Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What is the Gospel?

I wrote this summary today for our church's website and wanted to share it here.  I hope it stirs your heart reading it as much as it stirred my heart writing it.

The Gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel is "good news" because it answers the deepest needs of every man, woman, and child - the need of sinners to be reconciled to a Holy God.  The Bible teaches that each one of us is a sinner by nature and by choice when compared the holiness of God - the true standard of what is right.  God is perfect and we are not.  Our sin is infinitely offensive to God because God is infinitely glorious.  The Word of God teaches that though God created us and loves us, we have become His enemies.  No one is righteous in God's sight - not even one.

However, God was not satisfied to leave His creation in rebellion.  He sent His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ, to live the life that we could not live and die the death that we deserved so that each one of us could become sons and daughters of God.

Christianity is not a "religion" as man sees religion - a set of rules by which we live better lives, but instead a message of redemption offered freely because Jesus kept the rules that we could not keep.  The heart of the gospel is substitution.  Jesus took our place - both in life and in death.  If we receive the gift of God's grace by faith in Jesus Christ, we can be forgiven our sin and reconciled to our Heavenly Father.  Jesus removes the wall of sin that separates us from God and restores our relationship with Him.

Though the gospel is utter foolishness to the world, it is God’s very wisdom.  The Bible declares that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.  God is working today in the world through the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

As Paul wrote to us in 1 Corinthians 15, the gospel is christological, centering on the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The gospel is biblical (his death and resurrection are according to the Scriptures), theological and salvific (Christ died for our sins, to reconcile us to God), historical (if the saving events did not happen, our faith is worthless, we are still in our sins, and we are to be pitied more than all others), apostolic (the message was entrusted to and transmitted by the apostles, who were witnesses of these saving events), and intensely personal (where it is received, believed, and held firmly, individual persons are saved).

At Hill Country Bible Church Round Rock, we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ as the primary message of the whole Bible, as the only hope for a fallen world, and as the source of salvation and life-transformation for all who believe.  We invite all who have ears to hear to believe today on the Lord Jesus Christ for life - both abundant life now and eternal life forever.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Lessons Learned in East Asia

Luke 12:48: "To whom much is given, much will be required."  -Jesus

This verse was on my heart frequently during our trip to East Asia.  We have received much from the hand of God, and one day we will be required to give an account of what we did with it.  I was reminded while I worked with pastors overseas that many of them would give their left arm to have the seminary education I have received, to have to the mentoring I've enjoyed from seasoned pastors and leaders, to have the resources and staff that I get to work with every day.  In short, I have been a giant stewardship responsibility (as have all of you) before God to do something with all that He has poured into my life.  I hope that I can stand before Jesus one day and honestly say that I was a good steward of what I had been given - that I served His global church who did not have access to the many resources I have enjoyed.

Beyond this overarching theme, Barie and I sensed the Lord teaching us several important lessons during our time in East Asia that we pray we will not forget soon...

1- If we are going to reach the nations with the gospel of Jesus Christ, we have to learn how to reach cities.  The urbanization of the globe has been occurring for decades, and it is a phenomenon that I have read about repeatedly.  However, it is hard to appreciate how many people live in cities around the world until you go to some of the biggest cities in the world and see the dense population with your own eyes.  The cities in East Asia are huge, and while the gospel has spread rapidly in rural areas (like it has in other countries), it tends to slow down in urban areas where people are more occupied with career pursuits, wealth accumulation, and their educational goals.  Sound familiar?  If the church of Jesus Christ is going to see the gospel truly go to the ends of the earth, we have to pray that God will raise up missionaries both in our own country and abroad who will live in and take the gospel to people who live in cities.  I think we are going to look back after the next fifty years and say that the cultural transformation that took place in our lifetimes was the complete urbanization of the globe.  How will we respond?

2- Government support and public legitimacy are not important goals for the church as they negatively impact its purity over time.  One of the most interesting conversations with church-leaders in persecuted countries is about their relationship with the state.  While some look at the freedom we enjoy as westerners with envy, others see the purity and simplicity of having a faith that is oppressed by the government.  This insight surprised me, but as a student of history, made total sense.  Throughout history, as the church has received government backing and sought public legitimacy, the church has been taken off-tract from its primary mission of making disciples of all nations.  Why?  Because government support and public legitimacy tends to bring people into the church who do not have a genuine love for Jesus Christ, but rather who want the power, money, and influence that the church enjoys.  This was a helpful reminder to me about my goals as a pastor in America.  As I engage city-leaders in my city, my goal is to be a representative of Christ, not to change my message in order to get their favor.

3- Finally, no work we have as disciples of Jesus will make more impact on the world than raising up children who love Jesus and love the world.  It was bizarre to go half-way around the world with my wife without our kids and find that God spoke to us about our family, but He did!  Barie and I were both reminded by our time with missionary families and national families that our most significant work is how we raise up the next generation to love Christ and to love the people of the world.  Our tendency as American Christians is to protect and separate our kids from the world, but the gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to raise up children who love the world that Jesus died for.  Barie and I came back with a renewed passion to invest Scripture and the gospel in our kids, but not just for their sake.  Instead, we feel called by God to impart a passion for Christ in our children for the sake of God's glory among the nations.  May God give us wisdom as parents to raise up kids with a global perspective on God and His work.

There is much more we could share about the trip, from the funny cultural experiences we had to the remarkable people we met.  I hope at some point in the future that we can get some time to show you pictures and share more stories.  But overall, we are just thankful to God for what He allowed us to do in the lives of others and what He showed us and what He did in our hearts while we were away.  We serve an awesome God who is at work around the world and in each one of our lives.

Pray for us that we will have wisdom in knowing how God wants us to be involved in the world in the coming years.  We will pray for you that you will take time out of your schedule in the coming years to get overseas and see what God is doing all over the globe through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Book Notes: Lee: A Life of Virtue (5/5)

Robert E. Lee is one of the most famous American historical figures, especially in the South.  Schools and roads throughout the South today still carry his name, and mythical stories abound about his greatness in war and the strength of his personal character.  John Perry's new biography of Lee in the Thomas Nelson series on The Generals is a short summary of the life of General Lee - one that moves quickly through his remarkable life and his remarkable military service.  General Lee's servant leadership and strong personal Christian faith fill every page of Perry's book.  In addition, this biography brought two features of Lee's life to my attention that have stayed with me long after reading the book.

First, General Lee was a genuinely humble person.  Though he was one of the most famous men in America at the end of his life, he was remembered by all those close to him for his remarkable humility.  As I was struck by this same character quality in the last Billy Graham biography that I read, I was struck by Lee's genuine respect, deference, and graciousness toward others. Jim Collins rights about Level 5 leaders in his book Good to Great, specifically mentioning how the greatest corporate leaders of the 20th century have not been those who are charismatic, flashy personalities, but those who are great servant leaders, well-known for their genuine humility and lack of self-absorption.  This goes against our normal understanding of dynamic leadership, but once again, Robert E. Lee's life story affirms that the greatest leaders of men are actually the most humble (sounds like Jesus' words, doesn't it?).

Second, General Lee experienced his most distinguished service late in his life.  As I have read Civil War histories in the past, I guess I didn't realize that General Lee had served so long as a engineering officer in the US Army before he found his success as a battle commander.  Lee served well, but without distinction, for 40 years in the military before he was called upon to lead the Virginia Army under the Confederate Flag.  Perry does a great job of showing that Lee's faithful service and perseverance through grueling assignments away from his family set the stage for his amazing leadership in the Civil War.  As someone who has grown up in the generation that thinks you have to do everything by the time you are 35 if you are going to do something significant with your life, Lee's story was a great reminder that faithful service over a whole life is makes you ready for opportunities to lead.  God sets the boundaries of a man's life, regardless what modern leaders declare.

Overall, this was a great book about a great man, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.