church gospel

Individualism and Community

I think, therefore I am. One simple phrase that Descartes penned helped define a worldview for a future generation.

No longer would humanity be fettered with group-think, old wives tales, and crude explanation. No, we would be released into the glorious future of rationalistic reasoning and society would soar to new heights.

Centuries have passed, technology has thrived, and yet there is trouble in paradise. Behind every great historical advance, unintended consequences lurk.

With the establishment of rationalistic philosophy, we began to view ourselves as autonomous creatures. We think for ourselves, so we decide what is true, right and godly, right?

The proof is in the proverbial pudding of the failings of this idea. When combined with consumerism, the product has been crumbling communities, failing marriages, and a general sense of narcissistic ennui.

Individualism, the insidious little idea that “I am a rock, I am an island”, is the predominant theory of authority in our day even in the church. The problem is that the Bible, our experience and common sense would cry “false”.

Consider our the implications of our salvation that Peter highlights in 1 Peter 3:

[9] But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. [10] Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV)

Our salvation in Christ is radically communal – we are a part of a people, whether we like it or not. We fight like crazy against this idea, but it does not make it untrue. Most of us know we belong to community, we need community, but it grates against our autonomous decision-making.

It shows up in how we view church authority as well. Consider the explicit commands of Hebrews:

[17] Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17 ESV)

Just hearing that statement often makes me bristle, and my experience in our church community tells me that others do as well.

Finally, consider Romans 8:14-17:

[14] For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. [15] For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” [16] The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, [17] and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

The radical truth of our salvation is that it culminates with our adoption into God’s family. We are sons and daughters of God in Christ! The implication is that we are therefore brothers and sisters, and this is a far stronger, deeper, and longer bond than any earthly family has.

What if we fought for the person sitting next to us in the pew, or the person across from us in the group, like they were our actual brother or sister? What if we believed those outside the faith were potentially new family members?

I think a lot would change.

church gospel

Consumerism and Community

Consumers, simply speaking, are people who purchase goods and services to meet a perceived need. In the most basic of forms, consumption is necessary to human existence. Each and every one of us is a consumer of something. But what happens when consumption goes from necessity to pleasure, from provision to identity?


Our American economic ingenuity produced an unfortunate result: We now define ourselves by what we buy. What formerly met a basic need has become an identity, the lens through which we see the world. We, the people, exist to form a more perfect, tailor-made life. Food becomes a means of comfort. Clothing becomes a status symbol. Shelter becomes a palace of entertainment.

Yet we’re still miserable.

The church is no safe haven. Consumerism is most often on display in those environments we attempt to create for “community.” The sales pitch often goes like this: “Come join a group – we have one for YOU! Are you an empty nester? Check! Newly married? Check! A right-handed, blond-haired Francophile? Check! Check! Check!”

I wonder if this is what Paul, by the power of the Holy Spirit, had in mind when he penned Ephesians 2:

[13] But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. [14] For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility [15] by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, [16] and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:13-16 ESV)

In the death and resurrection of Christ, enemies become brothers. The power of the gospel and the Word of God are sufficient to unite bitter, millenia-old enemies. We have a new identity “in Christ Jesus,” which bonds us together more deeply than our relationship to our earthly family. Yet, for us, we get angry when someone brings generic brand tortilla chips to our community gathering.

I wonder if that kind of “community” is what the Lord revealed to John:

[9] After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, [10] and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10 ESV)

The gospel will create a redeemed people from every tribe, tongue and nation. Americans, Canadians, Brazilians, Swedes, Iraqis, Chinese, Nigerians, Afghanis and many more will surround the throne. Yet, for us, we’re uncomfortable when someone new shows up at the door.

Shouldn’t our communities, at bare minimum, reflect some different kinds of people?

Not to oversimplify, but the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. Step one is realizing we have a problem: a desire to satiate our appetite for selfish benefit. We must fight that desire and beg God to help us seek the welfare of others. What if we ditch expecting to have “our needs met” in community and embrace an expectation of blessing our brothers and sisters in Christ?

I have a hunch that we’d look a lot more like this:

[26] What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (1 Corinthians 14:26 ESV) 

And this:

[42] And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. [43] And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. [44] And all who believed were together and had all things in common. [45] And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. [46] And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, [47] praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47 ESV)

As a new kind of people, defined by God’s Word and empowered by His Spirit to proclaim the gospel of Jesus, we are no longer consumers. Our Word-centered, gospel-centered community is built on sacrificially meeting the needs of others – love one another, honor one another, bear one another’s burdens, teach and admonish one another.

A biblical community consumes the Word of God and contributes that precious Word to the lives of one another.

What if we aimed for contribution, not consumption?


This post was written for the Creature of the Word Church Campaign. To join or learn more about the campaign, visit and the Creature of the Word Facebook page.

gospel personal

Reflecting on Camden

As I’ve been with my family through the ordeal with Camden, there have been a few thoughts that have really struck me. In no particular order, here they are:

-I learned what it is like to beg God…really beg, like I’m desperate for you to do SOMETHING beg. I’ve fervently prayed many times, but I’m not sure I’ve ever gone through a cycle of desperation, resignation, hope, desperation, resignation, hope so many times. It resulted in me simply praying a repetitive prayer to God…I almost felt like a whiny child, and it was good for my soul.
-I learned to be thankful to God for the simple act of peeing. For Camden, this was a major problem for the first 48 hours, and we were overjoyed when he finally did. I’ve never really even considered how relieving myself is a gift of God’s grace. Funny, even a bit gross, but true nonetheless. Even the seemingly banal things of out lives are capable of bringing thankfulness and glory to God.
-I was reminded of the power of a praying community, and blessed by the saints of God both in Austin and all over. I was also reminded that those who don’t love Jesus often have more compassion than those who do…neither compare to the compassion and mercy of the heavenly Father though.
-God is faithful and mighty to save, even when we doubt Him.
-There are untold reasons for everything, but I was grateful to see how this difficult situation was used to catalyze great faith in many, though it was a costly way for the Lord to do it. Only an eternal perspective can make sense of temporal suffering.

gospel personal theology

Good Friday – Isaiah 53

Isaiah 53

53:1 Who has believed what he has heard from us? [1]
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected [2] by men;
a man of sorrows, [3] and acquainted with [4] grief; [5]
and as one from whom men hide their faces [6]
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief; [7]
when his soul makes [8] an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see [9] and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, [10]
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, [11]
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

gospel theology

Without the Gospel | Challies Dot Com

The following quote is from John Calvin, via Without the Gospel | Challies Dot Com.

It is some really great stuff, and very much encouraged me yesterday.

Without the gospel everything is useless and vain; without the gospel we are not Christians; without the gospel all riches is poverty, all wisdom folly before God; strength is weakness, and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God. But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made children of God, brothers of Jesus Christ, fellow townsmen with the saints, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom the poor are made rich, the weak strong, the fools wise, the sinner justified, the desolate comforted, the doubting sure, and slaves free. It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe.

It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone. For, he was sold, to buy us back; captive, to deliver us; condemned, to absolve us; he was made a curse for our blessing, sin offering for our righteousness; marred that we may be made fair; he died for our life; so that by him fury is made gentle, wrath appeased, darkness turned into light, fear reassured, despisal despised, debt canceled, labor lightened, sadness made merry, misfortune made fortunate, difficulty easy, disorder ordered, division united, ignominy ennobled, rebellion subjected, intimidation intimidated, ambush uncovered, assaults assailed, force forced back, combat combated, war warred against, vengeance avenged, torment tormented, damnation damned, the abyss sunk into the abyss, hell transfixed, death dead, mortality made immortal. In short, mercy has swallowed up all misery, and goodness all misfortune.

For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit. If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation [life] is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things. And we are comforted in tribulation, joyful in sorrow, glorying under vituperation [verbal abuse], abounding in poverty, warmed in our nakedness, patient amongst evils, living in death.

This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.