Bible, Church, Devotional Reading, Gospel Spirituality

Luther’s Purifying Flame

500 years ago a glorious spark was fanned into a flame. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his now famous “Ninety-Five Theses” onto the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Some, even now, view this flame as destructive. However, the houses it burned down needed to be destroyed. This was a purifying fire, a return to the biblical gospel.

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I love Martin Luther. Even his imperfections are endearing because they teach me that God uses imperfect people. Luther was brilliant and brave and certainly bombastic.  He wrote masterpieces like “On the Bondage of the Will,” translated the Bible into German, and brought the church home to the gospel. The Reformer also boldly stood up to the church when they threatened his life. He refused to recant but rather stood on the truth of the Bible and declared, “Here I stand. I can do no other.”  Luther said things like, “Be a sinner and sin strongly, but more strongly have faith and rejoice in Christ.” More than anything, Martin Luther was faithful. In fact, his faithfulness to the Word of God was used by God to purify the church’s understanding of the gospel.

 

The church is to guard the gospel, yet had corrupted the gospel! The Bible progressively moves forward a redemption story which climaxes in Jesus. Bread crumbs were dropped throughout the Old Testament pointing the reader to Jesus. The Law taught us we are sinners, blood was always shed for these sins, but the blood never seemed to cover all the sins. Jesus then came and lived a perfect life in order to be that perfect blood sacrifice for us. The gospel says we no longer try to earn our place in Heaven through our many good works, rather we trust in Jesus’ one good work. This gospel is not looking within for righteousness, but looking to Jesus to make us righteous.

 

But, in Luther’s day, these truths were corrupted. Famously, the church was selling indulgences and telling people that they could pay money in order to get themselves (and their loved ones) out of a made up place called Purgatory! These were wicked lies. People were desperately turning to the church to learn how to enter Heaven, but were being manipulated for worldly gain. Luther’s “Ninety-Five Theses” set out to debate these teachings.

 

Earlier in life he was a zealous monk marked by much confusion and even terror. Yet, Luther came to understand the gospel clearly through faithful study of the Bible. Romans 1:16-17 says, “(16) For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (17) For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Initially Luther hated this passage because he thought the gospel meant God revealing his righteousness by punishing sinners and rewarding the righteous. He struggled because he knew he was not righteous but a sinner. Luther’s glorious discovery was that those who trust on Jesus passively receive God’s righteousness as a gift even though they didn’t earn it! The gospel is about believing in Jesus’ good work and thus receiving God’s righteousness!

 

This Fall we will celebrate the 500th Anniversary of Luther’s posting of the “Ninety-Five Theses” with a series of articles on the Five Solas of the Reformation. These Word-saturated gospel-grounded truths are why we are proud Protestants. These doctrines are the answers to the most important questions. As you read these articles, I pray the fire of your own heart is enflamed by the pure gospel.

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Church, Church Planting, Missional Living, Redeemer Church

Friendship with Our City

Our church has been challenged by the idea of Biblical Friendship. According to James 2:23, the gospel is that God has made us His friend through our faith in Christ. James also teaches us that if this faith is genuine, then it will produce good works. Friendship is a good work. Over and over again in the New Testament we see calls for the church to love one another…forgive each other (Ephesians 4:32), bear with each other (Colossians 3:13), confess our sins to each other (James 5:16), out of love we even need to rebuke each other (Luke 17:3). All of these are examples of the good work of friendship…friendship to His Church.

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However, Biblical Friendship does not stop at the door of the church. Friendship with each other is a pleasant spiritual blessing that we can’t rush past. However, it should become an apologetic for the truth of the gospel. Again, remember what Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” They are to know that we are his disciples. They are to know this by our love for each other. But, Jesus wants them to know the truth of the gospel. This means that we are be known for friendship and love, but not just for each other, but also for our city. Jesus loves “all people.”

Like friendship with God’s People, friendship with our City takes time and intentionality. I am not going to be a good friend with my neighbors if I don’t take time with them or if I am not intentional to get to know them and serve them. Do you know those around you? Are you a good friend to your neighbors, and your co-workers, and those you share activities and hobbies with? Do you patiently listen to that lady in the office? Do you care for the needs of the family next door? Are you encouraging to the other parents on your kid’s team?

But I also want us to ask some hard questions of ourselves this year with regards our city. Are we truly serving the needs of our city? Are we living openly and generously with our city? I followed a contentious political debate in our city this Fall, and I was struck by some of the needs in our city that I did not know about. Personally, as your pastor, I am committed to learning more about the needs of our city this next year.

Our Pastors have felt a deep conviction about being a friend to our city. We have spent much time praying about and thinking about how to be a friend to our city. We haven’t done a poor job, but we want to improve our efforts as a church.

This month we began a new monthly effort we are simply calling Service Sundays. Service Sundays are a way we can be a friend to our city. Even though we are a new church and a small church, we are committed to making the biggest impact we can.

January 17th was Sanctity of Life Sunday followed by Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the 18th. I preached on the church being a Statue of Hope. The 17th was also our first Service Sunday. We began a three week baby bottle fundraiser to help support the Woman-to-Woman Pregnancy Resource Center. This campaign is designed to support a ministry wholistically addressing the sin of abortion. This group lovingly ministers to gospel of grace to those in need and brings truth and healing to our city. Even if you weren’t able to grab a baby bottle, if you feel led, bring an offering to the center this Sunday.

Every month in 2016 we are planning efforts to be a friend to our city because God has called you his friend as a call to be a friend.

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Church, Gospel Spirituality, Missional Living, Redeemer Church

Friendship For Friendship

Proverbs 27:9 reads, “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.” The first line is about a physical blessing or pleasantry, the second a spiritual blessing. It is a pleasant spiritual blessing to have friendship, to have people who love you enough to speak into your life. It is a great blessing to have people who know you, and love you, and engage you, and speak up when you are going down a wrong path, and are there for you when you are in the middle of a fight.

friendship

One good definition I found for Biblical Friendship is mutual love that knits together souls. It is a sweet spiritual blessing to have those we love so deeply we feel our souls are interwoven.

We see this intimate intertwined love in the Trinity. Our God is one yet exists as three persons, yet the love is so tight that we are monotheistic. Marriage is supposed to be a loving oneness. Jonathan and David both loved each other deeply and were close friends. Many think of Paul as this bold lone ranger, but the reality is that he always had friends close by. His relationship with Timothy is a glorious example of loving lasting life-giving friendship.

 Also, James 2:23 explains that due to our genuine faith, we have become a “friend of God.” Who are you?  You are called a “friend of God.” These “friends of God” who have genuine faith are also marked by good works. So, out of this glorious friendship, we get a vision and even a calling to the good work of friendship. God makes us his friend so we can be friends with others. And this is no superficial matter, this is a sweet life-giving pleasantry to our souls.

Friends, as I look ahead to 2016, my prayer is that our new church would embrace our standing as being “friends with God” by being friends with God’s Church and being friends with our City. I want us to have deep life-giving loving friendships with each other, and with those around us.

How do you need to improve as a friend this year? Do you have a friendship that you have neglected? How can you deepen the friendships that the Lord has provided? How can you be a friend to the city around you?

God has called you his friend as a call to be a friend.

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Church, Church Planting, Gospel Spirituality, Missional Living, Redeemer Church

A Year of Friendship

One of my favorite parts of the holidays is finding pockets of time to read. One of the books I have been picking through is a biography of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Anytime I read about Spurgeon I am inspired. Before there were megachurches, his was a megachurch. He became the pastor of a historical London Reformed Baptist church at a young age. When he became pastor there were less than 300 members. 38 years later, at the end of his ministry, there were over 5,000 members of the church. He routinely preached to 15,000 people on a Sunday and many times preached to over 20,000 people.

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I know Denton is not London, and I certainly know that I am no Spurgeon, but I have to admit that reading Spurgeon has given me a renewed excitement about our church in 2016. You see, Spurgeon and the Metropolitan Tabernacle share our same Biblical gospel convictions…the Bible is the Word of God and his gospel is the power of God to save and thus I believe our best days are in front of us.

God has truly been glorified in our new church this past year. We saw God’s glorious faithfulness in 2015. We experienced his grace, saw him save souls, experienced him conforming us to him image, and watched him establish his church. Let me throw some exciting numbers at you:

  • After we launched the church, we averaged 88 on Sunday morning. Then, in 2015 we averaged right at 100 on Sunday mornings.

  • We grew from 44 Covenant Members in 2014 to 59 Covenant Members in 2015.

  • We moved into Game On Athletics, thus saving us some money, and providing a semi-permanent facility for the coming years. This facility enables outreach events and provides an office and a place to gather beyond just Sunday morning.

  • We began 2015 internally covering about 40% of our budget, now we cover 70% of our monthly needs.

  • We launched 2 new Neighborhood Groups.

  • We launched a Shepherd Training discipleship and leadership development track.

  • We added a new Redeemer Kids teaching team.

  • We launched a Youth Ministry and added Reece Bishop as our Student Pastor.

  • We served our city through Service Projects and Attractional Events like Trunk or Treat.

  • We gave away $18,000 to missions efforts.

Each of these graces should be celebrated. However, I believe our best days are ahead of us. As I have spent the past 4 to 6 weeks praying about next year, I continued to come back to a little verse that is loaded with meaning.

James 2:23 reads, “And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” – and he was called a friend of God.”  In this verse James explains God’s grace as salvation coming to Abraham through his faith in God, which makes Abraham a friend of God.

James is quoting Genesis 15:6 where God’s Word calls Abram to believe in something hard to believe…that a very old childless man would not only have a child but his descendants would be a numerous nation. We have all been at those difficult crossroads of belief, when what God is saying doesn’t really seem plausible. However, we are called to believe. What Genesis 15:6 teaches us is that God’s grace came to Abraham when he trusted God’s Word and thus experienced God’s salvation.

After James quotes this verse, Paul quotes it twice. He quotes it in Romans 4:3 as well as Galatian 3:6. Both passages help us understand the AVENUE of salvation. How do we move from being declared guilty to being declared righteous? Most believe it is by keeping all the rules. However, these passages use Genesis 15:6 to explains the AVENUE of salvation is via faith, not keeping all the rules. Thus, God’s grace came to Abraham not by strict adherence to the rules, but by faith in the Word of God. The AVENUE of Abraham’s salvation, and thus our AVENUE, is faith.

James’ goal is a little different. Many have concluded that James and Paul are somehow at odds with each other here, however that is not the case.

First, James is likely the earliest NT writing (most likely between 44AD and 49AD), while Romans is most likely written between 55AD and 57AD and Galatians between 49AD and 55AD. This is important because it helps us see that James is not arguing against Paul’s writings, because Paul’s writings had not been written yet.

Second, James and Paul are not at odds because James is not talking about the AVENUE of salvation (which is faith), but rather the NATURE of that saving faith. James is not saying keeping all the rules redeems anyone. James agrees that salvation is through faith alone, but his concern is with the NATURE of that faith. James 2:23 is advocating for genuine faith. So, God’s grace came to Abraham not by strict adherence to the rules, but genuine faith in the Word of God. The NATURE of Abraham’s saving faith was genuine to the degree that good works were evident. Because of Abraham’s genuine saving faith, he was categorized as a friend of God.

James is saying that genuine faith produces faithful works. He is arguing against false faith that remains private, that doesn’t produce faithful works.

We are entering into an election season (yuck) and politicians are in pandering mode. Many politicians are trying to demonstrate their religious credentials. However, in a secular age, many don’t want to come off as too religious. Thus, one path for them is to simply say they are a Christian then say their convictions are private and they don’t want to talk about them. That leads me to believe they are hiding something, that they are not genuine in their convictions. It leads me to believe they are just sleazy politicians.

Look at our passage again. James 2:23 says, “And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” – and he was called a friend of God.” What does genuine faith produce? It doesn’t produce quiet private politicians who don’t let their faith impact any area of their lives. No, genuine faith produces faithful good works.  How does genuine faith change us? When we have genuine faith in the gospel, we don’t remain enemies of God or objects of his wrath. No, genuine faith changes us to become friends with God.

When looking at the three New Testament citations, James is the only one who makes this point about “friendship” when citing Genesis 15:6. Once we have genuine faith in Jesus’ gospel, we become friends with God. BIBLICAL FRIENDSHIP is what I pray Redeemer Church is all about in 2016. Over the coming weeks, I will be laying out our vision of friendship with our Church and with our City.

All Christians should love Spurgeon. We should love his theology, his sermons, his books, and his classic quotes. But I have always loved that he left a legacy of more than sermons and books.

You see, Spurgeon lived during the Industrial Revolution of the mid and late 19th Century. The population of London had just doubled from 1800 to 1850. Rapid urbanization brought new social problems. But Spurgeon didn’t just preach sermons and write books, he sought friendship with his city. He started:

  • A Pastor’s College where young pastors could come and prepare for the ministry free of charge.

  • 23 mission stations around the city of London.

  • Hundreds of new churches all around Great Britain.

  • A gospel literature society to get the truths of the gospel into the hands of London residents.

  • Almshouses for people who lost their jobs.  They could come and stay and be fed and have time to get back on their feet.

  • Nursing Homes, before there were Nursing Homes, where the elderly could live their final years with dignity.

  • Orphanages for boys and girls.

  • Homes for single mothers and their children.

Matt Carter wrote in his book “For the City”: “It got to the point that if [the] Metropolitan Tabernacle had shut down during that [those] decade[s] of grappling with the problems of the Industrial Revolution, the city of London would have been crippled.  They would have grieved the loss of the Tabernacle.

I love that! Friends, I know we are new and don’t have millions of dollars and don’t even have a building like the Metropolitan Tabernacle. I know Denton isn’t London, and I am no Charles Spurgeon. But, I want to us to ask the question, “If we were to cease to exist, would our city grieve our loss?”  Would our schools miss us? Would our neighborhoods feel a void?

In 2016, my prayer is that we would fulfill the call of James 2:23. My prayer is for us to be good friends to each other and to our city. God has called us his friends as a call to be a friend.

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Church, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus, Missional Living, Redeemer Church

Equipped to Shepherd from the Word

I don’t want this to be one of those “best kept secrets,” but one of the most exciting things happening in our church these days is an intense training that all our Neighborhood Group leaders and co-leaders are going through. If you are one of our small group leaders you are going to very early morning meetings or after-the-kids-go-down meetings on how to shepherd people from the Word. For the next 12 months they are going through the Association of Biblical Counselors’ “Equip to Counsel” training.

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When we say they are shepherding from the Word, please don’t hear that we take a flippant small-minded “a Bible verse a day keeps the Devil away” approach. However, we understand the Bible as our ultimate authority, and where we turn during life’s most difficult seasons. It is amazing how practical it is for difficult marriages, the minefields of high school and college, as well as navigating problems at work. We not only want to quote Scriptures, but understand the broad redemptive theme of the Bible…the gospel. It is hard for a wife to withhold forgiveness when you go back to the forgiveness given her on the cross. It is hard for a someone to feel condemned when they know that Jesus died for their past sins.

Our church has a heart for our leaders to genuinely walk with the folks in their groups. We care less that our small group leaders are driven executives or impressive orators, we want them to be loving pastors. We want them to walk with people through those dark nights of the soul.

We understand that our leaders have been “given His revealed Word” and thus are to “convey His Word to others so that others may live well in the presence of God” (pg23 of the Leader’s Guide). I don’t know how you are struggling, but know that God’s Word is sufficient and relevant and it is where you can find abundant life. I don’t want to oversell it, I know our leaders are imperfect. However, they are a group that desires to truly love people with the gospel of grace. Learn more about our Neighborhood Groups by clicking HERE.

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Church, Gospel Spirituality

How to Find Rest

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:12-13)

Hebrews 3:12-13 is within a chapter focusing on rest. It identifies our barrier to rest as an unbelieving heart. But these two verses go further and give us two practical ways to find rest. It teaches us how to find rest.

The problem is an unbelieving heart, the first solution is a believing heart. Hebrews 3:12 warns us to Take care not to have an unbelieving heart.  Believe that your rest and your happiness and your peace and your joy is found through closeness to Jesus over anything else.

So when you are in one of those stressful seasons at work, intentionally remind yourself that closeness to Jesus is where your rest is found. Instead of cutting out prayer with him because you are busy, find those moments, maybe in the car while you commute, to commune with him. So when you are grieving the loss of a relationship, believe that your friendship with Jesus is enough. As you hurt over what you have lost, believe that you can find rest through walking with Jesus. Believe in Jesus.

When Jesus died on the cross to atone for our sins, he was paying for us to have an eternal relationship with him when we die. The way we get to eternal rest is to believe in Jesus’ work on the cross for our salvation. But, Jesus was also atoning for our sin to provide for our present rest. The way we get to eternal rest is the same pathway to rest this afternoon.  Believe in Jesus.

God warns us in verse 12 about moving away from God because of unbelieving hearts. But, in verse 13 the way we keep from having hard sinful hearts that don’t find rest in Jesus is by exhorting one another.

The way to find rest through the ups and downs of life is through being close to Jesus. What keeps us from closeness toJesus are hearts that don’t believe Jesus is where we will find our rest. But, the way we keep our hearts believing in Jesus is by exhorting one another.

Exhorting is one of those weird biblical words that we don’t use that often. It simply means to strongly encourage. Someone exhorts us when they lovingly speak into our lives. It is having people love us enough to have the “hard conversations” with us. It is moving from polite conversations about the weather, and our yards, and the Cowboys…to more substantive things. It isn’t permission to be rude and harsh, but to love each other enough to gently be honest. It is caring enough to point each other to Jesus.

If you aren’t connected to a church (Jesus’ body), you aren’t going to have the teaching and friendships that will constantly draw you back to finding you happiness in Jesus. You will drift toward unhappiness because you will drift toward believing all the other things in your life will make you happy. You will try to find rest in work or in a relationship or in piddling with your trinkets. However your business will fall apart and you will become miserable. Your relationship will fail you and you will become depressed. Your health will fail and you won’t get to do you hobby anymore.

We have started Redeemer Church because you were made to belong. I’m both a guy and an introvert. Men and introverts, your flesh and your “inner voice” are lying to you when they tells you that you will be more happy alone with your hobby! You need people in your life.You need friends in your life to point you back to Jesus. You need to belong to Jesus’ Body, the church, in order to find rest through the trials. We need each other!

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Church, Church Planting, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus, Redeemer Church

lessons I am learning from starting a new church

We moved our family back to Denton late last Summer to start Redeemer Church.  Like any step of faith it has been scary at times, filled with ups and downs, yet we can conclude that it has been an amazing joy to be part of this new church.  I praise God every day for the opportunity to be the pastor of Redeemer.

lessons-learned

We are close to securing a location for our official launch on August 31st which has caused me to really get excited about the future, but also reflect on the past 10 months.  I have learned countless lessons since we began gathering people last September.  I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but here are a few of the lessons I am learning from starting a new church.

 

Redeemer Church is largely born through my walk with Jesus so my character and spiritual life are everything.  This experience has only further solidified a deep conviction that character is what counts.  We have all seen corrupt pastors, and I long never to be one.  I firmly believe that churches who have leaders with suspect character are being built on sandy ground.  Josh Yen and I constantly talk of the importance of our spiritual health.  The new church can’t happen if I am not communing with Christ and loving my family well.  I make daily mistakes in those areas and need a ton of gospel grace.  This has forced me to be more humble and really live out our mantra of being “broken people who love broken people.”  Planting Redeemer Church has caused me to love Jesus more than ever!

 

Planting Redeemer Church has highlighted the fact that I need to be a priest.  That might be strange verbiage for some.  One of the networks we are joining is the Acts29 Network.  Within that network there is a culture of talking about the giftedness of pastors as being either a “prophet” (or insightful teacher/preacher), a “priest” (or a patient empathetic shepherd), or a “king” (a bold visionary leader).  I have always felt that God created me in such a way that I was low in the “priest” department.  But, if you are going to start a church you have to be a priest.  One of my coaches keeps wisely telling me that most people will follow me if they know I love them.  I have loved stripping things down and getting to genuinely just love our people.  With joy, I can report that planting Redeemer Church has caused me to love people more than ever!

 

I have a twin passion for starting new churches.  First, it is biblical.  New Testament missionary work is exclusively people starting new churches.  I don’t think that all missionary work should be just church planting, but it should be our primary way to reach and disciple the world.  Second, is how effective it is at reaching the unreached.  Many guys look at an area and think they should plant because there is not their brand of church in that area.  At the end of the day I fear some guys are planting churches because they want their brand of evangelicalism as opposed to primarily wanting to reach the unreached.  It is about reaching the lost not establishing your brand of evangelicalism.  Please hear me, this is not a sellout to all things gimmicky.  If you know me, you know that I have deep convictions.  But, at the end of the day our people care that I am devoted to the Bible and the gospel, trying to walk faithfully with the Lord, and am striving to love them and their family.  Convictions are vital, but our missionary conviction should be the ultimate driver of our efforts.  Redeemer Church has caused me to love my city more than ever!

 

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Book Review, Church, Gospel Spirituality

BOOK REVIEW: “Church Membership” by Jonathan Leeman

Jesus is our perfect example of love.  He combines a compassionate heart with acts of mercy, but also doesn’t wink at sin yet sacrificed greatly to be reconciled with those who have wronged him.  Everyone desperately needs to experience that type of love.  We need it from Jesus for our salvation but also for our daily spirituality.  Jesus is no longer physically with us, therefore how can we experience this type of love?  We experience Jesus’ love through Jesus’ body…the church.

Book cover.Church Membership

The world needs a representation of Jesus; therefore it needs healthy churches that understand the Christian life to the degree of developing healthy church members.  Jonathan Leeman’s Church Membership explains how the world knows who represents Jesus.  It is a only 130 short pages spread over eight chapters.

 

“Membership” is maybe not the best word because is conjures up images of clubs and Leeman is adamant that the local church is not a club.  He says that the church “is not a voluntary organization where membership is optional for you” (22) rather it is a family we are born into.  We don’t join churches, rather we submit to them.  This family is to “give shape to my Christian life and yours” (24).  Because we connect church membership to the idea of a voluntary club, we struggle to find it in the Bible.  But if you understand church membership through the family or kingdom metaphors we see the idea numerous places.  Leeman describes the church as an embassy that “declares its home nation’s interests to the host nation” (27).

 

Leeman’s second chapter is devoted to showing where church membership is found in the New Testament.  Including the initial church found in the book of Acts, he identifies membership traits of the early church.  Leeman makes deductive arguments based upon ideas like: “Christian leaders are made responsible for specific sheep,” “Christians are responsible to submit to specific leaders,” and “Christians exclude false professors from the fellowship.” The conclusion, based upon the church in Acts, is that a “Christian is to belong to a church” (46).  There is also a sense that everyone, including those part of the church and those who are not part of the church, “knows who is meant when Christians refer to ‘the church’ doing this or that” (47).  The early church knew who was “in” and who was “out” and embraced their shepherding responsibility for those who were submitted to the church family.

 

Leeman also explains the Bible’s vision for what church members are, namely those that hold the keys of the Kingdom.  He also explains the Bible’s vision for the essence of the church as a group that gathers together to oversee each other’s spiritual lives.  He concludes that church membership is simply someone’s public declaration that they are a citizen of Jesus’ Kingdom.  The other members are also declaring their commitment and responsibility to care for that person’s soul.  I believe church membership is simply about committing to each other as a family.

 

Leeman’s book is solidly biblical, but also a short read.  It addresses common objections to church membership as well as thoughtfully navigates issues that arise when a church or an individual Christian commits to biblical church membership.  I highly recommend it for any Christian contemplating joining Redeemer Church or any other church.

 

Church Membership provides helpful biblical answers to your questions about why you should join a church like Redeemer Church.  We feel so strongly about the issue of church membership and the usefulness of this little book, we will make copies available to you for free at our next worship service.  If you have questions about membership in our church you can visit RedeemerDenton.com/Membership or email me at micah@redeemerdenton.com.

 

I close with a moving and humbling quote from the book:

“What’s unexpected about Christianity is that its hero doesn’t risk all for a damsel but for what the Bible likens to a harlot.  Then he calls everyone that he saves to submit themselves to this same harlot – the bride still being made ready, the church.” (102)

Pray for us as we seek to be a broken people loving broken people.

 

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Church, Jesus

The Gospel and Outsiders

Many of us tend to think of the gospel only in terms of its future eternal implications.  We rightly see it as our avenue into communion with Jesus upon death.  But, the good news of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins impacts our daily lives.  The gospel speaks to our thought life, the way we do marriage, how we conduct business, and even how we welcome in outsiders.

family of three soapstone sculpture

Leviticus 19:34 says, “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt:I am the Lord your God.”

Starting Redeemer Church and launching our initial Vision Gatherings is all about loving our city with the gospel.  This means loving our city the way God loves them.

There is a danger within all of us to pull away and only love those that are easy to love.  There is a danger that each of us will recoil from people and only love those people that we like to be around.  There is also a related danger that we would view our city as a tool to be used to get what I want.  Maybe that is an expanded business base or good education for our kids or quiet from the hustle and bustle of urban centers.  Instinctively we step away from people not towards them.  We draw lines of “us” and “them.”  Instinctively we also use people for our own selfish gain.

The problem with these dangerous and natural responses to people, and our city, is that it is the exact opposite of how God views people and Denton.

Jesus loves people who are hard to love.  He engages people who are difficult to be around.  He doesn’t use cities but serves cities.  He doesn’t take advantage of cities but frees cites and reconciles cities and saves cities.  He doesn’t step away from people but toward them, engaging even the ugliest parts of their lives.  Jesus doesn’t look at a group of people and say he is against them, but rather seeks to save all people.

Do you remember the story of the Last Supper from John 13?  Jesus knows he is about to be betrayed, then falsely accused and falsely convicted, then abused and tortured, then murdered for our sins.  He was with a group of men that he loved, but that he also know would betray him.  At that final meal, he chose to serve them in a very intimate and messy way…he washed their feet.  The God of the universe who upholds all things by the power of his word, humbled himself and showed these men hospitality.  Men he knew would betray him.  These were not men who were easy to love or even easy to like, but Jesus showed them hospitality.

But this is God’s M.O. isn’t it?  God has always shown love to even strangers.  In our verse, we see that based upon God’s pattern, he also calls his people to love strangers in the same way.  ”You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt:I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)

God’s people are not to treat strangers like strangers, but are to treat strangers like family.  We are to treat sojourners like natives.  We are to treat people who are on the outside like they are on the inside.  We are to serve “them” like they are one of “us.”  One of the ways we know we are God’s people and he is our God is by how we love strangers.  Based upon what Jesus accomplishes on the cross, we are to love strangers like they are one of us…like family.

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Church, Redeemer Church

New Year Plans

I love the start of a new year because it brings so much hope. It also brings an opportunity to evaluate and make future plans. The best leaders have clarity of direction. The best leaders also carve out time to evaluate the health of their people.

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The Bible has helpful teachings on making future plans. Naturally the Bible explains that people can make plans out of their flesh…their own selfish desires (2 Corinthians 1:17). God reserves the authority to frustrate our plans (Psalm 33:10). But the Bible also highlights human plans in a supportive light. Nehemiah’s plans to rebuild Jerusalem were honored. We also instructed to get advice when we make plans (Proverbs 15:22). Ultimately the Bible teaches us to devote our plans to Him, but also rely upon Him to fulfill our plans. This is the meaning of “commit” in Proverbs 16:3 (Commit your work to The Lord, and your plans will be established). The Bible encourages making plans that rest upon the soveriegnty of God. But our hope is not in our plans, and not just in God’s soveriegnty. Our hope is in his good soveriegnty. God rules over all things, is good himself, and even works good for us. Jeremiah 29:11 reads, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Be encouraged, God has plans for your good!

Praying and thinking through 2014 is a thrilling exercise for me. This past Fall we have gathered a faithful group of friends to help us launch Redeemer Church in 2014. We have served together, deepened friendships, and studied the hallmarks of Jesus’ life and ministry. Each week new people joined our group and we ended up with twice the people we thought we would have at this point.

During the Spring of 2014 we will take our second step. In January and February we will hold some fun events, devote a week to prayer, hold a planning week, do a practice worship service, then launch a Sunday evening gathering on February 9th. The goal of these gatherings is to lay out the details of our vision for Redeemer Church. We won’t abandon our focus to be out in the community though. We already have two service projects planned for the Spring.

We have been seeking the wisdom of others. We have gauged our own hearts. We are encouraged knowing that Jesus loves Denton and Redeemer Church more than we ever could. We are seeking to devote our plans to Jesus and rest upon Him to “Grow us into a Church.”

Happy New Year

Micah

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