I am passionate about seeing the church possess a culture of Gospel + Safety + Time. Right out of the gate, I want to give credit where credit is due. I first came across the idea of Gospel + Safety + Time in a book written by Ray Ortlund Jr. entitled, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ. I have developed my own theological underpinnings to it, but the concept of Gospel + Safety + Time were Ray’s.
What is it that sets the church apart from other institutions? What is it the Church should offer that other institutions don’t? Two things: Gospel Doctrine & Gospel Culture. It is my passionate conviction that gospel doctrine and gospel culture should be heard and experienced every time genuine believers gather together. Whether that’s in a worship center on a Sunday morning. Or a small group during the week. Or coffee at your local cafe with a brother or sister in Christ. Gospel doctrine and gospel culture together is the Church's competitive edge. That’s what sets the church apart.
Gospel - People (Christians & non-Christians) need multiple exposures to the happy news of the gospel from one end of the Bible to the other.
Safety - People need the safety of non-accusing sympathy so they can admit their problems honestly.
Time - People need plenty of time to rethink their lives at a deep level because people are complex and changing isn’t easy
Gospel + Safety + Time = Gospel Doctrine & Gospel Culture
Take a look at this list:
The Garden of Eden
The Promised Land
The New Heavens and the New Earth
What do they all have in common? They were, are, or will be the dwelling place of God.
The Church is meant to be the new Eden. The Church is meant to be a harbinger of the new heavens and the new earth. When Alliance Bible Church is characterized by gospel, safety, and time it will be the new Eden. When Alliance Bible Church is characterized by gospel, safety, and time it will be a harbinger of the new heavens and the new earth. When you, as an individual follower of Christ, are characterized by gospel, safety, and time, you will be a harbinger of the new heavens and new earth.
This is why Gospel + Safety + Time is so crucial. Without them, the church can’t be the new Eden. Without them, the church can’t be a harbinger of the new heavens and the new earth.
It’s my desire to see this culture richly implanted at Alliance Bible Church. That in our Sunday morning gatherings, our small group functions, when you’re having coffee one on one with someone that both gospel doctrine and gospel culture be something we hear, speak, and experience. This is what makes the Church unique.
Madeleine L’Engle says that Christians “draw people to Christ…by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it."
Jesus said that his disciples are the light of the world and to let our light shine before others. Gospel + Safety + Time is our light. Gospel doctrine and gospel culture are our light! Let’s let it shine both inside the walls of the Church and outside into our communities!
The church world is the only world I’ve ever known. My dad is a pastor. I have an uncle and a cousin who are pastors. I’m a pastor. In growing up in the church there are numerous realities one notices. Perhaps the most visible is this: people come and people go. People leave other churches to come to yours and people will leave your church and go to another. But what prompts, or should prompt, people to come and go? I have periodically engaged in my own thought experiment on this topic. “What if I wasn’t a pastor? How would I go about choosing a church?” Let me offer 5 questions I would wrestle with when choosing a church.
1) Are the stated beliefs of the church consistent with what the Bible is clearest about?
This assumes you’ve already worked through what you believe the Bible is clearest about. I believe the Bible is clear about it’s inspiration, authority, and unique nature of being the Word of God. I believe the Bible is very clear on the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It’s clear on the role of grace and faith in one’s salvation. And the list goes on.
So the first thing I’d do is find the list of stated beliefs (e.g. the statement of faith) a church has to see if they believe what the Bible is clear about. If there is alignment here, I would move on to my second question...
2) Is the preaching consistent with what their stated beliefs are?
Sometimes stated beliefs are just "window dressing." When you actually listen to the preaching you begin to realize there is a disconnect between the church’s stated beliefs and their actual beliefs as revealed in the preaching life of the church. The action item here? Listen to a handful of sermons online and then discern.
Assuming the stated beliefs align with Scripture. And the preaching life of the church aligns with their stated beliefs I would move on to the next question...
3) Does the corporate worship experience encourage participation or spectatorship?
Now I'd need to attend a service. The purpose of music in church on Sundays is different than the purpose of the latest viral YouTube video. It’s not to mesmerize the crowd. How a church does music on Sunday mornings is a barometer indicating something of the church's overall philosophy of ministry. Music is mentioned very few times in the New Testament. But one place it is mentioned is Colossians 3:16.
"Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
Paul is writing to the collective church in the city of Colossae. He tells these Christians that when they gather together they should teach each other through “psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.” In order to teach each others through hymns, they have to be singing! Their mouths have to be moving and notes and words have to be coming out of them. If the congregation is being encouraged to be a singing congregation, excellent! Time to move on to the next question…
4) Does the church have a heart to reach non-Christians?
Does the preacher ever call non-Christians to repentance and faith? Does the church have any ministries designed to communicate the gospel to non-Christians locally? Is the church engaging in any international missions work? I would look for a “Great Commission” church.
5) Will my kids get all of the above?
I have young children, so what a church is teaching my kids is important to me. Will my kids be taught the core truths of Scripture? Will they be taught to proactively engage in worship through song? Will they be shown Jesus’ heart for non-Christians? I don’t want a church that is just trying to babysit my kids. And I don’t want a church that is trying purely to entertain my kids. Kids are capable of grasping more than we give them credit for. So I’ll look for a church that doesn’t shy away from teaching my kids the Scriptures, expecting them to engage in worship through song, and seeking to train them to be evangelists.
Once I’ve landed in a church that answers these questions satisfactorily, I will commit to it through thick and thin. The answers to one of the above questions would have to change for me to consider leaving it. I recently heard an older brother in Christ say he approaches his church commitment like a marriage. Wise words!
No book of the Bible deals with suffering with more honesty and wisdom than this book. Today we conclude with this series by looking at the final chapters in this book. Through the first 37 chapters of Job, God has been silent. Job has not heard from God. He’s heard from his so called friends. But he hasn’t heard a peep out of God. In chapter 38, God breaks his silence and speaks. What he has to say is stunning…
What God says
Job has experienced incomprehensible tragedy. He’s lost his wealth, his servants, his children, his health. He has been mourning and crying out for answers from God. God shows up and the first thing God does is not pat Job on the back and say “there, there, it will be OK.” The first thing God does is interrogate Job. This is no ordinary interrogation. This is the mother of all interrogations. In chapters 38-41, God asks Job 71 questions. 71 questions! And for none of them does God want an answer from Job. Every question is designed to make a statement.
On and on it goes one question after another. What is God doing? Is this interrogation designed to rub salt into Job’s wounds? Not at all. God is trying to comfort Job, but he’s doing it in a way we would least expect. He’s comforting Job by showing him the difference between them. He’s comforting Job by showing him how much greater and better he is than Job. “Job, if I can do all this, don’t you think I’ve got your life well in my hands?”
I wonder if Job thought he had an adequate view of God. I wonder sometimes if I have an adequate view of God. But maybe I don't. Try this thought experiment...
How many of us get a bit irritated when someone doesn’t return a phone call? Most of us do. What if I had and gave to you Aaron Rogers personal cell phone number and you called him but he didn’t get back to you. Would you get irritated with him? Would you start cursing him under your breath? “That blasted Rogers, how dare he not return my call.” No. Why? Who are you that Aaron Rogers would take the time to personally respond to you? You wouldn’t get upset. You’d be just thrilled that you have his phone number to begin with.
So when we’re going through a difficult time and we cry out to God for answers, but don’t seem to get any, what's our reaction to that?
“I can understand Aaron Rogers not getting back to me. He’s a superstar! He’s famous! Who am I that Aaron Rogers would return my phone call? What I can’t understand are my co-workers not getting back to me. I can’t understand my neighbors not getting back to me. I can’t understand God not getting back to me..."
In order to handle suffering well, we have to have a far more exalted view of God than we think we need. And only God can do this in us. The 71 questions God asks are questions only he can ask. Your friends can't. Your family can't. Only God can.
After God finishes asking Job all these questions, do you think Job is ticked off? Seething with rage? No. Look at what Job says after God’s barrage of questions:
Then Job answered the LORD:“I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more" (Job 40:3-5).
Then Job replied to the LORD: “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:1-6).
In suffering the path to peace takes us through the sovereignty, majesty, and transcendence of God. At the end of the book, Job has what you long for when you’re suffering. But it didn’t happen the way he thought it would. He got that way not because he got answers to his ‘why’ questions. Job came to rest by seeing God for who he really is. By gazing at the vast difference between them – Job found contentment in his pain.
What God doesn’t say
God omits something significant in his speech to Job. Remember back to the first week of this series. Remember God’s conversation with Satan? Job was a man who had it all: financial security, a great family, and a man God is very proud of.
Remember what Satan says about Job? “Does Job fear God for nothing?”
You see what he’s saying? Satan thinks Job praises God only when there are benefits attached to it. Satan thinks Job lives for God only because he gets something out of it. Satan thinks that if Job loses everything, he’ll abandon God. Take away all he has and he’ll bail on him. God’s contention is that Job won’t. That’s the conversation that begins the book.
God never tells Job about this conversation. It’s the reason he’s suffering, but God never mentions it. He can’t. Job never learns why he really suffered. Why? Why can’t God tell him about it?
Picture this. Job begins to suffer in chapters 1 and 2. He begins to cry out and ask ‘why’? What if God, instead of showing up at the very end, shows up in chapter 3 and says to Job: “Job, you are asking me to tell you why you are suffering. Here’s why: for thousands of years to come people are going to hear about your story. You will be talked about by millions of people. Through your suffering you are going to become one of the most famous people ever to live.”
After hearing this Job says, “Well, OK. I guess I can do it. I can tolerate the pain as long as that’s the payoff.”
What’s happened? Job is now suffering because of what’s in it for him. If knowing the reason for his suffering becomes the reason he stays faithful to God in the midst of it, Job is using God to get something from him. Job would be staying faithful to God in his suffering because of the legacy he’ll have.
The same is true of us. If God needs to give you a reason for your suffering for you to remain faithful to him in the midst of it, then you’re using him.
Satan thinks the only reason you love and worship God is because there’s something in it for you. If you need a reason from God for your suffering in order for you to remain faithful to him, Satan is right.
God doesn’t want us to find rest in the midst of our pain from an answer to our ‘why’ questions. Because that would mean we are looking for the perk, the payoff. He wants us to find rest in the midst of our pain simply based on who He is. You can trust this God, not because he gives you good reasons for your suffering, but you can trust this God because he’s unfathomably big and overwhelmingly good.
What it means for handling suffering well
What does God want us to get out of his words to Job at the end of this book? Contained within God’s words to Job are two keys to handling suffering well.
One of the effects God is trying to create is just how much bigger and better he is than Job or any of us. Combining pride with suffering is like dropping a Mentos into a bottle of Coke. It leads to an explosive reaction.
If you’re struggling with pride, when suffering comes you’ll either implode or explode. It will be a weight too heavy to carry because deep down you’ll be saying “I can’t believe this is happening to me. I don’t deserve this.” You’ll find yourself angry, bitter, and despondent. So how do you live life in humility? Look to Jesus and the gospel.
Jesus was more innocent than any of us, yet he still suffered much more than any of us have. At no point in time did Jesus say, “I don’t deserve this! I can’t believe this is happening to me. I’m Jesus. I’m God. I’m perfect. I’m holy. I haven’t done a thing to deserve this!” He could have said all of it and been perfectly justified in doing so. Why didn’t he? He walked in humility. He never claimed his rights. And he did all that for you.
Look to Christ perfect, holy, suffering to a degree you can’t possible understand; see him walking in humility through it all for you. Respond to that and walk in humility for him.
By showing Job the difference between them, God is also showing us He is so big and great he can be trusted. Combining distrust in God with suffering creates an equally explosive reaction.
If you’re struggling with distrust in God, if you don’t really believe God is good, when suffering comes you’ll freak out. You’ll be anxious, riddled with worry, plagued by fear. Because deep down you’re saying “I don’t know if God is really looking out for my good.” How do you learn to trust this God? Look to Christ and the gospel.
If there was ever a time when God didn’t know what he was doing it was the capture and crucifixion of his Son Jesus. Jesus was supposed to be the hero; the conqueror; the champion; the one to bring restoration to the world. What must have the disciples been thinking as they look up at him impaled to a cross his blood puddling at the foot of it? Deep down they must have been wondering what went wrong. This world is really spinning out of control. He was our only hope and now look at him. What did God bring out of human history’s greatest tragedy? A risen and exalted Christ; death defeated; sin paid for; the wrath of God satisfied; salvation made possible. If God is able to do bring superlative good out of incomprehensible tragedy, doesn’t that make him worthy of your trust through whatever hardship you’re facing?
The book of Job ends with this:
The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. [He was twice as wealthy as he was before]. And he also had seven sons and three daughters…Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation (Job 42:12-16).
One of the aspects to the Scriptures I love so much is that in every passage at some point profundity and simplicity join arms. So it is here. Handling suffering well really does boil down to humility and trust.