Tim Brister

  • Toward a Counter-Cultural Community Part 2: Community Idolatry

    In the first post, I talked about 11 different aspects of society used a filters or barriers to form or foster community. I argued, “In order for a gospel community to be counter-cultural, we first have to assess what we are encountering in the culture. How does culture and society determine how community is formed and fostered? What are some of the guiding principles and motivations behind its formation?” If part one addresses the external schema of society formation, this post addresses the internal driving forces influencing how and where we fall out in our version of societal segregation.

    Dick Keyes, in his chapter “The Idol Factory” (in No God but God) takes about the construction of idols in our lives. He makes the distinction between “near” and “far” idols. Near idols are those that are more specific, superficial and concrete, such as career, spouse, possessions, etc. Far idols, on the other hand, are “farther” from the surface of things and go to the root of why we do what we do. They get to the “sin beneath the sin” and are also referred to as “source” or “root” idols.

    Far idols get to our motivational drives and function as basic controlling principles that, unless confronted and challenged by the gospel, will manifest in many outward forms. The four basic “source” idols are power, comfort, approval, and control (there are others, but I will refer to these main four in this post). Here’s what they say:

    Power idolatry says: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if‐‐I have power and influence over others.
    Approval idolatry says: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if‐‐I am loved and respected by _______________
    Comfort idolatry says: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if‐‐I have this kind of pleasure experience, a particular quality of life.”
    Control idolatry says: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if‐‐I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of ___________________.”

    John Calvin says the human heart is a factory of idols. Tim Keller argues that idolatry is always the reason we do anything wrong. Paul Tripp agrees, saying that sin is fundamentally idolatrous. So what is the connection, then, with source idolatry and being a counter-cultural community?

    Idolatry-Centered Community

    Because idolatry is the sin beneath the sin, the motivational fruit for the behavioral fruit of our choices, it stands to reason that a counter-cultural community will come to terms with the idolatry-centered nature of secular society. The societal segregation I explained in part one is fueled by the idolatrous desires of sinful people–a people seeking that ideal community who not only accept but also appreciate one’s idolatry. If at any point idolatrous cravings are not satisfied by a compliant community, there will be a reconstitution of that community in rejection to their nonconformity.

    The five components of idolatry-centered community are: (1) self-serving, (2) comfort-securing, (3) pride-protecting, (4) approval-demanding, and (5) control-promoting. In every expression of community building outside of Christ, these components of source idolatry will shape and govern the community dynamic. It is precisely at these points the idolatry-centered community must be challenged by the gospel (more on that later).

    Whether we do it consciously or unconsciously, we look to have relationships that feed our community idolatry. Why do we filter people out and create barriers to keep others out? Is it not because we are self-serving and comfort-securing? Why do we build a community of people most like us? Is it not because we are approval-demanding and control-promoting?

    These “far” idols are also connected to our “near” idols–the more specific, concrete manifestations of idolatry. We are “driven” by the near idols of time (manifested in busyness), money (manifested in consumerism), and space (manifested in individualism), and the root case of these can be unearthed by detecting their relationship to the source idols of comfort, power, approval, and control.

    When people say they do not have time for meaningful relationships due to their busy schedule, they have made an idol out of time (squeezing everyone out but themselves). When people treat others as commodities (goods and services) in a consumeristic fashion, they have made an idol out of money. When people intentionally keep others out and demand autonomous living, they have made an idol out of space. All of these “near idols” are driving forces behind the societal segregation (just like “far idols”).

    At the heart of the idolatry-centered community is the attempt of enjoying the “ideal” community apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this broken world where the most fundamental and necessary relationship (with God) is rejected, community becomes a functional savior and “god-replacement” in ways it was never intended. Therefore, the irony of idolatry-centered community is that it can never deliver on the idolator’s idealized dream of community.

    In part 3, I will provide an excerpt from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together in which he argues the Christianized attempt of idealizing (idolizing) community apart from Jesus actually destroys community.

  • Toward a Counter-Cultural Community Part 1: Societal Segregation

    For the past several weeks, my disciple-making team and I have been working through what a counter-cultural, gospel-centered community of servants looks like. I think this is an important subject matter, one to which I hope to devote several blogposts.

    In order for a gospel community to be counter-cultural, we first have to assess what we are encountering in the culture. How does culture and society determine how community is formed and fostered? What are some of the guiding principles and motivations behind its formation? These are questions I find important to determine the starting point, that is, the current reality in which we enter.

    I have discovered 11 aspects “societal segregation” that form and foster the community at large. By segregation, I’m talking about ways society separates or isolates individuals to form groups favorable to their preferences and/or convictions. Positively speaking, they may be referred to “affinity” grouping. Most often, this happens naturally. When multiple aspects of societal segregation are combined, clustering sub-cultures are formed. The eleven aspects of societal segregation are:

    11 Forms of Societal Segregation

    1. Demographically – “age and stage” in life; boomers, busters, Xers, Nones, etc.
    2. Economically – low, middle, upper class
    3. Ethnically – black, white, hispanic, asian, “other”
    4. Sexuality – heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transgender
    5. Spiritually – religious, spiritual, atheist, Christian, Catholic, etc.
    6. Geographically – downtown, midtown, suburb, exurban, rural, etc.
    7. Linguistically – English, Spanish, Korean, German, etc.
    8. Educationally – not just levels of education but philosophy as well
    9. Politically – republican, democrat, independent, tea party
    10. Occupationally – white collar, blue collar, no collar; government, private sector
    11. Extra Curricularity – hobbies, sports, music, third-place loyalties

    These eleven forms/aspects have several uses in society, most notably being how they serve as filters for societal identification. When you get to know someone, you will discover their age (demographic), perhaps where they live (geographic), what they do for a living (occupation), and maybe even what they enjoy doing in their free time (extra curriculars). These aspects can not only serve as filters, but also barriers to keep out (separate) those most unlike yourself. If you find someone to be a Hispanic (ethnic), speaking Spanish (linguistic), practicing Roman Catholic (spirituality), construction worker (blue collar), and you are none of them, it is possible that a person with those aspects may never become a part of your community, as barriers have been erected (either knowingly or unknowingly) to prevent that from happening. As you can see, using them as filters can lead to creating barriers, but using them as barriers can lead to judgments and stereotypes. These aspects become the basis or grounds for security the kind of community that most suits your preferences or convictions, that makes you most comfortable by security people most like you. Judgments are made about people to determine who is allowed into the community you (and others like yourself) have formed.

    In my next post, I will share what I believe to be the internal driving motivations behind societal segregation and five components of heart idolatry surfacing in the process.

  • Why Preach from a Manuscript?

    ...As one of those young and inexperienced preachers, one of the best gifts God has given me is men who are committed to making me a better preacher of the gospel. Every sermon I preach is evaluated. Everything is considered: thesis, exegesis, illustrations, application, eye contact, speech, grammar, length, etc. In the beginning, I dreaded that one hour in our weekly elder meetings; however, as I sought to apply the fraternal criticism to my preaching, I began to anticipate those meetings, knowing I was benefiting from an experience in true pastoral training that many, if not most, in my generation are not afforded. The opportunity to receive real, significant preaching instruction and help is a stewardship I hope not only benefits my hearers but also those I may have opportunity to help in the future.

    One of the most significant helps I received at the beginning was writing out a full manuscript of my message. I have taken some time in recent days in light of some Twitter conversations to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned and benefits I’ve received from using a full manuscript in my preaching, and I thought I share them here for what it’s worth.

    10 Benefits I’ve Received from Using a Full Manuscript (MSS)

    1.  Clarity – The exercise of writing out what you are going to say before you say it provides you the opportunity of being clear in your communication. Cluttered, confusing statements do not serve preaching well. The discipline of writing a full MSS helps you address not only what you say but how you say it in ways that are clearly understandable to the hearer.

    2.  Brevity – When my first sermon was transcribed, it was over 7,000 words(!). Since writing a full MSS (and I mean full), I have whittled down my word count to roughly 4,000-4,500 words. The most effective preachers I know have an amazing ability to say a lot in a short amount of time. Length of preaching does not necessarily mean you cover the text well. It could be you are just rambling.

    3.  Precision – I was taught in seminary by professors that every paragraph in a research paper should contribute to your thesis. The same is true in preaching. If I have 45 minutes to preach, I cannot afford to waste 5 minutes on something that does not illuminate the text or apply it to my people. Make every paragraph count by making every sentence count. Don’t waste people’s attention by wasting your words.

    Additionally, using a MSS has forced me to be more precise in my grammar. Things like subject-verb agreement, using the active voice, pronouns and antecedents may sound technical and geared toward an academic audience, but they are important to your delivery. You are a public speaker, but more than that, you are a herald of God’s Gospel, and we should of all people be careful not to unnecessarily provide a stumbling block to receiving the message through being imprecise.

    4.  Simplicity – One of things most impressed upon me by Tom Ascol has been simplicity in preaching. Coming from an academic environment, I tended to use long, complex sentences and theological terms I took for granted, assuming my hearers fully understood them as well. And writing a MSS allows me to evaluate areas where my thoughts are too complex or my word choice could better serve my audience. The simpler, the better, and a MSS is a great tool to help make that happen.

    5.  Coherence – Do the points of my MSS argue and explain my thesis? Is my thesis the point of the text? Like precision, coherence makes the flow of your message easy for your listeners to follow. A choppy, disconnected message makes listeners struggle to follow what you are saying. Writing a full MSS helps you detect disjunctions and evaluate points or sub-points in your message that either don’t fit or need to be communicated differently.

    6.  Macro – A full MSS allows you to see the big picture to your sermon. Is there a way you could illustrate a point better. Are you missing application at key points? Are your transitions helpful in reviewing? A full MSS is like an executed storyboard. Is your story compelling? Are you engaging the mind, the heart, and the will? What do you want to accomplish at the conclusion of your message? A full MSS can help answer those questions, as you have time to consider all these matters from a macro viewpoint.

    7.  Retrieval/Preservation - You may preach a passage/message in the past that you may want to preach again in a different context. I recently did this while in Haiti. If all you have is a few bullet points or annotations, you may struggle in retrieval. But a full MSS has everything you said, including illustrations, transitions, applications, etc.

    8. Discipleship – I have made the habit of making my MSS available on Sundays, and here recently I have had non-Christians and newly converted Christians asking for my MSS to take home with them. When the MSS is available to them, they are less worried about taking notes feverishly and can be more engaged then and there for the Spirit to apply the Word to them, knowing they could get my full MSS later. The MSS also becomes a tool I could use with guys I’m mentoring and training as future pastors or church planters in helping them in their craft.

    9.  Personal Application/Enjoyment - Exegetical/expository preaching is hard work. Writing a full MSS can make it even harder. But I can say that after doing it a while, God has used that exercise to convict me in areas where I’m not living where I’m preaching. Not only that, but God has also encouraged me in the process by the leadership and assistance of the Holy Spirit. For those who preach more extemporaneously and prepare little, God bless them. I’m not that guy. But here’s another thing to consider. God is with you in your preparation as much as He is with you in your presentation. Writing the full MSS and praying over it is an opportunity to experience the blessing of God’s Spirit owning His Word in my life. Those hours of preparation are when heaven enters your soul. Savor it.

    10.  Preparation – Even though I write a full MSS, that does not mean I preach from it or force myself to stick to it exactly. Some argue that it makes you more wooden or boring. I can certainly see that happening. But what about reading and praying over your MSS several times in the day or hours before you preach so that you are not only going to the pulpit with a hot heart but with a lot of light as well?

    I hope that something here might encourage young preachers to cultivate their craft. I am one who is far from where I want to be as a preacher, but thanks to God’s kindness in the gifts of godly examples and their constructive help, I don’t think I’m where I used to be.

    If there are any questions about preaching, fraternal critique, or developing a sermon MSS, let me know.  If it would be any help to you, I am providing you four sermon MSSs from last month where I preached a mini-series on God’s grace.

    Grasping the Grandeur of God’s Grace (Sermon Series)

  • Triperspectivalism of the Risen Lord

    Between His resurrection and ascension into heaven, Jesus spent 40 days appearing multiple times to his disciples and some 500 people. I have not spent a great deal reflecting on this period of time in Jesus’ earthly ministry, but here lately I have found it particularly fruitful. One of the helpful reflections I’ve enjoyed this week was how Jesus revealed Himself during this time as prophet, priest, and king in such clear and convincing ways.

    The Risen Lord as Prophet

    The first recorded appearance of our Risen Lord was on the road to Emmaus. Here were two men, depressed and dejected because they had come to hope that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the one “to redeem Israel.” During that journey, Jesus “opened up the Scriptures” beginning “with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Jesus repeated this practice with His disciples. Luke records Jesus declaring, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures…” (Luke 24:44-45). Jesus was committed to not only teaching the truth of God’s Word, He was committed to His disciples rightly interpreting God’s Word–all of Scripture is about Him!

    We also see Christ as Prophet in Luke’s sequel, the book of Acts. In the Acts 1, we discover the Risen Christ “giving commands through the Holy Spirit” and “speaking about the kingdom of God.” Jesus clearly invested a considerable amount of His time during those 40 days teaching, speaking, instructing, and charging His disciples as not only as a witness to the truth of God’s Word, but the embodiment of truth as the Incarnate Word.

    The Risen Lord as Priest

    Prior to the crucifixion of Jesus, all of His disciples fled in fear and denial. After the crucifixion, His disciples were full anxiety, doubt, and disbelief. Attempts to change their minds with testimonies from others “seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). Yet the Lord appeared to them in the midst of such disarray and bewilderment with His presence and nearness. He came among them. He invited them to the most intimate settings of sharing a meal together. He encouraged them to feel the scars on his hands, feet, and side. He made Himself accessible and approachable in the most tangible and transparent ways possible.

    The question, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:38) was met with “many proofs” as he repeatedly “presented Himself alive to them after His suffering” (Acts 1:3). Why so many proofs? Why so many repeated appearances during that 40 days? Jesus was determined to eliminate all doubt, fear, and unbelief in the hearts of His disciples. He refused to have any of them in the slightest way unsure or unconvinced of His resurrection and the implications of that reality should make in their lives. Luke 24 begins with His disciples full of anxiety, fear, and unbelief, and Luke 24 ends with His disciples full of faith, joy, and praise (Luke 24:52-53). This is the result of the priestly labors of our Risen Lord.

    In John’s post-resurrection account, we discover the priestly work of Jesus specifically in the lives of Thomas and Peter. You remember what Thomas said, right? “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25). Jesus could have easily grown tired of such responses, but his loving care went much deeper than the unbelief in Thomas’ heart. He made His wounds available for Thomas so that his heart would be fortified by faith. The shame that had pierced his heart was no match for the love that pierced Jesus’ side.

    Then there’s Peter. Remember what he did, right? Denied Jesus three times, cursing, and weeping bitterly from a distance. How could he look upon the One whom he betrayed so blatantly. Peter and the disciples thought it best to go back to life before Christ, fishing in a boat. Instead of going to the tomb, Jesus came to them. Apparently they were having a really bad day fishing. Jesus gave them orders to cast the nets again. What did Jesus know about fishing? Oh yeah, Jesus made those fish and the sea that contains them. After the big catch and breakfast together, Jesus had some one-on-one time with Peter. Notice His line of questioning.

    “Peter, do you love me more than these?”

    More than what? These fish that were caught? These men Peter knew? Probably all of the above. Jesus was restoring Peter to a place where his identity was not determined by what he did but who he belonged to. Peter did not feel like he belonged to Jesus, but Jesus transformed those feelings by His strong affections for Peter.

    “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

    This time, Jesus brings up Peter’s old name and relationship to his father. When Peter first followed Jesus, he not only left “these things” (fishing, nets, boats), he also left his earthly father. By referring to Peter as “Simon, son of John,” Jesus is gently restoring Peter’s identity as one relationally and intimately connected to Jesus, more than any other earthly relationship.

    Three times Peter denied Jesus. Three times Jesus restored Peter. Peter wanted to go back to fishing. Jesus wanted Peter to go back to being a fisher of men. Peter wanted to pretend like nothing ever happened, in his old life with his father. Jesus wanted Peter to understand it did happened, and that changed everything. Jesus is too loving and caring to allow Peter to be dominated by denial, unbelief, guilt, and shame. He was determined to have Peter as a man full of faith, hope, love, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

    The Risen Lord as King

    After those 40 days, Jesus would ascend into heaven. They know and understand the truth. They are full of joy, faith, and love for Jesus. But now what? What are they going to do once Jesus is ascended into heaven? During those 40 days, Jesus set up the administration for His kingdom advance. As King, Jesus inaugurated the kingdom with His life and continues to build His kingdom through the lives of His disciples.

    We do not know all the commands Jesus gave through the Holy Spirit, but we do know a few. Actually one command with several expressions. We call it the Great Commission.

    In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me into the world, even so I am sending you into the world” (John 20:21). The lives of His disciples are to be characterized by a “sentness” –  a life marked by mission and gospel advance.

    Jesus charges in Luke’s account that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:47-48).

    In more detailed fashion, we read in Acts that His disciples will “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

    In one of the most commonly referenced passages, we read in Matthew’s account the following: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age”  (Matthew 28:18-20). The authority of Christ speaks of His qualification to rule over every square inch of this universe. There are no boundaries to His reign; therefore, there are no limitations to our mission to make disciples.

    With all this talk of going and being witnesses of King Jesus, it is important to notice the admonishment to wait and pray for power from on High, the indwelling of the Spirit. Jesus had to go up for His Spirit to come down so that His people would go out. The power to live on mission as God’s sent people making disciples of Jesus comes from the Spirit of the Risen Lord controlling our lives.

    Throughout His earthly life, Jesus showed Himself as consummate prophet, priest, and king. But it is particularly encouraging to see how, during His 40 days post-resurrection pre-ascension period, such offices of Christ were on display as the staging ground for the great work of kingdom advance by people entranced by Christ, fueled with His joy, and filled with His Spirit to continue the mission entrusted to us.

  • About Tim Brister

    Tim Brister has served as a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church since June 2008. Tim's passion is to demonstrate a life that trusts God, treasures Christ, and triumphs the gospel. Tim is the Director of PLNTD, a church planting network in association with Founders Ministries. He's also the director of The Haiti Collective, organizer for Band of Bloggers, and creator of P2R (Partnering to Remember) and the Memory Moleskine.

    You can read more about Tim on his blog, Provocations and Pantings.