22 Quotes about Facing the Future with Confidence
Here are some of the statements that jumped out at me as I was reading Russell Moore’s book Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel. I’ve included some questions that came to mind as I was highlighting these passages. I hope you will read at least of couple of the quotes and share your reactions with others.
You can find a short review of the book HERE.
Living in the American Church vs. Living in the Kingdom of God
The rich young ruler who once encountered Jesus wanted a religion that would promise him his best life now, extended out into all eternity. But Jesus knew that such an existence isn’t life at all, just the zombie corpse of the way of the flesh— always hungry but unable to die. Jesus came to do something else; he came to wreck our lives, so that he could join us to his. Page. 5
Q: What does your “best life ” look like? What changes when you let Jesus wreck your “life”?
Most Americans did identify with Christianity, and with the goods of Christianity such as church-going and moral self-restraint. The problem was that, from the very beginning, Christian values were always more popular in American culture than the Christian gospel. That’s why one could speak of “God and country” with great reception in almost any era of the nation’s history but would create cultural distance as soon as one mentioned “Christ and him crucified.” Page 6
The shaking of American culture is no sign that God has given up on American Christianity. In fact, it may be a sign that God is rescuing American Christianity from itself. Page 7
Q: Why do you think so many people have approved of Christianity in the past? How do you explain the declining appeal of the Church in our culture? How much of your appreciation for the Church is based on the values it teaches, and how much is based on the Savior it preaches?
The kingdoms of the moment, whatever they are, seem more important than the kingdom of Christ, without our ever even realizing it. That’s why our blood pressure is more likely to rise when we hear someone disagree with us about our political party or our sports team or an item in the news than when we hear faulty teaching from a Christian pulpit. Page 8
Q: What “Kingdoms of the moment” compete for your loyalty?
Vision, Expectations, and the Puzzling Problem of Purpose
If we don’t know where we are going, we don’t know what to want. This is more of a problem among us than we care to admit. Most Christians talk a lot about heaven. We want to know that life goes on, that love is stronger than death. We want to be reunited with loved ones we miss, and the older we get the more people we’ve lost and so the more we want to see them. We don’t want to go to hell. No one would ever offer up a complaint about the everlasting life we’ve been promised. And yet, if we were to inject truth serum into the communion wine in our churches, I think we might find that many of us dread life in the kingdom of God, not because we find it terrifying but because we find it boring. Page 50
The vision of the end many Christians hold is pleasant enough— a white, antiseptic family reunion with super-powers, and calorie-free food, and singing, singing that goes on and on and on, forever. The way we fit that vision of the end into our present lives is betrayed by the way we speak of it— as an “afterlife.” Think about that word for a moment— the focus is on the “life” (this present span of time), and everything beyond that is defined as “after” your life. Reflect on how it would change your view of marriage if you referred to matrimony as your “after-love.” Page 50
For many Christians, then, the expectation of the eternal future is along the lines of a high school reunion that never ends. Now, to be sure, a high school reunion can be a good experience, for four or five hours. The focus of a reunion is on the past. That’s what we talk about: “What ever happened to Leslie Johnson; what’s she doing now?” or “Remember that time that Chad Lee commandeered the intercom, imitating the assistant principal’s voice and announcing that school was letting out half-day?” All of that can be great, unless it goes on for quadrillions of years, at which point the very thought ought to fill us with existential dread. I’ll just say it: if that’s what we’ve been promised, that is boring as hell. And I mean that literally. Hell is the place where human beings are focused on the past, with no future before them (Luke 16:25). That is not the kingdom of God we are waiting for. Page 50
Q: Where are you headed? What are you waiting for? Does the thought of Eternity ever bore you?
Seeing our lives now, and the universe around us, as precursors to the life to come, we’re freed from the ingratitude that turns away from God’s good gifts, from the apathy that ignores those God hears. We pour ourselves into loving, serving, and working because these things are seeds of the tasks God has for us in the next phase. We don’t invest any of those things with infinite meaning. My life’s meaning is not found in the brief interval between birth and grave— in a happy marriage, a satisfying job, or the kind of “success” my in-laws would recognize at the Thanksgiving table. Page 54
Q: What gives your daily life meaning and purpose?
God’s purpose is to conform us into the image of Christ. So, like him, we do not arrive fully formed. Jesus, in his humanity, “learned obedience from what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). If God is working all things together for my good, then nothing in my life is a “waste of time.” Every aspect of my life, my relationships, my job, my family, my suffering, is part of an internship for the eschaton, preparing me in some way to rule with Christ. If the kingdom is what Jesus says it is, then what matters isn’t simply what we neatly classify as “spiritual” things. Our callings— whether preaching the gospel or loading docks or picking avocados or filing legal briefs or writing legislation or herding goats— aren’t accidental. God is teaching us, as he taught our Lord, to learn in little things how to be in charge of great things (Matt. 25:14-23). Page 63
Q: How much of your daily routine seems to be a “waste of time.”? What’s different about those times when you get a sense that God is teaching you something really important in your work and suffering?
The church gathered is not merely a matter of fueling the people for a week of individual devotion. In worship, the church, mysteriously and spiritually, ascends to the heavenly Mount Zion, joining an already existing worship service (Heb. 12:18-19). Our preaching isn’t just information sharing; it’s the voice of Jesus clearing the way for the new regime (2 Cor. 5:20). Page 79
Q: What do you expect Sunday worship to do for you? What’s different about those times when you experience worship as an ascent to “the heavenly Mount Zion”? How much of that difference is comes from what’s going on inside of you? How much is based on what’s happening around you?
In our life together, then, God is forming a culture, by training us for our future responsibilities as joint-heirs with Christ. The king grants to his administration-in-waiting spiritual gifts, used now within the church, magnified later in the kingdom (Eph. 4:7-13; 1 Cor. 12:4-10). These gifts are not what I would choose, were I making the decisions here. I would opt for something a bit more dramatic to the outside world, and more obviously useful to me— super-speed, perhaps, or maybe x-ray vision. But King Jesus grants gifts that demonstrate the church’s mission, as a spiritual body that advances onward not by might or by power but by gospel and by Spirit. Page 79
Q: How often have you thought about the fact that God is actively creating a culture at Peace Lutheran Church? When have you been given a glimpse that you are being trained for “future responsibilities as joint-heirs with Christ?
When Jesus Turns the World Upside Down
The kingdom of God turns the Darwinist narrative of the survival of the fittest upside down (Acts 17:6-7). When the church honors and cares for the vulnerable among us, we are not showing charity. We are simply recognizing the way the world really works, at least in the long run. The child with Down syndrome on the fifth row from the back in your church, he’s not a “ministry project.” He’s a future king of the universe. The immigrant woman who scrubs toilets every day on hands and knees, and can barely speak enough English to sing along with your praise choruses, she’s not a problem to be solved. She’s a future queen of the cosmos, a joint-heir with Christ. Page 82
What if our churches weren’t divided up by the same economic and racial and political and generational categories that would bind us together even if Jesus were not alive? What would it mean, in your church, if a minimum-wage janitor were mentoring the multimillionaire executive of the restaurant where he cleans toilets, because the janitor/mentor has the spiritual wisdom his boss/protégé needs? It would look awfully strange, but it would look no stranger than a crucified Nazarene governing the universe. Page 84
The next Jonathan Edwards might be the man driving in front of you with the Darwin Fish bumper decal. The next Charles Wesley might be a misogynistic, profanity-spewing hip-hop artist right now. The next Charles Spurgeon might be managing an abortion clinic right now. The next Mother Teresa might be a heroin-addicted porn star right now. The next Augustine of Hippo might be a sexually promiscuous cult member right now, just like, come to think of it, the first Augustine of Hippo was. Page 21
Q: Every pastor I know has been hounded repeatedly to go out and recruit “young families with children”. I don’t know of very many pastors who’ve been encouraged to go out and bring in “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” (Luke 14:21) What does that say about the assumptions many church members have about what makes someone a “good prospect”? What difference would it make if we truly grasped that Christians were “joint-heir with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17)? As you think about the people in your life, who are the least likely candidates for sainthood?
Watch your tone!
We are not prosecuting attorneys, seeking to indict our opponents with their sin. The devil does that just fine on his own. We are defense attorneys, or as the Bible puts it, “ambassadors of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:20). We speak of sin, and we warn of judgment, but in order to see persons made right with God, not in order to vent our spleens. We are not standing athwart history, yelling “Repent!” We are, like John before us, pointing to Christ and announcing, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Page 110
Q: How comfortable are you with speaking of sin and warning of judgment? How comfortable are you with pointing to Christ?
When we pray for those in prison for their faith, we remember that the gospel came to us in letters written from jail. When we plead for those whose churches are burned in Egypt, we remember that our hope isn’t in building religious empires but in a New Jerusalem we’ve never seen. When we weep for those who are (sometimes literally) crucified in the Middle East, we are reminded that our Lord isn’t a life coach or a guru but a crucified Messiah. Page 152
Q: How often are you tempted to let Jesus be your “life coach” or “guru”? Who are some of the competing “messiah” in our culture? What does it mean for you to have Jesus as your Messiah?
We don’t persuade our neighbors by mimicking their angry power protests. We don’t win arguments by bringing corporations to the ground in surrender. Frankly, if we had that sort of cultural cache, corporations would already have market-tested it, and found ways to curry favor with us while keeping their immoral practices subterranean. Let others fight mammon with mammon. Let’s instead offer a word of faithful witness that doesn’t blink before power but doesn’t seek to imitate it either. Page 191
Jesus doesn’t blink before Pilate because he knows, ultimately, he is setting the agenda, not Pilate (John 18:36-37). This is not because Jesus doesn’t see the fight before him, but because he sees a bigger, more seemingly intractable, fight in the distance. Kindness and gentleness grow, not when we downplay warfare, but when we emphasize it. For Paul, kindness is not politeness. It’s a weapon in spiritual warfare. We teach and rebuke with kindness and gentleness, so that “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may . . . escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to his will” (2 Tim. 2:25-26). Page 191
The Scriptures command us to be gentle and kind to unbelievers, not because we are not at war, but because we’re not at war with them (2 Tim. 2:26). When we see that we are warring against principalities and powers in the heavenly places, we can see that we’re not wrestling against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12). The path to peace isn’t through bellicosity or surrender, but through fighting the right war (Rom. 16:20). We rage against the Reptile, not against his prey. Page 194
If all we have to go on is what we see around us, then, of course, we will become scared and outraged, and our public witness will turn into an ongoing temper tantrum, designed just to prove to our opponents, and to ourselves, that we are still here. And in so doing we would employ the rhetorical tricks of other insecure movements: sarcasm, vitriol, ridicule. But we are not the voice of the past, of the Bible Belt to a post-Christian culture of how good things used to be. We are the voice of the future, of the coming kingdom of God. The message of the kingdom isn’t “You kids, get off our lawn.” The message of the kingdom is, “Make way for the coming of the Lord.” Page 203
A gloomy view of culture leads to meanness. We have no reason to be fearful or sullen or mean. We’re not the losers of history. We are not slouching toward Gomorrah; we are marching to Zion. The worst thing that can possibly happen to us has already happened: we’re dead. We were crucified at Skull Place, under the wrath of God. And the best thing that could happen to us has already happened; we’re alive, in Christ, and our future is seated at the right hand of God, and he’s feeling just fine. Page 203
We overcome, not because we’re a moral majority or a righteous remnant, but because we’re blood-covered sinners who know that if the gospel can change us, it can change anyone. We speak with kindness and persuasion not because we’re weak but because the gospel is strong. Page 204
Q: How do you feel about where the world is heading? What things lead you into a funk? Where do you find hope? What things give you the most confidence?