Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Clarifying The Active and Passive Obedience of Jesus Christ

[We cannot] allocate certain phases or acts of our Lord’s life on earth to the active obedience and certain other phases and acts to the passive obedience.

The distinction between the active and passive obedience is not a distinction of periods. It is our Lord’s whole work of obedience in every phase and period that is described as active and passive, and we must avoid the mistake of thinking that the active obedience applies to the obedience of his life and the passive obedience to the obedience of his final sufferings and death.

The real use and purpose of the formula is to emphasize the two distinct aspects of our Lord’s vicarious obedience. The truth expressed rests upon the recognition that the law of God has both penal sanctions and positive demands. It demands not only the full discharge of its precepts but also the infliction of penalty for all infractions and shortcomings. It is this twofold demand of the law of God which is taken into account when we speak of the active and passive obedience of Christ. Christ as the vicar of his people came under the curse and condemnation due to sin and he also fulfilled the law of God in all its positive requirements. In other words, he took care of the guilt of sin and perfectly fulfilled the demands of righteousness. He perfectly met both the penal and the preceptive requirements of God’s law. The passive obedience refers to the former and the active obedience to the latter.  John Murray, Redemption -Accomplished and Applied, pp. 20-22.

Jesus' “passive” and “active” obedience were lifelong aims as he fulfilled both the demands and suffered the penalties of God’s law, both of which culminated in the cross.

Monday, June 11, 2018

John Calvin on Union with Christ

We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ [Acts 4:12]. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is “of him” [1 Cor 1:30]. If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth. For by his birth For by his birth he was made like us in all respects [Heb 2:17] that he might learn to feel our pain [compare to Heb 5:2]. If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross [Gal 3:13]; if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other. John Calvin, Institutes, 2.16.19.

For John Calvin, the whole life of the Christian life is found in our union with Christ!

Friday, June 8, 2018


From Facts & Trends . . .
pastor five phrases
By Don Ballard
Pastors do a lot of talking. They are wordy, and often too wordy. I know because I am one.
Pastors are usually good with words. They are good at crafting thoughts and breaking down ideas. Pastors are usually top-level communicators and smooth translators of the gospel.
However, pastors are not always good at speaking to congregants or friends about faith outside the pulpit. Specifically, they don’t always do well with speaking truth to people who don’t know they need to have truth spoken to them: in the midst of their sin, their stubbornness, or their spiritual silliness.
Confronting people can be difficult because of the fear of retaliation. However, it is essential to the role of the pastor that plain truth be given to people to correct, rebuke, and encourage them to change their mind and actions.
Because it is not easy or natural, it may be helpful for a pastor to learn a few phrases in preparation for conversations in the foyer after church, in the coffee shop, or at Walmart when you bump into an angry congregant. Feel free to use these as appropriate.
“It does matter.”
It does matter what the Bible says about your marriage. Dr. Phil can be good, but the gospel is better.
It does matter what the church has taught regarding sex, marriage, parenting, leadership, and about 1,000 other issues.
It does matter how people feel after you attack them, gossip about them, or ignore them.
It does matter how a Christian lives in the community of faith—the historic and global community, not just the local one. It does matter.
“Go back to your church.”
This is something every pastor must say to people who say they are “visiting” from the church across town, but are really just church shopping.
Don’t see those folks as potential tithers, golfing friends, kids’ worship volunteers, or warm bodies in the seats. See them as confused Christians who think they can vote with their feet.
In almost every circumstance, Christians who are a part of one faith community need to stay in there for the long haul so that life and faith are balanced through thick and thin, good and bad, easy and difficult moments.
Resist the temptation to assimilate them. Instead, encourage them to go back. You don’t want your congregation to become a gathering place for disgruntled Christians.
“Why are you so mad?”
People are mad these days. Occasionally they see their own anger, but usually they have no clue.
They need a pastor to point it out to them and ask them why anger is among their most common reaction and facial expression. No one should be content with living angrily.
The church is not a gathering of the grumblers or a meeting of the mad at heart. Unrighteous anger has no place in the church, and pastors must call it out.
“I am sorry.”
This one is not for church members, but for us pastors. We need to learn how to say we are sorry. We need to learn how to ask for forgiveness.
We need to learn how to repent of our sin against our sister or brother. We need to recognize when we are wrong.
Claim it. Turn from it. Be reconciled to those we have hurt.
“God bless you.”
We are familiar with this phrase, but we probably use it only in a benediction or when someone sneezes during the sermon.
It might be helpful to incorporate these words into our daily vocabulary so that when we are insulted, undermined, or abandoned we might release our hurt feelings with a graceful exchange.
These words would be useful when we have to confront someone who is causing friction in the congregation, but we want to end without hard feelings.
Instead of a guilt trip or coarse language that lays a foundation of anger or bitterness, these would be excellent last words for those who have announced they are leaving the church.
We may not change people by the words we share with them. They may refuse our pastoral direction, and they may reject us as a voice of spiritual authority in their lives. But we must speak into their experience anyway.
This is pastoral ministry. We are not champions or “the savior of the day.” We are witnesses of the gospel full of grace and truth for the congregation that passes before us.
May God give us both wisdom and conviction in our conversations for His glory and for the strengthening of His church.
DON BALLARD (@GDonBallard) is the lead pastor at Newark Church of the Nazarene in Newark, Ohio, a multisite church with an additional online ministry. You can read more from Don at his site: Preaching to Me.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A Book Review of The Discipleship Gospel
There have been myriad books written in the last several years on making disciples and discipleship.  Some are better than others; this is one of the better ones.  I have been greatly helped by Bill Hull in the classroom, in personal conversations and through his books; so, when I saw this new book released I had to read it.  The Discipleship Gospel by Bill Hull and Ben Sobels combines thoughtful theological reflection with practical suggestions for making disciples in the local church.  Bill Hull has a long history of writing and training pastors to make disciples in the local church.  Sobels works with Hull in The Bonhoeffer Project, the latter’s ministry venue for training pastors and leaders in making disciples.  This book is one of many resources coming out of
Hull and Sobels contend that the primary gospel preached in America is what they describe as the “forgiveness only gospel” which focuses solely on sin and atonement.  In its most common and simplest form, someone says a prayer and agrees with a few propositional truths but life change and discipleship is optional.  The authors do not believe that this is the biblical gospel and therefore those who have believed this gospel have not truly trusted Christ.  They also discuss the problems of preaching a false gospel that does not naturally lead to discipleship and disciple-making.  Hull and Sobels argue that the biblical gospel consists of seven elements, providing the framework for defining the gospel.  They desire that this discipleship gospel creates a disciple-making movement.
The book is divided into three parts.  Part 1 considers the seven elements that make up the gospel Jesus preached.  The gospel itself consists of four elements or declarative statements: the kingdom is here; Jesus is the Christ; he died for our sins; and finally, was resurrected from the dead.  The gospel call includes an additional three elements or imperatives: the need to repent of sin; believe the gospel; and follow Jesus.  The distinctiveness of the discipleship gospel is the need to follow Jesus as a necessary response to the gospel.
Part 2 develops each of these seven elements.  The authors review the nature of the kingdom, how understanding the kingdom is essential to understanding the gospel and empowers one to make disciples.  They provide biblical support for Jesus as the Christ, his death, how his resurrection leads to discipleship, and following Jesus as a necessary element of believing the gospel.  The gospel does not just lead to discipleship but discipleship is an essential element of the gospel; hence, the discipleship gospel.  The book seeks to correct the deficiency the authors see in false gospels that do not lead to discipleship. 
Part 3 suggests a process for making disciples in the local church.  This starts with proclaiming the discipleship gospel by calling individuals to both discipleship and also disciple-making.  Here, they finally define the gospel as a narrative form of the seven elements described in part 1.  Proclaiming the discipleship gospel leads to making disciples. 
There is much to commend about The Discipleship Gospel.  It defines the gospel as more than just propositional truths but includes the response Jesus demands: following him in obedience or discipleship and disciple-making.  All of this is missing in much of American Christianity.  The authors also give some helpful suggestions to pastors desiring to make disciples in the local church.  Chapter fourteen has some wonderful advice for pastors and Christian leaders on developing a satisfied soul that is worth the price of the book!  Hull gives a list of activities that will help lead to a satisfied soul that every pastor and Christian leader would benefit from reading (153). 
Yet at times the authors are not clear in their discussion of the relationship between faith and works or obedience.  For example, they state that it’s impossible to separate belief from action, and that faith and action are the same (20)!  At one point the authors mention the obedience of faith in Romans 1:5 (63) but do not clearly communicate the relationship between faith and obedience; that is, that faith brings about obedience.  This is key to the discipleship gospel lest obedience falls into the error of moralism or legalism.  Also, as I read this book as well as “Conversion and Discipleship” by Hull, I cannot help but wonder whether the problem is a deficient gospel or a deficient faith-  or both.  It seems to me that the problem can be found in a deficiency in our understanding of both the gospel and saving faith.
That being said, this is a very helpful book for pastors and Christian leaders seeking to get a better understanding of discipleship and desiring to make disciples.  I agree with their premise that there is a deficient gospel in much of western Christianity and that obedience and discipleship and disciple-making are often seen as optional to the Christian life. 
The publisher is offering a free PDF of the first few chapters for review here and free shipping and 10% off purchase price through June 17 here. Use the code TAYLOR at checkout.

I want to thank the publisher for a complimentary copy of the book for review.

One Way To Deepen Relationships

This is a blog on developing relationships in missional communities or small groups but the principles apply universally!  From the Gravity Leadership blog.
One of the questions we get a lot is “How do we cultivate a stronger sense of community in our groups?” It seems many leaders are noticing that it’s easy to organize groups around projects or curriculum, but more challenging to cultivate a real sense of spiritual family.
I’m going to share a practice that we’ve engaged in that’s been really helpful for this. But first, let’s talk about words.

Words create worlds

How many words do you hear in a day?
Some say 30,000 words; others put the total much higher. This varies from person to person, depending on environment, personality and many other factors. (Parents of young kids who hear questions ALL. DAY. LONG. are definitely on the higher end!)
Point is we hear words all the time. But words are more than just sounds that bring information. Words have power to do a lot more.
Rabbi Abraham Heschel says, “Words create worlds.” They have the power to create when spoken. They bring about new realities.
The universe was brought into existence through words. In Genesis, God said “Let there be light,” and there was light. God spoke and our world was brought to life.
“Words are God’s tool for creating the universe,” says Susannah Heschel. They are his creation tool for bringing life into being.
Jesus healed people with words. Many suffering from sickness were made completely well by hearing two small words: “Be healed.” Their lives were changed in an instant. All sorts of possibilities were suddenly open to them because of just two small sounds.

Using our words like God

Since we are created in God’s image we also have the powerful gift of words. And with this gift comes great responsibility. The Book of Proverbs tells us that death and life are in the power of the tongue. We must be full of care when using this powerful tool. Words have the ability to completely change the trajectory of someone’s life.
How many of us remember something spoken to us as children that still seems to hinder us today? Or something spoken to us that encouraged us that we continually go back to for strength?
Words have power to harm, tear down, destroy, break apart. Words also have power to heal, help, encourage, strengthen, embolden and empower.
Since we’re created in God’s image I wonder what comes into existence when we use our words to bless someone else? What kind of world could be opened up in conversations within our communities? What new reality could be created?

Blessing with our words

So here’s one way to deepen relationships in missional communities – it’s a practice that uses the power of words. It’s called “Birthday Blessings.”
It’s pretty simple: If anyone has a birthday coming up, we take a few minutes to name some things that we see and appreciate in that person.
Here are a few examples:
  • “I’ve noticed how you’re always smiling and how much I love that about you. I can’t count the number of times your smile has brightened my day. And your laugh is so contagious! I really love your laugh. You are such a joy to be around and a great friend.”
  • “I appreciate how you ask lots of questions. They are always so interesting and insightful. I love how God has made you to be curious. Keep asking questions and being curious!”
  • “I love how good you are with children. You seem to find so much joy playing with them, helping them and talking with them. I think you have a real gift!”
  • “You have a way with other people that really puts them at ease. I think people find it easy to trust you. You’re a great listener and I always know you care deeply.”
Through this practice, we are speaking good news over one another. We speak identity and calling into each other. We are gospeling each other and this calls us into something deeper. It sometimes helps us see things we haven’t seen before. And it sometimes confirms something we have known, but perhaps have doubted.
There is a simplicity in this practice and yet it never fails to be an incredibly significant time for everyone involved. It’s a powerful practice because it is one of the ways that we build a sense of family among us.
It fosters connection by saying “I see you. I hear you. I appreciate you. You are valued here and we wouldn’t be the same without you.” It calls us up, cultivates life and even sometimes, brings much needed healing.
This practice can be a particularly significant for children. It’s one thing for a child’s parent to tell them something they like about them. But when other people in the community speak this into a child, it has a different impact.

Do try this at home 😉

Next time you’re with your missional community or small group or just with your own family, try doing this. Intentionally bless someone with your words. Share something you’re noticing about them or something you appreciate about them and see what happens.
(You don’t need to reserve it for people with birthdays, of course! We sometimes do a spontaneous appreciation party where we just appreciate everyone at the table like this.)
Just try it, I guarantee you will walk away different.

Monday, June 4, 2018

The God They Believe In

Our culture is creating a god in thier own image.  Helpful observations from James Emory White.
Former Harvard Chaplain George Buttrick had students who would come into his office and say, "I don't believe in God." His standard reply was: "Sit down and tell me what kind of God you don't believe in. I probably don't believe in that God either."
His point was that the distorted view of God they were rejecting was undoubtedly not the true, biblical view of God at all.
We need to update that strategy.
As in: "Sit down and tell me what kind of God you do believe in. I probably don't believe in that God at all."
80% of Americans believe in God. The Pew Research Center recently found out what people mean who say that, and it's a mess. In short, for many of those who say they believe in God, it's not the God of the Bible.
And they know it.
Of the 80% who say they believe in God, only 56% would say it's the God of the Bible. Even those who say the God they believe in is the God of the Bible have the God of the Bible wrong. Many who say they believe in God describe this "god" as a higher power or spiritual force. Think Star Wars. A God who is all-knowing, all-powerful and loving? Not so much.
But what I found missing in the research, undoubtedly because of the nature of the questions asked, was something I am increasingly finding in the post-Christian world.
This idea of "my" God.
As in, "That's not the way my God thinks."
"That's not the way my God feels."
Throw up an idea, a position, a theology, and the answer is the same:
"That's not my God."
The unmistakable insinuation? "You might think God acts or feels that way, but that's not the way the God I believe in acts or feels because I wouldn't have a God who acted and felt like that."
There is no sense that God is who He is, outside of anyone's estimation or evaluation. Or that He has revealed Himself and truth about Himself through divinely inspired Scriptures and, supremely, through His incarnation in Jesus.
Instead, God becomes what we envision, what we idealize, what we desire. He becomes the notary public to whatever we wish to make official. God is not above our values or judge of our values—He is the reflection of our values.
This is, of course, no God at all.
When God becomes a projection of ourselves, He ceases to be God and we recommit the great sin of the Garden of Eden and make ourselves God.
I wish the days of Buttrick were still here. It would be so much easier. But no longer is it "tell me about the God you don't believe in," and then we quickly clear up their misunderstandings about the God of the Bible, usually by helping them see past legalism into grace.
Welcome news to most.
Now we have to brace ourselves and ask, "Tell me about the God you do believe in," and then wade into theologies that have nothing to do with the Bible, but everything to do with individual tastes and sensibilities. Which usually means helping them see past their narcissism to a God who authoritatively stands outside of their individualism as… well, God.
Not so welcome news to most.
But it's the news they need.
James Emery White

"When Americans Say They Believe in God, What Do They Mean?" Pew Research Center, April 25, 2018, read online.
Kate Shellnutt, "80% of Americans Believe in God. Pew Found Out What They Mean," Christianity Today, April 25, 2018, read online.

Friday, May 25, 2018

5 Keys To Having Meaningful, Life-Giving Conversations With Non-Christians

Helpful post on meaningful conversations with anyone from Carey Nieuwhof . . .  
by Rose Meeder  
At some point, if you are sincere about your Christian faith, you are going to have a conversation with someone about it.  Or are you?
Let me back up a minute, if “being a Christian” is something you take seriously, you are probably going to THINK about having a conversation with someone about it.  AND – you may wonder HOW to have that conversation.
Listen, I have been a Christian my whole life and have also been a thoughtful student of the human art of conversation for years and I find this thing – “sharing my faith” – incredibly hard to do. 
But I WANT to – I really want to.  I actually believe that meeting Jesus on this side of heaven will make life richer and more joyful and more peaceful than anything else available to us.  There is a tenacity and fierceness to God’s love through Jesus that holds people firmer in the face of life’s struggles than anyone can imagine. 
I want everyone to know this. 
Well, the key is figuring out how to start, how to continue the conversation and eventually, how to let it go.
Join me here:
Relationships are complicated.  Communication between two individuals is often fraught with misunderstanding.  The timing isn’t always right and sometimes you are just not in the mood.
But despite all that, I want to let you in on a few key principles that you absolutely need to know before you take this type of conversation on. 
Here they are:

1. Move Past Your Own Assumptions. 

Often, we have already pre-decided what someone thinks about God. 
You may know that a person doesn’t attend church regularly so you assume that they think spiritual things are irrelevant.  Really?  Why continue to assume that, if there is no evidence to support it?  You haven’t asked the person yet. Yes, there is a risk in asking, but make sure your preconceived hunch is not cheating you out of a conversation you are both interested in having. 
Statistically, we know that more people are interested in faith conversations than not.  If you play the odds, the person you are sitting across from is more-likely wishing you would bring it up.

2. Express A Genuine Interest. 

Don’t begin with your baptism story. 
First, ask him how he is doing, ask how she is really doing.  And then, listen.  Your first several conversations may never include a single idea of your own.  Ask about life and ideas and plans and achievements and concerns and anxieties.  Be intentionally respectful.
You should hear yourself saying “What do you think about that?”  “How did you come to feel this way?”  “What’s it like for you when that happens?”  Validate.  Empathize.  Be motivated by a genuine desire to engage.  When their story breaks your heart, because real life has a way of doing that, tell them you don’t know what to say but politely offer, that when you have been similarly at the very end of yourself, you have prayed about it.  Because that is being honest – the last time you had no idea how to fix your broken heart, you prayed – and by offering to do for someone else what you would do for yourself, you are caring for them.
If you don’t care about this person, you don’t get to nudge the conversation into the faith-arena.  You don’t get to invite them to church.  You don’t get to share your spiritual opinions. 
So if you find yourself engaged in a conversation with someone, and get distracted or caught up with some selfish thoughts, stop thinking you will share your faith with them.  You shouldn’t.  First comes the caring and then comes the sharing.  Your first conversation earns you the right to the next conversation.  Keep this top of mind.

3. Know Your Truth. 

I think about Billy Graham.  He stands out in the crowd of humanity as one of the most influential leaders of all time.  He knew his truth.  His passion for teaching millions came from a deeply personal conviction centred around the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the spiritual reconciliation this offered to the world. 
Billy Graham had studied the scriptures to the point that he could not keep this life-saving message of unconditional and super-natural love and acceptance to himself.  Out of this conviction, Billy Graham shared his faith. 
Reach daily into scripture and apply the words of Jesus and words of the Apostle Paul to your life.  You will nurture and ground your soul.  God will use you.

4. Share Your Stuff. 

Everybody has stuff.  Your life is not all together.  Life is sometimes hard for everybody.  Be appropriately but profoundly honest. 
Talk about how your job leaves you dissatisfied, how you struggle to get a good night’s sleep, how you are seeing a marriage counselor, how you worry about your kids and your weight and your money. 
If you share your thoughts on God in the absolutely false context that your life is perfect, your shared words will fly-fly-away on the next winsome breeze of nothingness because what you have to say about God doesn’t really matter anyway.  You obviously don’t need Him.  You have got life figured out on your own.  That will be a shame, when all the while you want to communicate that God’s redeeming love bolsters you and grounds you. 
The truth is that you believe that Jesus died for all the bad, unexplainable anguish and garbage going on in the world and going on in your life.  Tell your friend that.  They will listen. 

5. Let Go. 

You are going to invest in people by sharing your spiritual world-view and undeniably, the truth of what you share has the power to transform. 
When people lean into God-conversations, the possibilities for life-change is incredible.  You will be offering a peek inside of a heart and mind sold out for God and that is wonderful.  This extension of yourself will be a gift that could truly transform your friend’s experience of living.  Or maybe it won’t.  Maybe someone will grow to like you but at the same time, will turn you down every time you invite them to church.  Maybe it will feel odd when you offer to pray for someone’s loss and you will only receive a grateful smile but a guarded expression.  This person who now trusts you and cares about you too, will possibly always let you talk about your Christianity but never be influenced to take on those views for themselves.  And you know what?  That’s ok.  The potential conviction of knowing their need for a Saviour might happen in their heart but it just as likely, might not.  That’s not your responsibility.  That’s not your job.  It is a noble and even righteous goal to bring people to Christ but don’t make a single person your conversion-project. 
Let. that. go.  And while you do, continue to vulnerably invest and also deepen your own faith.  Never stop being “for” your friend and focus on moving past the judgments and assumptions that will threaten your friendship.  God has got this. 
Relax and enjoy knowing that. Proclaim well.
Today’s post is a guest post by Rose Meeder. Not only is Rose a close friend, Rose is a physician, a wife and mother to four, and the host of Intersection, a podcast where she has important, meaningful conversations with people about where real life and faith intersect.
Last year, I interviewed Rose in depth
Rose is one of the best I know at having genuine, meaningful conversation in an age when the art of conversation is dying.