Posted by: William | March 6, 2008

Passion for the Periphery?

I listened to a sermon today spoken by Donald Carson from the Resurgence conference. A good number of the talks from the conference are available for free on itunes; I highly recommend grabbing some and giving them a listen. Carson’s message, titled What is the Gospel, was a brief yet biblically complete definition of what exactly is meant when Paul or another Apostle speaks of the “Gospel”. I won’t go into lots of specifics about the sermon, I’d just like to share a brief thought that Carson had provoked.


In the beginning of his message, he discussed the various misinterpretations of what the “Gospel” is. Things from social justice, to political influence, to dogmatics; things that may hold some part of the “Gospel” but all fall in the periphery. He talked about our tendency to take the things that ought to be in the periphery and place them in the center; make them the point. He was speaking most specifically about when this happens regarding the things we are passionate about. We love and know the cross, but are passionate about politics. We love and know the resurrection, but we’re passionate about serving the homeless. These things may be good and in the right motive, honoring to God, but they shouldn’t ever be prominent over our insatiable love for Jesus.


Speaking to leaders and teachers, Carson gives an important reason:


Our hearers are inevitably drawn to that about which we are passionate… My students are unlikely to learn all that I teach them…They are most likely to learn [that which] I am excited about.”


When I think back to my ministries, and even relationship, I see this to be overwhelmingly true.


As a younger believer, I was leading a small group of late middle-school early high-school kids. I can remember one week canceling small group for a Passion Conference in which John Piper spoke. During one of Piper’s messages, he said something newly articulated for me. He said that God was “God-centered” then went on to explain that if “you are God-centered because God is man-centered then you are man-centered.” Piper wore his passion for God all over his sleeve and that’s pretty much the only thing I remember from that whole conference. In a single sentence my entire relationship with the Lord was turned on its head. The whole thing made sense and from that moment on, I stopped being passionate about God’s cause (although like anyone, I still need to stay in check) and started being passionate about God. When I got home I distinctly remember re-teaching Piper’s message to my small group. I was so excited to find out that this whole life boils down solely to the glory of God that there just wasn’t much I could say to them that wouldn’t quickly work back to that point. In that way, not a whole lot has changed since then.


Whether it sunk in or not, it’s one of the few things that really stuck with the group. In later meetings if I would pose any kind of abstract question, someone would almost undoubtedly shout out “because of the glory of God!” or “for the glory of God!” The point is, after years of interacting and teaching and discussing what (intellectually at least) stuck with them was this core point that I was passionate about.


When I think today, especially about teachers and my own (albeit limited) position in the public eye, I think that we should be careful that our passion is not on God’s cause or the other things of the periphery of his Gospel, but square on Jesus, always on Jesus. In this way what others might remember about what we say and do will be Jesus, instead of our quickly fading causes.


Jesus thank you that there isn’t anything more meaningfully placed in the center besides you. Jesus, I pray for myself that you would give me humility for careful introspection. Help me determine where my passion lies; on you, or on the periphery. Jesus, I pray for your church at large that you would direct her to be a fiery lover focusing squarely on you. By your Holy Spirit, sanctify us for your glory, God.


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