Gospel within the Gospel

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In preparation for our upcoming sermon series at Christ Church Mansfield on Luke 15 I came across this magnificent quote, explaining how to read and understand the parables of Jesus, from Kenneth Bailey.

A parable is not a delivery system for an idea.  It is not like a shell casing that can be discarded once the idea (the shell) is fired.  Rather a parable is a house in which the reader or listener is invited to take up residence.  The reader is encouraged to look out on the world from the point of view of the story.  A “house” has a variety of windows and rooms. Thus the parable may have one primary idea with other secondary ideas encased within it.   It may have a cluster of theological themes held together by the story.  Naturally the interpreter should only look for the themes that were available to the first century audience listening to Jesus.  What themes are set forth in this marvelous “Gospel within the Gospel” as it has been called for centuries?” Kenneth Bailey, The Cross and the Prodigal, p. 87

The Importance of Community for the Church

Why is community so important to the church? And why do we too often neglect it?

I was reminded earlier this week of one of my favorite parts of the Cormac McCarthy novel, The Road. It’s where the father is trying to impart some encouragement to his son, as they journey through the bleakness of the post-apocalyptic wasteland of the United States,

road-cormac-fs-aug-03

F: You have to carry the fire.
S: I don’t know how to.
F: Yes, you do.
S: Is the fire real? The fire?
F: Yes it is.
S: Where is it? I don’t know where it is.
F: Yes you do. It’s inside you. It always was there. I can see it.

Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Many have speculated about the significance of “the fire” to which McCarthy refers. Is it a reference to Prometheus’ gift of knowledge to humanity in Greek mythology? Or perhaps a reference to God Himself, and the importance of faith and religion in making us human in an inhuman world? Is it simply the life that is still existent in the love of the son and his father contrasted with the death and chaos around them? These would certainly fit the narrative of The Road.

But what I find interesting is that this particular exchange shows us how community – or, fellowship – functions.

There is a goal, or mission, and a very real struggle. What sustains us through the struggle is having someone be in it with us. What helps us when we cannot see something is to have someone else see for us. What keeps us from quitting or falling into despair is the presence and performance of another.

In other words, life is too hard to go it alone; we need others. We need others to not only accomplish the work, task, mission we have been given to do, but also to make it through any given day.

And yet we so often miss out on the presence of others in our lives due to so many reasons. Busyness. Work. Play. An “always-on-and-available-except-to-the-people-that-matter-most-to-us” mentality. Living in a constant age of distraction and disruption.

What would happen if we chose to disrupt the disruption? What could happen if we gave time, energy, and attention to the relationships that need it most? What if we as a church collectively regained our sense of purpose in “carrying the fire” – the light of the world – out of our buried baskets and frazzled lives and out into the world that’s desperately dying from not having it?

Might we just see that fire spread to others? Could we perhaps get a glimpse of what it looks like when the world starts to be healed, redeemed, restored, and renewed and brought back into life and alignment with God? Would we not see the knowledge of the glory of God cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14)?

Could we perhaps get a glimpse of what it looks like when the world starts to be healed, redeemed, restored, and renewed and brought back into life and alignment with God? Would we not see the knowledge of the glory of God cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14)?

Would we not see the knowledge of the glory of God cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14)?

“Our collective holiness is a witness to our Holy God. How we live, then, not only expresses our calling but also narrates a story to the world. It tells others something about who Jesus is and what he is doing in the world. If our life together is focused on fulfillment from “one another,” we will quickly devolve into a dysfunctional community marked by disillusionment, silent record-keeping, or unrealistic demands. We are called into community but not for community. We exist for Christ and in Christ. He is our all in all. If this is true, we will live together in a gracious, forbearing, truthful way. This way of living is a counter-cultural witness of Christ to the world. Our community becomes part of God’s greater mission for us. We are not only conceived in the church, but also called into God’s mission—to redeem social ill, make good culture, and share a whole gospel. We are sent together, called to carry the good news to people and into cultures.”

– Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson,

Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities

 

 

 

 

Jesus Brings a Deeper, More Comprehensive Fix (Mark 1:40-45)

christcleansingHere we have what seems to be a familiar enough story. As Jesus was going through all Galilee preaching in the synagogues and healing people, a man approaches Jesus with a particular need. Up to this point, we might expect Jesus to say a word and heal the man. After all, Jesus has places to go and people to see. He just told his disciples that He couldn’t stay put long enough to meet the requests of everyone who had needs (Mark 1:35-39). But Jesus surprises us (you would think we might get more comfortable with this, even this early in the Gospel of Mark).

Jesus touches the man and he is healed. Actually, he is “made clean.” What vexed this man was he suffered from leprosy. Today, we can distinguish between leprosy and other skin abnormalities, but in Jesus day, any skin related issue – deterioration, discoloration, deformity, etc. – would be labeled leprosy. According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “This disease in an especial manner rendered its victims unclean; even contact with a leper defiled whoever touched him, so while the cure of other diseases is called healing, that of leprosy is called cleansing.” According to Leviticus 13-14, anyone who suffered from the affliction was to be isolated and in effect quarantined in order to contain the spread of the disease. Likewise, if anyone came in contact with someone suffering in this way, they themselves became “unclean” – a term not necessarily denoting that they became leprous, but at least susceptible to it and thus needing to “purify” themselves to become clean. This man was not in that situation.

Most likely, he would have been living with the other “outcasts” – those who because of their unclean status were forced to live outside of the city walls. It was common for these people to dwell in caves with others in similar situations. If they had loved ones or deeply committed friends, they might have a visit occasionally with the visitor bringing some kind of food, often lowering it down into the cavern. This man had no basis for hope of escaping his stations whatsoever; at least not until Jesus shows up.

Imagine the obstacles he had to overcome to come to Jesus. Wading through crowds of people that Jesus tended to attract, venturing into the city’s perimeter, even daring to cross the six-foot perimeter he needed to maintain in order to approach this popular teacher and healer.

This man implores Jesus to heal him and make him clean. And Jesus is “moved with pity.” The phrase is translated from a single word in the Greek, its splanxna, and it means “the inward parts,’ specially the nobler entrails – the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys,” and eventually would come to denote “seat of the affections.” Jesus sees this man and is moved in his inmost being.

Remember, Jesus can heal with a word; he has just done so in the verses preceding our passage here. But here it says that Jesus “touches him,” and he is cleansed. Why this peculiar detail? Is it just a demonstrable flourish for Jesus?

To a man who has spent perhaps his entire life being isolated away from others, not able to participate in the community life, always making sure he kept his distance (or rather, feeling the awkwardness and emotional devastation of watching others adamantly avoid him), this man didn’t just need physical healing from the leprosy – he needed a more comprehensive healing.

He needed one that covered his physical (cleansing from leprosy), his emotional (the touch from another person) as well as his social and even spiritual needs. Jesus goes on and doesn’t tell him to go on about his new life. Instead, Jesus directs him to present himself to the “priest” and make the acceptable offering for his cleansing to him (Mark 1:44; cf. Leviticus 14:2-32). Why bother with this at this point? Jesus had healed him. More to the point, Jesus is doing something so new and qualitatively different from the priests of his day – why bother sending the man there?

This was the accepted practice to be restored to the community at large. Jesus was telling him to go through the official, proper channels, not in order to become clean, but in order to be seen as clean. For Jesus, this is proof enough that the kingdom of God is at hand, and a new thing is being done in their midst. There’s no need for the man to go out and make a big show of what happened. Just go do what is necessary to be welcomed back into the life of the community. But the man can’t help himself. His deepest longings and wildest hopes have been met by this different kind of teacher, a different kind of healer than even he had dared possible.

How could he not tell everyone about it?

How Grace Works

There’s a reason why God has to save anyone by grace, and grace alone, and not anything we can do.

The apostle Paul uses two “heroes” from the OT to prove this point in Romans 4, Abraham and David. He shows through their lives that even they were made right – justified – through God’s act of grace, not their efforts and achievements. They lived by faith and stood on grace, because only God can “make beauty out of ugly things” (U2), or in Paul’s words, “God justifies the ungodly.”

The good news of the gospel is that grace and life comes to screw-ups and failures. In other words, God justifies the wicked, not the winsome; the ungodly, not the unblemished

Quotable/Tweetable Thoughts

“God justifies the wicked, not the winsome; the ungodly, not the unblemished.” – Chris Gensheer

“Not only am I completely incapable of making God love me more, I’m equally incapable of making him love me less.” – Scotty Smith

“An idol is pursuing something you want, but don’t possess; your boast is holding on to something you have, but don’t want to lose.” – Chris Gensheer

“To “credit” righteousness is to bestow a positive, not merely forgive a negative.” – Chris Gensheer

“I’m much more interested in grace because I’m really depending on it.” – Bono

“Grace makes beauty our of ugly things.” – Bono

Christ Church Mansfield exists to love God, connect people, serve the city, and reach the world with the transforming power of the Gospel in Mansfield, Arlington, Midlothian, Burleson, Cedar Hill, Fort Worth and Dallas TX, and beyond.

Member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the Southwest Church Planting Network, and The Gospel Coalition.

Skeptics, curious, misfits, and mavericks welcome!

For more go to http://www.christchurchmansfield.com

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/

When Small Gifts are Significant – Give to our Church Planting Work and Share with your Friends

[To watch a video version, click here. Otherwise, enjoy the post below!]

When Small Gifts Make a Big Difference

I want to share a story of something that happened tonight. You see, we went out and saw our neighbors doing some yard work – moving rocks from the front to the back yard. We decided to all pitch in and help as a family. Maggie could pull some weeds, and I could do some of the heavy lifting of shoveling and transporting the rocks to the back yard.

But our little guys pitched in too. Alex, Jack and Luke each grabbed a rake or shovel from time to time and each contributed their part in the process. Here are some pictures.

Everyone with a gift pitching in

Everyone with a gift pitching in

No gift too small

Now, none of their “scoops” was as big as mine. But it would be wrong to judge their contribution as being less significant than mine. Their contribution, though smaller, was just as significant because it was part of a greater work, or end. We had to get the rocks from the front to the back, and every “small” scoop they contributed, was one less scoop I or someone else had to tackle.

Their contribution – though small – was significant.

This reminded me of a story in the Bible where Jesus went out and was teaching a group of people who had followed Him. After several hours, everyone started to get hungry, but no one had thought of a plan, let alone brought provisions to feed everyone who showed up – over 5,000 people in total. When Jesus asked His closest followers about a solution, their response was to simply tell the people to go elsewhere and find food. They had nothing. There was nothing they could do or provide that would have made a difference.

But there was someone – a little boy in fact –  in that crowd who heard what was going on and decided to step up to Jesus and offer what he had – five loaves of bread and couple of fish. It would have been the equivalent of an elementary school kids packed lunch from his Mom. But this kid was willing to offer his small gift to contribute to the need.

Then this is what happened:

“Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.” – John 6:11-13 (ESV)

What I witnessed tonight with my own kids reminded me of this simple, yet profound fact: there is no such thing as a small, insignificant gift when it’s put in the hands and in the service of Jesus. Because Jesus is the one who makes even small gifts significant.

Asking You to Respond

Which is why I want to ask each of you who are reading (or watching) this, to respond in two ways. You see, as some of you may already know, we have been in the process of raising funds for a church planting work in a growing city in the Fort Worth metro area, Mansfield, TX.  So far, we are at 33% of our 2 year financial goal. Now we are excited about that, and so thankful for everyone who has already jumped on board and contributed. But we still have a ways to go, and I leave for Mansfield this Saturday (May 31, 2014).

The first response I want to ask you to make is to give a small financial contribution to our church planting work in Mansfield, TX.

If every one of you who are my friends on Facebook, or followers on Twitter or my blog, or a connection on LinkedIn, in my circle of Google+, or someone who received this because a mutual friends shared it with you, were to contribute a small one time donation of $50 (or a monthly donation of $4.17 for 12 months), we would reach our 2 year fund raising goal of $100,000. These funds will go to the operational budget of our church planting work.

Some of you may have already been thinking about supporting us, or perhaps you could support at a greater (or lesser) amount, and I want you to know that we would love to have you come on board at whatever amount you are comfortable with giving.

Please know that 100% of your donation will go to this work directly, and is considered a tax-deductible gift. To give, go to www.frontiermissionproject.com and choose the best option for you and your situation.

Now some of you who are my friends, followers or connections online, don’t share my same belief as a Christian, and you’re probably thinking, “Why should I get behind and support you planting a church?” I’m glad you asked, and I will be posting a second post (and video) explaining why I believe that even if you do not share my same belief as a Christian, or are skeptical, maybe even hurt by your experience of organized religion, that there is a legitimately good reason to support this kind of work. Watch for this tomorrow sometime.

The second response I want to ask you to make is to Like, Share, Retweet, and send this post (or video) to your own network of friends, followers and connections.

When you do, please give a quick word or two as to why you’re sharing it. It could be something as simple as, “Check out what my friend Chris Gensheer is doing and be a part of it. I just did!” or whatever else you may want to say. But it would be very helpful, and meaningful, to help spread the word about what we’re doing and give others the opportunity to jump on board.

A Truly Grassroots Crowdfunding Campaign

I also want to offer you all something in return for jumping on board and giving any donation you want to give to this work as a small token of my appreciation. Like any good crowd-funded campaign, I have a series of gifts, or offers, to give you for your partnership and participation in this work.

Any gift of any amount = Enrollment in our Ministry Updates and Prayer Newsletter, an opportunity to go out for coffee or some other drink whenever you’re in Mansfield (and I’m available to meet), and my undying love and gratitude.

Any gift of $50-$99 – A short essay (PDF) on the intersection of the Christian church and public good (original work of mine, to be completed by August 15, 2014), enrollment in our Ministry Updates and Prayer Newsletter, an opportunity to go out for coffee or some other drink whenever you’re in Mansfield (and I’m available to meet), and my undying love and gratitude.

Any gift of $100 or More – A small group Lenten devotional through the Gospel of Mark (original work of mine, to be completed by August 25, 2014), a short essay (PDF) on the intersection of the Christian church and public good (original work of mine, to be completed by August 25, 2014), enrollment in our Ministry Updates and Prayer Newsletter, an opportunity to go out for coffee or some other drink whenever you’re in Mansfield (and I’m available to meet), and my undying love and gratitude.

To receive these gifts, please email me at frontiermissionproject@gmail.com and let me know that you are jumping in and wanting to support this work and at what amount.

And please go and Like us on Facebook (and share with your friends), Follow us on Twitter (and RT please), and +1 on Google+ to stay up to date on what’s going on, receive informative and entertaining updates related to our work, and be part of our online community

Thanks guys. Now lets see what King Jesus can do when we entrust Him with our small gifts and look for Him to do significant things with each one!

Chris Gensheer is the Lead Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church, Mansfield, TX, a growing suburb of Fort Worth. Find out more about his vision for ministry in reproducing worshipping communities on mission and give your prayer and financial support to the work of Frontier Mission Project.