Wednesday, March 8, 2017

City Notes '17: Gospel Fluency Helps Us Connect with Jesus Daily and Believe His Good News for Every Area of Life (1 of 3)

Gospel Fluency: Jesus Readily and Mightily Overcomes Our Worst Fears and Worries by Helping Us Take Every Thought Captive 

Back when I was at the Verge Conference in 2013, I met a kind, seasoned, and joyful Lutheran pastor who took me out for lunch and asked what I was learning. We both admitted it was more than could be shared over a meal. He then asked if I could take some time to be apprenticed under one of the pastors speaking at the conference, who would it be? He shared that Alan Hirsch would be his choice and I said Jeff Vanderstelt would be mine.

He stopped and said, "Yeah, I used to kind of smirk at pastors who said Jesus was the answer to every question and the solution to every problem. When Jeff started with that mantra, I thought, 'Here we go.' Then he actually started sharing how this was true from a multitude of areas in his life and how he pastored others to see Jesus for all He is in their everyday concerns and behaviors. And then I thought, 'S**t. He's right.'"

I love telling that story because so often as a pastor I fall into the same perspective as my Lutheran friend. If Jesus is the greatest gift I could ever receive in life and His message is the best news I could ever believe about human history, then why do I sell Him short so often?

Jeff's new book, Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truths of Jesus into the Everyday Stuff Life, helps answer the question. As wonderful as the Gospel is as the history-altering, world-restoring, and personally transforming Good News of Jesus, I can too often run past my God and Savior when I need to turn to Him in the day-in and day-out concerns and hopes of my week. 

This book is chock full of examples and stories (including some of those I heard at Verge years ago) that are worth more than the cover price.

So if the following teaser excerpt draws you in, take a closer look at getting a copy for yourself, read it and see the examples, and then discuss with a friend and begin to apply. Then maybe you'll say along with my friend, "He's right about Jesus." too.

Gospel Fluency: Moving from Unbelief to Belief in All of Life

I'm an unbeliever. So are you.

When I say we are all unbelievers, I mean we still have places in our lives where we don't believe God. There are spaces where we don't trust His Word and don't believe that what He accomplished in Jesus Christ is enough to deal with our past or what we are facing in this moment or the next. We don't believe His Word is true or His work is sufficient (ex. Psalm 78:32John 12:37).

I slip in and out of believing God's Word about me and trusting in His work for me. Jesus gave His life to make me a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). He died to forgive me of my sins and change my identity from sinner to saint, from failure to faithful, and from bad to good and even righteous and holy. But I forget what He has said about me. I forget what He has done for me. And sometimes it isn't forgetfulness. Sometimes it's just plain unbelief. I know these things. I just don't believe them.

I'm an unbeliever. Not every moment, of course. But I have those moments. So do you.

A life of true living is a life of faith in Jesus, a life of believing in Jesus in the everyday stuff of life (Galatians 2:20). I'm still learning how to live like that. I'm still an unbeliever in many ways. And yet, I don't want to stay that way. I want all of my life to be marked by faith in Jesus. 

God is intent on making everything about Jesus because it is through Him that all things came into existence and it is in Him that they are sustained (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:15-20). God also wants to rescue from unbelief and sanctify you to become like Jesus. Sanctification is just a big word for becoming more and more like Jesus through faith in Jesus. You become like what you believe in. So becoming like Jesus requires believing in Him more and more in every part of your life.

Gospel Fluency: Examine Your Thoughts

We ... take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

To take something captive is to take control of it and put it in a controlled environment. This is what we regularly need to do with our thoughts
 – subdue them, capture them, and put them in a mental cage. Then we need to take a close look at them and consider what we're thinking and why. What is going through your mind? What do you regularly hear spoken in your head? What are you believing about God, His work in Jesus, others, yourself, and what you should do?

Another way of saying this is, make sure that what you are thinking lines up with what is true of Jesus and of your new life in Him. Make sure it conforms to the truths of the gospel.

So how do we know if what we're thinking lines up with what is true in the gospel? Well, remember that the gospel literally means "good news." So ask yourself: "Is this good news that I'm thinking? Is it tearing God down or lifting Him up? Is it tearing others down or building them up? Is it tearing me down or encouraging, exhorting, or equipping me?"

Gospel Fluency: Learn and Rehearse the Language

Once you've captured the thought, examine it enough to see if it lines up with what is true of God and His work in and through Jesus, and what is true of you as a result of your faith in Jesus.

When I first started to become aware of my need to grow in gospel fluency, this was not a natural process for me. I had to practice preaching the gospel to myself first. I regularly rehearsed the truths of the gospel at the beginning of my day:

  • God is perfect. Jesus lived perfectly for me. He is my righteousness.
  • God loves me. Jesus died for my sins. I am loved and forgiven.
  • God is powerful and mighty. Jesus rose from the dead. I am more than a conqueror in Him.
  • God is alive and present with me. He sent His Spirit to be with me and in me. I am not alone or without the power to overcome.
  • God is for me and not against me.

Just as in learning a language, you need to capture and examine your thoughts to see if they line up with the gospel, then bring them into submission to Christ by regularly rehearsing the truths of the gospel to yourself over and over again. As I become aware of a thought, emotion, or motive, I ask myself some or all of these questions:

  • Is this (thought, emotion, motive) really true? Or is it a lie?
  • Is this from God or someone else? 
  • Does it line up with the gospel of Jesus Christ?
  • What am I hoping in right now? What do I believe this hope promises to give me?
  • Why am I considering this behavior? What will be its outcome?
  • In all of this, what is true of Jesus? What is true of who I am in Him?
  • How did Jesus do better for me? How did He speak a better word over me?
  • What about Jesus do I need to remember and believe right now?

Remember, you don't have to do this alone. You have the Spirit of God with you to develop you in the gospel. Invite Him to help you, to teach you, to bring to your mind all that is true of Jesus. You should also be in community with others who know and love Jesus, who can help you in the battle.

When I am not experiencing the fruit of the Spirit or my life is not resembling the life of Jesus, then clearly my mind is not set on the Spirit. That means my mind is not in submission to Christ. Whatever is in submission to Jesus Christ begins to look like Jesus and the fruit of the Spirit, which is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:16, 22-23).

Gospel Fluency: Remember Jesus' Work on Your Behalf and Fight the Lies with Him

When I am teaching people how to fight with gospel truths, I introduce some cues to help them discover the aspect of the gospel they may need to press into. For instance, if someone is struggling with guilt or shame for what he has done, I encourage him to go to the cross where Jesus died and remember his words: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). We need the reminder that Jesus's death paid for all our sin, past, present, and future. He atoned for our sin, removed our guilt, and covered our shame.

If someone is struggling to overcome sin, I might encourage her to remember and believe in the resurrection, where Jesus condemned sin's power. He gives us the same power to overcome by the Spirit who raised Him from the dead.

Some are dealing with feelings of inadequacy in their behavior and lean toward performance-based acceptance. If so, I direct them to remember Jesus's life, perfectly lived in their place, and the Father's words spoken over Jesus (words that are now ours in Jesus): "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17).

Whatever the struggle, the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus give life, hope, and power. By faith in Christ, every attribute, characteristic, and blessing that belongs to Jesus is available and accessible to us as we depend on and submit to Him. We are co-heirs with Christ, blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms, and He is present and ready to give us Himself and anything we need to accomplish His will (Ephesians 1:3-23).

In essence, fighting with gospel truths is trusting in and putting on ourselves all that is true of Jesus, and therefore also true of us in Jesus.

Paul exhorted the church in Ephesus: "Finally be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil" (Ephesians 6:10-11). He then went on to describe the armor: "Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit" (vv. 14-18).

We do battle by having the truths of the gospel around us like a belt, holding everything up. Our hearts are protected by the breastplate of Jesus's righteousness. We continue to believe that it is His righteousness that makes us right with God, not ours. We have a readiness – a quickness – to run from evil and to chase after obedience because we are free and unhindered by guilt, shame, and fear. Because of Jesus, our guilt is removed, our shame is covered, and our fear is demolished, for He is victorious over our enemies.

In everything you face, believe. Remember, belief in Jesus is the work we are to do (John 6:29). We take up the shield of faith. We believe in God. We believe in all that He has accomplished for us in Jesus Christ. We trust in Him for every situation. This good news is a helmet that covers our minds to protect us from the lies, accusations, and temptations we face. And we are not just on the defensive in this battle. We can and must wield the sword of the Spirit – the word of God – and the gospel of Jesus Christ to attack the schemes of the Devil. This is all accomplished with an ongoing dependence on the Spirit in prayer. The weapons alone are not enough. We must submit ourselves to the Spirit who empowers them all.

We can experience what Paul says to the church in Rome: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2). 

Becoming gospel fluent is taking thoughts captive and examining them closely, bringing them into submission, considering the fruit, and then fighting with gospel truths.

Next post: City Notes '17: Gospel Fluency Reminds Us of Who We Are and the Good News of Who the Hero of Our Story Is (2 of 3)

City Notes are meant to provide you with direct quotes from some books I've read this year, so you can get a taste of the overall theme of the book and then begin to chew on what your life might look like if you applied what you read.

Here are links to previous City Notes books:

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