Monday, December 12, 2011

Grace Connexion: Some Thoughts on Brokenness and Staying Gospel-centred

Our little group of churches met back in October to fellowship with each other and rejoice in the Lord's doings. I took a few minutes to address one concern I had in regards to keeping the concept of "Gospel-centred" from being just a pet phrase void of meaning. Several folks wrote and asked for a recording or notes from that night so I finally got to typing something out.
I preach from handwritten notes, so what I offer here is really just a sketch of what I said there. The main ideas are present and I hope they are helpful.

-----------------


Galatians 1:6-9 “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

If you have ever piloted a boat you know how easy it is to drift off course. This shift can happen quite subtly and very quickly and if not corrected you will end up in the rocks, or worse. The church of Christ in every age is called to remain vigilant and stay in the channel of the true Gospel.

False Gospels are everywhere – messages of salvation that promote self-reliance through cleaning ourselves up, atoning for our sins by doing good, or in some way telling us we can make ourselves acceptable to God without going through Jesus Christ.

Elders bear a special responsibility to keep the authentic Gospel at the Mission Control Centre of every local church, but the job does not stop with them. It is the duty of the church as a whole to guard the good deposit entrusted to them.

We can often spot the big waves attacking our Gospel ship. Mormonism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Atheism – these black clouds stir up the storms and we all set to rowing or steering in order to handle them. In one sense, they are easy to spot and easy to resist, partly because the true Gospel is so clear in comparison.

But there are other –isms, little breezes and quiet currents that go easily unnoticed in the life of a Christian and a local church. These “other gospels” are particularly insidious and sneaky for the very reason that they masquerade quite effectively as the true Gospel. Formalism (outward acts of piety without the corresponding heart affections), legalism (trusting in what I do), mysticism (trusting in what I experience), activism (making sure I am involved in the vogue trends), Biblicism (a salvation by knowledge), therapy-ism (valuing need-fulfillment over moral failure) and socialism (making good friendships my true salvation) – all of these –isms can creep in.

They are all rooted in spiritual idolatry. We exchange the worship of God for the worship of something created, whether that is an animal or a concept like fame.  So, “another Gospel,” or a “Gospel substitute” is anything that squeezes our love for God to second place. Even good things can do this! When that idol becomes what we love most then we are actively opposing, repudiating and denying Jesus. We have fallen into an –ism and worst of all, we usually do this in His Name.  We get caught in one of these riptides where the Gospel is shoved to the periphery and then we dress up all our idolatries with Bible vocabulary and ideas. Over time, our pride increases and we steadily drift further and further away.

Recently I was meditating on the idea of “brokenness” and in particular why it was not more a part of my life. Why did I have to sin in order to feel broken and contrite? I took some comfort in that most of the Biblical occurrences of this concept were in the context of sins discovered and confessed.

Think of these Psalms of contrition:

Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted / and saves the crushed in spirit.”

Psalm 51:17 “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

Then I read this promise from Isaiah 61, a promise that comes on the heels of chapter after chapter of sin-exposing confrontation.

Isaiah 61:1-2a “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn…”

It was this portion of Isaiah’s scroll that Jesus read and sat down saying, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled.” This means that Christ’s advent, incarnation, sinless life, death and resurrection brought about the fulfillment of the promise that the brokenhearted could be restored. In other words, the Gospel is the one thing that makes us and keeps us right with God.

Here is the link. If we are going to become more of and stay a Gospel-immersed movement, then we must stay low before our God.

Isaiah 57:15 “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’”

It is brokenness and contrition that will keep us running to the Good News that Christ died for our sins and was raised.  Which means we have to maintain in our own lives a persistent asking: “What difference does the death and resurrection of Jesus make to this moment/event/joy/temptation?”

Here is one faithful anchor to fend off Gospel-drift and eventual Gospel-substitution.  We need to go low, seek contrition and aim for a brokenness that leads to the cross.