Bible, Devotional Reading, Gospel Spirituality, Missional Living

Bring Hope to Your Hopeless City

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. (Matthew 5:14)

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Ronald Reagan described America as a city on a hill because it is the hope of immigrants from for a better life. Do you remember the second Godfather film? There is a great scene after young Vito Corleone flees Italy. He comes through Ellis Island yet must be quarantined due to an illness. His little hospital room faces the Statue of Liberty. The sick little boy sits in his room looking at Lady Liberty and begins to sing a hopeful little Italian tune. Even in his sickness he was hopeful that America would provide him a better life. Lady Liberty was lighting the way!

 

A city on a hill is distinct from those below it. Further, its height communicates superiority in some way. The city above is better than the city below. But, how does the city above relate to the city below? The city above is a hopeful symbol to those below by beckoning them to something superior. Jesus is saying the city on a hill is a symbol of hope. The Statue of Liberty is about hope. Likewise, the church is to be a symbol of hope to the hopeless around us.

 

Our marriages don’t have to be perfect, but they should provide hope for the marriages around us. Our parenting doesn’t have to be perfect, but we should be able to give hopeful advice about how to do it according to the Bible. As employees we should provide a hopeful way forward by being more ethical and Christ-like than others in our office. Christians and the Church are to be symbols of hope for a hopeless world.

 

The gospel is the key to this hope. The gospel is how marriages parents and employees become symbols of hope. Couples dads and middle-managers should strive toward clean righteous living. They should carry out their duties with excellence and transparency and grace. Living according to the Law is a blessing and gives others hope. However, husbands mommies and clerks are all going to blow it. Yet, the good news of the gospel is that God forgives and restores bad husbands lazy parents and dishonest salesmen. As we transparently confess our sins to God we are also able to openly acknowledge our failings to others. We can walk in this freedom because God is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Living according to the gospel, especially when we fail, gives hope to those around us. Living according to the gospel enables us to be a city set on a hill! Neither unattainable perfection nor phony religion is going to bring hope to our city. Rather, walking in the light when we blow it highlights our hope on the gospel. Walking in the gospel is how we bring hope to our city.

 

Is there a part of your life you are keeping in the dark? Is there a failing that you are refusing to confess to the Lord or others? Have you blown it and now want to quit due to the condemnation you feel? Believe the gospel to the degree of bringing sin to the light. Bring hope to those around you by radically believing the gospel…especially when you fail!

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Bible, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus, Missional Living

Using the Gospel, Preserve Your Decaying City

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matthew 5:13)

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We need to begin by pointing out that Jesus says  ”you” are the salt! Jesus is our hope and the truth, but individual Christians, as well as the institution of the Church, have missionary calls.

But, what does salt represent? There is a debate about the meaning of salt and Christians have interpreted the meaning differently. First, some say that salt brings a satisfying taste to bland food; thus, Christians are to bring taste to the world. Second, some have lumped all the interpretations together and tried to interpret a broad category. All the interpretations benefit the world in some way therefore they simply interpret this image to mean Christians are simply to benefit the world…sort of like the United Way. These interpretations could be right, but we can only be sure about one usage of salt in Jesus’ day. Salt was used to preserve decaying food. The heart of this illustration is Christians are to be a preserving force in their decaying city.

But this preserving salt metaphor means something regarding the nature of Christians as well as the nature of the city. The biblical view of the world is that it is decaying. This does not mean it is decaying as fast as it possibly can or that every aspect of our world is constantly decaying. However, the general and basic trajectory of our world is one of decay. It also means that the Church, individual Christians as well as the institution, are to be the preserving element for this decay.  You and I are called to fix this problem! You and I are the medicine for this disease!

But, what does losing saltiness represent? Some have tried to say losing your saltiness and being trampled upon means that you lose your salvation. We did not earn our salvation…Jesus did. Thus, so we can not lose our salvation and this can not be the meaning. We can not lose our salvation, but we can lose our missionary effectiveness and become useless missionaries. Salt really can not lose its saltiness but it can lose its taste or effectiveness if it is mixed with too much other stuff. If you mix in a bunch of sand into a bowl of salt, it is going to become useless to prevent the decay in the meat. Here is what this means for us; we can love the world in the flesh and be like the world rather than distinct from it, thus losing our missionary effectiveness. You can mix so much of the world into your life that the distinctiveness of the salt loses its effectiveness. If we lose our distinction we lose our purpose. If the salt gets diluted, the mission is lost. We are to be missionaries, not monks, striving to preserve our decaying world.

What area of your life is getting diluted? What worldliness do you need to repent of today? Pray that God would take you out of the monastery and use you as a missionary today!

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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.

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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 Planting, Gospel Spirituality, Missional Living

GO and TELL…Digitally

GO and TELL frames the mission for each and every believer in Christ.

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If you are a follower of Jesus then you have the mandate to GO to the nations. Matthew 28:19-20 provides the mandate to GO. Each and everyone one of us are to figure out ways to GO to “all nations.” We are certainly to send missionaries through the tithes and offerings that funnel through our local churches. But, how does the average busy suburbanite Mommy and Daddy fulfill the GO mandate?

Further, when we go, then what?! Showing up might be the first step but what did Jesus tell his disciples to do once they went? Believers in Jesus are to TELL people about Jesus’ gospel of grace. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus told his followers to teach others. Specifically they were to teach others to follow everything he called them to follow. Missionaries TELL others about Jesus and his ways. Again, I recognize that we enable people to do this through the tithes and offerings of our local churches.  But again, how does the average busy suburbanite Mommy and Daddy fulfill the TELL mandate?

First, in our zeal for “all nations” we need to remember that our own nation is included. I live in a state and a city facing declines in the percentage of the population that claim faith in Christ. Much of this is due to our healthy economy (yay Texas) and thus the large numbers of people who move here for work. I don’t believe these numbers are necessarily an indictment on the local church, but rather a warning bell that our work is not done. Here is my point, your neighborhood is a mission field and your neighbors need you to GO and TELL.

Utilizing social media is a great way to participate in our missionary mandate. Let me put my cards on the table, I feel a constant tug to slip into my hobbit-hole and not engage others. I also roll my eyes at social media, even as I post images of my own kids. However, suburbanite Mommy and Daddy, take advantage of social media as a simple way to GO and TELL.

I am not encouraging you to be the obnoxious power-poster who throws up ten tweets a day…don’t wear people out! I am also not encouraging you to be the weird hyper-spiritual guy who only talks Christian-ease…be a real person! Also, hear me, I DO want to see pics of your kids (they really are cute), and I agree that they are probably the next Dirk Nowitzki.

All I am saying to the busy suburbanite Mommy and Daddy is also make room to be a social media missionary. When a verse impacts you..post it. When an article is helpful…share it. When your church is gathering people for something…help get the word out. In this digital age love your friends by being a social media missionary.

 

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