Tim Brister


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.

3 Phases of Christianity in Culture and How to Respond

Christendom and Culture

Christendom is dead. For some, this is a time of lament. For others, it is a time of renewal and revival. I want to offer my reflections on the three different phases of Christianity and culture and the corresponding posture for Christian cultural engagement.

Christendom: Synced with Culture

Syncretism is the blending or assimilation of two belief systems into one. There was a time when Christianity enjoyed cultural approval and widespread recognition. When someone spoke of religion, it was rare that anyone thought of another faith beside Christianity. Monuments to the Ten Commandments were erected in the public square. Prayers were offered by teachers in public schools. Love for God and country were seen in churches who displayed a Christian flag on one side of the pulpit and an American flag on the other. Christianity was synced with American culture.

This syncretism took three primary manifestations: nominalism, moralism, and zionism. Because of its popularity and being somewhat normative in American culture, people identified as being Christian without ever actually becoming a Christian. There were Christian in name only. Identifying with being a Christian without actually becoming one afforded people goodwill in society as they would be seen as virtuous, upstanding, and respectable.

Christianity also assimilated with moralism because many of the identity markers of Christianity were what you did or did not do. Christians do not drink or smoke. Christians did not dance. Christians were dedicated to religious activity. Christianity was not so much defined by what you believed but by how you lived. Christianity was in a way moral gatekeepers for the culture and enjoyed relative success in advocating the law, even when unable to keep it themselves entirely.

Then, there was zionism. There is a blending of the American dream with Christianity. This is where it became popular to drape the cross in the American flag. The United States was considered to some degree God’s great gift to the world, the last great hope for humanity. Verses with promises tied to Israel in the Old Testament easily found a home in sermons from American pulpits. Christianity was depicted in particularly American imagery, and American culture was governed by particularly Christian values.

Dying Christendom: Fight Against Culture

Then came the time when Christendom began to fade away as American culture began a shift away from Christianity. This is the birth of the culture warriors, the silent majority, and the religious right. This was the time when the lamenting prophets would cry out, “Let’s take back America,” and due to the contrarian posture, Christians were known more for what they were against than what they were for.

As culture went from bad to worse, increasing in lawlessness, dying Christendom took a bunker mentality from which to fight. Most notable in this battle plan was the rise of the “one-stop-shop megachurch.” Megachurches were great because you could do everything you wanted to do in the world without ever having go into the world. Dads had their softball leagues. Kids had their own basketball and soccer leagues. Moms had their “mom’s day outs” and aerobics classes. Aside from the cultural commodities in the church, there were many more religious goods and services to occupy the time and energy of Christians, effectively keeping them busy and safely removed from the wicked world out there. The megachurch became a breeding ground for religious consumerism in the supermarket of the religious ghettos that protected Christians from the rampant wickedness increasingly on display in the culture now fought by the religious/political special forces.

Another aspect of dying Christendom was the underpinnings of pluralism and postmodernism in both high culture (academia) and low culture (pop culture). Morality that was once standardized by the Ten Commandments had been replaced by “it is not wrong if I don’t hurt myself or anyone else” kind of ambiguity. What was once considered true for all was no longer considered true for anyone. The objective was replaced with the subjective. The universal was replaced with the relative. And John 3:16 was replaced with Matthew 7:1. When you refer to “God” or religion, you no longer had the cultural reference point of Christianity. And the idea that there was only one way to God was considered intolerant and full of bigotry.

Post-Christendom: Re-enters Culture

I believe we are now living in a culture of Post-Christendom. While it may be the death of Christendom, I believe it is also the rebirth of Christianity. All cultural assumptions are now gone. Nominalism is dying off because Christianity now only has value to those who value Christ above all things. Moralism is dying off because Christians are returning to the message of Christianity (the gospel). Zionism is dying off, because we are more globally aware of what God is doing in the world and how we play a small part in it.

In Post-Christendom, we have an opportunity to be known for what we are for rather than what we are against. We have an opportunity to bring clarity to our identity as disciples of Jesus Christ, to come out of the sub-cultures and ghettos we have created in the past to live, work, and play to a world where we are called to shine as a city on a hill. We can reintroduce ourselves to our neighbors, coworkers, and playmates with compassion and conviction. We don’t have to seek cultural approval and acceptance because the gospel tells us the only approval and acceptance we need has already been given to us and is sitting at the right hand of God the Father.

The posture in Post-Christendom is to enter in culture in ordinary ways by ordinary people and demonstrate the extraordinary love of God by laying our lives down for the sake of the gospel. It is a posture that recognizes we are dealing with a world where John 3:16 does not make sense to them because Genesis 1:1 does not make sense to them. We enter in with humility and kindness, understanding the posture of our Savior towards us who were once hostile in mind and rebels to His cause of redemption.

Perhaps there has never been a time more exciting and opportunistic for Christians in the United States than right now. May God be so kind to bring renewal and revival to the apostolic faith once for all handed down to the saints as we live, move, and have our being in Him—exiles proclaiming the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light!


Tim Brister is a pastor, writer, and church planting specialist. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.


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)


Tim Brister is a pastor, writer, and church planting specialist. Find out more on his blog here.

For the full version of Tim's article, check out Preaching, Manuscripts, and Fraternal Critique.


How Christians Live in Post-Christian Culture

The news is out. Christendom is dead. Christians are no longer the moral majority but the missional minority. How should respond? How shall we live? I want to begin a series of articles where I attempt to answer some of these questions. To begin, I want to focus on the words of Jesus near the end of His earthly ministry as He prayed to the Father on behalf of His disciples (John 17). When we consider the content of His High Priestly prayer, we discover both indicatives regarding the state of His followers in the world as well as imperatives on how they should walk in the world. In the midst of these two aspects of our Lord’s teaching about the relationship between His people and the world, we learn that there is one over-arching purpose for Christians and our relationship with the world.

Indicatives

Christians are in the world (John 17:11).

While this might be obvious to the reader, the point is that Christians are not physically separate from the world. Christians are in the world in the sense that they occupy the same space, go to the same markets, and interact in the same society as non-Christians. They are not people who form their own sub-cultures or ghettos to avoid the world. They recognize where God has placed them and do not run from that reality. They are relatable, accessible, and approachable to those in the world in normal, ordinary ways (e.g., friend, neighbor, coworker, classmate, teammate, etc.).

Christians are not of the world (John 17:16).

Christians do not belong to the world. They are not longer conformed to the values and ways of living common in the culture and society around them. They belong to the kingdom of God and, therefore, have a new identity and loyalty to the King and his kingdom. Therefore, while they are in the world, they do not belong to our embrace the world as those who do not belong to Jesus Christ.

Christians are hated by the world (John 17:14).

It stands to reason that if Christians are not conforming to the world and its ways, the world would mock, ridicule, detest, and hate the counter-cultural ways of Christians. Therefore, as Jesus says, His followers should not be surprised that the world hates us. The world hated Him first and crucified Him for who He was. In a later epistle, John wrote that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19). The strong distinction of being in the world and not of the world causes Christians to be hated by the world who does not accept the King in whose kingdom we gladly live.

Imperatives

Christians are called to remain in the world (John 17:15).

Jesus knew His followers would be hated by the world. He knew there would be consequences and a high cost to identifying with Him, and yet Jesus asks the Father that His disciples would remain in the world that has a predisposition of hatred and contempt. Christians do not compromise or conform to the world due to this hatred because that would be a denial of our identity. We do not retaliate with violence or acts of force, because that would be a denial of His sovereignty. Rather, we respond like Jesus and suffer the hatred and mocking and contempt as the glory of God is put on display in our trials. By remaining in the world, we love those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and give our lives away for those who have not given their lives to Jesus Christ.

Christians are sent into the world (John 17:18).

There is a temptation that every Christian will experience when faced with the reality that they are called to remain in a world that hates them. Should I embrace this suffering? Can I just retreat and retrench and wait for His return? The answer is clearly no. Jesus has sent His disciples into the world, and this speaks of a mission. The suffering Christian is sent to present Christ through their witness as an offense without being offensive. We do not shrink back due to the forces of hatred but press with greater, more powerful forces of love and compassion. In the same way that darkness cannot overcome light, even death cannot overcome His disciples because Christ has taken away its sting and no longer has victory of us.

Overarching Purpose

Christians walk in the world so that the world may believe in Jesus Christ (John 17:21).

In and through all that Christians are and do in the world is the fundamental purpose of seeing people come to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Jesus indicated in His prayer that there will be those who believe in Him through the gospel proclamation of His disciples sent into the world to be hated and suffer for His name’s sake. Christians do not exist to mark time. We exist to see His kingdom come, and our existence is laced with a passion for seeking first that kingdom in all things and with all people, knowing we have a king so worthy of having worshippers from every generation and every nation, tongue, and tribe gathering around his throne.

Every Christian needs to know who they are, what they are called to do, and why they live in this particular way in the world. In this conversation of the Son with the Father, we get a clear picture that should become the mirror in our morning to remind us of these realities and responsibilities. The great assurance we have in this life is knowing these realities and responsibilities are comprised in a prayer that will never go unanswered; so, let us so live, move, and have our being in Christ until the world sees, hears, and believes in Jesus as Lord!


Tim Brister is a pastor, writer, and church planting specialist. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.


I Am a Great Witness… of Lesser Things

We are hardwired to talk to other people about what impresses us the most. Unfortunately, too often our conversation indicates we are far too easily impressed by trivial things.

I have two toddler boys (aged 3 and 5) who love to share with me exciting happenings in their little world. My three-year old, for instance will come running into my office out of breath, telling me of his first successful attempt of buttoning up his own pants. My five-year old is learning to read and cannot wait to share with me the new words he has learned to spell. Those regular occurrences remind me that from our earliest years of talking, we were made to bear witness to others about what makes the biggest impression on us.

I must confess that I am a great witness of lesser things. I find it rather natural for me to talk with others about things like college football dynasty like Alabama football, or the latest political controversy, or the most interesting moment that recently occurred in my life. We want to have something to say, something to contribute to the lives of others around us, and in the end, the offerings of our daily witness have less weight and significance than we bill them to be in our conversation.

God has made me to be a witness of the biggest drama in all of history. The event that interprets history and delineates time is meant to explode off my lips. Nothing is to be more profoundly impacting for the purpose of natural overflowing than a bloody cross, empty tomb, and occupied throne. The scandal of the cross, the innocent for the guilty, the righteous for the unrighteous, the perfect Son for the rebellious traitor, the sacrifice for the scoffer–this scandal should sober my senses, awaken my affections, and transfix my thoughts that I am stunned by the greatness of such grace. Nothing in the world should get me sweetly talking like Him who remained silent and drank the bitter cup of God’s wrath for me.

Tragically, I find myself far too easily impressed with lesser things. I bear witness of things that cannot satisfy, of idols that cannot save, of moments that are quickly forgotten. I want my words and witness to count for the biggest event in all of history performed by the greatest person who ever lived. I am not as impressed in the law-fulfilling life of Jesus as I should be. I am far more gospel inoculated than I admit. I am not as awakened to the majesty of sovereign mercy in the sacrificial death fo Jesus. I suffer more from gospel amnesia than I realize. And I am not conscious of the fact that Jesus right now has all authority over all things in heaven and earth, including every person I will ever encounter and every heart He has yet to conquer through the gospel. And yet I am succeeding in bearing witness in matters that do not matter in the scales of eternity.

When I behold the majestic mountaintops, the expanse of the wide oceans, the enormity of the universe, I am daily reminded I was made to speak of awesome realities. But nothing is more awesome than sins forgiven, washed in blood, nailed to the cross, taking away all condemnation and curse! Nothing is more awesome than divine favor and acceptance that comes from being dressed in the righteousness of Jesus, hidden in His embrace, and loved because of His merits. Nothing is more awesome than fellowship with the Father who is for me, the Son who is with me, and Holy Spirit who is in me. I was made to tell the world of this. To bear witness of His majesty and mercy, of His greatness and grace, of His unapproachable light and never-ending love.

I am a witness. You are witness. The question is what are we witnesses of? What is making the biggest impression and evoking the great commentary and reaction? I am, you are, made to bear witness of glory. Not just any glory. The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Let’s behold Him with fresh eyes of faith, and then respond with Spirit-led, grace-laced, jaw-dropping, life-transforming testimony of the beauty and power of King Jesus.


Blind to Our Blindness

Paul Tripp, in his book Sex & Money, says the following:

“We would all like to think that no one knows our hearts better than we do. We would like to believe that others may be self-deceived, but we are not. It’s simply not true. Since sin is in its essence deceptive, as long as sin lives in our hearts, we will tend to be blind to the true condition of our hearts. But more must be said. Not only will we be blind to our hearts; we will be blind to our blindness, thinking we see when we really don’t. To add to this, we will participate in our own blindness. Because of self-righteousness of sin, we will work to make ourselves feel good about what is not good or believe that the problem is not, in fact, us.”

When I came across this paragraph this morning, I was struck by the need for gospel-centered community–a truly counter-cultural community. The worldly culture tells us that the center of our problems are out there, but the gospel tells us that the problem lies in our hearts. Only the gospel can bring transformation from within, and as long as wrongly diagnose the location of the disease, we will fail to access the cure.

Only a true grasp of the gospel can liberate us from the lies we have told ourselves. Not only are we  dishonest about our sin and neediness, but we are not fearful or closed off from inviting others to being honest with themselves and ourselves as well. Tripp is right. We participate in “the blind leading the blind” when we refuse to see sin rightly and live as a community that makes self-atonement by pretending and performing in attempts to circumvent the power of the gospel to change our lives. How blind are we? We would rather live in the chains of self-deception through the lens of pride than the freedom of self-discovery through the lens of Scripture.

A gospel-centered community is counter-cultural because it identifies the real problem (our hearts) and has the only, lasting cure to solve it (the gospel). Instead of pretending to be self-righteous, we give permission and invite others to help us change by exposing self-deception and blind spots in a community radically shaped by grace and governed by truth. I am not who I am in my pride and self-deception. I am who I am in Christ and my acceptance through his imputed righteousness and substitutionary death on the cross. The challenge is to live in latter through repenting of the former, and the counter-cultural community changed by the gospel will serve as the canvas upon which the sunrise of God’s Word illuminates our lives.

When I know my Sin-bearer drank the bitter cup and atoned for every last one of my sins, why should I hide? What could be known about me that is not already covered in the blood? When I know that God’s righteous judgment of my sin was carried out on His Son in my place on that cursed tree, I live in the fact that there is no condemnation for me, and no accusation of the enemy can silence the Advocate whose precious blood speaks for me. If these truths are ruling the affections of our hearts, then we can live as a people who invite truth in the place of deception, believing that the truth will set us free.


Please Teach Disciples How to Live

I grew up in a churched culture. From the time I left the hospital until I graduated high school, I was put through every program, participated in every activity, and was faithful to every event our local church had to offer. Children’s church, R.A.’s (Royal Ambassadors), Bible Drill, Children’s & Youth Choir, Puppet Ministry, Youth Group/Ministry, Sunday School, Discipleship Training, Christmas/Easter Dramas… you name it, I was in it.

I was converted at the early age of 8, right in the middle of all the busy life a committed church-goer. Looking back, however, one of the most glaring (and I would add scandalous) omissions is that my church never taught me how to live. I knew how to do a ton of religious things, not the least of which was checking off the boxes on my tithe envelope, but when it came to living out my faith as a disciple of Jesus, I really had no clue. I just knew how to get in the system and let the system do its thing.

The System and Spirit Within Christendom

What this system has produced, rather unintentionally I might add, is a spirit of consumerism through the culture of Christendom. In this system, who you are (identity) is defined by what you do (performance). I am a Christian because I go to church, and the fruit of my faith is manifested in my participation and religious performances. This system works within Christendom because Christianity and culture has been syncretized so that being religious or good is tantamount to being a disciple of Jesus.

The metrics for this appraisal of religious devotion are the church’s programs, activities, and events (think gatherings and special services). Instead of teaching disciples of Jesus how to live in the world, we take them out of the world and teach them how to be busy in the church building/campus. The centralizing effect made the church like the indoor shopping mall, servicing the needs, wants, and preferences of all within Christendom. The consumer was in control, and the church was there to make sure their product was good enough to have them buy into their church.

But just like the indoor mall has seen its day, so has Christendom. There has been a great divorce between Christianity and culture in recent years, and fewer and fewer people are attracted to this religious marketplace mentality. Ironically, many proponents in this system are lamenting the lack of enduring fruit from this well-oiled, efficient system.

Why is it that around 1% of Christians ever share their faith? Could it be that they do not know any unbelievers? Could it be that they have never been taught how to love their neighbor? Could it be that their understanding of evangelism is exceptionally gifted leaders using an extraordinary platform rather than ordinary people doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality?

Why is it that there is little qualitative distinctiveness between disciples of Jesus and those in the world around them? Could it be that we have assumed the gospel and replaced it with behavioral modification? Could it be we have substituted repentance and faith with try harder and do better? Could it be that we have trained people to value programs and activities in place of authentic community and missional living? Could it be that we have measured religious activity and assumed that is the same thing as pursuing holiness?

The Bottom Line for Living Now

Here’s the bottom line: Jesus has called all who believe in Him to be His disciples. Our goal is to become like Him and represent Him in the world. Our identity is not defined by what we do but what He has done on our behalf. Our identity as a disciple does not turn on when we are in a “house of worship.” It is on all the time because “this is my Father’s world.”

Disciples of Jesus need a biblical metric for evaluating their lives, and church programs, activities, and events do not meet that standard. One of the roles I lead in during our gatherings is connecting with new people who attend for the first time. Occasionally, new people will ask the question, “What kind of programs do you offer? What kind of activities can we get involved in?” These are the questions of consumers from the culture of Christendom. Churches do them no service by giving them a way to be busy and yet experience no life change. Churches do themselves no favor by thinking they need to “sell their church” to such people. What these people need is to be taught how to live by a church who are committed to living out their identity as “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession”.

When churches replace activities, programs, and events with gospel, community, and mission, the efficient system will be replaced with a glorious mess where Christ is in control, not the consumer. Instead of feeling the need to be the “best show” in town, churches are freed to offer the best grace of our beautiful Savior. Religious people in the system of Christendom know that it is a safe place to hide, a sure place of never truly being known. Disciples who live by repentance and faith have no fear of being known for who they truly are because they are living in the good of the gospel, not the shaky goodness of their religious checklist. For the church, we are not so concerned about disciples attending our stuff as much as we seeing them live their lives in the world around them. Let’s get rid of celebrating the props of religious performance and celebrate a life well lived through humble praxis!

Show Them How to Live

I am convinced that most churches are missing the point at the most fundamental level of Christian living. For most of my life, I was never taught how to live as a disciple of Jesus. Perhaps that is because no one else around me was taught that either. We just did what everyone else did and got busy at it. But it does not have to be this way! Christians learn to live by living out their lives in light of the gospel with a gospel community on mission in the world around them. Enough with teaching Christians how to act as Christians on Sunday. We need a view of disciple-making that trains Christians how to walk “in his steps” wherever and whenever that journey takes them.

Consider the questions that are being asked, especially about what is not being asked or talked about. How much of our lives are “off the table” because we have divorced everyday living from our identity as a disciple of Jesus? Consider the content of Christian conversation, especially if people are talking about how they are discovering new areas in their lives that are being brought under the Lordship of Jesus Christ as they grow in repentance and faith. Consider the subject of people’s prayer requests, especially if they are about matters tangential at best to their life, relationships, and involvement in the world. And consider what followers of Jesus are satisfied with, especially if they are more comfortable with being a consumer of religious activities than a disciples consumed with Jesus.

There are teenagers right now in your life who need to know how to live in a world full of temptation, peer pressure, and acceptance. There are young professionals in your life who need to know how to live in a world telling them life is about making a living, being successful, and moving up the ladder. There are young families in your life who need to know how to raise their children not to be Pharisees, but disciplined and trained in a gospel-formative way. I could go on. But this kind of living does not get accessed by taking the pill or checking in once a week on Sunday. They need to be shown how to live by people who are living it out. It’s messy. It’s hard. But it’s glorious. Jesus came that we might have life, and that we might have it in full (John 10:10). Let us teach disciples to know what that means and live that out!


Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.


Do You Truly Understand the Power of the Gospel?

The Bible is living and active (Heb. 4:12), inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16), and given for the purposes of teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. The Bible is all about God’s story of redemption centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. In the church where I serve, we say the gospel is all about (1) who Jesus is, (2) what Jesus has done, and (3) why that matters.

The gospel is the power of God (Rom. 1:16), and that power is demonstrated not only in our past rescue, reconciliation, and redemption, but also in our present faith, hope, and love. Christians who truly get the gospel discover its power again and again on a daily basis. They get it in all three areas of text, context, and subtext because the gospel changes everything. The “living and active” nature of the Word is doing its effectual work as the Spirit convicts, renews, and reforms our lives in ways that demonstrate the transforming power of Jesus.

Text • Context • Subtext

The text addresses biblical revelation. God reveals Himself through His written Word and in His Son, the Word made flesh. The gospel is the message, the text above all texts, that reveals God’s sovereign purposes in history to unite all things in Christ. Truly getting the gospel means we understand that the gospel is normative and supreme in God’s dealings with us, and we humbly submit to the authority of God’s Word and what it says about us and our need for Him. We are committed to knowing the gospel truly and articulating it clearly because God has spoken on the issue definitively.

The context addresses life orientation. These are matters pertaining to what lies outside of us and how our lives relate to them and orient around them. Context includes our relationships to other people, daily circumstances, seasons of life, spheres of existence, etc. Truly getting the gospel means we recognize that context is the place where the gospel is applied. Living in light of the gospel is learning to work out our new identity in Christ in specific places, in specific situations, and with specific people so that the reign and rule of King Jesus is manifested in His Lordship through the context of our existence.

The subtext addresses heart motivation. If context addresses what lies outside of us, subtext deals with what lies inside of us–our hearts. Subtext matters include motivation for actions, pursuit of pleasure, and aim in personal ambition. Subtext reveals the areas where unbelief remains in the life of a Christian, showing where functional idolatry and other forms of god-replacements are substituted for happiness, joy, peace, and contentment. Subtext is the canvas of our life story, and when we truly get the gospel, we see how the story of the gospel rewrites the story of our lives as we move from unbelief to belief in all matters of the heart.

Failing to Get the Gospel

One of the greatest dangers for Christians today is to be content with getting the gospel merely with biblical revelation (text). In my (Reformed) tribe, a great deal of energy is expended on getting the gospel right here, and rightfully so. The best books available on “what is the gospel message?” are coming from theologically-astute pastors and scholars. Nevertheless, if we fail to get the gospel message from our heads to our hearts and lives, then we are failing to truly get the gospel.

The normative nature of the text should have direct application for the context and personal implication for the subtext of our lives. Maturing gospel-centered Christians are discontent to correctly know the doctrinal aspect of the gospel; they are driven to a life dominated by the gospel. Those who love the gospel will not only find it a message to contend for, but also a message to live by. That means theological conversations are not enough. Bible studies are not enough. Books and commentaries are not enough. Superb head knowledge and theological acumen are not enough.

We simply cannot cut off the gospel’s power from the very places it intends to work – ongoing life-transformation. Those who truly get the gospel are those who confess how little of the gospel they truly get – and how much more they desire to embrace. They know that confessing Jesus is Lord means something in the context of their lives and subtext of their life story, and they want a congruency with what the gospel reveals, what their heart desires, and what their life demonstrates.

Those who truly get the gospel have gotten the most use out of the gospel. They have wrestled with how to apply the gospel to marriage or parenting, to adversity or success, to loneliness or stress-filled days. They are not afraid to deal openly and aggressively with areas of unbelief in their heart–doubts, fears, and all the ways the brokenness of the fall has caused them to look elsewhere to find hope, healing, and happiness. There’s an honesty that is refreshing because the gospel is so gripping. When you get it, it won’t let you get off believing a glossy, artificial, photoshopped version of you, because Jesus did not die for fake sinners who dress in fig leaves. He came for real sinners who have real need for real power from a really risen Savior.

The question I have to keep asking myself is, “What areas of my life in the context (externally) and subtext (internally) that I am cornering off or building a fortress around so that the text of God’s gospel is not actively working? How is this not revealing how I am ashamed of the gospel?” A gospel community presses one another into the context and subtext, as messy as it is, because of the mercy we have found at the cross. A gospel community that truly gets the gospel will celebrate faith and repentance in the ongoing renewal that comes from Spirit who graciously magnifies Christ in our hearts.

I want to be numbered among those who truly get the gospel so that the world may know how glorious Jesus is and how amazing I’ve discovered His grace to be.


Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.


How Jesus Did NOT Pursue Celebrity and Prosperity

Two key areas of struggle, it seems, for evangelicalism today can be found in celebrity culture and the prosperity gospel. In light of that, I found this excerpt from Henry Scougal’s The Life of God in the Soul of Man to be insightful and convicting.

He who would bring together such a prodigious number of fishes into his disciples’ net, and, at another time, receive that tribute from a fish which he was to pay to the temple, might easily have made himself the richest person in the world. Nay, without any money, he could have maintained an army powerful enough to have justled Caesar out of his throne, having oftener than once fed several thousands with a few loaves and small fishes; but, to show how small esteem he had of all the enjoyments in the world, he chose to live in so poor and mean a condition, “that though the foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests, yet he, who was Lord and heir of all things, had not whereon to lay his head.” He did not frequent the courts of princes, nor affect the acquaintance or converse of great ones; but, being reputed the son of a carpenter, he had fishermen, and such other poor people for his companions, and lived at such a rate as suited with the meanness of that condition.

So many things that Jesus could have done but didn’t, and yet so many things Jesus didn’t do, we can live in pursuit of and never attain. If our goal in discipleship and life is conformity to Christ, a significant step in that process is becoming well-acquainted with the ways of Christ (not only the words of Christ). This isn’t a call to living impoverished lives as some might object, but rather a call to discipleship, a call to follow Jesus in a cruciform manner such that the life of Jesus might be seen in the dying to ourselves (2 Cor. 5).


Someone Will Sin Against You Today, Are You Ready?

Growing up in North Alabama, I remember going through specific routines in the event of an emergency. I doubt there was a kid who did not know why or when you need to stop, drop, and roll. We were trained in protocols in the event of a tornado, calmly lining up in the hallway and securing our heads from potential debris. We knew how to exit the buildings in case of a fire in a single-file line to safe zones outside. All of these procedures were responses to various kinds of potential disasters we could encounter while in school.

Now what, do you think, are the possibilities that I as a kid in elementary school would actually need to follow through on those drills? How often would a tornado tear through our building? How often would a fire consume the classrooms? Hardly ever, if at all, right? But we were still trained in how to respond in the very unlikely event that they might occur.

What if I told you that on a daily basis you are going to be faced with potential crises or disasters that required a response from you? What if it was not a distant potentiality but an eminent reality? How would you prepare yourself for such situations? Would you be trained to know how to respond?

Let me break this down and make the case why every follower of Jesus must have a gospel response plan (GRP).

  • Have you ever been hurt by someone else?
  • Have you ever been criticized?
  • Have you ever been offended?
  • Has someone ever sinned against you?
  • Have you sinned against someone else?
  • Has your day ever taken one unexpected turn after another?
  • Have other people let you down or betrayed your trust?
  • Have you faced days of disappointment and despair?
  • Have you experienced frustration and anger at the failure of others or yourself?

These are just a few questions addressing realities you and I face on a daily basis, and with every question/situation, a response will manifest from your life. But what kind of response will it be? We have a choice to respond out of our sinful nature (Gen. 3) or out of our new identity in Christ. Will our response be driven by guilt and shame, hiding and pretending, blaming and fearing like Adam and Eve in Genesis 3? Or will our response arise from repentance and faith out of a heart resting in God’s acceptance of you in Christ?

You are a sinner living among sinners. You are a desperately needy person rubbing shoulders with desperately needy people. What weak, needy sinners need in every moment is to look to a strong, sufficient Savior. That’s what we do when we respond to the gospel–we turn from looking to ourselves (whether out of self-pity or self-righteousness) in repentance and we look to Christ in renewed faith and trust.

The problem we have today, I fear, is that most Christians do not have a developed gospel response plan and, therefore, there is no functional repentance and faith response when things happen (internally or externally) in their lives. The default, then, is to look somewhere other than Jesus in our response. And this, I find, is a massive discipleship breakdown for believers.

Someone is going to sin against you. Will you handle that situation with a response that honors the gospel? Will you pursue reconciliation through forgiveness and view that person through the lens of grace? Or will you come across self-righteous and force that person to make atonement for their sin by working their way back into a right relationship with you based on their efforts?

You are going to sin against someone else. Will you handle that situation with a response that honors the gospel? Will you make excuses for your sin? Rationalize it? Blame others for it? Or will you own it, humbly confessing it to God and those whom you sinned against, seeking forgiveness? Will you hide away playing the victim card in self-pity, sulking in your failure, or will you take your sin to the throne of grace to your merciful High Priest?

Paul said, “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord so walk in him…” (Col. 2:6). You receive Jesus by repentance and faith, and you walk in that same repentance and faith. That is to say, this is how we “learn Christ” (Eph. 5:20) and “put on our new self” (i.e., our new identity in Christ). I think the most practically and helpful tool that Christians have today is to be trained to know how to respond to various situations they will encounter in a way that commends the gospel and flows out of a heart fully resting and secure in Jesus. We are not talking about potential dangers here. We’re talking about actual, real-life situations happening every day where Christians will either act out the old man of Genesis 3 or the new man being renewed by the Holy Spirit.

Think back in your life where sin has impacted your relationship with God and others. Are there people that are no longer in your life because of the functional absence of a gospel-driven response? Sadly, I can say that is true for me, and I suspect that if we are cognizant enough, nearly everyone would consent to that reality. But we don’t have to continue that way!

So what is your Gospel Response Plan?

You are sinner living in a fallen world. You are going to be hurt, betrayed, frustrated, prideful, annoyed, judgmental, pitiful, and so much more. It’s going to happen. But are you going to be trained as a follower of Jesus Christ to know, almost instinctively, how to respond with the gospel through premeditated prescriptions of specific ways to walk in repentance and faith?

Perhaps what we need to do each morning is prepare ourselves with some “gospel drills.” Think about one possible situation a gospel response will be required of you. For example, you are at a restaurant and your server is extremely slow and the food is cold. The server asks you if there is anything else you need, and you are tempted to treat her like her actions deserve. But instead, you respond by saying, “Thank you for serving me today, and by the way, as I pray over my food I would like to know if there is anything I can pray for you about?” Who knows? The server may already be feeling guilty and embarrassed by their service and surprised by your gracious response. They could be going through a terrible crisis in their lives, and they open up to you and provide an opportunity for you to minister to them (and perhaps introduce them to Jesus).

Why that gospel drill? Because you will get bad service and cold food. You will be tempted to act out of the old Adam and not out of the risen Christ. And this is one of countless other ways we need to “learn Christ” and “put on the new self” with a strategy to approach whatever comes our way to walk in repentance and faith and show the transforming power of Christ’s abundant grace actively working in our lives.


Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.


6 Destructive Ways We Minimize Our Own Sin

I found these six ways of minimizing sin to be very instructive regarding gospel-centered sanctification/mortification of sin. Take a moment and examine your fight against sin, the ways you are prone to minimize sin, and develop an intentional strategy to renounce them.

Defending

I find it difficult to receive feedback about weaknesses or sin. When confronted, my tendency is to explain things away, talk about my successes, or to justify my decisions. As a result, I rarely have conversations about difficult things in my life.

Pretending

I strive to keep up appearances, maintain a respectable image. My behavior, to some degree, is driven by what I think others think of me. I also do not like to think reflectively about my life. As a result, not very many people know the real me (I may not even know the real me).

Hiding

I tend to conceal as much as I can about my life, especially the “bad stuff”. This is different than pretending in that pretending is about impressing. Hiding is more about shame. I don’t think people will accept the real me.

Blaming

I am quick to blame others for sin or circumstances. I have a difficult time “owning” my contributions to sin or conflict. There is an element of pride that assumes it’s not my fault AND/OR an element of fear of rejection if it is my fault.

Minimizing

I tend to downplay sin or circumstances in my life, as if they are “normal” or “not that bad. As a result, things often don’t get the attention they deserve, and have a way of mounting up to the point of being overwhelming.

Exaggerating

I tend to think (and talk) more highly of myself than I ought to. I make things (good and bad) out to be much bigger than they are (usually to get attention). As a result, things often get more attention than they deserve, and have a way of making me stressed or anxious.


This excerpt is taken from the excellent study called The Gospel-Centered Life

Tim Brister has served as a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church since June 2008. You can read more about Tim on his blog, Provocations and Pantings.


The 5 Categories of Non-Christians

Last week, I brought up the new posture of Christianity in post-Christendom and how we re-enter culture in a subversive way to advance the kingdom of God. Before I jump into the paradigm and practices in post-Christendom, I believe it is important to give a little perspective.

Non-Christian Scale

In the little diagram above, I lay out 5 different categories for unbelievers. I contend that, with the shrinking of Christendom, there is an increase in paganism. In other words, when non-Christians are categorized according to their position/stance regarding Christianity, there are far more today in the -3 to -5 categories than there is in the -1 and -2.

To be clear, everyone to the left of the center line is what the Bible calls “lost” and outside Christ. There are no degrees of lostness. Either you are saved or you are lost. The difference is twofold: access and attitude. The further to the left you go, the less access non-Christians have to the gospel and the more likely the attitudes are strongly antithetical to the Christian faith. While the two are not necessarily intrinsic to each other, they are often connected (e.g., someone who could have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and not necessarily be opposed to it, and someone could be strongly opposed to Christianity and had considerable access to the gospel message).

Acknowledging that these descriptions are not exhaustive, they are however an attempt to provide distinctions between non-Christians as I have studied and spent time with them in a post-Christendom America.

0 to -1 | Conversant

The conversant crowd is the vestige of Christendom. These are non-Christians who (a) may think they are Christians by their regular involvement in religious activity or church or (b) find Christianity agreeable from an intellectual or cultural standpoint. They may have many friends and family members who are followers of Jesus Christ while they themselves have not chosen to repent and believe. The conversant crowd often find Christianity profitable from a worldview, ethical/moral, or cultural aspect and converses along those lines. They do not mind regular dialogue about Christianity and consider themselves somewhat competent in their understanding of Christianity.

-1 to -2 | Relevant

The relevant crowd are the people who still have considerable access the orthodox Christianity, either through occasional attendance to church services (Christmas and Easter), or through other forms of media (radio, television, internet, etc.). Having been brought up in Christendom, Christianity has some relevance for many of them. They may have attended church as a kid, gone to a vacation Bible school, prayed publicly, or learned the Ten Commandments in school growing up, etc. Occasionally, you may hear a reference or two to a biblical story, principle, or verse they learned in the past in their everyday interactions. As a result, Christianity remains relevant to them, though they are not as active or engaged as the conversant crowd.

-2 to -3 | Ignorant

The ignorant crowd are the people who simply do not know or understand Christianity. Many in the younger generations today did not grow up in Christian homes or in a Christian culture or sub-culture and, therefore, have virtually no true understanding of the Christian message. Christianity is more understood as a voting block, some kind of political affiliation, or having espoused conservative ethical and moral positions on cultural issues. When you aske them about Christianity, you typically get superficial answers because they simply don’t know much about true, biblical Christianity. Being ignorant does not necessarily mean being opposed; rather, they simply have not had nearly as much access and exposure to true Christianity in their lifetime. Contemporary sociologists and researchers have described the ignorant crowd as the “nones”—those who do not ascribe to any belief system and don’t want to be labeled as such.

-3 to -4 | Indifferent

The indifferent crowd are the people who don’t want you talking about Christianity in the public square. They would rather not be inundated with Facebook posts talking about Jesus or the Bible. If you are a Christian, fine. Just don’t bring it into their world or in their conversations. They don’t care that you are a Christian so long as you keep it to yourself. They may have ideas of spirituality, but it is often without any consistent worldview; rather, it is more a la carte, self-selective spirituality where they pick and choose the aspects of various belief systems they find palatable to them. The indifferent crowd find their philosophical underpinnings in moral relativism and subjective truth (I determine what is right and wrong, and I have the right to define what is true for me). They have little to no access to true Christianity because (a) they don’t care about it personally or find it needful, and (b) they do not have Christian friends, family, or acquaintances who are regularly engaged in their lives.

-4 to -5 | Militant

The militant crowd are the people who don’t want to be Christians and don’t want anyone else to be Christians, either. They are hostile to the Christian faith and don’t mind letting you know it. For most if not all of them, their aggression is due to a direct confrontation to their way of life. While the atheist or agnostic may say they do not believe in God from an intellectual standpoint, almost invariably, the issue is not an intellectual impasse but rather a moral confrontation. They do not want to be told what you must believe and how you must live. The militant, anti-authoritarian culture disavows any higher authority than the self. Christianity says there is one ultimate authority, God, to whom all men must give an account and be judged. The militant crowd wants no accountability to a God they do not believe in, and any time truth statements are made to them, they do not merely find them intellectually implausible, but morally reprehensible. The overwhelming number of people in the militant crowd are unreached and unengaged from the Christian community due to their militant attitudes toward Christianity as well the cultural retreat of Christendom into their own ghettos (sub-cultures) in recent decades.

Again, these descriptions are not intended to be exhaustive. They are my attempt to provide a perspective on post-Christendom and the world around us. I believe there has been a considerable shift over the past decade (or two) toward paganism, where the majority of non-Christians today are ignorant, indifferent, and militant.

In my next post, I will explain two paradigms of ministry by local churches and why the predominant paradigm, though effective in Christendom, will not be effective in post-Christendom.


Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.


Where Jesus Lived on Mission

Jesus came to save His people from their sin (Matt. 1:21). From heaven, His mission was declared before He was born. The accomplishment of that mission came through His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Granted, there is a big emphasis here in the Gospel accounts, especially in Mark where the last week of Jesus’ life seemed to be in slow motion in a book that repeatedly says “and immediately…”.

Having said that, I believe there is much to be studied from the life of Jesus. Jesus did not only accomplish His mission, but He entrusted the mission to His disciples and sent them out to live as He lived–as those who have been sent. The fact that we have four Gospel narratives about Jesus life tells us that there is much to be studied and learned about Jesus. Indeed, His life and message is inexhaustible in nature!

In recent years, there is a section in the gospel accounts that have impacted me significantly, both as a disciple of Jesus and as a disciple-maker. This portion Scripture has the bookends of His temptation in the wilderness (the beginning) and the commissioning of His disciples (the end). In the book of Matthew, it is Matthew 4:17-9:38. In the book of Luke, it is Luke 4:14-8:56. I believe this passage is worthy of serious and sustained reflection and meditation as a disciple of Jesus because it reveals the life of Jesus on mission from the inauguration of His ministry to the commissioning of His disciples. I am convinced that every step was intentional, every story was purposeful, every aspect providential for the purpose of not only accomplishing His mission but also modeling and training His apprentices to become like Him in every way.

Where Jesus Lived on Mission

One of the many aspects we can learn from Jesus is where He lived on mission. Isn’t it remarkable that the man who had the most important mission in the world did not come to set up a palace or compound or even headquarters at the capital of the known world? Even in his notoriously known hometown (“can anything good come out of Nazareth?”), Jesus was highly unremarkable (“isn’t this the son of the carpenter?”). Truly amazing when you consider that His life has now changed hundreds of millions people throughout the world. From the borrow manger to the borrowed donkey to the borrowed tomb, Jesus’ life on mission left a mark that architectural diggers cannot find, but men in every age cannot deny.

Taking the section in Luke that I mentioned earlier, I took some time to mindmap the places where Jesus lived on mission. As you will see, the color codes represent common threads in His journey.

Based on this breakdown, I discovered 5 different kinds of places where Jesus lived on mission: (1) in the synagogues, (2) in people’s homes, (3) in the cities, (4) in the rural/countryside, and (5) the desolate place/mountain. From these observations, what can disciples of Jesus learn from how He lived on mission?

Takeaways from the Where

The first thing we should consider is that Jesus came on mission for all (kinds of) people. He went to the culturally elite and influential (synagogues) and to the blue-collar citizens (farmers and fishermen). He went to where they were, whether it was a grain field or a ruler’s house. You did not find a location on the earth on which Jesus did not claim absolutely sovereignty.

The second thing we can take away is that Jesus could not be boxed in any tribe or group in that day. He had no problem going from the house of a Pharisee to a tax collectors house to a ruler’s house. All three people are from different in just about every way, and yet Jesus was relevant to them. He was approachable and accessible to them in the same way–in their homes. Can you imagine what His disciples must have felt like when Simon the zealot was eating with Jesus in the home of a tax collector? Talk about an identity crisis!

The third takeaway from where Jesus lived on mission can be seen in its personal yet public nature. Jesus addressed large groups of people at times (synagogues and cities) but also in small gatherings (homes) and one-on-one (ruler, demon-possessed man in Gennesaret).

The fourth takeaway from where Jesus lived on mission the critique of geo-centric emphasis that we often see today. Was Jesus on mission in the city? Yes. Was Jesus on mission in the countryside? Yes. Was any one any less significant in His mission? No. Jesus was about establishing His kingdom on earth, whether that was at a tax collectors booth or a grain field, whether a ruler’s house or on a boat in the middle of a lake, whether in a synagogue or simply “along the way.”

A final takeaway is that Jesus lived on mission where people lived, worked, and played. Jesus came to people in their homes. Jesus came to people in their workplace (fishermen at the lake, tax collectors at their booths, religious leaders in their synagogues). Jesus came to people where they played and connected in the city (synagogues, lakes, along the way, etc.). Whether first, second, or third places in culture, you could find Jesus on mission bringing the good news that the King is here.

As a disciple of Jesus, I have so much to learn from Him. As a disciple-maker of disciples of Jesus, I have so much to teach and train others. Certainly where Jesus lived on mission and the implications for us today ought to be fundamental instruction for a “sent people.” How was Jesus sent? What did it look like? Those are important questions, and in the kindness of God, we get to see that in the gospel accounts so we can learn to “walk in His steps.”


Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.