The Blessing of Divine Intrusion

New sermon video from last week is up! Share your thoughts, comments, and questions – I’d love to hear what’s on your mind!

 

The Blessing of Divine Intrusion
Ephesians 1:3-14
Part 2 of the series, Wondrous Mystery: Exploring the Depths of our Union with Christ

Sermon series through Ephesians at Christ Church Mansfield

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Sin as Vandalism of the Life We All Want

Quote

banksycosetteokBelow is one of my all-time favorite quotes, highlighting that what we experience is not life as we want it, nor as it was meant to be.  Something has gone wrong and hijacked God’s good intention for all of Creation.

“The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight — a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be….

In sum, shalom is God’s design for creation and redemption; sin is blamable human vandalism of these great realities and therefore an affront to their architect and builder.”

Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way Its Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, (Wm. B. Erdmans Publ. Co., 1995)

Review: Why Cities Matter by Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard

Why Cities Matter by Um and Buzzard

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.”

Link: Paperback and Kindle versions.

Sin Can’t Have a Green Card

ImageAs I’m working through the book of Romans with a group of great guys at Christ Church Santa Fe, I am struck by how often the questions of the role of sin in the Christian life come up.  This question makes sense and comes up in the book of Romans in chapter 6, but it’s at least in the background throughout the whole book.  We are utilizing a study guide put together by Tim Keller and Redeemer Church New York, and it is a great tool for our study, but still, this question lingers.

One way I have found helpful in answering this question is by using a “green card” analogy.  Here’s what I mean:

Because of your union with Christ, sin can’t have a green card in your life. It can’t claim citizenship (status), nor should it apply for permanent residence (progress).  In union with Christ, what is true of Him, is true (justification) and will be true (glorification) of you as well.

God’s New Thing

Came across this quote while doing some research work this week and thought it

Courtesy of Jonathan Grassmick

worthwhile to share.

The God who remained apparently silent on Good Friday is having the last word. He is answering the unspoken questions of Jesus’ followers, and the spoken question of Jesus himself on the cross. And what God is doing is not just an extraordinary miracle, a display of supernatural power for its own sake, or a special favour to Jesus. What God is doing is starting something new, beginning the new world promised long ago, sending the disciples to Galilee in the first place but then, as we shall see, on to the ends of the earth and the close of the age with the news of what has happened. A whole new world was opening up in front of them.”

N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Vol 2, (198-199), on the Great Commission in Matthew 28.

What’s the best book for better understanding the Bible as a whole?

Cover of "The Jesus Storybook Bible: Ever...

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones

People ask me often, “What is a good book to read to better understand the Bible as a whole?”

My answer has been for the past five years, “The best single book to better understand the Bible as a whole is Sally Lloyd-Jones’ The Jesus Story Book Bible.”

And you can Pre-Order it for Kindle for only $3.99 by clicking the link below (this is a steal, trust me).

The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name: Sally Lloyd-Jones: Amazon.com: Kindle Store.

Hardcover edition (click here)

Curriculum Kit (click here)

» The Affection of Christ Alone Keller Quotes

» The Affection of Christ Alone Keller Quotes.

This is a great one from Tim Keller.  Enjoy!

How to be “Fit” for God’s Kingdom (Mark 1:1-8)

Joachim Patinir's landscape with St. John the Baptist Preaching

Out in the wilderness, along the bank of the Jordan river, we are introduced to a mesmerizing figure.  His name is John the Baptist, and what he is doing could be likened to a cultural wake-up call. God’s people the Israelites find themselves under yet another nations occupation – this time the Romans.  When this had happened before, it was on account of God’s people sinning, or turning away from their God to go after other gods.  One way to describe this would be: they left their ultimate source of love and devotion to go to something/someone else.  They would be lulled away from their fervent devotion to Yahweh by the allure of another hope, and when that happened, God’s people would wait until the time Yahweh would remember them and visit them, and bring them back into their land and ultimately a right relationship with him.

And here we have John the Baptist in effect saying: “Time to stop dreaming and face not just any other day, but perhaps the most significant day of the rest of your life, even the most significant day in the history of the world.” That was John’s message.

What did this mean for those standing on the bank of the Jordan that day?  Both John and Jesus talk of repentance – both in preparation for the coming kingdom and as a response to the arrival of the kingdom.  But what would repentance have looked like?  Some of us today might answer, “It means to stop sinning” or “live as God’s people should live.” But it’s interesting to note that John and Jesus were both speaking to God’s people; what did it mean for them to “stop sinning” or “live as God’s people”?

Jesus’ contemporaries had lived a life that declared that Yahweh was their King, but functionally they lived with other things placed above Him.  They had other things as more important.  Things like their ancestry, their land, their Temple, their laws, their customs and traditions.  Part of this was a long list and series of washings that had to occur to “purify” or “cleanse” them from any contamination they may have come in contact with.  How can something defiled be acceptable to someone Holy, like God?  For those Israelites, this was a simple matter of washing your hands, but for a Gentile, the only way to be allowed to participate in the worship of God (and with it the life of God’s people) was to be baptized – whole person “cleansing” whether by effusion or immersion).  This was how a Gentile could become “clean”.

Now John the Baptist is preaching a ministry of baptism for everybody – Jew and Gentile alike – for the forgiveness of sins.  This is scandalizing.  Your pedigree no longer mattered.  Your moral record no longer mattered.  It’s good that you washed your hands, but that’s not going to cut it anymore.  Something new is happening, and with that new thing, only complete newness is acceptable.

The only way to be “fit” for the kingdom of God is through a radical display of saving grace.  The kind of grace that eclipses the baptism of John the Baptist; one that not only cleanses from sin, but gives the Holy Spirit.  Compared to that, no one is even worthy to untie his sandals.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Read Mark 1:1-13.  How does John seek to prepare the people for Jesus’ coming? (vv. 1-8)?
  2. Would you say that you are “shocked” or “awakened” by the message of the gospel?  If not, how do you feel about the gospel?  If so, why is that?

What makes us safe with God? Or, the Blessed Assurance of a Basic Theology

What makes us “safe” with God?

I was thinking of this after reading one of Spurgeon’s devotionals the other day from Morning and Evening.  Assuming that someone cares that they are (or are not) safe with God, its a pretty important question.

“Pleasant it is to the believer to know that God’s eye is thus tenderly observant of that work of grace which he has begun. He never loses sight of the treasure which he has placed in our earthen vessels. Sometimes we cannot see the light, but God always sees the light, and that is much better than our seeing it. Better for the judge to see my innocence than for me to think I see it. It is very comfortable for me to know that I am one of God’s people–but whether I know it or not, if the Lord knows it, I am still safe.”

Now don’t hear what Spurgeon is not saying.  He’s not saying that, “You have no response to Him to make,” or “There’s nothing you can know about God, and what He is up to in your life.”  Read the quote below for his thoughts on that.

But what he is saying is something I have adopted as a basic, underlying philosophy to life.  Its actually the starting point of all theological explorations for me and I encourage others to adopt it as well.

God is God, and I am not

It really is just that simple.  If God is God, then there are going to be things that He not only does, but even knows – about the world, life, and even myself – that I am not only unaware, but unable to estimate in the same regard as He does.  When doubt creeps in for whatever reason, I can still and always trust that God is God, and I am not.

 “You may be sighing and groaning because of inbred sin, and mourning over your darkness, yet the Lord sees “light” in your heart, for he has put it there, and all the cloudiness and gloom of your soul cannot conceal your light from his gracious eye. You may have sunk low in despondency, and even despair; but if your soul has any longing towards Christ, and if you are seeking to rest in his finished work, God sees the “light.” He not only sees it, but he also preserves it in you. “I, the Lord, do keep it.” This is a precious thought to those who, after anxious watching and guarding of themselves, feel their own powerlessness to do so. The light thus preserved by his grace, he will one day develop into the splendour of noonday, and the fulness of glory. The light within is the dawn of the eternal day.”

C.H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Day 5

Why I get excited about teaching the gospel…no matter what I’m teaching on specifically

Herman Bavinck

In case you ever wondered why I get so excited about the gospel, and particularly, teaching the gospel from any book, theme or issue from the Bible, here’s why:

“The essence of the Christian religion consists in this, that the creation of the Father, devastated by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God, and recreated by the Holy Spirit into the kingdom of God.”

Herman Bavinck