As many of you know, I lead The Haiti Collective, an organization focused on bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the poorest country in the Western hemisphere by empowering indigenous churches to make disciples, train leaders, plant churches, and care for orphans in their midst. The needs are massive, even four years after the devastating earthquake. It can be argued (rather easily, I might add) that the needs are even greater now, after attempts of intervention have hurt the economic stability of an already fragile world. Needless to say, careful thinking about unintended consequences when doing relief and development work is critical to any long term success.

I am grateful for books like When Help Hurts and The Poverty of Nations that have come out from a biblical worldview of helping the poor. However, there is still a lot of tension when it comes to relief and development. Those I know who take When Helping Hurts seriously are so concerned about the possibility of hurting that they don’t attempt to help much at all. So the question comes – what hurts the people more? Not doing anything at all in fear of possibly hurting them by what you do, or making substantive, strategic efforts to make a big impact, knowing that you will likely hurt in ways you could not fully prevent?

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I’ve been slowly working through the Gospel of Luke, reading, and rereading chapters and focusing on various sections at a time. This morning, I focused on Luke 9:28-36, the passage on the transfiguration of Jesus. As I reflected on this text, I realized that what was happening was a heavenly form of gospel community, with God the Father, God the Son, Moses, Elijah, and Peter, James, and John.

What I found particularly impacting to me in this text was the topic of the community discussion. Verse 30 says that Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus, and the centerpiece of that discussion was “his departure” or exodus through the cross. Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the Prophets) are figureheads of redemptive history up until the time of Jesus, and much like all of the Scriptures, they made the conversation about Jesus and His work on the cross.

Gospel communities can learn much from this conversation. We can learn from Moses and Elijah that all of Scripture testifies about Jesus (Luke 24:27). Moses and Elijah knew this. They were not interested in talking about types and shadows; they were interested in what those types and shadows pointed to–Jesus. This in no way diminishes Old Testament Scripture or the role Moses and Elijah played in redemptive history. In fact, it heightens it, knowing their stories are interwoven in the bigger story of God’s redemptive purposes in history culminating in Christ.

But not only does it culminate in Christ, it climaxes in Christ. When the cloud overtook the disciples, and God chose to speak, the Father declared that it is all about His beloved Son. And when God spoke, Jesus was all alone–alone because there is no one else like Him. Alone because Jesus has supremacy over all things and superior to all prophets, kings, and priests. Alone because Jesus is preeminent and holds a place in history that demands our unconditional loyalty and submission as Lord and King.

Moses spoke about Jesus. Elijah spoke about Jesus. The Father spoke about Jesus and gave a heavenly charge to everyone else to listen to Jesus. At no other point in the earthly life of Jesus was there a more heavenly moment, and it is evident to everyone that this community was all about Jesus. In fact, when Peter wanted to make tents for Elijah and Moses was when they disappeared, leaving them with no one but Jesus.

As simple as it may sound, what we can learn from the Transfiguration is this: Christian community that pleases the Father and honors His Word is all about Jesus–who He is, what He has done, and what that matters. Christian community is preoccupied with Jesus because heaven is preoccupied with Jesus. We don’t get over Jesus. We are never bored with Jesus. We don’t keep silent about Jesus. We don’t change the channel or turn it down. Instead, we rediscover again and again by the Spirit’s work in our lives more and more the beauty and brilliance of our Savior. To the degree that our conversations center on Jesus, we can say we functionally have a gospel community. To the degree that we adore and treasure Jesus, we can keep our community from lesser lovers and broken cisterns.

If we could have a conversation today with the greatest figures in the history of redemption, they would be talking about Jesus–His life, death, and resurrection. But if people could have a conversation today with you and me, what would we what we want to talk about?

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You know you are living in gospel community when . . .

  • believers practice confession instead of trying to make an impression
  • people are defined by a lifestyle of repenting rather than pretending
  • you embrace truth at all costs, not agreeing for each others approval
  • light exposes & wounds and love covers & heals – both/and not either/or
  • people are happy to be holy not content to be comfortable
  • you own your mess because of His mercy instead of hiding them because of your shame
  • functional saviors & heart idolatry are lovingly confronted & challenged by Christ’s reign & rule
  • unbelieving sinners & believing sinners together look away from themselves & look to Jesus
  • the pleasure of God in Christ to save you liberates you to passionately serve others
  • hospitality is given to those on the margins & those not like you are welcome in your world
  • individual preferences take a back seat to community purposes of loving God and neighbor

[these were some personal reflections posted on twitter last week]

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There’s no shortage of conferences in the evangelical world today. Over the past couple of years, I forced myself to limit the number of conferences I attend to be more effective on the ground, and the decision-making process developed into a grid that filtered out the conferences that are fun (and enjoyable) but not necessary. Today, I want to share with you a conference I personally find necessary, and I hope you do too.

My good friend Johnny Grimes leads a great organization called Altar 84, which is dedicated to orphan care through the local church. On March 7th & 8th, they are hosting a conference at The Church at Brook Hills called Know More Orphans.” Here is a summary of the conference theme:

The Church has always been God’s plan for building his kingdom, and this includes securing justice for the poor and most vulnerable. Altar 84 desires to work intimately with the Body of Christ to care for the least of these, the orphan. On Friday, March 7th and Saturday March 8th, 2014, Altar84’s kNOw More Orphans Conference will seek to unite the church community for the call to care for orphans and vulnerable children – right here and around the world. The conference will provide AWARENESS of God’s Word and his command to take ACTION.

If you are a church leader interested in leading your church to care for orphans and build a culture of adoption, I encourage you to take advantage of this conference. Perhaps some of you may be interested in local foster care or adopting orphans internationally, I believe you will be blessed by the main sessions and helped with the practicality of the breakout sessions. Speakers at this conference include David Platt, Russell Moore, Tony Merida, and more.

Early bird registration ends one week from today (Jan. 17th), so take advantage of the special rate and register soon! I will be going and representing The Haiti Collective, along with some of our team. It should be a great time channeling our resources and leverage our lives for the sake of orphans here and around the world. Hope to see you there!

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So often when we introduce ourselves to other people, we describe our lives by what we do, not who we are. “Hi, my name is Tim Brister, and I serve as a pastor at Grace Baptist Church.” What we do has become the default way of defining our lives. This also plays into how or whether a person commits to making disciples.

As I mentioned in my previous post, every person needs a plan, but at the center of that plan needs to be the understanding that identity comes first. Who you are as a Christian defines what you do, not the other way around. If what you do defines who you are, you have the cart before the horse. Let’s face it: It is very easy to get so focused on making disciples (what you do) that you forget that you ARE a disciple of Jesus yourself.

In gospel-centered terminology, the indicative (state of being) always precedes the imperative (call to action). I believe the reason we have defaulted to defining our lives by what we do is because we have assumed who we are, or at least failed to acknowledge that reality. The most effective disciple-makers I know are those who are defined by who they are in Christ and live out those implications in what they do for the cause of Christ (make disciples). Paul was careful to make this point throughout his writing and ministry. In Ephesians, he spent 3 chapters telling believers who they are (identity) in Christ (gospel indicative). Immediately following was 3 more chapters telling believers how they should live out their identity (missional imperative) in the world.

When we fail to place our identity in Christ first and center our lives on who Jesus is and what He has done to make us who we are, we are in danger of turning disciple-making into an idolatrous act. It is not about us. It is not even about the people we are discipling (ultimately). It is about what God is doing by His Spirit to magnify Jesus as we become like Him and call others to believe in Him. Assuming our identity puts an inordinate amountsof pressure and weight upon us that we were never intended to carry, and so we as disciple-makers lack the motivation and means ti persevere in the mission. By failing to put our identity in Christ first, we find ourselves on dangerous grounds where we evaluate our worth in the kingdom by how successful we are in making disciples rather than Jesus’ successful work in making us His own. Our worth is defined by His work, not our own!

So what is my identity? It is who I am in Christ. I am a child of God adopted into the family of God. I am a liberated servant joyfully seeking to please my Master and Lord. I am a worshipper who delights in the treasure of knowing and being known by God. I am a representative of King Jesus, entrusted with His mission and message. I am who I am because of what Jesus Christ has done for me, is doing in me, and promises to do through me.

When you embark upon a plan to be a disciple-maker, keep front and center your identity in Christ. The gospel indicative is the fuel for the missional imperative. It is the safeguard from missional idolatry. It is the measure of missional faithfulness. It is the mark of missional fruitfulness. Before you make disciples, remember you are a disciple. And as you remember, be renewed again and again as you rediscover the beauty and majesty of the great and glorious Savior that is Jesus Christ our Lord.

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