“Yet as I read the birth stories about Jesus I cannot help but conclude that though the world may be tilted toward the rich & powerful, God is tilted toward the underdog.”― Philip Yancey
I am always fascinated by the “gaps” in the Bible. The span of time between recorded episodes. The ones where we are left to guess or imagine what was going on.
This is not to say that what we have in the Bible (i.e., special revelation) is insufficient or not enough. It’s thoroughly sufficient for everything that we need.
But it’s the gaps as well as the explicitly stated that interest me.
For example, when reading through the narrative of Abraham in Genesis 12-25, we really only are privy to a few episodes, even just conversations, of the patriarch and his dealings with God. There’s a lot left unspoken in-between.
We are introduced to him in Genesis 12 as at that point a relatively elderly man, living with his wife in his father’s household. When he goes the way of the departed in Genesis 25, we are told that he died in a “good old age” surrounded by his children over the years.
And in Genesis 24, when he sends his servant out to find a wife for his son Isaac, we are told that the servant is sent out with ten camels, a remarkable display of Abraham’s wealth.
Now, for those reading the story, we are allowed to see a few episodes of how Abraham accrued such wealth. But there are decades left blank in between those few recorded aspects of Abraham’s life.
What was going on in the gaps?
I’ll tell you.
Abraham was living an ordinary, mundane, but striving for faithfulness kind of life.
Too often, we fixate on just the episodes that are “revealed” when teaching the Bible. And what can happen is that someone identifies with that particular story, and hears the call of God to go and leave his particular situation and follows God not knowing where exactly (think overseas missionaries responding to a sermon on Genesis 12 after a missions conference), and others don’t (think about a school teacher, or doctor, hearing the same sermon at the same event).
All Scripture is tied and connected to Jesus as the true and proper fulfillment of it’s meaning. But God’s Word also speaks to how we respond to that particular aspect of His revelation and Christ’s fulfillment.
Perhaps we need to take some time, and with a sanctified imagination, allow some of the “gaps” to speak just as clearly as that which is clearly revealed in Scripture.
Maybe the takeaway isn’t always – “leave and go” (Genesis 12)
Maybe there are times and season where it’s – “stay and remain faithful to the One who is faithful to you!” (the gaps between Genesis 12-25).
I have mused over this concept for a few years now. Ever since I helped out with a church plant wanting to launch a “liturgical” service, this has been a persistent question.
It seems that most of the questions or pushback I have encountered on matters pertaining to worship have to do with what I would call “historical expressions” of worship, not the fundamentals of worship. When we launched the liturgical service, most people assumed this meant that we would be abandoning the projector screens in favor of a printed bulletin.
My question to them was always, “Why?”
What difference would it make if we read a Confession of Sin, or the Nicene Creed, from a stapled collection of papers we hold, or off a screen that’s on the wall in front of us?
Is it the appearance of a video screen and projector that gets in the way of anchoring the “spiritual act of worship” in a corporate setting to our historic Christian faith?
Why should we favor a technology with a born on date of the 15th century (printing press) over one with a 20th century date (video projector)?
The fundamentals of what we do in worship is the same, but it’s the forms that we often get hung up over.
Across continents and centuries, the Christian church gathers to worship a holy and gracious God, who calls us to worship, confronts us with our sin, assures us of His grace and forgiveness in Christ, forms us into a community being fashioned by the preaching and receiving of His word (sermon and sacrament), and then unleashing us back into the world to be His people, in His world, for His glory. These are the fundamentals of any worship service. This is the liturgy.
As I think through my own personal take and philosophy on this, here’s what I’ve come to a conclusion about:
As a church, we want to be anchored to the rich history and tradition of the Christian faith without being overly-fixed to any one instance of it’s historical expression.
In other words, a “hymn” is not preferable to a “praise chorus” simply by the date of origin, but by it’s theological content and artistic expression. Hymnals (songs bound in books) are no better than projection screens by virtue of their antiquity, as both are relatively modern technologies (one being born in the 15th century vs. the 20th).
The question I want us to ask and wrestle with as a church is, “How can we celebrate and join in the historic nature and fundamentals of the Christian faith, without being limited to any particular, historic expression or form, of the Christian faith?”
I love this simple statement Luke includes when he recounts the trial of Paul in Acts 22. Paul had been preaching the gospel, sharing his story of encountering Jesus, and it caused a stir. People were upset. They couldn’t handle what he was talking about. And their reaction was to hand Paul over to the authorities.
But the kind that draws others closer, “desiring to know the real reason.”
….so-and-so seems out to get you?….you’re not holding that grudge against that guy who threw you under the bus?….you’re not falling apart when your husband lost his job?….you’re neither a fundamentalist, prude, nor are you a anything-goes kind of person?….you love your kids and yet your world doesn’t simply orbit around them and their schedules?….you’re life has changed so dramatically?….you go to that church?….you are a Christian?
- Paul: A Citizen of Two Cities (readingacts.wordpress.com)
Book Review: Why Cities Matter: To God, the Culture and the Church by Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard (Crossway, 2013)
Acknowledgment: I would like to express my gratitude to Crossway for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Why do cities matter?
This is the question that drives the book as a whole. Both Dr. Um and Mr. Buzzard are well versed and equipped to address such a question, as they both live and minister in world-class cities (Boston and Palo Alto), and are part of church planting movements that focus on ministry in a wide variety of contexts (Acts 29 and Redeemer City to City).
What is more, this particular book is a clarion call for effective ministry in any context, not just cities. The focus on cities is certainly present throughout the book, but filled within it’s pages is a wealth of material to help any pastor, church planter or lay leader effective engage, reach and ultimately disciple people wherever they are. One premise that I particularly benefited from in this book though, was that ministry is not just for individuals, it’s for cities themselves. Each city (as defined by centers of density and diversity most generally by the authors) has a personality, and if we want to minister the gospel effectively to people in cities, we must know, engage and seek to influence the structures of the city with the message of the gospel.
The authors spend a great deal of time expressing what it is that makes cities what they are. They do emphasize that they are primarily places of density and diversity (lots of people of different backgrounds and varieties), but in addition, they talk about the ideal of the city. A city was a place where anyone could find safety, security and promise of hope. This was true of cities in antiquity as they were known for their fortified walls and economic prospects, and it still hold true today. People come to cities looking to belong (safety, security) and become (hopeful of a better future). The authors address this in a winsome and comprehensive, yet still accessible way. They also talk about what you find inside cities; centers of power, culture and ultimately, worship. It is because of these centers that cities often attract what the authors label the “aspirational”, the “marginal” and the “explorational.” Each group is looking for life, meaning and happiness, and cities provide the context for finding it – whether directed towards God (as Creature and Sustainer) or other false gods (the creation and psuedo-saviors). For this reason, cities matter as a strategic place to proclaim by word and deed the message of the gospel.
In addition, their chapter on Bible and the City (ch. 3) is a masterful sweep of the Biblical portrait of cities. Every aspect of Scripture is combed for an understanding of cities – their importance, their promise and even their dangers – and what one is left with is a biblically convincing case that cities are to be places that reflect God’s will and intention for all humanity. Cities matter to God and it is evident throughout the pages of Scripture.
I also greatly appreciated their chapters on Contextualization in the City (ch. 4) and Ministry Vision for the City (ch. 5). Both are treasure troves for anyone looking to make an impact in their context for the gospel. Perhaps I was drawn to these as I am an aspiring church planter, but I believe anyone could take the principles and apply them wherever they are. Perhaps the biggest single helpful item in these chapters is the principle that in order to reach and engage people and cities with the gospel, you must first take an interest in establishing the relationship to be able to speak intelligently into their lives. In other words, listen, then speak. Anyone can go anywhere and just start preaching; but to preach against the false gods and psudeo-saviors of a city as well as a neighbor, one has to take the time to think through and get to know what are the hopes, dreams, aspirations and fears held by those we’re talking with. Both chapters provide plenty of helpful insights and questions for doing just that.
The one weakness of the book as I read it was the somewhat cavalier attitude towards non-cities. Now, in all fairness, the scope of the book was focused on cities, and no author should ever be expected to say everything and everything. They had a focus, and overall I think they did an excellent job covering that focus. But throughout the book, mention was made of cities as opposed to suburbs, exurbs and rural areas. I don’t like the contemporary debate about which is more important to God and therefore ministry – cities or other places – as I think it misses the point. God cares about every place and is redeeming all things to Himself. There’s plenty of room under that umbrella for both cities (who granted have a greater concentration of imago Dei‘s than rural areas) and rural communities.
What I would have liked to have seen though, is mention and discussion of the relationship between cities and suburbs, exurbs and rural areas. These divisions make for great sociological studies and discussion topics, but in real life, they are more integrated and related than we might like to believe. Are you only reaching, engaging and discipling a “city” if you are located in the “city-center” part of that city? Or are there ways of reading, engaging and discipling a “city” if you go to where the people live, work and play? I think that these questions might lend towards greater nuance of the relationship between cities and other aspects of cities (suburbs, exurbs, rural) and provide a more holistic approach to ministry in our cities.
Despite this one weakness, I whole-heartedly recommend this book. In fact, it would be a go-to resource to anyone wanting to minister in a city context as it distills a ton of information in a clear, straightforward way, and has plenty of applicable and helpful points for anyone in ministry. To end the review on the note the book ended:
“Cities matter. Let’s get to it.”
“God is not a prisoner of our faith, but of his own perfection. Faith obligates God to act not because it is a magical incantation that can be used to control God but because faith in God’s promises calls attention to God’s own faithfulness. The assurance upon which faith is based is the glory of God’s character, not the power of our believing.”
— Scott J. Hafemann
The God of Promise and the Life of Faith
(Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2001), 93
Recently came across this quote I had saved and found it helpful and pertinent to our small group discussion tonight on, “Can someone lose their salvation?”
My wife Ellie made a record in the summer of 2007. She got to work with one of our favorite musicians, Andrew Osenga. Before actually showing up at Sputnik Sound and hitting record, we came to Andrew's home for what they call pre-production. Ellie and I played through the batch of songs we had written for the record. Andrew played along.
Watching VH1 Classic Ablum’s on U2′s The Joshua Tree. The manager just said that they spent nearly half the entire time working on the ablum on figuring out the transition piece from the intro to the main part of Where The Streets Have No Name. He said it was maddening to the point that he wanted to have the demo tape destroyed to force them to move on.
Persistence pays off – in life and in art. Don’t cut the process short. Keep moving, keep iterating, keep trying.
Who knows what you might produce with persistence. Perhaps that song that makes everyone in the room shut up and listen. Or everyone get on their feet in the concert. Or puts that dose of energy into someone’s soul who hears that critical small transition you spend an inordinately amount of time working on.
Don’t short circuit your art. Do great work and keep at it. Then ship it for the rest of us to be inspired by. Thanks U2, and especially The Edge for stubbornly sticking-to-it.
The Crazy One’s….We should be so lucky!
Last night, my wife and I had a rare treat. We got to go to the movies at a relatively decent time (not too late). We saw Jobs, and it was great. Sure, Woz had some historical issues with the movie, but all in all, it was great. At the end, they ended with the best commercial I have ever heard/seen. It’s simply Steve Jobs reading the quote below. I was once again reminded how inspirational and moving seeing someone pursue the radical notion that things can be different matched with the conviction that it should be different – a great reminder for anyone seeking to make a dent in the universe.
“Here’s to the crazy ones — the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” - Steve Jobs
The Christian life is an exciting & excruciating exercise in rejecting apathy.