Archives For Jesus

One of the more influential books I’ve read over the past year is Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. Listen to how McKeown summarizes the way of the Essentialist:

“The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.”

When I first read this book, I read it through the lens of an organizational leader with varying degrees of responsibility in a number of areas that seemed to make life complicated and difficult. This book was instrumental in helping me get to the essentials and drill down deep from that perspective.

In recent months, however, I have been thinking about the idea of essentialism specifically through the lens of living as a Christian. Could it be argued that the reason why we have so few people living an abundant, spirit-Filled, fruit-bearing life is because Christians have unconsciously adopted a non-essentialist approach to Christian living? Have we been “living by default rather than by design”? Of all people in the world, should not children of God be living by design? If so, then why does so much of our lives seem reactionary? Is this not another away of simply “being conformed to the world” as in Romans 12:2?

These are the questions that I’ve been asking myself lately. As a result, I have begun a pursuit of living an “essential Christian life.” But that, I mean a disciplined pursuit of less so that I can make my highest point of contribution to the kingdom of God. By design, I want to live with such intentionality that I am willing to say “No” to a host of good but trivial things so that I can say yes to the vital few that should mark my life as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

When we hear that inner voice expressing frustration that we don’t have the time, we are simply too busy, we don’t know how, or it just doesn’t work, why have we not first asked ourselves how we got here in the first place? Have we uncritically adopted a manner of living entirely incompatible to the Great Commission given to us by Jesus and justified our being out of step with the gospel because “everyone else is doing it”? If we could acknowledge the essentials to healthy, fruit-bearing Christian living, would we be willing to have the “disciplined pursuit of less” as Christian essentialists so that we can make our highest point of contribution for the spread of the gospel, love of our neighbor, and advance of the kingdom of Christ? Isn’t that what we should be doing after all?

There has been a debate over the past several years in evangelical circles about being “radical” for Jesus and living “ordinary” for Jesus. While I that conversation certainly has merit, why don’t try to address Christian living from a different angle? How about essentialist versus nonessentialist Christian living? Would this perspective not shed a little more light on the status of evangelical Christianity in North America?

So the question then begs for a definition and description of essential Christianity. Let me propose five aspects of Christian essentialism:

  1. Jesus  – who Jesus is, what Jesus has done, and why that matters for all of life
  2. Scripture – the revelation of what God has said and done, the story of God,
  3. Kingdom – the entrance, nature, growth, and impact of the kingdom of God
  4. Great Commandment – love God supremely and love neighbors sacrificially
  5. Great Commission – make disciples of Jesus by the power of the Spirit

I know there is so much more that could be argued for Christian essentialism. But the point of essentialism is to determine the “vital few” (pursuit of less) and build a “systematic, discipline approach” for making our highest level of contribution for the cause of Christ. All we need to do is take 10 minutes in a Christian bookstore to see how rampant nonessentialism is in our world today. Let’s not go there. How about we pursue a few things and execute on them with priority and passion so that they produce a lifestyle that makes a difference as disciples of Jesus?

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Having Jesus

Tim Brister —  December 15, 2014 — 1 Comment

Having Jesus, what has the believer more?

He possesses a righteousness in which God views him complete and accepted, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.

Is not this a comfort?

To stand “complete in Him”—in the midst of many and conscious imperfections, infirmities, flaws, and proneness to wander, yet for the sorrowing and trembling heart to turn and take up its rest in this truth, “that he that believes is justified from all things,” and stands accepted in the Beloved, to the praise of the glory of Divine grace, what a comfort!

That God beholds him in Jesus without a spot, because He beholds His Son, in whom He is well pleased, and viewing the believing soul in Him can say, “You are all fair, my love; there is no spot in you”!

The blessed Comforter conveys this truth to the troubled soul, brings it to take up its rest in it; and, as the believer realizes his full acceptance in the righteousness of Christ, and rejoices in the truth, he weeps as he never wept, and mourns as he never mourned, over the perpetual bias of his heart to wander from a God that has so loved him. The very comfort poured into his soul from this truth lays him in the dust, and draws out the heart in ardent breathings for holiness.

– Octavius Winslow, Morning Thoughts, December 15.

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Imagine you were privileged to be at a place where you were going to be introduced to the greatest person alive today. His reputation is one where the most influential people in the world would all agree that there is no greater. Imagine what his introductions would be like? We have all heard the hyped up intros, haven’t we? The keynote speakers at conferences, the guest preacher at the church service, the honorary guest at a reception . . . we have been there.

God, through the Apostle John, gave an introduction to a man named John the Baptist. Jesus said of this man “among those born of a woman there has arisen no one greater” (Matt. 11:11). When he entered the scene of human history, certainly there would be a introduction fitting for such a supreme title.

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.”

Wait, what? That’s it? “A man.” Okay. What kind of man? Just a man? I thought he was the man. “His name was John.” Could you have picked a more unique, more memorable, more fitting name for such an individual? There is nothing here in this introduction that tips us off to the extraordinary person John the Baptist was in human history.

You think that, following such an ordinary introduction, his list of accomplishments would soon follow to make up for a bland beginning. And yet, it seems to be all the more paradoxical. The Apostle John says John the Baptist “was not the light.” This was confirmed through the testimony of John the Baptist who, at every point, told people who he was not. “I am not the Christ.” “I am not Elijah.” “I am not the Prophet.” Finally, when asked to explain who he was, John could only describe himself as a voice in the wilderness. And when his followers pressed him to be more aggressive and increase his influence, John could only respond by saying, “I must decrease.”

So there you have it. The man who Jesus said was without comparison (Jesus excluded of course). His life did not end with him on a throne but in prison. He did not have a crown on his head but ended with his head on platter. How could it really be true what Jesus said about John the Baptist? Is there really none greater?

Of course, those who have read the Bible know the rest of the story. But this is instructive to us in the age of self-promotion and platform-building, is it not? The paradox of greatness according to Jesus runs on a totally different set of tracks than the world of raw, selfish ambition. What can we learn from the life of John the Baptist, since, after all, he did it better than anyone else?

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Easter for the Dead

Tim Brister —  April 17, 2014 — 1 Comment

I’ve been thinking this week about the phenomena of Easter services as a cultural indicator or remnant of Christendom. Why do a rather large people attend an Easter service (and churches cater to these people) who otherwise have little to no interest in God? Certainly we want to seize the opportunity to preach the gospel to those in our communities who are open and accessible during this time (who otherwise would not have interest in God). But I can’t help but wonder if there is a serious disconnect or irony at play here.

I know that some attend Easter services because a friend or family member invited them. Others participate because they were visiting family and live out of town. But among these and others, could it be that the people who attend Easter services have already bought into a message that is alien to the good news of Easter?

The good news of Easter is the climax of God’s rescue plan and purpose in history to save a people for Himself. Easter is about resurrection from the dead. It is about victory over sin, death, hell, and Satan. It is about setting captives free and taking those who were enemies and making them sons. Easter is about a bloody sacrifice, divine wrath, eternal judgment, and an empty tomb. The gospel is good news that “it is finished” and “He is risen from the dead.”

But this is good news for bad people. Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Sinners know who they are because they know who God is–and who they are in light of who God is. God is holy, righteous, and just. God must punish the guilty. God’s wrath is necessarily directed toward sin because His righteous character cannot tolerate anything contrary to His likeness. So what makes Easter so precious for Christians is because they know how holy God is, how sinful they are, and how amazing God’s grace is in giving His own Son as the propitiation and substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. They know the greatness of the “Great Exchange” (our sins placed on Christ and His righteousness imputed to us).

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Something More

Tim Brister —  March 4, 2014 — Leave a comment

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Part 1: Relief and Development
Part 2: Incarnational Mission | Word and Deed | Responsibility and Sovereignty

In this final part of my reflections of integral mission from the life of Jesus, I want to turn once more to Luke 9:1-17 for some further observations related to the church. We see from the feeding of the multitude that Jesus had a plan and a people. He had provision and power to do all that was needed to see that the people were cared for and utterly satisfied.


When Jesus went about feeding the multitude, it is interesting that before He performed the miracle, He instructed His disciples to have the people to sit down in groups of 50. Seems like an unnecessary detail Luke included, no? Well, actually I find it really beneficial for integral mission. Jesus could have feed 20,000 in an unhelpful sea of chaos and confusion, but instead He chose a method that would best serve the people and make the greatest impact. I don’t want to read too much into this observation, but I believe it is accurate to say that this represents a strategic plan. Following this strategy came the supernatural work of God.

There are some who might think that strategic thinking and planning is unspiritual. Some may argue that it leads to pragmatism or doing work without God. While that is possible, simply because it has led some to pragmatism does not necessarily mean that it causes it. In fact, those working in difficult situations must have a strategic plan in place or the work will fall apart on its own. Having said that, we should pray and believe God to do what only He can do. He puts us in desperate situations where, if He does not come through, we are sunk. If you are not in a place where you are desperate and dependent on the sovereign, supernatural work of God, then you are in the wrong place.

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In my first post, I shared how Jesus demonstrated integral mission by balancing and affirming relief and development in His earthly ministry. Drawing from the same text (Luke 9:1-17), I want to continue with more observations for integral mission from the life and ministry of Jesus.


God sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins. God also sent His Son to dwell among us (John 1:14) so that we could see His glory. In Luke 9, we find Jesus in a desolate place among scores of people with all kinds of needs. While it may be easy to overlook this, let us not play it down. Jesus made Himself accessible to everyone in society, especially those on the margins. He was accessible and approachable, even for those who could not walk (the lame) and those who could not be touched (the lepers). Even those in the grave were not beyond the scope of Jesus’ reach!

Jesus had a plan. It was to pour into His disciples. Yet the multitudes pressed in on Him. What would He do? Would he tell them to get in a line and schedule an appointment with one of His disciples? According to Luke 9:11, Jesus welcomed them. He welcomed them because He was with them. He was with them because He was for them.

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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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