Tag Archives: Jesus

Living with a Gospel Gap: The Ampersand of our Faith

The Gospel (The Good News) of Jesus Christ tell us…

(Part 1) We are more sinful and weak than we ever cared to admit

and (&)

(Part 2) We are more loved and accepted than we ever dared to hope.

So I find myself writing this on the Eve of Christmas Eve. I do not fully understand why this has been in my thoughts recently.

As I have lived my life I have noticed that many people understand sin.  Also, many people understand how high, deep, and wide Gods love is for us (Ephesians 2).  Many churches, religious institutions, and groups of people quite often have a “lens” in which they interpret scripture that are either more centric of part 1 or more centric on part 2 of the Gospel message.  However, the stories of scripture often reflect a much more complex and dynamic truth than than either just part 1 or just part 2 of the Gospel alone could ever describe,  Some of the theologians in todays world that may be labelled as “new age” or “emergent” are often in love with love as their primary lens of interpreting scripture. Other people or churches are legalistic or black and white , pointing out the sins of other people and how bad and ungodly that sin might be.

In the Gospel definition above there is an ampersand! We are both loved and sinful. This gives rise to very complex truths such as in MY weaknesses (and sin) I see the power of God in the gospel  — that he would come to me while still a sinner.   It is the ampersand that makes the gospel electrifying!

Many people understand the truth of part 1 of the gospel  and many people understand the truth of part 2 of the gospel. It appears to me that as people relate to other groups slightly different, often with different sins — that it is much more difficult to embrace the ampersand in the Gospel.  I call this living with a gospel gap in our faith.  This gospel gap basically means we have not come to grips with the ampersand of the gospel message.

There are a lot of good ampersand examples in scripture.  My favorite is the example of King David.  King David in what I call “Bathsheba Gate” had an affair with Bathsheba and plotted and killed her husband but was also called a man after Gods own heart.  He was used mightily to advance Gods kingdom. KIng David was an adulterer and (&)  a man after Gods own heart!

My wife and I facilitate Marriage Rebuilders, a ministry for broken and struggling marriages. Quite often a spouse might say how can he/she love me but also he/she have an affair.  Learning to understand that we can love another person and(&) be pretty messed up is a difficult but necessary step a person must take in recovery of a broken relationship. Learning to understand the ampersand of truth allow the couple to start talking about difficult topics without engaging in black and white thinking. In other words the ampersand of truth allowed the couple to start talking honestly about their issues.  This honesty and transparency, if returned with honesty and transparency is the first step to regaining intimacy in Marriage.

If we embrace part 1 of the gospel (sin)  more than love we have no choice but to live with a legalistic system of thought. When people cross certain boundaries we have no choice but to look down on them. Quite often we throw out critical and hurtful labels.   Often we simplistically (and carelessly) caricaturize other groups of sinners.   At the extremes of this kind of thinking you may have religious bullying.  These people may have a network of broken relationships because they can not live as sinners who live with other sinners whose sin is different from theirs. Changes and growth are centered around trying harder and being more spiritual and more accountable. Gods grace and love have lost its electrifying nature and instead we engage in stoic religious processes to try to grow.

If you embrace part 2 (love) more than the fact that we are sinners you don’t see how electrifying Gods grace can be.  You see no reason to change and grow because Gods love does not challenge sin.

Living with a gospel gap (neglecting the ampersand of our faith) makes real honesty, change, and growth impossible.  We might be able to grow intellectually but personal, emotional, and psychological growth are not possible.

Think about the “ampersand moments” of your life.   The ampersand moments in life are hard… but they are important opportunities to grow and to learn self honesty.   Are there some ampersand moments in your life that you could share with someone else? Could this “ampersand story” be a blessing to them?  Finally, the ultimate ampersand is shown to us through the Gospel message that Jesus came us while we were still sinners!  Today,  lets fully embrace the Gospel!  Hallelujah!

Merry Christmas!

Shame and Blame

Sue and I do marriage rebuilders.  We facilitate a small group, share our story of brokenness and reconciliation and pray that God works through us as we do our best to make the  group a safe place for others to tell their stories.  We hope that as we try to create an environment of grace and mercy that as others tell their stories and overcome the shame of their past that Gods truth is revealed in the process and that eventually people grow and change!  The ministry also gives couples communication tools that many people are often lacking relationally.

In this ministry, we have heard and seen phenomenal stories of change. We have also seen half-hearted attempts to change, grow and reconcile marriages.

What is the difference in the two groups of people?  One of the turning points in the reconciliation process is when both sides take responsibility for “their part” of what is broken in their relationship.  They have spent too much time shaming and blaming the other person or maybe more subtly minimize their part and maximize their spouses part of the problem in their marriage.  Like I said in the last post, we have seen many reconciled marriages when each partner has taken responsibility for their part.  The Gospel (The Good News of Jesus Christ) tells us that we (ALL humans, Christian and non Christian) are ALL broken and we ALL require a savior.   However, since the original sin of Adam and Eve we have all engaged in the shame and blame game.  The blame and shame game does 2 things: (1) it minimizes how greatly I need a savior, and (2) It prevents me from taking responsibility for what I did in the breakdown of a relationship.

I was reminded of this recently, as I shared some e-mails with a friend.  If we could ever break the shame and blame game, then we can go maybe  deeper and maybe root out the deeper issues and problems  of the heart.

Until then, the way I see it, we will just keep revisiting the same problems and hurt feelings of the past.

Thats my .02c worth on this topic!


Boundaries and the beauty in gray

I was listening to a sermon by a person from Somalia at our Church named Dr. Gemechis Buba over a year ago.   Gemechis is very gifted speaker and a Luthereran pastor from Somalia.  He basically said we (all people) wear a shirt that is black on one side and white on other other. One side says “good” and other side says “evil”.  This is a “reality based” statement that is reflected very well in scripture.  Here are 2 good examples of this:

  • King David was a conspirator, murderer, and an adulterer and was also called a man after God’s heart!     David was both a mans after Gods heart  and  a conspirator, adulterer,  and murderer!
  • Solomon was  the wisest man ever, wrote the best marriage book in the bible (Song of Songs) and yet had 700 wives and concubines. In todays world if Solomon was an author trying to get his book released he would have been labelled as a love and sex addict and his book would have never become a best seller!         Solomon was both wise and  an addict!

Most  Christians are very, very uncomfortable with the idea of  what I am calling the  both/and of scripture and the idea that men are both sinner and saint (because of what Christ did!).  They may understand the idea of both/and conceptually but when it comes to their own lives they prefer living in the black and white of their group (especially political groups) or family being either a sinner or a saint. Instead of living in the both/and they are living in the either/or.   The only problem with not living in the both/and is that it (1) sets people up for failure later on when they cant live up to their own black and white,  either/or thinking and (2) it does not see how deep man’s need is for a savior in Jesus Christ.   Christians are uncomfortable dealing with the idea of both/and and they want to simplify this to either/or, legalistic, or  black and white terms.   The world is uncomfortable dealing with both/and and wants to simplify this thinking to the idea of tolerance toward others.  Both tolerance and legalistic thinking never deal with the discomfort of our issues and sin and never allows a person a safe environment to start getting honest and real  about their issues.

Anyhow, one of the reasons for my BLOG is to discuss how the Gospel message of Jesus Christ “works” in relationships in tangible and real ways.   I want to relate this to the idea of healthy boundaries today. Also, I should say one thing here: being both/and is not a goal of the christian life … it is just reality that this side of heaven we will sin against others and others will sin against us!

First of all what is a boundary?  Boundaries are a very complex topic.  I want to describe a boundary as an invisible force field around a person. The purpose of this force field is to protect all the “healthy and good stuff” inside the boundaries.  Inside your boundary are things like your body,  thoughts,  and feelings.  The motives behind boundaries are never about controlling someone else but they are about keeping you or those you love healthy. A healthy boundary will keep unhealthy stuff out.   A healthy boundary also has a door or window in it to let healthy stuff in.    A gospel-centric healthy boundary allows a person to to keep unhealthy stuff out and let healthy stuff in while living in the both/and reality of a fallen world.

Unhealthy boundaries err in one of two ways.   One of those ways is our personal boundaries are too loose.  A person with loose boundaries does not know how to set boundaries for his or her self.  A person with loose boundaries allows another person to come into his/her boundaries and take poessesion of their thoughts and feelings. People with loose boundaries can be nice people pleasers.  They don’t know how to say “no” to others and over time this becomes quite a burden trying to keep up all the people pleasing activitites.

The other unhealthy boundary is too rigid of a boundary.  Too rigid of a boundary means your boundaries might be good at keeping unhealthy stuff out but your not very skilled at letting healthy stuff inside your boundary.  People with rigid boundaries have not learned the relational skills to manage the window or door in our boundaries that lets the healthy “stuff” in. And,  as I have seen, eventually a person that is only good at keeping healthy stuff out and not very good at letting healthy stuff in is going to “blow” and his sin will come out eventually.  I have found this too rigid of a boundary problem to be very common in evangelical America.  After all  Christians rules are the best rules … right?  Christians know truth… right?  However,  many Christians have never learned the skills in their Family of Origin of how to live in a both/and  world and tend to caricaturize groups of people in simplistic, black and white terms and as a result they live in an either/or reality.  This problem of rigid boundaries is huge with some of the men and couples in my groups.  Many of these men have very rigid Christian boundaries but yet they are caught up in major issues in life and in their relationships. They don’t have the social or relational skills to let healthy stuff in.  Many of these men grew up in Christian homes that seemed to have good theology but here they are doing the same thing (sin) that most of the rest of the world is doing.   Most people feel that a person that is struggling with chronic sinfullness  in some ways needs to put more rigid boundaries in their lives to help overcome their sin.  I think this is true and agree with that statement.  However, in my dealings with chronic recurring sin,  people  tend to know and have rigid moral boundaries.   A bigger issue  is that these people do not have the skills to let healthy things into their world.  They do not know how to live and love in a both/and world because they have been too busy living in an either/or world.

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How the Gospel Works

Reblog Post:


Here are some quotes from my favorite author in NYC, Tim Keller.They can be found here:  http://www.timkeller.info/comments/quotes.


“We do not have to make ourselves suffer in order to merit forgiveness. We simply receive the forgiveness earned by Christ. 1 John 1:9 says that God forgives us because He is ‘just.’ That is a remarkable statement. It would be unjust of God to ever deny us forgiveness, because Jesus earned our acceptance! In religion we earn our forgiveness with our repentance, but in the gospel we just receive it.” (ht:firstimportance.org )

“The Bible’s purpose is not so much to show you how to live a good life. The Bible’s purpose is to show you how God’s grace breaks into your life against your will and saves you from the sin and brokenness otherwise you would never be able to overcome… religion is ‘if you obey, then you will be accepted’. But the Gospel is, ‘if you are absolutely accepted, and sure you’re accepted, only then will you ever begin to obey’. Those are two utterly different things. Every page of the Bible shows the difference.” (ht: spadinofamily)

on Romans 1:16-17 – “Paul is not saying the gospel produces power. He says the gospel IS the power of God in verbal form. Do we believe that?” [or do I secretly believe that everything is up to me?] (ht: jayhardwick)

“Repentance out of mere fear is really sorrow for the consequences of sin, sorrow over the danger of sin — it bends the will away from sin, but the heart still clings. But repentance out of conviction over mercy is really sorrow over sin, sorrow over the grievousness of sin — it melts the heart away from sin. It makes the sin itself disgusting to us, so it loses its attractive power over us. We say, ‘this disgusting thing is an affront to the one who died for me. I’m continuing to stab him with it!’” – Timothy Keller, Church Planter Manual (net source)

“The gospel creates the only kind of grief over sin which is clean and which does not crush. It says: ‘Look at Jesus dying for you! He won’t leave you or abandon you–how then can you respond as you are? He suffered so you wouldn’t do this thing! You are not living as though you are loved! As his child! It is not because he will abandon you that you should be holy, but because this is the one who at inestimable cost to himself has said he won’t ever abandon you! How can you live in the very sin that he was ripped to pieces to deliver you from?’ See the GRACE of God argument? It is the only argument which cannot be answered.” – Timothy Keller, Church Planter Manual (ht: Of First Importance)

‘Self-salvation through good works may produce a great deal of moral behaviour in your life, but inside you are miserable. You are always comparing yourself to other people, and you are never sure you are being good enough. You cannot therefore, deal with your hideousness and self-absorption through the moral law, by trying to be a good person through an act of the will. You need a complete transformation of the very motives of your heart.’ – The Reason For God, 177 (ht: GaryMcMurray)
“The Cross is not simply a lovely example of sacrificial love. Throwing your life away needlessly is not admirable — it is wrong. Jesus’ death was only a good example if it was more than an example, if it was something absolutely necessary to rescue us. And it was. Why did Jesus have to die in order to forgive us? There was a debt to be paid — God himself paid it. There was a penalty to be born — God himself bore it. Forgiveness is always a form of costly suffering.” Tim Keller, The Reason for God, 193 (ht: Scott Stewart)

“… those who understand the gospel cannot possibly look down on anyone, since they were saved by sheer grace, not by their perfect doctrine or strong moral character.
Another mark of the moral-performance narrative is a constant need to find fault, win arguments, and prove that all opponents are not just mistaken but dishonest sellouts. However, when the gospel is deeply grasped, our need to win arguments is removed, and our language becomes gracious. We don’t have to ridicule our opponents, but instead we can engage them respectfully.
People who live in the moral-performance narrative use sarcastic, self-righteous putdown humor, or have no sense of humor at all. Lewis speaks of “the unsmiling concentration upon Self, which is the mark of hell.” The gospel, however, creates a gentle sense of irony. We find a lot to laugh at, starting with our own weaknesses. They don’t threaten us anymore because our ultimate worth is not based on our record or performance.” – Tim Keller, [The Prodigal God?] (ht: pastorinbloggaus‘ The Gospel Creates a Gentle Sense of Irony)

“Jesus’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did.” – Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God (ht: CoffeeRandom ‘The True Message of Jesus)

“[Jesus] is saying that the inevitable sign that you know you are a sinner saved by sheer, costly grace is a sensitive social conscience and a life poured out in deeds of sheer service to the poor. Younger brothers are too selfish and elder brothers too self-righteous to care for the poor” (p.112). Earlier in the book, Keller elaborated on the sin of the older brother: “Elder brothers may do good to others, but not out of delight in the deeds themselves or for the love of people or the pleasure of God. They are not really feeding the hungry and clothing the poor, they are feeding and clothing themselves” (p.62, The Prodigal God).  (ht: wsvanderlugt “Why Don’t We Care for the Poor?”)

It is only when you see the desire to be your own Savior and Lord -lying beneath both your sins and your moral goodness- that you are on the verge of understanding the gospel and becoming a Christian indeed.  When you realize that the antidote to being bad is not just being good, you are on the brink. If you follow through, it will change everything: how you relate to God, self, others, the world, your work, your sins, your virtue.  It’s called the new birth because it’s so radical. (p. 78) Jesus Christ, who had all the power in the world, saw us enslaved by the very things we thought would free us.  So he emptied himself of his glory and became a servant.  He laid aside the infinities and immensities of his being and, at the cost of his life, paid the debt for our sins, purchasing us the only place our hearts can rest, in his Father’s house…  Knowing this will transform us from the inside out… Why wouldn’t you want to offer yourself to someone like this? Selfless love destroys the mistrust in our hearts toward God that makes us either younger brothers or elder brothers… We will never stop being younger brothers of elder brothers until we acknowledge our need, rest by faith, and gaze in wonder at the work of our true elder brother, Jesus Christ. (p. 87-89 The Prodigal God) (ht:RelentlessGrace, “Our hearts are transformed by service, not power”) * speaking of the power of the Gospel: “... the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. Buton the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acecptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of your sin. This also creates a new dynamic for discipline and obedience. First, the knowledge of our acceptance in Christ makes it easier to admit we are flawed because we know we won’t be cast off if we confess the true depths of our sinfulness. Second, it makes the law of God a thing of beauty instead of burden. We can use it to delight and imitate the one who has saved us rather than to get his attention or procure his favor. We now run the race “for the joy that is set before us” rather than “for fear that comes behind us.” ” Tim Keller in Introduction to Galatians (ht: TheSticklerFamily)

“At the root of all our disobedience are particular ways in which we continue to seek control of our lives through systems of works-righteousness. The way to progress as a Christian is to continually repent and uproot these systems the same way we become Christians, namely by the vivid depiction (and re-depiction) of Christ’s saving work for us, and the abandoning of self-trusting efforts to complete ourselves. We must go back again and again to the gospel of Christ-crucified, so that our hearts are more deeply gripped by the reality of what he did and who we are in him.” – Timothy Keller, Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2003), p.61 (ht: pjcockrell)

Radical Growth in Grace

If there is not radical growth in humble love toward everyone (even your enemies), you don’t really know you are a SINNER saved by grace. If there is not radical, concrete growth in confidence and joy (even in difficulties) you don’t really know you are a sinner saved by GRACE. — Tim Keller

Sue and I do a Marriage Rebuilder ministry at our Church. I also facilitate a mens group called True North.  In both groups we have couples and men struggling with some difficult issues.  My goal as a facilitator is make these groups a safe place where couples and men can engage in James 5:16 (confess your sins and pray for each other for healing).

Sometimes in order to grow in life it means going backward in life and making amends with the people you have hurt.  This means taking a risk because the other side can spew out “condemnation” toward you when you try to restore the relationship.  You may never have the relationship totally restored but God will always honor honesty.. even when other people don’t or when other people condemn you for your actions. Unfortunately its not always safe to take risks with some people but that is why there is risk involved I guess!

As I write this I think of a time last summer when I was planning a new ministry at Grace Church. As I was walking out someone from my past was in the SUV picking up her kids.  As she saw me she waved at me and smiled.  Later that day she sent me an e-mail apologizing for having a critical, condemning spirit of me.  You see us and this couple have a broken relationship that started when they found out about my sin about 10 years ago and even though we spoke no words as I walked out the door she continued to hold things against me.  I appreciate her e-mail and apology  but wonder if the root of this critical, condemning spirit  is also the same root and reason  of why every other friend relationship ( a total of 5 broken relationships)  I share with them is also broken…. and also why it plays out so prevalently in their own rocky marriage.

My prayer for them is at some point they can go backward someday and maybe even reconcile those broken relationships with family and friends as opposed to just moving forward and leaving all the relational carnage behind. I believe growth would occur on both sides if they can shine the True North of the Gospel message of Christ on those relationships!

The way its been working …. for me at least…. is that the depth of the my understanding of the Gospel, grace, and mercy increases as I work the Gospel out in a community of people. Not just a community of people that have all the same ideas but a community of people that have different ideas, sins,  and agendas than mine.

If there is not radical growth in humble love toward everyone (even your enemies), you don’t really know you are a SINNER saved by grace. If there is not radical, concrete growth in confidence and joy (even in difficulties) you don’t really know you are a sinner saved by GRACE. — Tim Keller

My .02c for the day!

The Evils of Idolatry and Thoughts on Worship

When our culture is considered through the lens of worship and idolatry we see a deeper sin and a greater need for a Savior. This is because everyone everywhere is continually worshiping incorrect things, and idolatry is, sadly, only seen when we examine our hearts deeply. We often have too narrow an understanding of worship and sin and do not see that idolatry empowers our sin and provides the motives for us to sin.

One of the great evils of idolatry is that if we idolize, we must also demonize. Tim Keller reminds us that if we idolize our race, we must demonize other races. If we idolize our gender, we must demonize the other gender. If we idolize our nation, we must demonize other nations. If we idolize our political party, we must demonize other political parties. If we idolize our socioeconomic class, we must demonize other classes. If we idolize our family, we must demonize other families. If we idolize our theological system, we must demonize other theological systems. If we idolize our church, we must demonize other churches.

An understanding of the nature of the Idolatrous heart then not only gives us the ability to see to the motives under the easy to see sins of money, materialism, sex, self-righteousness and power … but it also allows us to see the motives that drive the sins that also are not quite as devastating. It allows us to see the motives behind the sins that turn good things into ultimate things. Our hearts indeed turn easily to other gods.

If we understand this then we begin to have a fighting chance to have “heart based” change and sanctification. We see our need for Jesus … not only in our need to go to heaven…. but we also see our need for a Jesus that changes and grows us. Gods grace on the cross then does not become just an event that gives us a “ticket” for heaven but it also becomes the center of growth and change.

By looking at idolatry, sin, and worship of the heart in a deep way we don’t offer people a “system of redemption” and just some advice that stems from a mound of ideological insight and principals. Change does not come from the mound … it comes from a man. We offer a redeemer that glares at the heart of our idolatry and we finally have a chance at real, lasting change as a result.

God is Good: Good Year Going in 2012

Have not had a post for a while and that has been somewhat intentional as I have several things I am juggling all the time both professionally and personally.  Just wanted to post that so far its been a good year going in 2012. My wife and I are doing well. We are doing a book called Rescue Your Love Life that uses a slot of the same language as our Marriage Rebuilders groups.    I am also nearing the end of some long term planning for a new ministry called “True North”. It is basically a mens group that will also have a  link to Marriage Rebuilders at Hosanna Church that my wife and I do.   We plan to meet at Church called Evergreen Church on the South side of the twin cities, Mn.  The start of this ministry is a prayer answered for me and its been in the planning stages for almost a year.

God is good!



John Q. vs. Kermit the Frog (Fantasy and Reality)

Have you ever seen the movie John Q?  In the movie John Q’s young son falls down  running to second base in a basball game and they find out he has a bad heart and needs a heart transplant.  John Q  had recently lost his job.  His wife works at McDonalds.  They have no insurance money and the hospital caters to only paying patients so they can only give John Q options of how his son can best survive until he dies rather than give him options as to how his son can find a heart and live.  In desperation John Q takes over the hospital with a gun…. but the bullet was in his pocket. His intention was to take over the hospital until they found  a heart …. or to take his own life and give his own heart to his son!  A good story.  Men love this story because of the bravery and morality of John Q.

In many ways we are all in love with the image of being a John Q.  The idea of this kind of bravery and bravado and moral performance  is attractive to many.  We love it. We want to think we can be John Q.

On the other hand you have Kermit the frog. Kermit knows he is weak.  Kermit knows his limitations and you can tell by the songs he sings he has a level of transparency, honesty, integrity…. Because he is honest and aware of this limitations  you can see he is in touch with his inner frog and his frogly weaknesses!  Perhaps this is why he is so attractive to Ms. Piggy! :-).   Think about that one guys.   Some people would call this awareness of limitations and the stories in the songs he sings … wisdom!

I lead some mens groups and me and my wife are also are in Marriage rebuilders at our Church.  My personal experiences tell me that the Kermits of the world tend to do better than the people that are in love with the John Q moral performance  imagery.  People that are honest about themselves are the people that are growing.  These people are in touch with the reality of their sin.  The people in love with the John Q, manly performance imagery tend to be the same person at 18 as they are at 50!

Bravado (pride)…. especially male bravado … gets in the way of growth and change. Many men may grow in their careers but yet they are basically the same person at 50 as they were at 18.  They are successful in career but are maybe just going through the motions in their marriage or relationships with people.

My thoughts are not fully formed on this at this point. I find it funny that Kermit, a sesame street character, represents reality in the point I am making here. The verse of scripture I am trying to bring out is:

2 Corinthians 12

9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Really guys its ok to be Kermit the frog!!!!  Honestly! Are you John Q or Kermit?  Do you know your froggly weaknesses?

Anyhow, this BLOG topic was inspired by a conversation between me and my wife about 6 months ago. :-).   She wants you to know that any correlation between the name Ms “Piggy” and her is completely accidental and not accurate . :-).