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How does the gospel change everything?

For the past few months, I’ve mostly been stumped when trying to articulate what I mean by this claim: the gospel changes everything. In my head and heart, there is no better or more comprehensive way to describe why the Jesus makes so much sense to me and why living with Him energizes and motivates me.

I first heard this claim while a member of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, but they certainly didn’t coin it. However, in a newsletter article titled ” Covenant Renewal and Redeemer’s DNA,” Tim Keller does a good job of getting me closer to understanding what it means for the gospel to change everything.

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On Charging Money for Sermons

I recently had a conversation with a friend who thought it wrong that Redeemer Presbyterian Church of New York City (Tim Keller’s church) charges for sermons. I have several thoughts on this:

  • First of all, I agree with “Robbie” who left a comment to a blog post once, saying, “The reason that Redeemer charges money for the sermons is that every year 1/3 of the congregation leaves due to starting a family or job. Many people are new Christians who do not believe in tithing, if they do it is very little. So the “profits” from sermon recordings go to the gospel ministry.” If someone were to visit Redeemer this weekend, they would find a church that meets in rented spaces and uses a music stand for a pastor’s podium and whose preachers use a corded microphone on a microphone stand (gasp) to amplify their voices. When the sermon mp3s begin by saying, “The net proceeds of the sales of Redeemer recordings are used to support the ministries of Redeemer Presbyterian Church,” they’re not kidding.
  • Second, why do we gladly spend $5 on a healthy meal but begrudge $2.50 for a sermon that will be food for us emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and relationally?
  • Third, as part of their 20-year birthday, Redeemer released 150 free sermons that thoroughly communicate the “DNA” of Redeemer’s message. It’s a categorized, tagged resource that allows people to get manifold looks at the gospel.
I know many will quote Matthew 10:8 here, saying, “Freely we have received the gospel, so we should freely spread it via free sermon audio.” Be careful of context in such Scripture use!
What do you think? Leave a comment.

Tim Keller on Preaching

In his blog article “Lloyd-Jones on the Practice of Real Preaching,” Tim Keller gleans some points from Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching and Preachers. I am not a preacher, but I found that much of what I’ve been thinking lately about church and service and the gospel for all of life is addressed in Keller’s article.

Keller draws two points out from Lloyd-Jones’ writing: that people will come to hear preaching, even in our contemporary culture, but that 1) it must be real preaching and 2) it must be done over the long term.

Keller describes the allure of real preaching: “[Vistors] will be shocked at how convicting and attractive the gospel message is, and they will feel like they’ve never really heard it before (even if they have been raised in a church)”. I find that, the more I think about the gospel and seek to bring it to bear on the questions that contemporary teachers, the more they resonate with the message–even when it is starkly convicting, which of course it must be. The gospel does not need to be manipulated to become attractive to outsiders–it merely needs to be clearly communicated and applied to the questions being asked by contemporary people.

Lloyd-Jones, Keller writes, was worried about the preaching veering into either of two extremes: on the one hand, adapting it too much into the image of the culture, and, on the other hand, making it so objective that it becomes dry and intellectual. Preaching should be “profoundly life-related, [and] the preacher’s tone must not be affected and ‘parsonic’ but genuine, passionate, and transparent. If you listen to the [Lloyd-Jones]’s evening sermons in particular, you learn that he was always referring to current events and intellectual trends, often expounding Scripture in order to answer the questions posed by the culture. So the preaching must not be just a ‘running commentary’ or an overly-cognitive explanation of the text, but must have shape and passion and connect forcefully with the heart and life of the congregant” (Keller).

One final connection I made with Keller’s article is that of the need for patience if we are to become fair communicators of the gospel. To be a preacher who does real preaching, Keller commends the unpopular notion that it takes a long, steady work:

“[I]t requires many years and hundreds of sermons before a preacher becomes as good as they have the capacity to be. Some of that means the preacher staying put and becoming involved enough in the lives of the people and city so as to be able to address their questions and issues well from the Scripture. Some of that means coming to understand the Bible well enough to always make it clear. Some of it means years of repentance and prayer that creates an increasingly holy, transparent character.”

Go ahead and substitute “teacher” for “preacher” in the preceding quotation, and you’ll have an idea of what I think it takes to become an increasingly gospel-centered, excellent public school teacher.

Tim Keller Video Notes — “Researching Your City”

In a short Q & A video, a church planter asks Tim Keller to discuss how one can learn the cultural narrative of his or her city. This can be applied on a larger scale–to one’s state or nation–and on a smaller scale–to one’s workplace or family. Here is Keller’s response:

  • You can start by studying it’s history. It’s amazing how much the history of your city continues to play itself out. NYC for example was started just to make money. Boston was started by the Puritans, who had an ideal. Pennsylvania was started by the Quakers, who had an ideal. Almost every other colony was started by people who had an ideal of what a human community should look like, but NYC was started strictly to make money. Period. And it’s still playing itself out.
  • As well as history, you should also talk to urban planners and anthropologists to understand the people groups inside your community.
The more we understand the people with whom we work and live, the more we are able to minister the gospel to them with compassion and understanding.

What Does Jesus Do with our Biggest, Nastiest Work-Related Problems?

In Mark 5, a synagogue leader (Jairus) comes to Jesus desperate for the healing of his ailing daughter. The young girl is on the brink of death, and Jairus knows that Jesus is the last hope. Yet, on the way to Jairus’ house, Jesus apparently fails to see the urgency of Jairus’ daughter’s condition, because he stops and has a conversation with a healed woman. When they finally arrive at the house, Jesus claims that the girl is asleep (although everyone there knows that she is literally, physically dead). He goes into her and says what translates as, “Honey, get up.”

Tim Keller, while writing about the incident with Jairus’ daughter, says,

“Jesus is facing death, the most implacable, inexorable enemy of the human race and such is his power that he holds this child by the hand and gently lifts her right up through it. ‘Honey, get up.’ Jesus is saying by his actions, ‘If I have you by the hand, death itself is nothing but sleep.’

–Tim Keller, King’s Cross, p. 68

In this incident, we see several lessons to take with us to work:

1. If Jesus’ power so overwhelms death, it is our greatest resource on the job. As Christians, we are to strive toward excellence with every atom God has given us. Yet, problems will relentlessly arise in our tasks, our relationships, and our circumstances. We will have great idols to overthrow both within and outside of ourselves. No amount of human excellence will ever conquer death, and no amount of your excellence will ever conquer all of the problems you encounter in your job. In matters big and small, we must seek the master of death. Where we see death, he sees a mere nap. Where we see a mountain, he sees a pebble to be tossed into the sea. As Christians, we have access to the only infinite power in the universe.

2. God’s timetable isn’t our own. Jairus (and any of us who don’t know the end result of this event) could only have been mortified by Jesus’ lack of hurry. However, ultimately Jairus got much more than even he asked for–he got his daughter AND a deeper glimpse at the magnitude of Christ’s power. Jesus wasn’t just a healer–he was the killer of death.

3. The gospel is that Jesus makes death a mere nap for us by experiencing the fullness of its desolation and destruction in our place. This good news, if we repeat it to ourselves throughout our workday, if we pray that God will make it the beat of our heart, will utterly destroy the moralistic, legalistic, self-righteous, love-earning mentalities that Christians too often become infamous for in the secular workplace. Jesus Christ suffered every iota of death’s poisonous sting so that we don’t have to. Not a lick of our performance at work made his death any less bitter, any less toxic, any less complete. He died. He went to hell. For us. For our failures. For our weaknesses.

Now we can go to work alive. Successful through the redemption of our failures. Strong through the awareness and acknowledgement of our weakness.

Marriage as Gospel-Reenactment

Tim Keller, in his marriage sermon series, calls marriage “Gospel reenactment.” When the Scriptures liken the husband to Christ and the wife to the church, we’re being told that, basically, our marriages are made to paint pictures of cross-centered love.

Well, my wife and I have given our daughter to some awesome grandparents, and we are taking our first overnight getaway since Hadassah was born back in September.

If our marriages are really meant to re-enact the Gospel, let’s take time for them! If you’re a man reading this, plan a date for your wife! And, just in case you are romance-blind (I’m not color blind, but I can certainly be romance-blind), remember some words of wisdom from my wife:

Romance is about creating an atmosphere where it’s clear that you have me (this is my wife talking) as your priority, where you just want to know me and bring me joy.

I would add that a good date involves being curious about who she is. A lot of times us guys can get into the mindset of, “Well, I’ve known her for a few years, been married to her a few years–I know who she is.” But we have to fight against that, because a woman made in God’s image is not so quickly known! God made this woman with an eternal soul; when we reflect on that, there’s no way we’re going to know who she is, even if we’re married a century!

Tim Keller Article Notes — “Lloyd-Jones on the Problem of Preaching”

In a March blog post at Redeemer City to City titled, “Lloyd-Jones on the Problem of Preaching,” Tim Keller has begun a discussion on D. M. Lloyd Jones’ book of lectures Preaching and Preachers. If you are someone who admires Keller, you’ll be interested to note that he attributes this book as an influence and a help in shaping the preacher he is today. Several things stood out to me from Keller’s introductory comments on the book:

  • Lecturing in 1969, Lloyd-Jones addressed trends in Britain that have been visible in America over the past decade; in general, folks were concerned about the value of preaching. Could preaching God’s Word really reach modern people who had televisions and a general distrust for orators?
    • The internet has us asking and experimenting with the same question today.
    • As a public school teacher, I hear a question along the same vein being asking amongst my colleagues: how do we reach students in the internet age?
  • Lloyd-Jones then went on to discuss the various ways that churches were proposing to address this alleged fall in the primacy of the pulpit:
    • Modifying preaching by making it more showy (more appeal to the emotions, more story-telling) or adding new media to it (in Lloyd-Jones’ time, that was TV and radio; now it’s a slew of digital media).
    • Making artistic expression the centerpiece of worship, rather than preaching.
    • Greater emphasis on social justice.
    • Disbanding from centralized congregations and becoming smaller, multi-voice pockets of Christians.

Isn’t it amazing how these observations, made in 1969, could easily be made today? I’ve only been a Christian for half a decade, but I’ve seen or heard of examples of all of the above proposed changes L-J saw in the contemporary church in Europe.

There’s nothing new under the sun, right?