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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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)

Stubborn Grace and Losing Focus

In yesterday’s sermon at Christ Church Mansfield we completed our study of Mark’s Gospel called The Way of Paradox: Following the Right-Side Up King in an Upside-Down World. We ended by seeing how Jesus is the center of it all – the gospel, the Christian faith, even reality itself.

One of the main themes that we reiterated week in and week out was that the world as we know it is not normal; it’s abnormal. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be. But when Jesus comes into the scene, we get a glimpse, a picture, of what that right-side up world is supposed to look like.

I have been forever impacted and indebted to Tim Keller for introducing me to Cornelius Plantinga, and his monumental work on sin. Of all things, this book, and particularly the following quote has left an impression on me in regards to understanding the gospel, Jesus Christ, and what it is that His life and His work is really all about.

If you were with us this past weekend for the sermon “The Center of it All”, here is the quote I read at the end:

“Evil rolls across the ages, but so does good. Good has its own momentum. Corruption never wholly succeeds. (Even blasphemers acknowledge God.) Creation is stronger than sin and grace stronger still. Creation and grace are anvils that have worn out a lot of our hammers. To speak of sin itself, to speak of it apart from the realities of creation and grace, is to forget the resolve of God. God wants shalom and will pay any price to get it back. Human sin is stubborn, but not as stubborn as the grace of God and not half so persistent, not half so ready to suffer to win its way. Moreover, to speak of sin by itself is to misunderstand its nature: sin is only a parasite, a vandal, a spoiler. Sinful life is a partly depressing, partly ludicrous caricature of genuine human life. To concentrate on our rebellion, defection, and folly—to say to the world ‘I have some bad news and I have some bad news’—is to forget that the center of the Christian religion is not our sin but our Savior. To speak of sin without grace is to minimize the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the fruit of the Spirit, and the hope of shalom.” – Cornelius PlantingaNot the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (p. 199)

One of the best books I've ever read - thanks Tim Keller!

One of the best books I’ve ever read – thanks Tim Keller!

Hope Shines Through – Gospel Centered Lent Reflection – Day 2

Gospel Centered Lent, Day 2 Reflection rainbow_elam_21

“Yet, in the midst of the gloom and in the aftermath of the storm of God’s judgment, we see hope shine through. Noah looks up and sees against the gray clouds the dazzling glory of the rainbow emerging where sun and storm meet. And there in the clouds he sees the bow of God’s wrath laid aside in the promise of peace.

And that great promise is that no matter how dark our sin might grow, God will not turn his face against us again. Instead, God would sooner point the bow of his wrath upward, towards heaven, at his own Son, than unleash his wrath upon us again. And on the cross, where the sun of God’s love and the storm of God’s wrath would meet again, Jesus would die in darkness so that the brilliance of the glory of God’s saving plan would shine forth into our hearts. All this without a hint of divine regret.”

From Redeemer Presbyterian Church Lenten Devotional

Spiritual Pride

Tim-Keller

Tim Keller on spiritual pride and a true gospel response.

“Spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God.” – Tim Keller, The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness

Link: http://amzn.to/1uITKvm

Why plant churches?

As some of you may know (and for those of you who don’t, please take this as my apologetic catch-up on all things related to the Gensheers and ministry update), we will be joining a church plant in progress as the new Lead Pastor, starting June 1, 2014 in Mansfield, TX. You can read about it here in its entirety.

Tim Keller

Tim Keller on Need for Church Planting

One question I get with plenty regularity is, “Why plant more churches? I mean, don’t we have enough, especially in the Bible Belt?”

I typically respond with a stat that shows maybe the Bible Belt, especially where we’re going in the greater Fort Worth part of the DFW metroplex, is not as “Christian” as we think. In 2010, only 54% of the nearly 1.8 million people living in Tarrant County espoused any religious affiliation whatsoever. In 2012, that number dropped to 52%. That’s just a little more than half, of almost 2 million people, who generally care enough about religion (of any kind, mind you) to respond on a survey asking about such things. The overwhelming worldview of Fort Worth is one that is largely self-centered – whatever works for me, myself, and I, suffices.

But here’s another great response from Tim Keller in his book Center Church on that question.

“Studies and anecdotal evidence indicate that if there is one church per ten thousand residents, approximately 1 percent of the population will be churchgoers. If this ratio goes to one church per one thousand residents, some 15 to 20 percent of the city’s population goes to church. If the number goes to one per five hundred residents, the number may approach 40 percent or more. The relationship of the number of churches to churchgoing people is exponential, not linear”. – Tim Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (p. 362).

To get Keller’s book, Center Church, click here.

To find out more about Frontier Mission Project, check out our website, signup for updates and follow our social media channels, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram.

 

Jesus Didn’t Just Come. He was the Gift that Was Given!

Quote

“Of all the customs surrounding Christmas, it occurs to me the most singular, the most distinctive, is the custom of giving one another gifts. You realize how unique that is. There are other special occasions, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, Father’s Days, Mother’s Days, and so on, in which somebody is given gifts. You bring your gifts to somebody, but the real question is … How many holidays do we have in which all of us give gifts to all of us? The answer is only one, and it’s right that we do it at Christmas because it highlights, it makes real, the central event, in some ways, the central truth of Christmas…Jesus Christ came at Christmas, but he didn’t just come. He was given. ‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given …’

 

Jesus didn’t just come. He was a gift. That’s the central event of Christmas, and all the gift giving, in a sense, makes that real. Jesus was given. ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son …’ Jesus did not just come. He was a gift.

 

There’s one place in which Paul is so overwhelmed by the thought of it that he breaks into praise, and he says, ‘Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift,’ an unspeakable gift, an inexpressible gift. It’s beyond description. It’s beyond comprehension. Whenever Paul thinks about it, even for a while, his imagination and his heart explode.”

– Tim Keller, December 23, 1990

sermon, “His Name Shall Be Called”

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.

Best book on Marriage for $2.99 Today

Hey folks,

The best book on Marriage that I have read in a long time, and what formed a good bit of the recent teaching series I did on the subject, is on sale for $2.99 today for Kindle (device or apps).  It is worth it at full price, but this is another steal worth taking advantage of.

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller

One More Day – Jesus Story Book Bible Ridiculously Cheap

One last day to get the fabulous Jesus Story Book Bible on Kindle 

for only $3.99 by clicking the link below.

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

Hardcover edition (click here)

Curriculum Kit (click here)