CK2:23 On being Gospel-centered

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Joe Thorn is Lead Pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, IL and is the author of the great little book Note To Self. On this week’s Connected Kingdom podcast, Tim and I took the opportunity to ask Joe what it means to be gospel-centered, whether the gospel truly applies to all of life, and then to give some practical pointers for how to preach the gospel to yourself in joy and in pain.

I would echo what Tim said on his blog about our discussion:

The phrase “gospel-centered” is fast entering the Evangelical mainstream. We are encouraged to be gospel-centered or to preach the gospel to ourselves. It is easy to say but, in my experience, far more difficult to do. This morning David Murray and I spoke with Joe Thorn about this very thing. Speaking personally I found it very, very helpful. So why don’t you give it a listen? It will take less than 30 minutes of your time and I think you’ll be well-rewarded for the effort.

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I found my lost childhood diary!

Last week I happened to find my daily diary from 1981. I was 14-15 years old at the time and wrote a few lines every day about what happened in my little life. Never did I think then that 30 years later I’d be reading that diary to my two little daughters while lying on their bed in Grand Rapids, MI. Not sure if Grand Rapids even existed then.

Every night as I read a few entries to my fascinated girls, the memories come flooding back, and it really does feel like yesterday. Observations from the first six months of 1981:

1. I had incredible freedom that few children enjoy today. I was traveling alone on buses into the big city of Glasgow to shop, on trains with my friends to go bird-watching (yes, real bird-watching!), and on bikes up and down busy highways. And not a parent in sight! (And my wonderful parents were stricter than most.) True, I had some scrapes and stitches along the way, but I can hardly believe the parental paranoia that we are all consumed with today.

2. I hated piano lessons as much as I thought I did. I hated trombone lessons even more. And if possible, I hated school even more. And, yes, I do mean “hate.” A number of times I write/confess, “I dogged 1st and 2nd period today…I dogged the afternoon and went to the park…”  (Dogged = Scottish for skipped class. Don’t ask me to explain it). School was an utterly miserable experience for me – bored, bullying, and being bullied – but that’s another story

3. My school soccer team lost even more than I remember. I still bear the physical scars, but the diary re-opened some deep emotional wounds – like the day I played centre-back against the local Catholic school and we lost 10-2. Despite all that, I lived for soccer and played and watched it almost every day. (Did not help my school report card!) One of the chirpiest entries says that I was standing beside two Scottish International footballers in a Fish & Chip shop one night! (Alan Rough and Danny McGrain for Scottish middle-aged readers). Might explain why the Scottish team’s results were so awful though.

4. I had no interest in the Gospel whatsoever. Every Sunday records the preacher’s name, but nothing else. Not one word on one page about God! My parents were faithful in bringing me to church and trying to involve me in church youth groups. But I was spiritually dead.

5. I “went forward” at the Luis Palau evangelistic crusade. Yes, that’s right, I had no interest in the Gospel and yet on June 7 1981, I “went forward” at the Luis Palau crusade! I was one of about 12 young people from our church (a staunchly Presbyterian and Calvinistic Church) who went to the front to “commit our lives to the Lord.” Interestingly I write nothing about what I believed or understood. I simply say, “I got Luis Palau’s autograph!” Of the 12 of us who “went forward” that night I doubt any of us were truly converted (I certainly wasn’t), and I believe that only 2 or 3 of us are still going to Church. Within a few months of the crusade, nothing had changed in any of our lives. In fact, I fear that it did more damage than good. It would be eight more long and sinful years until God “went forward” into my life.

6. God has loved me with an everlasting love. Above all, as I read all my childish writing again, I feel myself enveloped and suffused in the engulfing love of God. I look back on my life and see His goodness and mercy have pursued me all my days, even all my utterly selfish and godless days. O yes, I see the remarkable, the astonishing patient love of my parents toward me, but above all I’m just overwhelmingly dwarfed by the patient love of a sovereign and gracious God.

Not only that He should save me from my sin, and not only save me from where my sin was most certainly leading me in this life and for eternity, and not only save me to know Him through Jesus Christ, but to actually save me to serve Him as one of His ambassadors. What can I do but join Paul on the ground and say, “To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).

Saved by grace alone. And sent by grace alone.

He certainly picks the nothings so that He can be everything.

The charity of clarity

No one likes to be confused. If a doctor or a mechanic or a teacher bamboozle and befuddle us, we get annoyed, frustrated, and even angry. We demand clarity: “Look, can you please explain that again, this time in plain English.”

No one likes to be confused – with one exception – and that’s in the most important matter of all – our eternal destiny.

Let a salesman confuse us about a car and we get angry. But let a preacher confuse us about salvation and we’re quite happy.

When a lawyer clearly explains two possible options, we compliment him. When a preacher clearly explains the only two options – heaven or hell – we criticize him.

Why is clarity in every area of life to be commended, but clarity in the greatest issues of life and death to be condemned as “uncharitable”?

Well we could never accuse Jesus of a lack of clarity or charity. Rather,  it was His charity that produced His clarity. In fact, wherever there is charity in a heart, there will be clarity in the mouth! A compassion for souls will produce clear sermons, clear pastoral counsel, and clear parental instruction.

How can we say that charity produces clarity?

Consider Jesus’ first sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. He packed a lot into that first sermon, so much that we are still unpacking it 2000 years later. But as he concluded it, he returns to the basics: there are only two gates, two roads, two types of traveler and two destinations. It’s as if he says, “Whatever else you take away from my sermon, take this: “There are only two options.”

A Third Way?
From the Garden of Eden onwards, humanity has been on a desperate search for a third option, a third way to be saved. We realize there is a wrong way, and we don’t want to be on it – I mean who wants to be with Hitler, and BinLaden, and Kim Jong-il? But we don’t like the only other way – bit too narrow, bit too demanding, bit too unpopular. So let’s make up a third way.

And many preachers cooperate with this desired confusion. By neglect, by design, by fear, or by whatever, they leave people in sufficient fog to give them some hope that there may well be a third option. And such preachers are often admired and praised: “So compassionate! So kind! So warm!”

Jesus hurricanes this deadly mist away: “Two gates, two roads, two travelers, two destinations, two trees, two fruits, two foundations, two houses…two, two, two. Never, ever three.” There is no third option for “nice” people. There is no third option for “covenant children.” There is no third option for “church attenders.” We are either dead or alive, dead in sin or born again, asleep or awake, darkness or light, against Christ or for Christ, a Pharisee or a Publican, a child of the devil or child of the living God.

There is no “in-between” category, there is no “miscellaneous,” there is no “and all the rest of us.” There is no third gate, no third road, no third kind of traveler, and no third destination.


And it’s not love to suggest there might be. Not in sermons, not at funerals, not in counseling, not in books, not anywhere.

The more we clarify these matters, the more the hearts of lost sinners will be exposed, the more they will see the broad gate they have entered, the broad road they are on, and the deadly destination they are heading to.

And the more angry they will get – at least initially. Because, for some weird reason, confusion is comfortable and usually preferred in spiritual matters. “Keep your clarity. Give me the fog!”

But clarity also, eventually, provokes passionate prayer, earnest seeking, and fervent calling on the name of the Lord for ourselves and for our loved ones.

In these foggy and confusing days, may God  give all of us far more of this compassionate Christ-like clarity in our hearts and minds, and in our words and in our walk.

8 ways to help depressed Christians [Video]

Here are eight guidelines for helping depressed Christians. In the video I cover the following points:

  1. Be prepared for it
  2. Don’t assume it is caused by a specific personal sin
  3. Check depth, width, and length of symptoms.
  4. Don’t rush to medication and don’t rule out medication
  5. Take holistic approach both to cause and cure
  6. Give hope
  7. Involve family & friends
  8. Re-establish spiritual disciplines

The books I mentioned are Dealing with Depression and Grace for the Afflicted.

Click here to view the video on Vimeo, and if you sign up for Vimeo (it’s free) you can also access the video file for downloading.

Any other advice you would give?

Children’s Bible Reading Plan (54)

This week’s morning and evening reading plan in Word and pdf.

This week’s single reading plan for morning or evening in Word and pdf.

The first 12 months of the children’s Morning and Evening Bible reading plan in Word and pdf.

The first 6 months of the Morning or Evening Bible reading plan in pdf.

And here’s an explanation of the plan.