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Few aspects of local church ministry are as challenging or necessary as bridging the timeless truths of the gospel to the historically contingent, ever-changing context of the surrounding culture. Enthusiasm for proper contextualization is to be commended. The Word of God must be made intelligible in order for it to edify (1 Cor. 9:19–23; 14:22–25).

The video-venue model of ministry—showing a live feed or recorded sermon on screens rather than having an in-person pastor preaching on stage—is an example of a popular method of ministry contextualization that, despite its efficiencies, is problematic.

I’m not talking about videotaping a live sermon and making it available on a website for those unable to attend church on Sunday. I’m talking about ministries where a sermon-on-the-screen, delivered to a satellite campus by a remote feed, has become normative for the Sunday morning service.

Lessons From Paul’s Ministry

At least three non-negotiable aspects of Paul’s ministry render a video-venue approach problematic in the teaching ministry of a church.

1. Relational Orientation

Consider, first, the relational orientation of Paul’s ministry. He planted the church in Thessalonica during his second journey (Acts 17). A short time after he had departed, he reminded the Thessalonians, “We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8). The Thessalonians came to “know” Paul’s motivation for ministry (vv. 5–7) and were “witnesses” to the apostle’s “holy and righteous and blameless” conduct (v. 10).

Paul was known by those he taught. His ministry in Ephesus was characterized by the same relational intimacy between the teacher and the hearers of the Word. As with the Thessalonians, Paul confidently reminds the Ephesian elders of the relational integrity of his ministry: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia” (Acts 20:18). Luke emphasizes the depth of Paul’s relationships with the Ephesians later in the narrative, as he is about to depart for the last time: “There was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again” (20:37–38).

Paul apparently felt strongly about sharing close personal relationships with those he taught. Contrast this with the video-venue pastor, or any pastor of an overly large church, who teaches the Bible each week to individuals with whom he has no personal relationship.

By its nature, the sermon-on-a-screen approach dangerously isolates the cognitive from the relational aspects of our faith. Shepherds in the New Testament world did not bring in a food truck to feed their sheep. They fed the flock themselves.

For Paul and the early Christians, the cognitive and relational aspects of Christian leadership were inseparable. This, in turn, gave him and his co-workers the moral authority to challenge their converts to imitate their behavior.

2. Imitation

The imitation theme was a central component of Paul’s ministry (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 1 Thess. 1:6; 2:14; 2 Thess. 3:7, 9). Paul’s converts were able to imitate him only because they knew him well. And apparently this was standard fare for early Christian leaders; the author of Hebrews similarly exhorts: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (13:7).

The ability to imitate a church leader assumes you are familiar with that leader’s life. I can only imitate someone I know. But this kind of relational intimacy is hard to cultivate in video-venue settings or overly large churches where leaders are inaccessible.

3. Reproduction of Leaders

The importance of reproducing leaders also raises questions for a remote preaching ministry. A key qualification for elders in the New Testament church was the ability to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). There were a plurality of elders in the early Christian congregations and, from what we can tell, they shared the teaching of the Word (e.g., Acts 13:1). This dynamic likely provided a key avenue for raising up new pastors.

When a single individual teaches 5,000 to 10,000 people Sunday after Sunday, where do the other pastor-elders in the church learn to exercise this crucial aspect of ministry? Megachurches do a good job of raising up efficient ministry managers. But are we successfully developing the next generation of Bible-teaching shepherds?

Christ’s Relational Ministry

Paul wasn’t the only example of New Testament ministry that prioritized a relational orientation. Jesus himself modeled it. The apostle John tells us that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Jesus of Nazareth came to us as a person—not as a set of pixels on a screen.

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Generation Z, Justice, and the Gospel: A Call for Balance

Generation Z, Justice, and the Gospel: A Call for Balance

Writing about these “young evangelicals who have ‘expanded their mission’ to include social justice along with evangelism,” pastor and author Tim Keller says, “Many of them have not only turned away from older forms of ministry, but also from traditional evangelical doctrines of Jesus’s substitutionary atonement and of justification by faith alone, which are seen as too ‘individualistic.’”

And for all the good they’re doing—and they are—Generation Z Christians have become unbalanced. That’s not old fogeys like me or Tim Keller talking; it’s coming from one of their own: Jaquelle Crowe, the author of “This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years.”

Writing for The Gospel Coalition, Crowe says, “The fundamental problem is that we’ve created a false dichotomy. When you pit justice and gospel against each other, you miss the point of the Bible and devalue God’s heart for both. Justice fits squarely in the framework of biblical Christianity. It flows fiercely out of the gospel as a practical implication of loving God.”

Now, that’s a common theme of the Colson Center. John Stonestreet, my colleague here, has talked a lot about truth and love not being in opposition. And he’s exactly right. As the letter of James reminds us, what good is it to say, “Stay warm,” without giving someone a blanket? That is how we can begin bringing balance back to the gospel.

Pointing to the shining examples of William Wilberforce, Hannah More, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Crowe says we need a biblical balance not of justice or the gospel, but of justice and the gospel. But Crowe goes a step farther. She says we need to make the gospel our priority, because only a right understanding of the human predicament before heaven will power our passion for justice on earth.

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The 2018 Winter Olympic officially starts tomorrow in Pyeongchang County, South Korea. (See also: 5 Christian Athletes to Watch in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.) Here are nine things you should know about the world’s leading international winter sports event:

1. The original ancient Olympic Games were dedicated to the Olympian gods (especially Zeus and Hera) and held in Olympia, in southern Greece. The first games are believed to have been held in 776 BC. During this time, Jeroboam was king of the northern kingdom of Israel and Azariah was king of Judah (2 Kings 15:1). It was the era of the prophet Jonah and about a year before the birth of the prophet Isaiah.

2. The idea of reviving the modern Olympic Games came to Pierre de Coubertin, a French aristocrat and educator, in 1889. Coubertin proposed the idea at a conference on international sport in Paris in June 1894, and it was unanimously approved by the nine participating countries. His efforts led to the establishment of the International Olympic Committee and the organization of the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. He also helped launch the Winter Olympics in 1924. He would later say, “Thanks to the Olympic Winter Games . . . the winter sports became an integral part of the Olympic Games. Since 1884 this possibility was taken into consideration and partly realized. And why not? The top of the Mount Olympus is covered with snow, isn’t it?”

3. In 1901 Viktor Balck, a Swedish army general, started the Nordic Games, a precursor to the Winter Olympics. Balck was a close friend of Coubertin and one of the original members of the International Olympic Committee. This event was the first international multi-sport competition that focused solely on winter sports. The first Winter Olympics was held in Chamonix, France, in 1924. It was so popular that the Nordic Games were discontinued two years later.

4. The Winter Olympics has been hosted on three continents by eleven different countries. The Games have been held four times in the United States (1932, 1960, 1980, 2002); three times in France (1924, 1968, 1992); twice in Austria (1964, 1976), Canada (1988, 2010), Japan (1972, 1998), Italy (1956, 2006), Norway (1952, 1994), and Switzerland (1928, 1948); and once in Germany (1936), Yugoslavia (1984), and Russia (2014). Pyeongchang, South Korea, will host the 2018 Winter Olympics and Beijing, China, will host in 2022. Because the event is held in February, when it is summer in the southern hemisphere, no city below the equator has ever hosted the games.

5. The Winter Olympics is limited to “winter sports,” which the Olympic Charter defines as “only those sports which are practiced on snow or ice.” The list of winter sports currently includes 102 events in 15 categories: alpine skiing, biathlon, bobsleigh, cross country skiing, curling, figure skating, freestyle skiing, ice hockey, luge, Nordic combined, short track speed skating, skeleton, ski jumping, snowboard, and speed skating.

6. Since 1924, 136 athletes have competed in both the summer and winter Olympic games, and only five won medals in both. American Eddie Eagan is the only person to ever win gold medals in both the Winter and Summer Olympics: He won in boxing at the 1920 Antwerp Games and in four-man bobsled at the 1932 Lake Placid Games. Jeroen Straathof of the Netherlands is the only athlete to have ever competed in the Winter Olympics, the Summer Olympics, and the Paralympics. Although he is not handicapped himself, Straathof joined with a visually impaired cyclist for a tandem bike race at the 2000 Summer Paralympics.

7. During the 1988 Winter Olympics, the Jamaican national bobsleigh team became the first to represent a tropical nation in an international winter sports competition. This year, an African nation where it has never snowed will be represented for the first time ever in the sport at the Winter Olympics. Three women from Nigeria—Seun Adigun, Akuoma Omeoga, and Ngozi Onwumere—will be competing in the women’s bobsled competition. Another female Nigerian athlete, Simidele Adeagbo, has also qualified to compete in the skeleton event, and Akwasi Frimpong of Ghana will be competing in the men’s skeleton event.

8. The International Olympic Committee announced in December 2017 that it was barring Russia’s national Olympic committee from this year’s Winter Olympics as a punishment for its alleged state-sponsored cover-up of doping by its athletes.

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Today former gymnast Rachael Denhollander had 40 minutes to address the court—and her abuser—during the sentencing hearing of Larry Nasser, the former Team USA gymnastics doctor who molested her 16 years ago at his Michigan State University clinic.

What she said directly to the man—who gratified himself off of her innocence and abused countless other girls in a malicious and manipulative way—is an incredible testimony to the grace and justice of Jesus Christ.

(At the 25:40, she addressed Nassar directly and powerfully spoke the gospel into his life. But the previous 25 minutes are essential background for her conclusion, and they contains lessons for all of us, inside and outside the church, to prevent and report sexual abuse.)

You can read the entire transcript at CNN. Here is an excerpt:

You have become a man ruled by selfish and perverted desires, a man defined by his daily choices repeatedly to feed that selfishness and perversion. You chose to pursue your wickedness no matter what it cost others and the opposite of what you have done is for me to choose to love sacrificially, no matter what it costs me.

In our early hearings. you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you. If you have read the Bible you carry, you know the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that he gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way.

You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today.

If the Bible you carry says it is better for a stone to be thrown around your neck and you throw into a lake than for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds.

The Bible you speak carries a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.

I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me—though I extend that to you as well.

Throughout this process, I have clung to a quote by C.S. Lewis, where he says:

My argument against God was that the universe seems so cruel and unjust. But how did I get this idea of just, unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he first has some idea of straight. What was I comparing the universe to when I called it unjust?

Larry, I can call what you did evil and wicked because it was. And I know it was evil and wicked because the straight line exists. The straight line is not measured based on your perception or anyone else’s perception, and this means I can speak the truth about my abuse without minimization or mitigation. And I can call it evil because I know what goodness is. And this is why I pity you. Because when a person loses the ability to define good and evil, when they cannot define evil, they can no longer define and enjoy what is truly good.

When a person can harm another human being, especially a child, without true guilt, they have lost the ability to truly love. Larry, you have shut yourself off from every truly beautiful and good thing in this world that could have and should have brought you joy and fulfillment, and I pity you for it. You could have had everything you pretended to be. Every woman who stood up here truly loved you as an innocent child, real genuine love for you, and it did not satisfy.

I have experienced the soul satisfying joy of a marriage built on sacrificial love and safety and tenderness and care. I have experienced true intimacy in its deepest joys, and it is beautiful and sacred and glorious. And that is a joy you have cut yourself off from ever experiencing, and I pity you for it.

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On Thursday, Edgar Ray Killen died in prison at the age of 92. Killen, a former pastor and Ku Klux Klan leader, was the only person to face state murder charges in the killings of three civil-rights workers in 1964.

Here are nine things you should know about the case known as the “Mississippi Burning” murders.

1. The Mississippi Burning murders (also known as the Freedom Summer murders) involved three civil-rights activists—James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner—who were abducted and murdered in Neshoba County, Mississippi, in June 1964. Michael Schwerner and James Chaney worked for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in nearby Meridian, Mississippi, and, Andrew Goodman was a college student who volunteered to work on voter registration, education, and civil rights as part of the Mississippi Summer Project.

2. On Memorial Day 1964, Schwerner and Chaney spoke to the congregation at Mount Zion in rural Neshoba County about setting up a Freedom School, a type of alternative middle and high school that helped to organize African Americans for political and cultural engagement. State-level Klan leadership had previously decided to murder Schwerner, and so attacked and beat members of the church thinking he was there at a meeting. The Klan returned that night and burned the church in an attempt to lure the CORE activist back to the area.

3. On June 21, Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman drove from Meridian to Neshoba County to talk to the church members at Mount Zion. As they were passing through Philadelphia, Mississippi, they were pulled over a deputy sheriff and arrested for speeding. They arrived at the jail at 4 p.m. and were released around 10 p.m. that night. The activists were followed by a lynch mob of at least nine men, including a deputy and a local police officer.

4. When the Klansmen caught up to Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman, they forced the men into one of the mob’s vehicles and drove them to a secluded county road. Chaney a black man, was beaten with chains, castrated, and shot while Schwerner and Goodman, the two white activists, were forced to watch. When Schwerner cradled Chaney in his arms (see image below) a Klansman asked, “Are you that n***** lover?” When Schwener replied, “Sir, I understand your concern” he was shot in the heart. Goodman attempted to run and was also shot. The bodies were then taken to a farm pond where Herman Tucker was waiting. Tucker used a bulldozer on the property to cover the bodies with dirt. An autopsy revealed that Goodman was likely buried alive since there was red clay dirt in his lungs and in his grasped fists. Evidence at the burial site appears to show he was trying to dig his way out.

‘Murder in Mississippi,’ Norman Rockwell, 1965.

5. The next day the FBI began searching for the three men, and U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy ordered 150 federal agents to be sent from New Orleans to Mississippi. FBI agents found the remains of the car driven by the activists near a river in northeast Neshoba County. The car was abandoned and burned, which led the FBI to name the case “MIBURN,” for Mississippi Burning.

6. Fearing the men were dead, the federal government sent hundreds of sailors from a nearby naval air station to search the swamps for the bodies. Although they didn’t find the bodies of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner, the Navy divers who dragged the river discovered two other young black activists, Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore; a 14-year-old named Herbert Oarsby, found wearing a CORE T-shirt; and five other black men who remained unidentified.

7. Acting on a tip from an informant, the FBI discovered the bodies in the earthen dam. The agents also arrested more than a dozen suspects, including Deputy Price and his boss, Sheriff Rainey. Three years later, seven of the 18 defendants were found guilty of conspiring to deprive the three activists of their civil rights.

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 Editors’ note: A version of this article appeared at 9Marks.

The chime rang out from the bell tower. Time to gather for Mass.

Yet this was not a regular Sunday. Someone told us we would hear a homily. Usually we only heard homilies at Lent or Advent, as well as on the feast day of our church’s namesake. But this was October, and we weren’t sure why we would hear a homily in October.

Then Jonas, the cloth merchant, explained. Last week’s business took him to the town across the ridge. All his customers there were still reeling from what they had heard last Sunday. Their priest read a homily that could only be described as a tale of horror. He described dead relatives screaming out in pain in purgatory. He put his hand to his ear and bent down toward the ground as if he could hear the groans. He depicted flames so real that everyone in the pews thought they felt the temperature rising. One customer told Jonas that women had actually swooned. Afterward, no one dared to utter a single word. All shuffled out in silence.

All this happened last Sunday, Jonas said. Then on Monday a monk named Tetzel pulled into the same town in a grand wagon. Trumpets blew and banners unfurled. The archbishop’s own guards surrounded him. In the shadow of the steeple in the middle of the town square, his attendants set up a table. They piled a stack of parchment high on the one side and cautiously placed a chest on the other. The chest had three locks. Everyone knows that if a chest has three locks it’s owned by three people who don’t trust each other.

Then Tetzel cried out, “Friends of this town, you have heard how your loved ones suffer in purgatory. You have heard their cries. The flames have reached up and licked your very own boots.”

“How shamefully,” Tetzel continued, “you go about your business. You spend your money on every little trifle. And, oh, how your loved ones suffer. Enough. Step forward. Leo X, the Pontifex Maximus, Vicar of Christ on earth, has been gracious and merciful to you and has affixed his seal to this indulgence. Now come and do your duty. And now you have a very special deal reserved for you. For a little extra guilder you can free yourself from purgatory. Yes, God be praised, give to the church your mite and the gracious Holy Father in Rome will see to it that you and all your dead relatives will be in Paradise itself, not enduring for a moment the purging flames of purgatory.”

Then he added with a rhythm in his voice:

Every time a coin in the coffer rings,
A soul from purgatory springs.

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Author:

Dear friend,

Sex is like fire. When it blazes in the fireplace, a good fire warms and brightens the room, enhancing joy and companionship. But when fires ignite in the wrong places, the house burns down. Is your sexuality igniting in the wrong places? Are you treating sexual sin casually? How do you know when this has happened? Let me offer a few tests that can rouse your conscience.

  • Is what you are doing simply wrong? The outright evils of sexual immorality are not hard to identify. Our culture makes the water very muddy, and preaches the doctrine that dirty water is good to drink. But the line between love and lust is clear. We are to treat other human beings in a familial way. You don’t ever sexualize a person whom you are called to treat as your brother or sister, your mother or father, your son or daughter. Sexuality is reserved for marriage. You are to protect other people, not lust after them. Consensual immorality is still immorality.
  • Are you captivated by sex? One sure tip-off is that you are preoccupied. When something takes up too much airtime in your mind, when you’re driven, when you must do it, you just do it, you can’t help doing it, you can’t not do it, you’ve got a problem. Whenever sex becomes obsessive, impulsive, or compulsive, it’s going astray.
  • Do you hide what you are doing? Hiding what you are doing and the time you spend doing it is another clear tip-off. Wrong doesn’t love the light (unless it’s become shameless and brazen). We hide when we know something is wrong. When you create a secret garden of any sort in your life, mutant things inevitably grow. So we hide from the eyes of others, from the eyes of our own conscience, from God’s eyes.
  • Do you use sex as a refuge? Boredom, stress, loneliness, and pain tempt us to look for an escape. Do you try to flee discomfort or mask pain? We are meant to look pain in the eye, to grasp the experience, to bring it in hand to our God, to cry out for help, to find refuge, and then to do what can be done constructively, however seemingly small our powers.

If you are being nonchalant about your sexual sin, I hope that my list arouses a proper sense of unease. Fires are burning outside the fireplace. Is something not right with your sexual behavior? You are a child of light—don’t walk in darkness! God’s point of view is good, right, and true. He beckons you. Walk as a child of light—for the fruit of light is found in all that is good, right, and true. The God who invites us into what is good also warns us off what is bad. You may be sure of this: everyone who is sexually immoral has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Don’t let anyone deceive you with empty words. Because of these things, the wrath of God comes on the disobedient. That’s the gist of Ephesians 5:5–9:

For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).

Take it to heart. Don’t let peer pressure or the culture deceive you. By the mercy of Christ, you will live a brighter, more loving, and more fruitful life.

How do you change? There are many facets of that big question, but I will point to four. First, the starting point for change is to say, “What I am doing is wrong.” That acknowledgement gets you pointed in the right direction.

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Houston, along with its connected neighborhoods, communities, and suburbs, is being pummeled by historic rain and unprecedented flooding. It’s a disaster here.

My neighbors—all 6.5 million—are feeling the effects of Hurricane Harvey’s 500-year flooding event.

So far 370 billion gallons of rain have hit our greater Houston area—and it has just started. The pictures are nothing short of stunning. Nearly every bayou and creek in the Bayou City has gone over its banks. Meteorologists expect the storm to linger, dragging its rain across our city throughout the coming week. First-responders are working nonstop, risking their lives to rescue others. More than 2,000 rescues have been performed, and with days of rain to come, countless more are in store.

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) anticipates years of relief work, the church of the risen Lord Jesus is ready for her work, too.

Christlike in Crisis

As Hurricane Harvey continues to dump rain in the billions of gallons, I see Christlike instincts cresting and rising in our city.

Civilians are assembling their kayaks and big ol’ Texas-style trucks to save their neighbors. Sacrifice in a time of severe weather.

Church buildings—like that of Houston Northwest Church led by my friend, pastor Steve Bezner—are becoming staging-areas for relief. The body of Christ is opening her arms to help her neighbors.

Southern Baptists are uniting together, along with other organizations, to wash the feet of those hit by Harvey:

SBTC Disaster Relief has joined Texas emergency response teams including the Texas Baptist Men, the North American Mission Board (NAMB)’s Disaster Relief teams, the American Red Cross, state police and fire departments, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) teams and more. Southern Baptists in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Mississippi are readying volunteers and equipment as well.

We’ve assembled a Redeemer Church response team, brothers and sisters eager to help. They have their boats, trucks, chainsaws, trailers, cookies, muscles, time, and prayers ready for those hit hard by Harvey.

Like many churches across the city, our members are checking in with each other, opening their homes, offering to help however they can. They are serving each other, sacrificing for each other; they are ready to love their neighbors. These are the kinds of instincts you hope to see. Apathy and disinterest are demonic in a time of disaster.

My friends and family—my Aunt Pilar and Uncle Jeff in West Houston—have water sliding up their driveways, heading toward their doors. I’m constantly—and nervously—texting church members for updates. Many are trapped in their neighborhoods and won’t be able to leave for days. One family at our church had to evacuate early because the wife may go into labor any minute.

Christians, we should be at our best when affliction does its worst.

Disaster has the potential to knit our hearts together in love. When the apostle Paul tells us to weep with those weeping, and to rejoice with those rejoicing, he doesn’t mean these are the only two emotions we should share. We should grieve with the grieving, and ache with the affected.

When I hear more rain on my back patio, my heart aches. Our city is sinking. I shake my head in disbelief as rain and sirens blare around us. As I tell my kids to wear their helmets during a tornado warning, I must look to heaven, past Harvey, for help.

Join the Relief

So what can you do? God has a ministry for you: “He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor. 1:4).

How can you comfort those in this affliction? Here are three ways.

1. Pray

I can’t tell you how many tweets and texts I’ve received from brothers and sisters around the world today. Missionaries from Thailand told us they are praying for our church and our city.

In times like this, “I’m praying!” can feel like a Christianized “I’m thinking of you.” But the best way to avoid that hypocrisy is to actually pray. Take a few moments and specifically pray for our area, espeically any people or churches you know here.

Let the pictures you see online serve as kindling for your prayers. The Father is listening. The Son is mediating. The Spirit is helping. When you see a picture, stop and cry out to heaven. Father, help them. You said faith can move mountains, so, Father, move this storm.

Pray for the mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner. Pray for the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott. Pray for first-responders and all involved in rescue efforts. Pray for the afflicted. Pray for the churches and our efforts to be Good Samaritans and good witnesses.

We desperately need the prayers of the saints (2 Cor. 1:11).

2. Give

A few churches in the area have set up flood relief funds. I trust these churches to do what’s right and godly with the funds.

You can also give to the North American Mission Board’s relief fund here.

Finally, Apple and the Red Cross have made it possible for you to give to a relief fund through iTunes.

3. Serve

As I said earlier, FEMA anticipates years of relief work.

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by John Piper

The most ultimate and the most central and most foundational reality that exists is God. Before there was a universe, there was God. God is eternal with no beginning and no ending. He said to Moses, “Tell them I Am sent you. I Am who I Am.” He’s absolute. Everything else is derivative. Everything else is dependent including all human beings us. Therefore, God is the most important being and the most valuable being that exists. Everything else has meaning and everything else has worth because of its connection to and its derivation from God and his worth. Everything has meaning and worth because it mirrors more or less God’s worth and God’s truth. His truth, his goodness, his beauty define all that is really true, all that is really good, and all that is beautiful. That’s what it means to be God.

In His Image

That absolute all-creating, all-originating, all-sustaining God created everything else including human beings, and he created us human beings in his own image (Genesis 1:27), which means that he created us with the rational and the moral and the affectional capacities to image him. Images are made to image. The meaning of being created in the image of God is that we have a destiny or a design or a capacity to image God, to mirror God, to reflect God. That’s what I mean to be created in the image of God. We are to magnify our Maker, so his goodness and his beauty and his truth are defined. Expression and echo mirror in us.

For His Glory

The Bible says, “Bring my sons from afar, my daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone whom I created for my glory.” Every human being is created to make much of God, to put his glory on display. That’s why every human being that is in New York is in New York — to display the glory of God for what he really is like according to his infinite value or 1 Corinthians 10:31 that was Isaiah 43:7. First Corinthians 10:31: “Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do everything to the glory of God.”

Absolutely every person in every aspect of their lives from the biggest to the little is to live out the worth of God, the value of God, the beauty and goodness of God. Since God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, he designed us so that he himself and only he would be our supreme happiness because that’s the way you bring his glory to fullest expression.

If you’re bored with God, he’s not honored by you or glorified by you. If you are thrilled with God and deeply satisfied with God in the moment of your greatest suffering, then he has shown to be valuable in your life. God designed you for his glory, that is he designed you to be happy supremely in him above all other things. Knowing God, admiring God, treasuring God, trusting God, being near God, reflecting God, that’s what we were made for. All the people everywhere in every ethnic group on the planet have that as their God-appointed calling and reason for being. God is utterly supreme in our affections and we are utterly satisfied in his perfections. That’s the way he set it up.

The Greatest Issue in the World

The greatest issue in the world, therefore, is that not a single person in this room or on this planet fulfills that design, none. That’s the biggest problem in New York City, Minneapolis, Bangkok, and Beijing. It is the biggest problem in the world by far. We have all sinned. We’ve all exchanged that glory that we were made to enjoy and magnify. We’ve exchanged it for images — especially the one in the mirror — and we find our satisfaction not in knowing God or admiring God or treasuring God or trusting or reflecting God, but we find our pleasure in ourselves being exalted. We want to be made much of ourselves. It feels so good to be made much of and it does not feel good to human beings to make much of God. We are all fallen.

We are bent away from God. We are rebels. We are blind, treasuring the creature over the Creator thus belittling the creator and committing treason against our King. Every one of you has done that. Every person on the planet is guilty of treason. That’s the biggest problem in the world. When a whole planet commits treason against her King, that’s the biggest problem. Now in God’s unimpeachable justice, he opposes us therefore with great wrath. He is very angry at the human race, which means that we would be utterly and eternally lost, undone, desperate, going to hell.

Love Intervenes

We would be undone eternally if God weren’t more than unimpeachably just, if God didn’t somehow undertake for this rebellious planet with all of us rebels, selfish, self-exalting human beings to intervene somehow on a rescue operation that made it possible for those rebels to have amnesty and be reconciled back to making much of him and being supremely happy in it forever. That’s what he did. He entered history 2,000 years ago in the person of Jesus Christ — fully divine, fully and perfectly human Son of God, Jesus Christ. He said this when he came, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Isaiah said,

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. Upon him was the chastisement that made us whole and by his stripes, we are healed. We have all like sheep gone astray and turned every one to his own way, and the Lord God Almighty has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4–6)

That’s 700 years before it happened. Or Paul said, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, cursed it is everyone who hangs on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). He did that intentionally to take that anger and that wrath and that curse on himself so that he can assemble a people who are forgiving when there’s no wrath against them anymore.

Or Paul in Romans 8:3: “What the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did, sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin. He condemned sin in the flesh.” Whose sin? Jesus didn’t have any. Mine. Whose flesh? Not mine, Jesus’s. This is called substitution. Jesus sent by the Father to be a substitute so that all the punishment I deserved went on him, all the righteousness I couldn’t but should have performed, he completed, and the death I should have died, he walked into, and it spits him out and he triumphs. He climbs over it. That is what he did for his people: punished and canceled all their sin in Christ, performed and provided all their righteousness in Christ, absorbed and removed all the wrath of God against them, and purchased and secured their adoption into the family and their eternal happiness.

Free for You, and for Me

Christ did that by dying and rising again for them. That’s the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of God for this rebellious planet. It comes to consummation in individual lives when they ask: “You said he did that for his family?” That’s right I did. He did that for his elect. Yes. He did that for his redeemed people. Yes. “How do I get in? I mean can I get in?” And the answer is Yes. By grace are you saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast, so by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Faith means when I hear that message, I say that is the best news I’ve ever heard for a rebel like me with the wrath of God on him, and you embrace it and receive it for the treasure that it is. That’s faith, and it’s free for the having for anybody in this room or anybody watching. Anybody who will receive it as their supreme treasure has it and all of that is valid for them.

The Gospel Explains and Undermines Racism

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Can you imagine wanting to be colorblind? And yet I hear that hope all the time.

When I speak with people about ethnic and racial diversity, it’s not long before I hear, “I don’t see color. I’m colorblind! My parents taught me not to see color.”

The phrase is trying to express that all people are people, and that color doesn’t matter. I’ve also heard colorblindness cited as a defense against racism: “I’m not racist. I love all people. In fact, I’m colorblind.”

But I disagree.

I’d like to suggest that we aren’t colorblind, we don’t need to be colorblind, and we actually should strive to not be colorblind. Colorblindness leads us in the wrong direction. Instead, I want to encourage us to be colorsmart. Here are four reasons why.

1. It’s Not Realistic

I’m an African-American woman. I cannot—and crucially, I have no desire to—erase the fact that God made me this way. There’s no hiding my milky-brown, freckled skin. I am who I am. When I walk into a room and I’m the only black woman, it’s obvious. I know it; you know it; we all know it. It’s ridiculous to pretend otherwise.

This doesn’t mean we need to act awkward around each other. If we’ve embraced the fact that God has created us as equals, there’s no reason for awkwardness. If you encounter someone ethnically different from you, it’s unrealistic, unhelpful, and possibly unloving to pretend you don’t notice. When your child says, “Mommy, why is that woman wearing a dot on her forehead?” don’t shush him quiet out of embarrassment. Take the question as an opportunity to positively explain her culture.

Instead of pretending we’re colorblind, let’s celebrate God’s creation and be colorsmart.

2. It Misses the Opportunity to Celebrate God’s Good Design

Colorblindness seeks to ignore or flatten the differences between us. Being colorsmart, however, enables us to see others as crafted in God’s image—just like us—while still acknowledging the beauty of our differences. We’re all equally created to reflect aspects of our Creator God. Nevertheless, he creates each of us uniquely. This should be proactively acknowledged and celebrated rather than fearfully ignored.

The reality is we’re not all the same in regard to skin color, interests, likes, gifts, and desires. God made us differently for a purpose: his manifold glory. Instead of striving to be colorblind, then, let’s recognize these differences in ways that express genuine love for neighbor and gratitude for the beauty of God’s flawless design.

Don’t we want to celebrate who God designed us to be? We should want our kids to rejoice that God created them the way they are and others the way they are. That’s the beautiful reality of creation.

3. The Gospel Is for All Nations

The most important reason to be colorsmart is that the gospel is for every nation. God celebrates his creation and redemption of all kinds of people.

The Bible tells us that we sinned, putting everything out of order, leading to the racial hatred we tragically see throughout history and still today. But Scripture also shows us how God is working for the redemption of all people through Christ. He’s glorified now when redeemed rebels from all nations worship him as one. We can see the fulfillment of his promise to redeem every tribe, tongue, and nation when we gather, fellowship, and worship with those who are different from us.

For the rest of the post…

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