us that we depend on God for even the most basic human act of breathing! And 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Peter 4:10 are examples of how we need each other in the Body of Christ.

In church culture, sometimes we look down on those in the Body who appear “needy” or “high maintenance”, as if those who need are somehow less spiritual or have less faith than those who are “put together” or those who have learned to “feed themselves”. (Interestingly, the people Jesus hung out with during His life on earth were what we could recognize as needy!) Sometimes we ignore our neediness because it is too much for us to do deal with--either because it is too painful or to wearisome to ourselves and others. (If we tire of our own selves, how much more will we tire the "friends" around us.)  Sometimes neediness is figuratively beaten out of people in churches through “tough love” measures. Sometimes we distract ourselves from our neediness (knowingly and unknowingly) with so many things that we become blind or apathetic toward our own great need. We even get distracted by good things like leading and serving others.  Sometimes we are deluded into thinking others are more “put together” due to a church culture where we hide our sin and mess from each other out of fear of looking bad or being rejected or shunned by the Body. And in particular for men in the church, there is sometimes an over-compensation against the sinful passivity of men in the church where now the pendulum has swung the other way and “Biblical” masculinity is presented more like a caricature of tough, emotionless, sports-loving, meat-eating, testosterone pumped “dudes” rather what we see in Scripture (for example, Scriptures that address men specifically--like Ephesians 5:25-33 or 1 Timothy 3:1-7 or Titus 2—or Scriptures that talk about the fruit of the Spirit in general, or even Scriptures that point us to the example Jesus modeled (!). In Jesus, we see such strength and tenderness, such power and humility, such emotion and sharpness of mind, and such a strong dependence on the Father. Interestingly, these traits are treasures in women too!). And yet men in the church are often shamed out of acknowledging or displaying neediness of almost any kind.

I have noticed that the Christians who have most impacted me with their faith-backed wisdom and example are Christians who are aware of their brokenness. Many of these Christians have walked through circumstances of suffering or struggles with sin or weaknesses (much like the “thorn” that Paul references) that have taught them of their own need. Frequently (but not always) they are Christians who have walked in faith for much longer than I have. These are Christians who have such a strong and beautiful glimpse of the great sacrificial love and grace by which the God of the Universe saved His rebellious creation (i.e. all of us!). They are slower to judge those around them for this reason and are quicker to show compassion and tenderness without compromising truth. These are Christians who live out and out of the grace they have experienced in Christ and in their need of Him. These Christians are like a breath of fresh air. Instead of pointing me to themselves or to the law, they point me to the freedom and hope that they have found in Christ. They point me to the heart of love that my Heavenly Father has for me without sugar coating my sin, minimizing the pain in the struggles of life, or making much of themselves. They are not full of platitudes or Pharisaical and self-righteous remarks. They are not characterized by boasting or self-deprecation. They are not afraid to share from the messiness of their lives. Rather, their brokenness and awareness of their need before God has produced a quiet and steady confidence and hope in God that is grounded in humility. As they have acknowledged their need before God, God has filled these Christians with His love—both with His love for them but also with authentic affection and love for those around them—even those of us who are the most inconvenient or hardest to love. God uses these Christians to show His love and grace and to create an environment where others feel safe to express their need too. One of these dear saints in our lives frequently tells us “I am not going anywhere”. This friend understands steadfastness and perseverance in love. And in doing so, this friend has imaged God’s love to us in such a beautiful and powerful and life impactful way.

I pray for God to mold me and mature me like this too!

If you want another example of the posture of godly neediness that I am talking about, a great book to read is “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence. Here it is on

To go directly to Kristian’s sermon on neediness, click here:

Acts 17:24-25 ESV “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”         

1 Corinthians 12:12-27 “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say,“Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

1 Peter 4:8-11 ESV “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Sunday, August 12, 2012


image courtesy of google images
All I have to do is open my eyes.  Whether I am watching my television, browsing Facebook, or stepping out my front door, it beckons to me…awakening a desire that ironically has less to do with what is outside of me than what is within me.  A healthy and attractive body, a great personality, a meaningful and interesting occupation, a secure income, a retirement plan, a loving and appealing spouse, 2.5 healthy and obedient kids, cool and engaging friends, a comfortable home filled with beautiful and innovative things, experiences that appeal to our physical senses, the praise of others…it’s the American Dream.  Add going to a “successful” (read: large, hip, program-rich, entertaining church) and participating in a satisfying ministry and the Christian American Dream is not much different.

Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things.  To the contrary, all of these things at their best are simply good gifts given by a gracious Heavenly Father. When received with the grateful, God-focused heart, they are blessings.  When sought after with a ravenous, lustful, insatiable, idolatrous, apathetic heart, they breed bondage and discontentment.

As fallen humans, we turn at least some of these things into distractions from our true purpose as children of God, either because: 1) we are so satiated by these things that we no longer feel our need for God and we no longer live for what is beyond this life--the hope of glory—a life where we will joyfully experience the presence of God with no limitations; or 2) we lust after these things more than we hunger after God and His kingdom; or 3) we wallow in our self-pity when we do not have these things; or 4) we are driven by and for these things and so we order our lives based on the pursuit of these things.  Most of us have struggled in all of these ways.

I recently had a conversation with a good friend about how our lives did not turn out as we had expected or planned.  We were talking about how much of our expectations of life had more to do with our own comfort than it did with the fact that God is preparing us for something that is so much more than this life.

Today I listened to this sermon from John Piper:

This section really spoke to me:

O how easy it is to slip into a morose pity-party that our little heaven on earth is becoming a hell! We were never promised that earth would be our heaven before Christ returns. And you are preparing for yourself a great disappointment if you try to make it so.

“We rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). “In this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” — joyful patience (Romans 8:24–25). “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8).

I am reminded that this life is not all that there is.  As I once heard a friend describe it, we are in the middle! This life is not an end, but rather this life is a means to an end.  It is leading us somewhere.  For those who belong to Christ, all the things of this life—the good, the bad, the easy, the difficult—all of it is being used to conform our character to Christ’s character and to transform us from one degree of glory to the next. 

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30 ESV)

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV)

Believing that there is a God who is greater than anything we can imagine and believing our life has a bigger purpose than what we see around us on a daily basis, leads us to the following:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV)

The things we treasure above God are often so subtley interwoven into our lives and motives that we do not even conciously recognize them.  How can we know where our treasure is? 

            What occupies our thoughts and why?

            What occupies our time and why?

            Where does our money go and why?            

            Where does our energy go and why?

            What makes us happy and why?

            What makes us depressed and why?

            What makes us feel desperate and why?

            What could we not live without and why?

            What makes us feel insecure or confident and why?

            How do we define success?

Oh Lord, teach us to sing from the depths of hearts along with the Psalmist and to live out with our thoughts, plans, actions, and affections the following:

            How lovely is your dwelling place,
                        O LORD of hosts!
            My soul longs, yes, faints
                        for the courts of the LORD;
            my heart and flesh sing for joy
                        to the living God.

            Even the sparrow finds a home,
                        and the swallow a nest for herself,
                        where she may lay her young,
            at your altars, O LORD of hosts,
                        my King and my God.

            Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
                        ever singing your praise! Selah
            Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
                        in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

            As they go through the Valley of Baca
                        they make it a place of springs;
                        the early rain also covers it with pools.
            They go from strength to strength;
                        each one appears before God in Zion.

            O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;
                        give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah

            Behold our shield, O God;
                        look on the face of your anointed!

            For a day in your courts is better
                        than a thousand elsewhere.

            I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
                       than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

            For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
                        the LORD bestows favor and honor.

            No good thing does he withhold
                        from those who walk uprightly.

            O LORD of hosts,

                        blessed is the one who trusts in you!

(Psalm 84 ESV)