I was arrested by Isaiah 6.1-8 this morning. Seriously. I wasn’t planning on reading it, but I opened my computer and there it was over on the ESV site that I’d left my browser on. And much like Isaiah, it was like I was swept into something neither my heart nor mind were prepared for. If you are not a christian, don’t worry I’m not talking about some crazy trance or anything. We christians believe the Bible is the word of God & that we are being led by the spirit of God each day. So when the word of God is open in front of us, the spirit of God sometimes kind of lights up our soul in response to what we are reading.
It’s like a double shot of God. ha! that one might not make some happy. but I did just find a good title for this post. A triple shot is a rightly done church service. where the WORD of God (1) is opened, proclaimed, and affirmed by the PEOPLE of God (2) through the leading of the SPIRIT of God (3). Which is why I want to gather with my church every weekend.
Maybe another way to think about it: Think like those times where you have those “AHA best idea ever” moments (for me the shower is where those happen. no idea why). Now imagine those weren’t just good ideas/answers that put your mind at rest, but were deeply satisfying to your soul as well. This morning that’s as close an analogy as I can get. Christians, sorry if that sounds heretical somewhere. chill out if so.
Anyway, Isaiah 6.1-8 shook me and it’s because of how clear it seemed to me as I read it. I was frightened by God’s holiness, deeply convicted of my sin, inexpressibly thankful for God’s mercy to me, and joyfully motivated to go where he calls me.
Instead of preaching it to you here I encourage you to go read it. Or just open your bible to any passage. I believe God may arrest your soul as well. By that I mean He just may cause you to go from casual reading speed to an emergency brake stop because directly in front of you is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. And you will stare through your windshield in utter amazement unable to take your eyes off it. In that moment, God in his grace is meeting with you. Showing you he is indeed real, alive, mighty, merciful, and intentional with your life.
Trevor joy, a good friend and fellow pastor, asked me to have a conversation with him about biblical community that he could record so he could see my face whenever he was having a down day. Figured I’d share it with you. In all seriousness, I’m honored he asked me to participate in the discussion generated around the new book “creature of the word” by two of his pastors Matt Chandler & Josh Patterson, and the legendary Eric Geiger who secretly runs a small company in TN called LifeWay.
Hope it is helpful for you. Please ignore the pixels on my face.
Unfortunately I cannot figure out how to embed it here, so you gotta watch it on FACEBOOK.
I’m a fan of Soul Pancake for a few reasons. One reason is the creativity they bring to illuminating the core of the everyday person. I love the video below. I’m sure if you visit the blog regularly you are tired of me saying “YOU ARE DESIGNED FOR COMMUNITY!” Me too. Here’s a different angle, that is really a lot of fun. hope you enjoy. I may have to bring a ball pit to the triangle.
I’ve had the great privilege to spend the past week, with Summit Pastor Daniel Simmons & Summit Small Group Leader Garret Anderson, training men who head up a thriving church planting network in India. Global Hope India, led by the Summit’s own Kevin White, asked us to come serve these pastors this week. These pastors represent 5,000 churches that have been planted over the past 15 years. And they are believing God for 25,000 by 2020. Legit churches too. not just 3 christians who bump into each other at the market and say “hey we are now a church!” I’m talking about fully functioning churches with trained pastors. Here are some things I’ve picked up from them. (Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those “why the mission field I just went to is better than America” posts. All countries need Jesus. But I do think God can bless the church by learning from one another across cultures)
- Ask God for Big Things. These men have far more limited resources than we do in the states. yet they are dreaming far bigger dreams for the glory of God than I tend to. Their prayers create a big gap between their capacities & their dreams. This gap gives God great room to work. I want to believe God like that.
- EVERYONE participates in worship. Everyone. Everyone sings, everyone claps, and by and large everyone is engaged in the sermon (like every conference there are a couple of guys texting in the back). When they hear something in the sermon that stirs their soul they shout “hallelujah” or “amen.” All of them. They shout it like a war cry and raise a hand when they say it. I believe the church in some traditions, including my own, could learn from this. It is good to respond & affirm truth when it is preached. That’s because worship is not a show, its a communal experience. It is family time. So all of the family should enjoy participating. Do you leave exhausted from your time in worship? Leaders, do you create room for the congregation to participate?
- Chai is awesome. Never had it before (yes I know starbucks has it. but I never drank it), aaaaaand now I will seek it out.
- The Gospel creates unity deeper than cultures can. As I worship and share tea & meals with these pastors it is quickly evident I am among family. In Christ we are brothers. Though we struggle to communicate words, we light up at the gospel together. We pray for each other and we remind each other that God has met our deepest need. Pretty cool time of encouragement.
- We all have idols. The idols here are visible. They are statues people worship & pray to. Though we don’t have statues, we still have idols in America. They disguise themselves in the form of relationships, career success, sex, money, fame, security, and pleasure. But they are still idols. They are things we devote ourselves to trying to gain salvation & improvement to our situation. And we still need saving from them.
These are just some of the lessons. Another lesson is I like spicy food but sometimes spicy food fights back. You must respect the spice.
The following is a guest post from Trevor Joy. Trevor is the Pastor of Spiritual Formation at The Village Church in Dallas, TX. Trevor is one of the first people I look to for both theological and operational insights in discipleship.
Returning the Mission of God to the People of God
“When the church tries to bottle up the Spirit within herself, she acts contrary both to her own and to his nature. For it is the nature of the church to be ever enlarging her borders, and it is the nature of the Spirit to transmit His life to ever-widening circles. When the church does not recognize this law of her being and of the being of the Spirit, the Spirit is quenched and he withdraws himself, and the deposit of religiosity that is left becomes a putrification in the lives of those who have grieved him.” Henry Boer
The Passion conference this year has brought back to my mind the vigor and faith that exists in the collegiate generation. There is a reckless abandonment, a willingness to cast everything aside to push cause forward that is contagious and convicting. One of my favorite biographies is about a group of college students who caught a fire for something and it change the trajectory of their lives. In England during the late 1800’s there was a famous cricket player (yes, cricket!) named CT Studd. Charles was a part of a morning bible study and accountability group of six other men. God began to stir amongst these men in a powerful way and it culminated when Hudson Taylor gave the chapel message at their college campus about all God was doing to reach the people of China. Convicted and ignited, these 7 men decided to abandon all to take the gospel to China. Prior to leaving for the mission field, this group of young men toured several surrounding campuses sharing the gospel and God’s heart for the nations and in a powerful movement God ignited missionaries across the country. They were dubbed the Cambridge Seven, and their influence spread beyond England to even the U.S. where it inspired Robert Wilder’s Student Volunteer Movement. This group of men went on to spend their lives spreading the gospel in some of the hardest places.
It began with a small group of seven young men praying a sharing their lives together and God used that group to spark a generational gospel journey that took the good news of Jesus Christ across the globe. No programs or grandiose initiatives, just the gospel taking root in a community in such a powerful way that it burst into a contagious movement. What is so interesting about this story, is that it is not unique. In fact, this is how the church has historically existed and moved in the world. This is the normative flow of the gospel among the people of God. We see throughout the New Testament, the Holy Spirit landing on a people and the gospel taking root in such a way that transforms that community and begins to flow beyond that group to the world around them. This is because the church was never meant to be a stagnant pool but a flowing river of gospel movement, disciples who make disciples who make disciples. All of us who today claim faith in Jesus Christ are apart of this flow. Go used someone to save a man in Wichita Falls, Tx who then shared the gospel with my brother who then came home to Dallas and shared it with me. In Mathew 28, Jesus gives marching orders to the church when he says, “ALL authority on Heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded them, and behold I am with you to the end of the age.” The mission of God pushes forward through the people of God.
The mission of the Church is to make disciples to the glory of God. The Village Church exists to glorify God by making disciples through gospel-centered worship, gospel-centered community, gospel-centered service, and gospel-centered multiplication. Making disciples is at the core of the function of the body of Christ and we do this through all the facets that exist here. Weekend worship, prayer, home group, parking, teaching, local and global engagement, all serve as expressions of and opportunities for discipleship. Breaking it down to its simplest parts though, discipleship happens when the gospel flows in as community and out on mission.
A trap we easily fall into is to think of mission as an option rather than a necessary component of discipleship. Thinking of community apart from mission is like a car without an engine. If community is the vehicle God has designed of us to exist in as we seek sanctification, mission is the engine that drives that vehicle forward. Our trap is to fall into the lie that the mission of God is about us. The mission of God is His glory, and He achieves this through redeeming and reconciling an unworthy people to Himself. You and I faithfully live out the mission of God through being messengers of reconciliation (disciple makers) to the world around us (2 Cor. 5:16). If we aren’t careful, we will be lulled into a self-absorbed view of Christianity where the gospel of Christ terminates on us. This isn’t the full picture of discipleship. A community where the gospel doesn’t flow out is stagnant and ineffective. Accountability, care, and a sense of belonging are crucial to the balance a progress of the believer’s sanctification. Where that focus doesn’t turn beyond the walls of our homes and office cubicles it creates a vacuum of life rather than a source of life. As Bob Roberts puts it in his book on the transforming power of the gospel, “The kingdom of God is not a widget machine. It isn’t impersonal, processed, and programmed. Instead, there is a divine flow to the kingdom that goes beyond the mechanical production of religious people and products. It is an invigorating, life-giving and adventuresome river, flowing through the world and channeling people into its rapids.”
At The Village, our primary vehicle for discipleship is Home Groups. As we have discussed above discipleship is the people of God on the mission of God. Our generation is coming from a background where community meant, “teach them to obey all that I have commanded”, but we have neglected what came first, “baptize them”! Biblical community isn’t just a place where we can exchange knowledge and information; it is first and foremost a place where the gospel emanates from. We have to fight through urges of comfort and the chains of fear to see the beautiful horizon that awaits on the other side. For a good portion of us, our view of biblical community isn’t wrong, it’s just limited. We must strive for a full and faithful picture of discipleship that is the people of God (community) on the mission of God (multiplication)
In 2013 we are making some strategic changes in the life of our church to better shepherd our people towards faithfulness in making disciples. Our groups continue to be safe places where people can confess sin, struggle well, and be encouraged to deal with the roots of sin in the cavities of our hearts. This is so vital to growing and maturing as a disciple, but that is not where it stops. Our desire is to see the gospel continue to grow roots in the life of our groups, but also to see the fruit of the gospel flow out of our groups and into the world around us. One of the key ways we are striving to achieve this is to no longer segregate “missions” and “groups” in how we plan, program, and shepherd the body. We have recently moved missions at the Village fully into home groups placing the emphasis on mission in and through community life. Tangibly this means that our Groups Team will be responsible for driving all the aspects of multiplication (local/global missions, missionaries, mission trips, evangelism) in and through community life. Over the next several months we will be rolling out several resources, teachings, and communication pieces on how this move will affect the life of our church. The driving motivations behind these moves are to see our groups, like the Cambridge Seven, to catch a fire for the mission of God in making disciples here and abroad to the glory of God.
the following is a guest post by Bobby Herrington. Bobby is pursuing his PhD in theology at SEBTS and has already done what I believe to be some important research and work in the area of media ecology and it’s relationship to the church.
Online Christian Community: Healthy or Harmful?
Because of the digital age we live in people in our culture are more connected to each other online than ever. Social networking sites like Facebook have played a huge role in this; with more than 1 billion users worldwide. But does connection equal community?
As Christians who have been called into community with God and one another, it is important to evaluate whether or not authentic Christian community can be rightly practiced online. As churches are moving in the direction of “online small groups” as well as “online campuses” I think we need to be hesitant about such forms of community.
From a practical standpoint, no medium is neutral. When we use different forms of media to communicate to one another (face to face, phone, online, etc.) the experience changes. Let me give you an example from marriage. Who in their right mind, if they could help it, would choose to propose to their future spouse over text message or through a Facebook message? There’s a triviality about these forms that wouldn’t go well with such an important message.
In addition, every medium form has a certain bias. For example, Twitter has a bias towards short, efficient messages, because of the 140 character restriction. Much of the digital world has a bias towards efficiency, while face to face communication has more of a bias towards authenticity (it’s harder to hide what’s going on in your life when you are face to face with someone). For these reasons alone, I believe that online community can never offer what face to face community offers.
And theologically, I do not think online community does justice to how the Bible tells Christians to express the community they have in the gospel. For example, can online community sustain the commitment level the the two most prominent biblical metaphors for the church require? The New Testament describes the church as the body of Christ and as a spiritual family.
For example, after Paul explains that we are the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:13, he then goes on to command this in 1 Corinthians 12:26: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” Authentically being the body of Christ requires something of us. It’s hard to imagine Christians living as the body of Christ, which is a very serious metaphor, without being in one another’s physical presence.
In addition, the apostle Paul was particularly fond of using family imagery to describe believer’s relationships, with at least 274 references. Can the internet alone sustain such deep familial relationships the Bible calls us to? The answer seems obvious. Who would be content solely communicating and relating to their dearest family members through the internet and nothing else? No one would. All people intuitively believe, at least based on their practice, that familial relationships require physical presence, at least for them to be healthy. And as Christians we are family.
If tomorrow a terrible tragedy strikes in your life, would you want someone to Facebook message you that they are praying for you, or show up to your house, tears in their eyes, give you a hug, and pray for you in person? Online community can be a supplement, but never a substitute.
I had the great privilege to work with my pastor & friend J.D. Greear on a study just published by LifeWay entitled The Gospel According to Jonah. The story of Jonah is one of the great stories in all of ancient literature. It definitely is the favorite bible story for my two little boys. When I told them I was writing a book about it (they don’t understand ‘small group study’) they were excited. We proceeded to read Jonah in the Jesus Storybook bible every night for the next two weeks.
Here is the description from the product page:
The Gospel According to Jonah: A New Kind of Obedience -
This study invites group participants into a world fraught with missteps, disobedience, idolatry, and mistaken “identity.” It’s a world most of us would recognize in our own lives. But in the world of Jonah, we also get more than a foreshadowing of Jesus and a God that pursues us relentlessly. Through this study, individual participants can recognize the “Jonah” in themselves and channel this revelation into a greater passion for asking others into the same assurance
I just finished an entertaining read about Brother Andrew, a missionary to Eastern Europe during the 50s & 60s when the Iron Curtain was in full effect. Impressively he is still hard at work today! Here are the reasons I’d tell you to read the book:
- Its a good, easy to follow story. Brother Andrew narrates the tales of his journeys smuggling bibles into communist eastern europe and Russia. More like a series of stories than one long one, its easy to read a chapter or two in one sitting. And if you are one like me who is always reading non-fiction, you need some good stories in your literary diet. This one is easy, and still non-fiction!
- It challenged my faith. Brother Andrew was a simple dutchman who made a discipline of not overcomplicating faith. He believed God for the provisions he needed each day and God never failed to provide for him. I left this book very challenged by Brother Andrew in how I am trusting God with my life. I was also challenged by the persecuted church Andrew took those bibles to. To follow Christ actually cost them everything and yet they did it with joy.
- It builds a vision for the nations. Brother Andrew was so set on getting bibles, and thus the gospel, to nations who didn’t have it he was willing to sell everything he had to make it possible. For him, the next country he learned of who needed Christ generated a fresh vision of what God could do through him to make it happen. He was not just praying for the nations, but asking God for marching orders. His posture was a soldier waiting for the next deployment. I love that mindset and am convicted and encouraged by it.
All in all, an easy read you will be glad you read. You even get to call it history.
I wrote the following post with Chris Pappalardo (Summit Pastoral Research Assistant), with a brief addition from J.D. Greear (Lead Pastor, Summit Church).
“The right of privacy . . . is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”
-Roe v. Wade; January 22, 1973
Mourning Roe v. Wade
Since the Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade in 1973, there have been approximately 50 million legal abortions in the United States. The rate of abortions has slowed some over the past decade, but conservative estimates still show that 825,000 abortions are performed every year. This means that 23% of all pregnancies end in abortion, about one every 40 seconds.
Recently our country rightfully mourned the loss of 20 children and their six teachers whose lives were taken from them. Our president led us through the grief, even shedding tears over the tragedy. What else could a father do but mourn the loss of these children? Those children could not defend themselves. How could someone do that to anyone, especially a small child?
This slaughter of the helpless set off deep internal alarms in each of us. We found no way of expressing ourselves but to say, “That was just wrong.”
That is precisely the feeling that many have in response to the millions of children losing their lives to abortion. Russ Moore said well that he “hates Sanctity of Human Life Sunday” because it reminds us of so many innocent lives being taken. The posture of the Christian towards the murder of innocent lives must alwaysinclude mourning. And we are reminded that while politics are involved, this is not merely a political issue. It is a human issue. God created humans in his own image: this is why we cherish life and mourn death.
Is It Really About Personhood?
Peter Singer, a respected ethicist and distinguished bioethics professor at Princeton, once astutely outlined the argument against abortion in a simple syllogism:
1. It is wrong to kill an innocent human being.
2. A human fetus is an innocent human being.
3. Therefore it is wrong to kill a human fetus.
The argument by pro-choice advocates usually denies the second premise. But Singer, himself a staunch pro-choice advocate, finds this impossible to maintain. There is no point in the development process where the fetus moves from “non-human” to “human.” It would be better, he says, to deny the first premise. And this is precisely what is happening. The abortion discussion is no longer about whether the fetus is a human life, but whether human life is worth protecting over and above a woman’s right to privacy.
The discussion about whether the fetus is actually human, actually a “person,” has been the point of attack for pro-life supporters for the past 40 years. And of course, this makes sense. Even if the medical and legal communities are unsure of whether this prenatal being is actually human, one might hope that they would err on the side of caution. For instance, if I am unsure whether my 4-year-old is hiding behind a door, I don’t swing the door open quickly to find out.
But the “personhood” debate is looking more and more like an irrelevant discussion. As an example, take Merle Hoffman, a key figure for the pro-choice movement, who founded one of the first abortions clinics even prior to 1973. She notes that most people who get abortions acknowledge that the fetus is a tiny human life, with fingers and toes and a heartbeat. But that fact was outweighed by their decision:
“They knew [the fetus was a human life], but my patients who made the choice to have an abortion also knew they were making the right one, a decision so vital it was worth stopping that heart.”
Hoffman and Singer are more blunt than the average pro-choice advocate, but their logic is consistent with the Roe v. Wade ruling. These terminated beings are humans, but their rights are not as important as the nebulous “right to choose.” So let us guard our ears and minds from the sanitary language of “women’s health” when this is used a euphemism for taking human life. One of the greatest tragedies the world has ever known is being committed freely in our country. We must begin by seeing it for the horror that it is.
What Can We Do?
Feeling the weight of this tragedy, however, is only a first step. As a church, we must respond. Let me propose three steps:
First, we as the church must take a stand. Throughout history, the church has shared very few heroes with the world. But those we do share are men and women who stood up and gave a voice to those who did not have one. William Wilberforce did this for the innumerable slaves streaming into our country in the nineteenth century. Dietrich Bonheoffer did this for the church in Nazi Germany. Martin Luther King, Jr. did this for the oppressed African American community during the Civil Rights Movement. We celebrate them now, but these figures were opposed in their time. Will we have the courage to do the same?
Second, we need to educate ourselves on how to help women who are considering abortion. It is not enough to make a grand statement against the practice. It is not enough to change legislation. We must cultivate an environment that recognizes the need of these women and serves them with compassion and grace. We must learn how to interact, one-on-one, with women who face the challenges of unplanned pregnancies. And we must learn to respond with grace to those whohave had abortions. Organizations like Pregnancy Support Services are invaluable in this effort.
Finally, to the mother who has had an abortion, the message is simple: Jesus loves you. There is grace and forgiveness with at the cross of Jesus. None of us is too far removed from the grace of God. None of us, no matter how ashamed or confused or hurt we feel, is broken beyond repair. In Christ, you can be washed, forgiven, made whole again. In Christ, you are no longer judged based on your docket of rights and wrongs. Jesus loved sinners and died for them. And he receives all who come to him with a repentant heart, regardless of their past. I know—he received me.
Jesus takes even the tragedy of death and overturns it with the triumph of resurrection. Every child is precious in his sight, and one day we will be reunited with the millions of unborn taken from us in this life where we will marvel in the grace and power of God from eternity. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and make every sad thing come untrue.
I recently finished my friend & pastor J.D. Greear’s new book entitled stop asking Jesus into your heart.
J.D. Fairly observes the benefits and costs of the sinners prayer, then gives some great teaching on how to know you are saved.
I think this book is going to be a great tool for many young believers to grow in confidence of their standing with God. This short, easy read will be one you can even hand off to a friend who “doesn’t like to read.”
Oh, and had the privilege to put together a study guide for it you can download to help you or a small group go through the book.