CATECHISMS, THEOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT AND HABITS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

26281_Highlighting_BiblesAs a church, we will be utilizing a tool to help us cultivate habits of spiritual growth and theological development: The New City Catechism. To help us understand this tool and how we will be using it, I’ve put together this blog post answering three questions:

Why use a catechism?

In every age, it is important for the church to know and love God’s Word as it has been passed down and delivered to the saints throughout every generation. It’s all the more critical when the culture around the church is asking the question, “What is truth?” Catechisms help ground the church in the foundational and formative truths of Scripture in the form of focused study and dialogical discussion in a question and answer format.

Our goal as the church is to know and love God. We do that through knowing and loving His Word. Catechisms help us to first memorize and then meditate on those aspects of God’s Word that are foundational to understanding God and His ways. This then proves formative for shaping us as His people in His world.

Sinclair Ferguson writes in Faithful God an insightful observation about one difference between the modern and historic church:

Christians in an earlier generation rarely thought of writing books on guidance. There is a reason for that (just as there is a reason why so many of us today are drawn to books that will tell us how to find God’s will). Our forefathers in the faith were catechized, and they taught catechisms to their children. Often as much as half of the catechism would be devoted to an exposition of the answers to questions like the following:

Question: Where do we find God’s will?

Answer: In the Scriptures.

Question: Where in particular in the Scriptures?

Answer: In the Commandments that God has given to us.

Why were these questions and answers so important? Because these Christians understood that God’s law provides basic guidelines that cover the whole of life. Indeed, in the vast majority of instances, the answer to the question “What does God want me to do?” will be found by answering the question: “How does the law of God apply to this situation? What does the Lord require of me here in his word?”

In this way, catechisms help us to know, understand, and thoughtfully and confidently apply God’s Word to our particular life and situations. 

Take the first catechism as an example:

Q1: What is our only hope in life and death?

A1: That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.

In a world and age where we are faced with rival claims to our physical and spiritual lives (“You belong to the State.” “No, you belong to your own determinative will; pick your fate and spiritual preference.”), or threats to our person (“Your body is not your own, it belongs to your boy/girl friend, abusive person or threat to your well-being, etc.,” or “Your suffering and experience as a person of particular color is part of life and not my/our problem”), or a form of spirituality that says only the interior life/world matters (“Your mind is all there is”, “This world doesn’t matter”, etc), this question on its own affirms that our bodies, our lives, our skin, our flesh, as well as our minds, our hearts, our inner life not only matter but they are in fact rightfully God’s alone!

It’s an encapsulation of Scripture: 

“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” – Romans 14:7-8

“The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,” – Psalm 24:1

Everything we do or don’t do; everything that is done to/for us or against us is either an act of rebellion against God and deserving His just judgment, or a response of gratitude and worship to God because of His mercy, forgiveness, and love towards us in our Savior Jesus Christ. In Christ, we belong to God no matter what anyone else says or does.

Catechisms then are tools to help us know and love God and his Word as well as to help us apply it in timely ways in our lives.

Why the New City Catechism (NCC)?

The NCC is a modern catechism formed by the members of the Gospel Coalition. Some of it’s distinctives are that it is a simplified version of longer historic catechism namely the Heidelberg and Westminster Catechisms. In this way they serve as an introduction as well as a gateway or stepping stone to the other catechisms. It uses modern and simplified language to help communicate clearly the truths of Scripture that can be hard to sift through older and less common language of the historic catechisms.

Some of the features of the NCC also lend itself to easy use in simple family and personal devotional practices.

  • Full version and Children’s version
  • Scripture references for each questions and answer
  • Accompanying commentary in written and video formats
  • Scripted prayers in response to each catechism
  • Some even have accompanying songs or tunes to help assist in memorization

Our hope is that the NCC would be a useful tool to help introduce us to theological training by easily developing the habit of spiritual growth; specifically the habits of focused study of God’s word, prayer, along with memorization, meditation, discussion, and application of God’s word in our everyday lives.

 

How is this going to work for Christ Church Mansfield?

We will be incorporating the NCC into the two aspects of our life together: as a gathered church on Sundays and as scattered households throughout the week.

As a church

For the next year we will incorporate the NCC into our Confession of Faith segment of our weekly worship liturgy. The liturgy leader that day will provide some brief explanation of the specific truth highlighted in that week’s catechism question and response to better serve our understanding of the truth. Likewise, our children will be working through the same catechism questions in the Christ Church Kids Ministry environments (Infants, Pre-school, and Gospel Journey Elementary Ages).

As families/individuals

In addition to our Sunday worship gatherings, we envision and want to encourage each household – whether you’re a family or individual – to set aside some time each week to study and discuss that week’s catechism question. We recommend designating one meal each week as a “family and/or friends” meal where you sit down, eat together, and open up God’s Word and the NCC to work on memorizing and meditating on each question.

We will send out links and resources to the catechism each week in our Week In Review email (the WIRe) to help you lead in these family and friends discussions. You can also purchase the two physical resources to have in book format if you so choose; they are The New City Catechism: 52 Questions and Answers for Our Hearts and Minds and The New City Catechism Devotional: God’s Truth for Our Hearts and Minds. All of this material is available for Free in digital format, on their website and as downloadable apps for your phone or tablet.

 

26601_Family_Bible_StudyLinks to Resources

New City Catechism (NCC) web page and web app.

Youtube channel with video commentary on the NCC.

Tim Keller on Why We Should Catechize our Children (Gospel Coalition).

Promotional video of NCC in use as home and personal devotion practice.

Songs for the NCC (not complete yet, but a start).

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Questions that Get to the Heart of Life

computer-tomography-62942_1920In his book, Seeing with New Eyes, David Powilson offers some very helpful diagnostic questions to uncover the ways we find life and significance apart from God.

On these questions, called “X-Ray Questions”,  Powilson writes

“The questions aim to help people identify the ungodly masters that occupy positions of authority in their heart. These questions reveal ‘functional gods,’ what or who actually controls their particular actions, thoughts, emotions, attitudes, memories, and anticipations.”

Consider these questions as a way to get to the bottom of your heart, to identify and confess the sin and “functional gods” you might be looking to for life, worth, and significance, but more than that, to be at the point where you come to the end of yourself and find the loving, grace-filled arms of God meeting you in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I would suggest using these as part of a daily, weekly, or monthly review of where you are in relationship to your goals and aspirations for your devotional life and walk with God.

1. What do you love? Hate?

2. What do you want, desire, crave, lust, and wish for? What desires do you serve and obey?

3. What do you seek, aim for, and pursue?

4. Where do you bank your hopes?

5. What do you fear? What do you not want? What do you tend to worry about?

6. What do you feel like doing?

7. What do you think you need? What are your ‘felt needs’?

8. What are your plans, agendas, strategies, and intentions designed to accomplish?

9. What makes you tick? What sun does your planet revolve around? What do you organize your life around?

10. Where do you find refuge, safety, comfort, escape, pleasure, security?

11. What or whom do you trust?

12. Whose performance matters? On whose shoulders does the well-being of your world rest? Who can make it better, make it work, make it safe, make it successful?

13. Whom must you please? Whose opinion of you counts? From whom do you desire approval and fear rejection? Whose value system do you measure yourself against? In whose eyes are you living? Whose love and approval do you need?

14. Who are your role models? What kind of person do you think you ought to be or want to be?

15. On your deathbed, what would sum up your life as worthwhile? What gives your life meaning?

16. How do you define and weigh success and failure, right or wrong, desirable or undesirable, in any particular situation?

17. What would make you feel rich, secure, prosperous? What must you get to make life sing?

18. What would bring you the greatest pleasure, happiness, and delight? The greatest pain or misery?

19. Whose coming into political power would make everything better?

20. Whose victory or success would make your life happy? How do you define victory and success?

21. What do you see as your rights? What do you feel entitled to?

22. In what situations do you feel pressured or tense? Confident and relaxed? When you are pressured, where do you turn? What do you think about? What are your escapes? What do you escape from?

23. What do you want to get out of life? What payoff do you seek out of the things you do?

24. What do you pray for?

25. What do you think about most often? What preoccupies or obsesses you? In the morning, to what does your mind drift instinctively?

26. What do you talk about? What is important to you? What attitudes do you communicate?

27. How do you spend your time? What are your priorities?

28. What are your characteristic fantasies, either pleasurable or fearful? Daydreams? What do your night dreams revolve around?

29. What are the functional beliefs that control how you interpret your life and determine how you act?

30. What are your idols and false gods? In what do you place your trust, or set your hopes? What do you turn to or seek? Where do you take refuge?

31. How do you live for yourself?

32. How do you live as a slave of the devil?

33. How do you implicitly say , ‘If only…’ (to get what you want, avoid what you don’t want, keep what you have)?

34. What instinctively seems and feels right to you? What are your opinions, the things you feel true?

35. Where do you find your identity? How do you define who you are?

Learning to Have What it Takes…from Mary

lightstock_8127_small_user_3970569In my studying this week for our upcoming Advent sermon series on the songs of Christmas from Luke 1-2, I have been thinking a lot about Mary, the virgin who would carry and bear “the One who created her,” (Augustine).

While there are some very good reasons why as a Protestant, I do not want to ever advocate for ascribing to Mary a more prominent or necessary role in the work of redemption (nothing less than the fact that she herself rejects such a position or posture of being a co-Redeemer with Christ or even a necessary mediator on our behalf to Christ; cf. Luke 1:46-55), I am utterly astounded at what she has to teach me about the nature of faith and growing in it as a follower of Christ.

She, a teenage girl, has a lot to teach me, a middle-aged man, about growing in the gospel.

Take for example the fact that when she goes to greet her cousin who is also with child, Elizabeth, she takes the praise directed at her and redirects it all back to God (Luke 1:39-55).

She is not concerned so much with herself as she is her God, her Savior, and her Lord.

Here’s a great quote from Jared C. Wilson in the new ESV Men’s Devotional Bible that sums up what I’ve been pondering and wrestling with this week in particular.

“Am I strong enough? Do I have what it takes? Will I be able to get ahead in the world and provide for my family? Will I be remembered? Does what I do matter in the long run?

Most men think about these things often, both explicitly in their worries and implicitly in their actions. And these are not, in themselves, wrong things to think about. But because sin is real and our flesh is always at war against the spirit, too often these areas of concern become ares of self-concern. We have in mind with these questions our own name and renown, our own glory.

In Luke 1:39-56 we find these very issues in play, and what can be humbling for the Christian man is to see that we learn their proper context and proportion from a teenage girl!

Mary has been blessed with the greatest blessing anyone could ever receive – to bear the Messiah, King Jesus, in her virgin womb. She knows that she will, from this moment on, be considered blessed by future generations. And yet, her song of praise is not to or about herself – it is about the glory of God.

Her soul is not full of itself; it is magnifying the Lord (v. 46).

When she examines herself, she sees only lowliness, poverty, weakness. But when she sees herself in the light of God’s grace, she sees his glory, his riches, his strength working through her song of praise: ‘His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation’ (v. 50).”

To Everything Turn, Turn, Turn (or The End of the World as We Know It): Jesus and the End Times

Here is the video to my latest sermon at Christ Church Mansfield, To Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn (or The End of the World as We Know It) from Mark 13.

This is part 30 of our series in the Gospel of Mark called, The Way of Paradox: Following the Right-Side Up King in an Upside-Down World.

“To everything, turn, turn, turn. There is a season, turn, turn, turn. And a time to every purpose under heaven.”- Pete Seeger and Ecclesiastes 3

When Pete Seeger penned those words to the classic folk turned rock song (popularized by The Byrds), he was putting music and emotion to the wisdom of the book of Ecclesiastes that said “No matter what you are experiencing, it won’t always be like this. Things will change. They will “turn” eventually.”

When it comes to biblical prophecy, and more specifically, apocalyptic literature (like Mark 13), those same words hold true but with a different meaning. Biblical prophecy gives us a picture of the future as told from God’s perspective – what Tim Keller calls “poetic history told ahead of time” – for the expressed purpose of giving those who see what He sees and hear what He hears a chance to respond appropriately in the present.

In Mark 13, Jesus will address one of the most controversial topics that have been debated and even divisive within all of Christianity throughout the centuries – eschatology; or the view of the “end times.” And what we find in Jesus’ “Little Apocalypse” here is that perhaps we have focused too much of our discussions on minor points, and completely missed the major point.

While there is little consensus on the minors – such as timing, sequence, correlation to world and geo-political events – there is overwhelming consensus on the majors; namely Jesus Christ will return at the end time to judge as well as redeem, renew and restore all things, inevitably but unexpectedly.

Tweetable Thoughts:

“Christ’s return is inevitable, even though it will be unexpected – no one will know before it happens.” @gensheer @ccmansfieldtx #wayofparadox

“The real abomination is man in murderous revolt against his Maker & Redeemer.” @gensheer @ccmansfieldtx #wayofparadox

“When Jesus comes it is the end of the world as we know it.” @gensheer @ccmansfieldtx #wayofparadox

About Christ Church Mansfield

Christ Church Mansfield is a worshiping community on mission to make to reach this and the next generation with the transforming power of the gospel.

We exist to love God (worship), connect people (community), serve the city (mission) and reach the world (discipleship) with the transforming power of the gospel. We serve the communities of Mansfield, Arlington, Burleson, Midlothian, Cedar Hill, Grand Prairie and Fort Worth, TX.

A member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), we stand in the reformed tradition that celebrates that the church is always to be reformed; meaning, we are to be reshaped and molded into the image of Christ as declared in the scriptures.

For more free content, or to make a contribution to the ministry, go to www.cpcmansfield.org

Gospel Centered Giving: Grace Made Visible

Here is the video to my latest sermon at Christ Church Mansfield, Gospel Centered Giving: Grace Made Visible from Mark 12:38-44.

This is part 29 of our series The Way of Paradox: Following the Right-Side Up King in an Upside-Down World, a Study in the Gospel of Mark.

In this sermon, we explore the extraordinary giving of woman of humble means but full faith, contrasted with the meager giving of the wealthy, established and religious elite, and exposes a fundamental principle we often overlook when it comes to giving of our resources…

Giving is first a heart issue, before it’s ever a money issue.

The widow in Mark 12 shows us what gospel centered giving, grace made visible, actually looks like.

Only those who first give all that they are can give all that they have. And we can fully give all that we are and have because we have received from God all the best that He could give us in Jesus His Son.

Tweetable Thoughts:

“Giving is a reflection of the health of your heart, not the wealth of your wallet.” @ccmansfieldtx #wayofparadox

“Only those who give all that they are can give all that they have.” @ccmansfieldtx #wayofparadox

“Our money & where it goes betray what our hearts find most valuable.” @ccmansfieldtx #wayofparadox

References in the Sermon

Ann Voskamp’s article on Waging Love in Iraq with Preemptive Love Coalition Link:

Ann Voskamp on Twitter (@AnnVoskamp)

Relevant Magazine article “What Would Happen if the Church Tithed.” 

Christ Church Mansfield is a gospel centered worshiping community on mission to reach this and the next generation with the transforming power of the gospel.

We exist to love God (worship), connect people (community), serve the city (mission) and reach the world (discipleship) with the transforming power of the gospel. We serve the communities of Mansfield, Arlington, Burleson, Midlothian, Cedar Hill, Grand Prairie and Fort Worth TX.

A member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), we stand in the reformed tradition that celebrates that the church is always to be reformed; meaning, we are to be reshaped and molded into the image of Christ as declared in the scriptures.

For more free content, or to make a contribution to the ministry, go to http://www.cpcmansfield.org/

Discipleship? A Realignment Process or Product to Develop?

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What comes to your mind when you hear the word “discipleship”?

If you’ve had any exposure to this concept, you may have had either a great, positive experience, or perhaps a negative one. If it’s the later, let me offer one possible reason why that was.

Discipleship was seen as means of creating a product, instead of a person.

Maybe it was a convert to a “tribe” or a leader in a particular “system”. The end, or the product, was another “part” added to something that probably had very little to do with you – who you are and what you were designed for.

That’s the difference between legitimate discipleship. It’s a process of realigning a person back to their original design of living as a human being – a creature in a true, good and beautiful relationship with his (or her) Creator.

In my reading and studies for the sermon on Mark 1:14-20 this week at Christ Presbyterian Church, Mansfield, I stumbled upon this great statement in the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible. It’s rare that I find something truly significant in a one-stop study Bible, but this particular Study Bible has surprised me many times. This quote is but one example. It gets at the heart of what the call of discipleship is from Christ – a call to be brought back into alignment with the design for which we were created – to love and worship God, and have every area of life brought back into that alignment.

“In Christ, God calls people to return to “walking with God”—the creational design of human beings in the first place. Jesus’ call to discipleship is God calling human beings back to himself as the foundation of true and dignified human existence….This is the rhythm of grace. God does not respond to our wayward rebellion with disgust, throwing his hands up in the air. He pursues us in love. This is who he is.” – ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible, note on Mark 1:16-46.

Question: What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of “discipleship”? How does this line of thought add to your understanding of what we see as discipleship in the life and ministry of Jesus?

Links for the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible – Kindle and Hardcover editions.

Charge to Rethink Pastoral Priorities (or Why This Might be My Least Popular Post Ever)

This past week, my wife and I spent our time in Orlando, FL at the Global Church Advancement conference (go #GCA2014). I plan to publish my thoughts on the conference as a whole later, but for now, I wanted to share what I thought was one of the highlights.

I went down a day early for the opening workshop on Discipleship led by Randy Pope of Perimeter Church in Atlanta, GA.  I’ve met Randy years ago through my involvement with Campus Outreach.  I had a sense of what to expect with this workshop having that background and some familiarity with Randy’s ministry at Perimeter.

But I wasn’t quite prepared for this statement he made.  At some point in the Q&A time, he said, “If I had to go back in my ministry, and only pick between Preaching to the masses, or Discipling the few in life-on-life missional discipleship, I would pick life on life every time.”

I know this.  Or rather, I should say, I knew this.

If you look at the impact over a longer time one could have by investing into a few who then do the same with others, the outcomes are astounding.  Plus, it seems to be Jesus’ preferred way of doing ministry.

He wasn’t as concerned with speaking venues, podcasting sermons, marketing and promoting teaching series’.  Sure he spoke to the masses, and taught as One with authority.  Sure he even went to the mountaintops where his voice could project and carry.

He did these things, but they don’t seem to be the focus.

Instead, He lived life with a few, who would later turn the world upside down.

This isn’t sexy.  This doesn’t make headlines.  This doesn’t get your name or brand out there.

But it is highly impactful to the world for spreading the gospel and seeing the change of heart/lives that come with it.

I needed that.  My soul needed that.  As I prepare to go into a season of planting a church, I know my tendency is going to be to focus on the good things, at the expense of the best thing – giving my life away to a few, in a life on life, relationally intentional, purposeful discipleship way.

For those who are interested in delving more deeply into this (and who couldn’t be at the #GCA2014 conference), let me encourage you to pick up two resources along these lines.

Insourcing: Bringing Discipleship Back to the Local Church by Randy Pope

The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman