How We are Growing as a Church in Mansfield

CHURCH RENEWAL SEASON OF PRAYER AND ENGAGEMENT

Fall 2017

For the past several years our church plant has grown – in numbers and in what it means to be a healthy and missional community. But as we’ve grown, we haven’t kept up with helping everyone grow together. This is why we have set out to embark on a church-wide season of renewal through prayer and intentional engagement.

We are asking, collectively, as a church: What does it mean, practically, to follow Jesus and be transformed by Him in our everyday life, as well as our life together as a church – His people in His world? Over the next few weeks, we want you to set aside some time to pray, consider, and discuss with your family and friends in the church how you can participate, engage, and grow in the life and ministry of Christ Church Mansfield.

lightstock_190452_medium_user_3970569As members of Christ Church Mansfield we take the following vows from our Book of Church Order:

  1. Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving His wrath, and without hope except for God’s sovereign love and mercy?
  2. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?
  3. Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will serve him with all that is in you, to forsake the world, to put to death your sinful nature, and to endeavor to live a godly life as a follower of Christ? 
  4. Do you promise to support the church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?
  5. Do you submit yourself to the government and discipline of the church, and promise to pursue and preserve its purity and peace?

As a follower of Christ, and member of His church by faith and this church by association, I/we agree to take the next steps in committing our lives to God’s glory, man’s joy, and the mission of His church here at Christ Church Mansfield in the following ways: 

  • Receive, believe, and live out the gospel and cultivate daily habits of spiritual growth by spending time with God through reading, studying, memorizing, applying scripture and praying. (Personal and Vibrant Faith)
  • Grow as a disciple and follower of Jesus by connecting with God and His people in worship, growing in relational community, serving others in ministry, and helping others do the same in discipleship.  (Church Philosophy of Ministry and Discipleship Process)
  • Practice living a generous life motivated by the gospel and give financial support to the mission of God in and through Christ Church Mansfield through our tithes and offerings, in ordinary and extraordinary ways. (Sustainable and Sacrificial Support for the Mission of CCM).

How do these three commitments fit with our Membership Vows and culture as a gospel-centered church?

We will explore each of these commitments in subsequent posts. For now, let’s look at the first commitment.

On Having a Personal and Vibrant Faith

First, living a life of worship in devotion to God, characterized by ongoing repentance and faith based on the person and work of Jesus Christ in the gospel is the direct result and implication of the gospel for our lives. We are not saved by our works in any way, nor do we strengthen God’s love and resolve toward us by anything we do. But our good works and spiritual disciplines are the appropriate fruit and expression of gratitude for the love and grace we have received from Him in Jesus Christ.  Our Membership Vows 1-2 speak to our commitment to the personal profession of faith and possession of a life of faith. 

On Being a Gospel-Centered Christian (Christ follower; Disciple)

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” – 1 Peter 2:9

The essence of the Christian faith and what it means to be and live as a Christian is that we worship God alone, in community with His people, giving of ourselves in service to others, and reaching others with the transforming power of the gospel.

Our lives are characterized not by perfection, but by repentance and faith; humility, trust, and godly ambition; a growing desire to bring God glory and honor in our lives, as well as our communities, seeing His name and kingdom spread throughout the world.

To believe, or “have faith” is to transfer our functional trust from our own efforts of finding life, mercy, and forgiveness, to the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. The default mode of the human heart is to “go our own way” and “take matters into our own hands.” Faith in Christ means we go His way, on His terms, and in His power – not ours.

We need to remember this and repent daily as a way of life.  To repent is to simply admit that we often desire, and in fact live, as masters of our own fate, choosing to worship someone or something (creature/creation) other than God (Creator). We seek and savor “forbidden fruit” in the forms of our own autonomy, power, control, comfort, or approval, establishing our own “law” and “rule of life” instead of trusting in the “Word of God” that satisfies more than any bread. We repent of all these things we do or leave undone, and all the ways we make ourselves the center of the universe instead of God.

But as we turn away from sin and all the ways we give in to it, we also turn towards Christ in faith, receiving His mercy, forgiveness, and life by the Holy Spirit to live in “newness” of life – constantly dying to sin and living unto righteousness. In light of what He has done, has given us, and continues to be for us, sin quickly loses its power and control in our lives.

The great Puritan, circuit riding Presbyterian minister, Robert Murray McCheyene perhaps said it best: “For every one look you take of your sin, take ten looks upon Christ!”

This is the Christian life in a nutshell – to be obsessed with Jesus and the significance of Him for our life.

In light of the gospel, we are:

  • …creatures made in the image of God, ruined by sin, redeemed by the person and work of Jesus Christ, and actively hopeful about the ultimate renewal of all things. 
  • …. works in progress, holding on to grace for dear life, and bringing others along for the journey.
  • …worse off than we think but also more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope. Therefore, we are to be loving and serving others because we’ve been loved and served by another Who is greater – Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Practically this looks like several things:

  • Read, study, memorize, and apply the Bible. Pray and respond to God in repentance, and believe the Gospel (always and ongoing). (Here’s a good summary article to help!)
  • Love and serve others as you have the opportunity. Seek out these opportunities!  
  • Share with others what you have – Jesus, hope, faith, resources, etc.
  • Publicly professing my faith in baptism and/or confirming my faith in receiving communion.
  • Potentially joining the church as a Member.

Personal and Discussion Questions

  1. Where are you on your spiritual journey:
    • Have you trusted Christ with your life?
    • Have you confessed and repented of your sin as well as your “good works” that keep God at a distance from your life?
    • Are you growing in what it means to be a disciple/follower of Jesus Christ
  2. What helps you keep Christ at the center of your life?
  3. What new practice could help you to refocus your life on Christ?
  4. Who can you share your responses with and ask them to help you grow in having a personal and vibrant, growing faith in Christ?

 

Prayer

“O Lord Jesus, I thank and praise YOU for the life that You have given to me by Your wonderful grace and love. May I grow day by day to be more like You, full of compassion and kindness, grace and truth. Saturate my heart with Your love so that I may love You more with every fiber of my being. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for making to be more like Christ in all of life. Help me to reflect Your truth, beauty, and goodness, in thought, word, and deed. I ask that I may devote my time and heart to reflect on all You are and all You have done for me – so that You are magnified more and more in  and through my life.” Amen

Additional Resources

Daily Bible Study and Devotional reading: He Reads Truth and She Reads Truth

Daily Prayer and Devotional material: Heavenward by Scotty Smith

You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith (book)

Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren (book)

Knowing God by J.I. Packer (book)

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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?

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?

What We Have Suffered Will Wither Away

What can possibly help us cope with the sad, sorry state of affairs that we encounter in this life?

This past week has brought this question to the forefront of a lot of our collective hearts and minds. At Christ Church Mansfield this past Sunday, we found hope in God our strength and our refuge, the God of Jacob, from Psalm 46, and saw that it is the presence of God with us in the pain, rather than the mere absence of pain, that helps us get through life.

lightstock_190452_medium_user_3970569But we never get through unscathed nor unscarred.

So where does my hope for a better future that sustains me in the brutal present come from? How, once again, can we make it through?

One author helped me appreciate that all this pain and suffering and sorrow will not disappear, but simply “wither away.”

“What we have suffered weighs us down like a heavy load we long to have lifted; like an indefatigable enemy, it assails us relentlessly.  The wreckage of history – a trail of shattered beauty, defiled goodness, twisted truths, streams of tears, rivers of blood, mountains of corpses – must somehow be mended.  That the past must and will be redeemed is a conviction essential to the Christian notion of redemption.”

“Will we let go of them [memories] so as to be able to rejoice with complete and permanent joy in God and in one another?  No, that is not quite the right way to think about the not-coming-to-mind of memories of wrongs suffered.  We will not ‘forget’ so as to be able to rejoice; we will rejoice and therefore let those memories slip out of our minds!  The reason for our non-remembrance of wrongs will be the same as its cause: Our minds will be rapt in the goodness of God and in the goodness of God’s new world, and the memories of wrongs will whither away like plants without water.”

– Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World (pgs. 42, and 214)

 

 

End of Year Ministry & Financial Update, plus “Thanks” from the Gensheers

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Friends,

This update is long overdue, but just in time before the year 2015 comes to a close. This is the 18 month mark for Maggie and me being in Mansfield, and we have a lot to be thankful for – to God, for what He has done and continues to do; but also for you all, who have partnered with us and supported us with your prayers and financial contributions to the church planting work.  It has been an amazing year and a half at Christ Church Mansfield; a year in which YOU played an important part.  Take a look at this short list.

TOP THINGS THAT HAPPENED IN THE LAST 18 MONTHS

  1. Three people placed their faith and trust in Jesus during our time here.
  2. Launched a new community group and weekly Bible Study, reaching and engaging people not already a part of the church (but later have come to be part of our church community).
  3. The church has experienced significant growth, in attendance (up 82%), membership (8 new families/singles joined as members), giving (up 66%), and especially in visitors and regular attenders (almost weekly with new people and 24 “regular” visitors, at least monthly).
  4. Preached through the Gospel of Mark, Lord’s Prayer, Isaiah (for Advent), Spiritual Disciplines, and currently working through Romans, to help us grow in the faith.
  5. Church received some free, positive publicity by being written up in local Mansfield Magazine.
  6. Launching and supporting new ministries on the campus of University of Texas, Arlington.
  7. Moved out of the school and into the Aristide Event Center, a nationally recognized wedding and event location, with a great working relationship with the owners and have been blessed by the space for our children’s ministry and easier-to-find location.
  8. Through our partnership with the Southwest Church Planting Network, contributed to church planting works in downtown Houston, Fort Worth, Phoenix, and Albuquerque, NM.
  9. You were a part of all this because you made a financial contribution and commitment to pray!


That’s an amazing list, and those were just a few of the highlights.  You may never know how many marriages were saved.  You may never hear about how many children and teenagers were impacted.  You may never see how many people have been influenced by a different picture of God and the gospel, and hopefully many more coming to saving faith in His Son, Jesus Christ! We can’t measure the influence of the gospel being lifted up all around our city, only capture a glimpse of it, and what we have seen so far, is nothing short of amazing.

As your friend, and one who has had the privilege of being sent out and supported by you in this work, I want to personally thank you for your sacrifice to make all of this happens.  You’ve heard me say it before, but real ministry takes real money, and I am honored that you would choose to partner with us in this way.  I consider you a vital part of our team, and you’ve got an important role in the mission.

As we look forward to 2016, I can’t wait to see what God does in our church and in our community.  In the coming months, I’m looking forward to sharing with you details about several things:

  • Our new partnership with The Common Ground Network, a group dedicated to meeting the social, physical, and financial needs of our Mansfield/South Arlington community, and ways we can continue to “serve the city” with the love of God.
  • Our long term partnership with the Southwest Church Planting Network and increased efforts of growing as a church that reflects the diversity of our community – becoming more multi-generational and multi-cultural through this and other strategic partnerships.
  • The expansion of our children’s ministry – we’re improving so we can serve even more children and families, which is a key demographic of our community and ministry we have experienced significant growth in over the last 12 months.
  • Growing and launching new initiatives involving discipleship of men, women, and children, as well as efforts to help strengthen marriages and families as a whole.

We believe these are things worth funding.  That’s why we’ve given our lives to spread the Gospel and that’s why I serve as the church planter of Christ Church Mansfield.  I believe in what we’re doing here, and want to invite you all to become a part of it with us if you have not yet partnered with us, or to continue to be a vital part, through your prayers and financial support, in 2016.

We left Santa Fe and came to Mansfield with a financial goal of raising $100,000 to support the work over a two year time frame. Through your generosity and partnership with us, we were able to raise our first year goal of $60,000. Now, we are asking that you continue to partner with us in 2016 and help us reach our second year goal of $40,000.

Will you consider giving again to this work if you have given a one time gift in the past? Or if you were unable to give in the past, would you consider giving now?  You can give online through this link on our support raising website:  http://www.frontiermissionproject.com/#!how-to-give/c1smk

I wonder what a “Top Sixteen Things That Happened in 2016” list would look like?  Let’s find out together!

In Him,

Chris Gensheer

P.S.  No matter how you choose to partner with us, through prayer, and/or financial support…THANK YOU! We couldn’t do this without you.

And here are some more pictures to enjoy – some of our family, and others from the church plant in Mansfield.

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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).”

Brief Introduction to Advent

Hark the Herald This week we will be kicking off a new sermon season as we focus our attention on Advent and the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. Below is a brief introduction to help us collect our thoughts and turn our hearts towards God this Christmas season.
“The joy of God goes through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable. It does not deny the anguish, when it is there, but finds God in the midst of it, in fact precisely there; it does not deny grave sin but finds forgiveness precisely in this way; it looks death straight in the eye, but it finds life precisely within it.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Advent is the season where we anticipate the arrival of Christ coming to perfectly redeem, restore, and renew the world, even as we look back and remember His first coming many years ago in Bethlehem.
It is a season of joy, as well as sorrow; of delight as well as expectant longing; for while we wait for the world to come, we experience the world as it is. And yet, we are reminded of a glorious reality – that God invades this world with His presence.
As everything around us is invaded by the Christmas season – from neighborhood decorations, music on the radio, menu items at home or in our favorite restaurants, and even the very clothes and colors we wear – let us remember that it is all a tiny picture of the even greater invasion – God, in Christ, came to earth, to be born of a virgin, in a manger, in order to bring joy to the world!
Come Lord Jesus Come!

War is Over. Now the Battle Begins.

How do you know God loves you, really? When life and everything around you gives evidence of sin and suffering, what basis do we really have for continuing on?

This past week at Christ Church Mansfield, I endeavored to show from Romans 5:1-11 that there is a way to break through without breaking down in the midst of our sin and suffering, our chaos and catastrophes, or our flaws and failures.

It’s only by gaining gospel resiliency by looking ahead, looking around, and looking back, that we can have confidence to keep moving forward, knowing that with God, the war is over. Now we can fight the battle of living by faith.

Here are six practical signs that you actually are rejoicing in the gospel, even in the midst of sin and suffering:

  1. Regularly meditate and enjoy the Gospel. You study God’s Word in such a way as to better see (understand) and savor (enjoy) who God is and what He has done for you. Over the years, I have found it helpful to have a plan for reading through and studying the Bible. I even put together a sample plan for our church, which you can download here if you’d like. But there are some great reading plans available elsewhere: YouVersion, He Reads Truth or She Reads Truth, as well as the ESV Bible app. Another great resource to help you navigate the Bible with a “gospel lens” is the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible
  2. Interpret and process your life through the lens of the Gospel. What is most true of you is not your feelings, emotions, reactions, or circumstances of your life, but rather the Word of God regarding you in light of the Gospel. When you mess up (and you will), or when “life” happens to you (which it will), start to process it all not by saying, “What a mess I made there. How could God love me?” but “God loves me, despite me. Despite my flaws and failings, despite my record, yes, even now, God still loves me. I am far worse than I think, but also more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope!” That’s the beauty of the Gospel!
  3. Repent of Sin and Walk in Newness of Life. Sin is both the bad things you do (commission) and good things you don’t do (omission), but, and perhaps, more disturbingly,  anything other than God you boast in. We can make a “mini god” out of anything, and more times than not, we make one in our image and likeness. We are to repent of that tendency to find value, worth, significance and strength in anything we can do or make for ourselves, and instead, willingly and joyfully strive after obedience (“newness of life”), out of love and gratitude, not guilt or fear. Don’t doubt God’s love when you discover more character flaws – draw closer to Him! Remember the two aspects of the gospel: You are worse off than you think, but more loved and accepted than you ever dared hope! (In case you are wondering, yes, the repetition is purposeful. The Gospel leaks out of us, so we have to, in the words of Martin Luther, beat it back in there continually!) Here are some great resources that have helped me get this over the years:
    1. Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller
    2. Repentance  by C. John Miller
    3. How People Change by Paul Tripp and Tim Lane
    4. We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry by G.K. Beale
  4. Stop Taking Matters Into Your Own Hands. When we sin, or when we suffer, the tendency is to “do something about it”. Miroslav Volf paints the picture vividly in his masterful book, Exclusion and Embrace when he says that our instincts when we have been hurt, harmed, or wronged is to reach either for a shield (self-protection) or sword (others’-destruction). Instead, we are to let the open arms of the God-man, Jesus Christ, on the cross welcome us “in” to the happy life of God Himself. Don’t quiet your conscience when you’ve messed up, discover you’re a wreck, and rediscover that you are a failure with reference to your performance or your circumstances. Hold tightly to God’s love for you in the Gospel, even as you let go and stop clinging to your own performance, record, or anything you can do to take matters into your own hands.
  5. Embrace Self-Forgetfulness When Faced with Criticism. Take criticism well, letting it illumine and inform the areas of your life where you can repent and live out a new obedience. (And yes, that is another reference to a Tim Keller book that has had a huge impact on me in regards to this – right now it’s $1.99 on Kindle, or $4.69 in paperback).
  6. Worship Your Way Through It. The only way we can break through without breaking down is by focusing your eyes on Jesus. See and savor Him as your highest, greatest, and most enjoyable reward. Nothing – not even death, let alone failure, fear or frustration – can intimidate you out of holding onto Jesus above all else. Sing with the saints:

Look and see our God

And celebrate the power of the cross

And the empty grave

And now we’re free

Let the Redeemed

Lift up your heads

O look and see our God!

(“Look and See” by The Village Church)