Every Thumb's Width

On the Line

I loved last year’s theme for our student ministry. More than that, I lived on it. 2 Corinthians 4 reshaped my view of life and death in clay-pot ministry. The final paragraph of the chapter (verses 16-18) kept me, along with John Bunyan, from losing heart on the pilgrim’s path to the Celestial City.

Living on unseen things is vital. It’s also imperative to live out unseen things as well.[1]

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is far from over at the end of chapter 4. He had more to say in chapter 5; we have more to do. Like Paul, we long to be in the visible, bodily presence of the Lord (v.8), to be done with the burdens and groans of body life (vv.1-4). Yet this is no throwaway life. Our bodies won’t last, but we will give an account for what we’ve done on our earthly pilgrimage. Each one of us will answer for what we’re doing now (v.10), and those who worship the Lord (v.11) and desire to please Him (v.9) also ought to be busy persuading others to worship Him (v.11).

We must put ourselves ON THE LINE, imploring others to be reconciled to God through Christ. That thrust comes from the last paragraph in 2 Corinthians 5.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:16–21)

Christ’s mission was to seek and save the lost. Our assignment is to be His ambassadors, to urge others to be reconciled to God. That ministry will require us to put certain things on the line.

To put something “on the line” means to put at serious risk, to expose to loss or damage. It is often used in the context of political and social agendas and has application in the life of every believer as well. It is willingness to lose something for sake of winning something better.

In the ministry of reconciliation, we may put on the line:

  • our reputation/name. In serving and proclaiming Christ, others might misunderstand or criticize or persecute us.
  • our energy, health, and sometimes even safety. For His sake, we may be worn out (tired) or beaten up (hurt).
  • our possessions, or our position to get possessions. In His name, we may have opportunity to give away or give up things for a brother or sister who is lacking.

Those are only some of the more obvious costs of Christian service. And this year we’re going to learn about, and hopefully examine how we can be, putting ourselves on the line.

Snow Retreat

At the 11SR we’ll learn about a man who spent his life doing just that.

On the Line: Rest and Risk in Hudson Taylor’s (Reconciling) Mission

Hudson Taylor was a British missionary who spent 51 years in China. He founded the China Inland Mission which was responsible for bringing over 800 missionaries into the country. Taylor put his life–home comforts, physical safety, daily provision, family relationships–on the line. He moved into a war zone. He also moved before securing dependable, regular support, without a plan to raise money while on the field, and without any of the modern communication conveniences. The growth of his soul led to the growth of the work of God.[2] As he understood his own reconciliation to God through Christ he urged others on behalf of Christ.

I started thinking about Taylor as a biographical candidate about two weeks before the last snow retreat. Honestly, a large part of me does not want to teach on a missionary because of how it may stretch me. Additionally, after only a little bit of study, I realize there are elements of Taylor’s life and teaching that probably will require correction not merely qualification.[3] That said, I believe there is much in his life that will test our willingness to put ourselves on the line as disciples.


We’re going to pick up where we left off in the Genesis story on Sunday mornings in one28. We should be able to cover some chapter-sized chunks beginning with chapter 13. Though we’ve already been in this book for the greater part of two years, I hope to turn a lot of pages in the life of the patriarchs this coming year.

Abram, in particular, put his faith on the line again and again. Probably the most well-known test comes in chapter 22 when he put not only his faith on the line, but even the life of his son. There is much to learn about risky obedience–what it does and doesn’t look like–in Genesis.


Much of the motivation for our ministry of imploring others to be reconciled to God comes from knowing and exulting in our own reconciliation. We’re unlikely to proclaim the gospel if we don’t believe it, and we’re unlikely to make sacrifices for the sake of the gospel if we aren’t thrilled by it. A similar back and forth between soteriology and missiology (evangelistic work among all nations) is unmistakeable in 2 Corinthians 5.

Soteriology is the study of salvation. More than academic, soteriology is worship material. We’ve studied the gospel of salvation in Romans, we’ve studied five particular points of salvation a couple times, and this year we’re going to follow a line.

(Get your Latin on for the) Ordo salutis: the order of salvation, the logical sequence, or the series of (chronological and/or conceptual) steps from eternity past to eternity future and everything in between. Different staff men will lead us through a study of sovereign Soteriology.


Our GBC Saturday seminar this year was:

Making Disciples: Completing the Trinitarian Commission

Fulfilling the Great Commission calls us to put ourselves on the line, starting with calling others to repent and believe and then helping the “new creations” to grow in Christlikeness. This study was aimed to equip the reconciled for the work of ministry, not only for this year in one28, but for a lifetime of Body building.


Another emphasis this year will be outreach. The first place for emphasis, in addition to our prayers for the persecuted church, will be an added square for unreached people groups in the one28 bulletin.

We’re also going to mix in opportunities to put our pride, our comforts or at least some of our time, and maybe even some of our finances on the line. I’m not sure what exact forms this outreach will take but, at a minimum, we’ll try to schedule at least three more Out of the Box events.

Small Groups

The first place we hope to see students living out unseen things is at home. We every student to be a radically obedient son or daughters.

After that, we want to see radically involved brothers and sisters in our church family. We want every one of you to put your own conveniences, your schedule, your preferences on the line so that, in Christ, each part may work properly and make the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. It seems that some of you still think you’re unwanted or unimportant or unneeded in your small groups. That’s nonsense. Get on the line; get involved.

After hearing the theme at our staff retreat, Ryan Hall said: “Living on unseen things feels like a kiddie pool compared to this theme.” Perhaps last year’s theme answered reactively, What is God teaching us to live without? This year, then, is more proactive, What can we give up for sake of the ministry of reconciliation He’s given to us? It’s a question that I’m challenged to answer.

  1. “Living out unseen things” was actually Grant Weinberg’s guess at this year’s theme before I revealed it at our staff retreat in August.
  2. Hence the two-volume biography written by Taylor’s son and daughter-in-law, The Growth of a Soul and The Growth of a Work of God.
  3. Biographies of snow retreats past have included men such as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Edwards. While we stand on their theological shoulders, we don’t subscribe to their every jot and tittle. They are helpful to the degree that their writings explain or illustrate Scripture. The same will be true with Taylor.
Enjoying the Process

Living on Unseen Things

Last year in one28 we were Starting at the Beginning. This year it’s time to move ahead. It’s time to make progress.

But making progress is difficult, especially in the Christian life. The world is against us. The evil one is against us. Our own flesh is against us. We travel a hard road. The path is narrow, often steep and slippery. The way is lined with naysayers hurling insults and discouragements toward us. We are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and perhaps even struck down and dying.

And yet, the difficult Christian journey demonstrates God’s perfections more than if there was no journey (meaning if God took us to heaven immediately) or if the journey was always triumphant (meaning if crowds applauded and praised us all along the way).

One compelling witness to the demanding and God-exalting Christian journey was John Bunyan. In his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Bunyan wrote about preparing for life in the Bedford Prison (pictured above) for his unwillingness to give up preaching the gospel.

Before I came to prison, I saw what was a-coming, and had especially two considerations warm upon my heart; the first was how to be able to endure, should my imprisonment be long and tedious; the second was how to be able to encounter death, should that be here my portion….[T]hat saying in 2 Co. 1:9 was of great use to me, “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but God which raiseth the dead.” By this scripture I was made to see, that if I would ever suffer rightly, I must pass a sentence of death upon everything that can properly be called a thing of this life, even to reckon myself, my wife, my children, my health, my enjoyments, and all, as dead to me, and myself as dead to them.

The second was, to live upon God that is invisible.

His imprisonment lasted 12 years. In effect, his wife was a ministry widow like few others; his children–the oldest blind–were pastoral orphans. How did he endure? The key paragraph of Scripture that informed his resolve was 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Integrating Paul’s call to look to the things that are unseen, and Bunyan’s commitment to live on God that is invisible, we get our 2009-10 theme: Living on Unseen Things.

To live on means to survive solely by consuming a certain thing. Unseen things are the “not” seen, things hidden from sight. In the spiritual realm, the unseen things include gospel promises, gospel principles, and God Himself, all of which are eternal.

  • Gospel promises include: eternal life, eternal inheritance, and final transformation.
  • Gospel principles include: death shows life, weakness shows power, pain increases pleasure, suffering increases capacity for glory.
  • God Himself: understood as the righteous Judge, understood as the merciful and preserving Savior.

We will not work and pray and suffer and sojourn and die to the glory of God unless we live on unseen things. The theme will weave throughout our ministry year as follows.

Living on Unseen Things

The 2010 Snow Retreat will take the same name as our year’s theme: Living on Unseen ThingsThe Key to John Bunyan’s Christian Journey. Bunyan’s life and teaching are of great profit for our own pilgrimage.

Pilgrim’s Reading

In preparation for the 10SR, and because it’s devotionally good for the soul anyway, we’ll be reading The Pilgrim’s Progress as a ministry. The link above provides a schedule for finishing the book the week before the retreat begins. Small groups are encouraged to talk about the reading at their bi-monthly meetings.


Sunday mornings we’ll continue our trek through the Book of Beginnings. Though he’d never seen rain before, Noah lived on God’s word that a flood was coming. And assuming we get to chapter 12 sometime this year, we’ll see that Abram (and family) left their country and kindred for a land unseen as the LORD directed.

1 Peter

On corporate one28 Wednesday nights, Jonathan Sarr will preach through 1 Peter, an epistle written to elect exiles (pilgrims), about an yet-to-be-fully-revealed salvation and an eternal inheritance (in a Celestial City). Though we have not seen Christ, we love Him (1 Peter 1:8-9) and follow His example as He entrusted Himself to the (unseen) One who judges justly (2:23; 4:19).

Devoted to Prayer

Our GBC Saturday seminar this year is titled, Devoted to Prayer–Wearing Knee-Holes in Hardwood Floors. Apart from rightly dividing God’s Word, I can’t think of any more pivotal exercise for living on unseen things than prayer.

Within a short month of announcing the theme to the one28 staff, the challenge to live on unseen things has been furious for me. I’m going to need this theme like the diseased need a doctor. My guess is, so will you.

Though there’s a year-full of meditation and application ahead, the following quote from Bunyan’s autobiography paves a clear path.

I had also this consideration, that if I should now venture all for God, I engaged God to take care of my concernments.

Let us make progress and venture every step this year for God.

Enjoying the Process

Advance by Retreat

I intended to have my new year’s resolution post up by now (yes, I’m aware that it is January 25th). It obviously hasn’t happened, nor will it happen for at least another week, the reason being, we leave tomorrow for our annual snow retreat. I’m teaching this year on Repentance: Seeing Sin for What It Is, so I’ve been preparing sermons for the last month and trying to coordinate the details of taking 125 people away for five days. All that to say, the Void will be void for at least another week. We did create a snow retreat Twitter if that suits your information fancy, and we certainly would appreciate any prayers you might remember to say on our behalf.

Every Thumb's Width

Repentance-Seeing Sin for What It Is

We have been tasked to change the world.

As men and women made in the image of God, we’ve been tasked to take dominion on the earth. As Christian men and women, being formed into the image of Christ, we’ve been tasked to make disciples of all nations. These are no small opportunities or responsibilities; both dominion-taking and disciple-making involve changing the world.

Rightly so, Christians are often on the front lines of these cultural and spiritual campaigns, making plans and throwing resources like time and energy and money to reach their communities as well as foreign countries. No effort is held back, no expense spared to reach people for Christ and change the world.

But for all the attention and energy we give, for all the flash web sites we’ve made and contextualized clothing we wear and language we’ve embraced, for all the slick marketing brochures we pass out and “Christian” rock music we produce and play, for all the “relevant” and timely sermon series and Christian celebrity appearances, for all the cool Christian t-shirts, for all the gentle conversations we engage in, for all the evangelism programs and English translations and focused study Bibles/Biblezines, for all the WWJD and Livestrong bracelets, for all the Christian Facebook groups, it really doesn’t seem like we are changing the world at all. In fact, if anything, it seems like the world is changing us, conforming us into its image. We are far from being accused of “turning the world upside down” like the early church (cf. Acts 17:1-9, especially verse 6).

That’s what I want. I want to be a part of making disciples of all nations, starting right here, and turning the whole world upside down. So how do we do that?

The answer is simpler than we might think. It doesn’t require any money. It has nothing to do with web sites or worship styles. It doesn’t depend on knowing the culture, or being culturally relevant.

Becoming and being a disciple, as well as working to make disciples, starts with one thing. If we want to change the world, to turn it upside down, we’ve got to start at the beginning, with REPENTANCE.

Repentance is a change of mind, a turning about and away from sin. It is a recognition and lamentation and confession of unrighteousness, that results in new affection for, and a new direction toward, righteousness. Repentance is where new life starts. Repentance is where disciple-making begins.

Remember, Christ didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:29-32)

Religious people are often some of the most arrogant people. They have an inflated view of themselves and they look down on others. Religious people sometimes give the impression that God should be happy to have them on His team, like He needs their innovations and influence. Instead, what He needs first is their repentance.

Today’s feel-good-about-yourself philosophy keeps us from Christ and salvation and spiritual health. We need to see how sick in sin we are, not how super we are.

I believe one of the primary reasons we as Christians are so worldly in our living and so ineffective in our mission is because we have forgotten about personal repentance and about proclaiming repentance.

When was the last time you gave lip to your mom, or lied to a friend, or lusted in your heart, or wasted your time, and then confessed your sin, asked forgiveness for your sin, and turned away in repentance from your sin? When was the last time you told a friend that the reason for their joylessness, may be because of their failure to repent?

In order to start at the beginning, this year’s Snow Retreat will focus on REPENTANCE: Seeing Sin for What It Is.

And to help us do that, we’re going to also consider one of the oldest and most influential figures in church history since the New Testament, a man on whose shoulders Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon all stood: St. Augustine.

Through Augustine’s pastoral work of preaching and writing and defending the faith and caring for his sheep, he changed not only his community and his era, in many ways he changed Western Civilization. He is a man through whom God was pleased to change the world. And I intend to make the case at the 09SR, that it was Augustine’s confessions, his seeing sin for what it is and repenting, that was the beginning of both his personal affections for God and his usefulness on God’s behalf.

Augustine turned the world upside down by turning away from sin. So can we.

Enjoying the Process

Starting at the Beginning

A couple months ago I was having breakfast with some of the one28 staff men. Our conversation turned toward the subject of past one28 graduates, and in particular, the current spiritual state of those students. There are, as anyone might suspect, some students continuing to walk with Christ who are closer to Him than ever. There are other students who have given every appearance of walking away from Christ.

As we talked that morning, we wondered out loud if we as men, as a staff, and as a ministry, were doing everything we possibly could to prepare our graduates for the life outside of and beyond one28.

Of course, one28 is only a small part of a student’s development. A student’s family makes the biggest difference. The opportunities and education they get at whatever school they attend plays a large role. Many additional influences shape a student’s life as well. But the question still remains: are we maximizing our influence to prepare students for life after one28? In other words, are we doing everything we can to present every student complete in Christ?

The question has not been altogether off the radar over the last few years. When we tweaked small groups and had senior’s teach on Wednesdays and retooled snow retreat and studied soli Deo glori in the 04-05 “Year of the ‘S'” we had the question in mind. When we prayed for abounding love in 05-06, enlisting Jonathan Edwards’ help to get our heads out of broken cisterns and raise our affections we had the question in mind. When we looked only to Christ in 06-07 with Spurgeon, and when we played for keeps last year through Ecclesiastes and a snow retreat aimed at guarding the heart and had the staff teach through biblical manhood and womanhood, we had in mind our part to prepare young people for following Christ.

In one sense, we’re going to build on each of the previous years, since all of those themes have a proper place. But in another sense, we’re going to take a big step back this year, and start at the beginning. After all,

  • you can’t get old without being born
  • you can’t build walls that will stand unless you begin by laying a solid foundation
  • you can’t eat ripe fruit unless you begin by planting the tree
  • you can’t cross the finish line unless you start at the beginning

That’s the 2008-09 theme: Starting at the Beginning. And we’re going to start at the beginning in a few different ways.


On Sundays were going to study Genesis. Genesis may be the best and most relevant book in all the Bible to prepare us to think about our place in the world, to frame our beliefs about family and history and morality from the ground up. Genesis is the book of beginnings, especially as we study the early chapters of God’s story of redemption. We will study the beginning of everything so that students will be prepared for anything.

Rightly | Dividing

Then we’re going to do a Saturday seminar on how to study the Bible. God’s Word is the beginning of our understanding of truth. God’s Word builds us up, equips us for every good work, and helps young men keep their way pure. One of the most valuable things we can do, then, to help prepare students, is to give them tools to understand God’s book for themselves. If we want to succeed and make our way prosperous, we’ve got to start at the beginning with Scripture.


We’re also going to focus on service this year like never before. If we want to please God, we’ve got to serve. If we want to be a blessing to our families, now as a young persons, and later as a spouse or parent, we’ve got to serve. And if we want to lead others, we must follow Jesus’ example of servanthood. This generation seeks to be served and be given to. But that mindset must not to be the case for us in one28. In small groups and as a ministry, we’re going to provide opportunities and make a concentrated push to start at the beginning with service.


We’re going to ask the senior guys to teach most Wednesdays again this year. In a lot of ways, students leading students makes the biggest difference in the ground war of making disciples. When students lead, particularly the guy students, the health of our ministry is off the charts. When senior guys step up, that sets the tone and pace. We want our guys to be strong, and we want our senior guys to start at the beginning by leading as servants.

Snow Retreat

And finally, there’s snow retreat. I can’t unwrap the 09SR theme for another month or so, but I promise, it is going to challenge everyone to start at the beginning.

Now all that is exciting, at least to me. But it is worthless for students unless they come up to the starting line with us. If they don’t participate, if they don’t let Genesis lay a foundation for their thinking, or take advantage of service opportunities and the Bible study seminar and the senior Wednesdays and the 09SR, they will not be prepared and will not be more Christlike by the end of the year.

That means some students need to repent. Loving oneself or one’s sin or the things of the world will keep anyone from growing. A person in sin needs to clear the plate, confess sin and turn from it. He or she needs to start at the beginning. So here we stand, kicking off another school year. We are starting at the beginning. Start with us.

Enjoying the Process

Annual Pilgrimage

Our Tahoe full of five is about 90 miles north of Los Angeles as I write on my iPhone. I already can see the sun and taste the smog. This will be Shepherds’ Conference six for some of our one28 staff. We all agreed last night (when we departed around 7:45pm) that there’s not much better on our Christian calendar year than a week full of man singing, Scripture marinating, book buying, and black coffee drinking among friends. You’re welcome to check the Void for updates over the next few days, but don’t hold your breath, I’ll probably be busy male bonding.