Growth, Health & ‘The Gospel’

Here at Gateway Community Church we’ve been listening to God’s call to make and grow disciples, to have a healthy church, to ensure our structures work best for these ends. We have a long way to go, but there are a few things we want to start doing. The next few posts will outline what some of them are.

Our first priority is this: we want have clarity and unity in ‘the Gospel’.

This is not always straightforward. R C Sproul has written about some of the distortions and over simplifications of ‘the Gospel’ here. For some, ‘the Gospel’ amounts to jargon: ‘we’re here for the Gospel’, ‘this is a Gospel church’, ‘what matters is the Gospel’, ‘nothing but the Gospel’, ‘I love Gospel music’ – all well and good, but what do you actually mean by ‘the Gospel’?

Amongst the people of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia, ‘the Gospel’ is commonly a set of orthodox truths about Jesus, for example:

  • Jesus is the eternal Son, only begotten of the Father
  • he became a man, born to Mary
  • he lived a sinless life, suffered and was put to death on the Cross
  • his death bore the sin and punishment his people deserved
  • he rose from the dead, winning their rescue, restoring them to life, and reconciling them to the Father
  • he ascended to heaven, and now sits in the most powerful place in the universe
  • he will return to judge all humanity and to recreate the universe which now, rightly, belongs to him

These truths are crucial: If I fudge on one aspect, I don’t have the full picture of who Jesus is. This is why good theology matters: it helps me think clearly about who God is, what he has done in Jesus, and why it all matters. I believe the statements above are objective realities, absolute certainties. They remain true whether I believe them or not. In this sense, the Gospel simply is.

Even so, when at Gateway said ‘we want to have clarity in the Gospel’ we were, however, talking about more than agreeing to a raft of objective truths. This because it is possible to accept those truths but still not live under them. Think of it this way, I believe Capt. James Cook sailed Endeavour into Botany Bay in 1770. I can study the accounts of his voyage, read his diaries, and get some sense of the man. But when I roll out of bed in the morning, James Cook is not going to make a difference to how I live. Why? Because acceptance of historical truths is not necessarily life changing.

The Gospel is considerably more than a happy announcement of forgiveness to a lost sinner.

So, how is ‘the Gospel’ more than a statement of objective truth? How is the Gospel the transformational good news? In this sense: The Gospel is the person of Jesus and everything he has come to do. John Piper opens this reality beautifully in his 2005 ‘God is the Gospel‘. I would just change Piper’s title to make it read ‘Jesus is the Gospel’. I say this because ‘accepting the Gospel’ is more than agreeing with a set of truths: accepting the Gospel is accepting Jesus, bowing the knee to him, naming him as my Lord, my Leader, my Rescuer, the Redeemer and ultimate Restorer of my world and this universe.

We want to be clear about this: The Gospel is considerably more than a happy announcement of forgiveness to a lost sinner. It is that, for sure, but the Gospel announces Jesus’ restoration, his new creation, his Kingdom coming to expression in our here and now. It proclaims the inexhaustible hope that Jesus is reconciling all things to the Father. Can we find a more earth shattering, life changing, heart transforming statement of the Gospel than what we read in Colossians 1? …

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19–20, NIV)

We want Gateway to understand this glorious Gospel. We want this reality to be the ground for our unity. We want this Jesus to be the focus of our ministry and mission. This Gospel, Jesus Himself, has staggering implications for how we live and behave, for how we engage our community and our world. Perhaps the most humbling reality of all is the wonder that through Jesus we now get to bring new his creation to expression (see 2 Cor 5:17-21).

As leaders we are convinced that the more unity we have in this very big picture, the more we will all pull in the same direction, and the more glory will be given to Christ our King.

The Call to Growth: Business Method or God’s Desire?

Is the call growth a selling out to secular business method?

When discussions revolve around encouraging growth in Christians, or setting goals around church health, or setting any goals at all, some people will suggest the bible has been exchanged for the methods of Harvard Business School. I have never been convinced by those criticisms.

Leadership writer Ken Blanchard become a follower of Jesus following a career as a top level management expert. Blanchard’s The One Minute Manager has sold over 13 million copies since its release in 1982. The interesting thing is that after Blanchard become a Christian, he was surprised to find many of the basic principles he had written about were found in the Scriptures. That doesn’t mean the bible is a textbook on management or leadership. It probably just means that there is not much new under the sun. It might also mean that thinking about leadership and goal setting is not a bad thing after all. 

In reality, Scripture calls us to growth, and to be purposeful about it. On the night before he went to the Cross, Jesus had this prayer for his followers: 

Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them. (John 17:25–26, NIV)

Did you know that? Even Jesus prayed that the love between the Father and himself would be fully expressed in his people. No doubt, Jesus’ heavenly prayer ministry (see Heb 7:25) also focuses on drawing us deeper into his life and likeness. It is hard to imagine Jesus’ prayers not flowing out of his divine desire to save us completely. 

In Paul’s writings, however, our understanding of the purposeful nature of God moves to an entirely different level. In almost every letter Paul wrote he expresses his desire for people to grow, and keep growing. Christians believe the Scriptures are more than Paul’s words. They are God-breathed, so when we hear Paul speaking, we hear God speaking. So Paul’s prayers reveal the heart of God for his people.

Here are some examples:

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (Ephesians 1:17, NIV) 

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious richese he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Eph 3:14-19)

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight… (Philippians 1:9, NIV) 

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12, NIV) 

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,… (Colossians 1:9–10, NIV) 

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. (Colossians 1:28–29, NIV)

The big question is whether the things that matter to God matter to us

See how these prayers reveal Paul’s strategy? His deepest desire was for Christians to grow to maturity. He agonised over the growth of the churches he pastored. This was not just because he was a passionate apostle. It was because the Spirit of Jesus drove his heart and mind into the very heart of God for the the church. 

It mattered to Paul that churches would grow. It mattered to Jesus that he would be fully revealed in his followers. It matters to God that Jesus’ followers grew to full maturity in his Son. The big question is whether the things that matter to God matter to us. If God is purposeful about his work in us, we better be purposeful in the work we do for him. 

The more we reflect Christ’s purposes and the more churches move toward the kind of maturity Jesus desires for them, the more healthy this churches will be. They will be places of grace, love, forgiveness, joy, restored community, deepening relationships, and loving, compassionate, transformational mission. 

A powerful, motivating, stimulating vision isn’t it?

I love Jesus, but do I have to be radical?

My opening post reminded us that growth is natural and normal. It also openened up the thought that health is desirable. Whether we are talking about growing vegetables, human beings, organisations, or the church – it is a normal expectation to want them to be healthy.

As we worked through these concepts at Gateway, we began to think that God actually wants us to be radical followers of Jesus. But we knew the word using ‘radical’ would be a little risky. We hear how people become extremists by being taken in by a militant leader and radicalised over a period of time. Normally, the consequences of such actions are terrible.

At other times, when we hear the word ‘radical’ we think of those rent-a-crowd protesters we see on TV. People who don’t wash their hair, don’t eat meat, and don’t use deodorant. A caricature, I know, but you get the drift.

‘Radical’ may have some negative overtones in our culture, so we need to understand the word well. To be ‘radical’ is to go right to the core, right to the heart, right to the root. So, when we’re talking about being ‘radical disciples’ we’re talking about people who not only accept the teaching of their Master Jesus, who not only accept Jesus at an intellectual level. We are really talking about people who take his transforming grace right to the core of their lives, right to the heart of their values, right to the root of everything they seek to do and to become. To be a ‘radical disciple’ is to be as totally transformed by the grace of the Gospel as we possibly can be.

when we’re talking about being ‘radical disciples’ we’re talking about people who take his transforming grace right to the core of their lives

If this is what being a radical disciple is, then it is hard to imagine anything better than everyone being exactly that: a radical follower of Jesus.

Here’s the challenge: the call to be radical disciples pushes us away form some of the negative expressions of the church and Christians today.

Radical disciples are not people who keep their Christianity for Sunday, and who forget about Jesus’ claim on their lives as leave their palace of worship.

Radical disciples are not people who have an occasional thought about Jesus, or who restrict their ‘time with Jesus’ to 10 or 20 minutes every day. They don’t divide their time into ‘time for God’ and whatever the rest is: time without God? Who knows.

They are not people who worship every now and then. They don’t just put in an appearance at weekly gatherings, or who tilt at doing a ‘church job’ every now and then.

Here’s what radical disciples are: They want their entire life, everything they do, everything they think, to be an expression of the new life they have received in Jesus.

Every hour of every day they want to breathe the new heavens and the new earth, to be living, walking, talking, loving expressions of life the way God created it to be.

Radical disciples live in the profound privilege of bringing Jesus’ new creation to expression.

More and more they live and breathe this desire to honour God in everything: their family, their work, their sex life, their relationships, their leisure choices, their spending habits. Everything.

Radical disciples display something similar to my overzealous gardening habits: they check themselves out regularly to see whether they are growing. They know that growth is normal, growth is natural, and health is desirable.

Q: Do you think the call to be radical is helpful? Do you think we can make it a positive value in today’s cultural climate?

Next: Is the focus on growth something God calls us to in His word?

God and Treasure

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We hear a lot today about nations operating in the national interest. Sometimes, hopefully often, that is a good thing. Like keeping people safe and protecting them from aggression. There are times though, when ‘national interest’ is code for naked national self-centredness.

The book of Exodus was written after God delivered his people from a superpower which, to put it bluntly, was just operating in the national interest.

Ancient Egypt was a mighty nation, dominating the world stage at the time. And Pharaoh was using the people of Israel as cheap labour – the cheapest, actually, because they were slaves and had no choice in the matter.

So God’s people cried out. And the Lord heard their cry.

Pharaoh, however, ignored it. He made the people of Israel work even harder. Worked them to death.

Why?

Because Pharaoh valued production above people. Pharaoh would have fitted comfortably into some of today’s developing world labour markets. Places where the dollar matters most, where questions are never asked about the actual human cost of the item or the project.

Into this kind of ugliness came the Lord of life: Yahweh the Rescuer, the Saviour.

“The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey — the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.” (Exodus 3:7–9, NIV)

The Lord hates it when any people are oppressed. Even more so when they are his people. So he led them out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. He led them across the Red Sea on dry ground. The Lord did this because of his covenant with Israel. He had promised to bless them, and make them a blessing. He had promised to make their descendants as numerous as they stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. God’s promises matter. He never goes back on his word.

So now, with the Red Sea sand still stuck between their toes, as they camped on the border, ready to enter the land of promise, God renewed his covenant with them:

“‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”” (Exodus 19:4–6, NIV)

These verses show the kind of nation Israel was to be:

First, in contrast to Egypt, and other nations, Israel was not to be a nation driven by seeking treasure. They would find their comfort in being treasure. Yahweh’s treasure! They would not need to find their security or significance in things because Yahweh was their security. The fact that they were loved and saved and rescued by him was their significance.

Second, Yahweh called Israel to be a kingdom of priests. It sounds like an odd thing for a country to be. How can a nation have a priestly function?

Well, we know that a priest is someone who represents others in a religious context. A mediator. A go between.

So, Israel was to represent the nations to the Lord. They were to bring the needs of the nations around them to his throne of grace. In times of famine they were to pray. They were to act compassionately in times of disaster. They were to ask the Lord to be merciful and gracious to all the peoples around them.

But it wasn’t just bringing the nation’s needs to the Lord. They were also to bring the Lord and his will to the nations. They would proclaim the truth of God and invite other nations to accept him in faith and live under his covenant. As priests, then, they spoke on the nation’s behalf to God, and on God’s behalf to the nations.

Third, they were to be a holy nation. We tend to think holiness has to do with religious acts and places. In the Old Testament, holiness is not first and foremost religious acts and things. Holiness is a personal quality. To be holy is to be separate, to be distinct, to be set aside for a particular purpose.

So, thinking that through, how would this nation show their holiness? The answer is that they would reflecting the character of the Lord in their national and personal lives. This would happen as they followed the Lord’s commands as a nation and as individuals:

1. worship only God
2. worship no idols
3. use God’s name only with reverence
4. remember the Sabbath day, allowing for rest and worship
5. Honour your father and your mother
6. You shall not murder
7. You shall not commit adultery
8. You shall not steal
9. You shall give false testimony or lie
10. You shall not covet what belongs to others

As God’s people did this, they would be displaying a life and values radically different from Egypt and every other nation on earth.

 

…a life and values radically different from every other nation on earth … this transformed life is one of the ways they would be a blessing

 

What was their motivation? Well, they did not obey in order to be loved and rescued. Yahweh already loved them and rescued them. They were already his special possession. The answer is that their obedience was all about gratitude and thanksgiving. It was not a requirement to earn love, but a response to the love the Lord had freely given. This changed and transformed life would be one of the ways they would be a blessing to the nations around them.

It was as if the Lord was saying, you have come out of a nation where people treasured wealth and power more than people…

You will not live for treasure or possessions. You will live because you are my treasured possession.

You are a Kingdom of priests: you will bring the nations needs to me, and you will bring my will to the nations.

You will be a holy nation. You will separate yourself from all the dehumanising values of oppression that you saw in Egypt. You will be different, distinct, to all that.

This call presented Israel with their identity. They would be totally unique as compared with all the nations around them. The Lord’s work in them was to be a total reorientation of life. A radical alteration how they were to engage the world around them.

This call was to shape the national ethos of God’s people. In my next post I’ll pose the question of how that is relevant tot God’s people today.

– Dave

Upon a Hill

Three men shared death upon a hill,
But only one man dies;
The other two—
A thief and God himself—
Made rendezvous.

Three crosses still
Are borne up Calvary’s Hill,
Where Sin still lifts them high:
Upon the one, sag broken men
Who, cursing, die;
Another upholds the praying thief,
Or those who penitent as he,
Shall find the Christ
Beside them on the tree

“Upon A Hill”, Miriam LeFevre Crouse

This Is What Forgiveness Looks Like

On May 20, 2012, 18 year-old Takunda Mavima was driving home drunk from a party when he lost control and crashed his car into an off-ramp near Grand Rapids, Michigan. Riding in the car were 17 year-old, Tim See, and 15 year-old, Krysta Howell. Both were killed in the accident.

Takunda Mavima lived.

Mavima pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to between 30 months and 15 years in prison.

Despite their unimaginable grief and anger, both the sister and the father of victim, Tim See, gave a moving address to the court on behalf of Mavima, urging the judge to give him a light sentence.

“I am begging you to let Takunda Mavima make something of himself in the real world — don’t send him to prison and get hard and bitter, that boy has learned his lesson a thousand times over and he’ll never make the same mistake again.”

And when the hearing ended, the victim’s family made their way across the courtroom to embrace, console, and publicly forgive Mavima.

Make sure this image sticks with you forever:

Hug
Photo Credit, Chris Clark, Grand Rapids Press.

There will be a time in your life when someone will wrong you. God forbid they take the life of your child. But it will happen. And what matters most isn’t how it happened, but how you respond to it.

And if you’re a person of faith, the calling is even greater. The gospel of forgiveness isn’t a high calling for the heroic individual, or a counter-cultural description of heavenly perfection. It is a principle central to the gospel itself – the very heart of our faith in which we are called to embody.

In the swelling sea of human destruction, the little story of Takunda Mavima and a family from Michigan is a lighthouse on a hill, a beacon of hope, guiding the way for all our ships to pass through.

Right now, how can you prepare yourself with a clear plan of action to forgive in the darkest of times?

This post was written by @JustinZoradi and is used with permission. It first appeared on Justin’s blog, and later on Don Miller’s Storyline

Justin

Time Heals All Wounds …right?

You’ve probably heard it, and maybe you’ve even said it: “time heals all wounds”. Plenty of people have said it to me over the last couple of years. I guess they are saying that if you just leave something, the pain will eventually subside. Soldier on. Life goes on. People move on. Or whatever.

Maybe Lennon and McCartney were right. Sometimes, the best way to deal with a tough situation is to just let it be. Sometimes some of the hurts we carry just need to be left. It’s best for us. It’s best for others. In reality, there are some things that come our way that are not worth responding to. Laugh them off. Let ’em go through to the keeper. Forget about it.

I heard once about a conference speaker who had people throw balls to them while they were speaking. That was interesting enough. But what really caught my attention was that the speaker did nothing to catch the balls. They just bounced off, and rolled along the stage, out of sight. From from time to time, though, the speaker did catch one of the balls, and then used that occasion to speak specifically about a situation that had troubled them or hurt them. Meanwhile, other balls were thrown, and they continued to bounce off, and roll across the floor.

when things are thrown at you sometimes the best thing to do is to let it go

The speaker was making the point that she did not have to respond to everything that was thrown at her, and that she was quite intentional about what she would respond to, and when. Great lesson. And a reminder that when things are thrown at you sometimes the best thing to do is to let it go.

But there’s a part of “time heals all wounds” that bothers me, and which ultimately works against what God would have us do with our pain. While there are occasions where it’s best to let it go, there are other occasions where we should never let it go. A serious disagreement between two people? You should not let it go. A heated argument between a husband and wife? You should not just let it go. Growing resentment in a relationship? You should not just let that go.

Over the years there have been too many times when I have heard people say ‘time heals all wounds’ as an excuse not to do the very thing they needed to do. Then, ‘time heals all wounds’ was just a convenient and sometimes cowardly way to live in denial.

In a moment of anger a stressed husband makes a cutting remark to his wife, and she is hurt. The husband might think, “Well, I’ll just let it go. She’ll be OK in the morning, and she doesn’t understand the pressure I am under anyway.” The night passes, and in the morning he’s just pushing through but she’s still hurt. The wound is there, but time probably won’t heal it. If it’s left untreated, the natural reaction is resentment. To cover the hurt by not discussing work stress again. And so the dysfunction is multiplied. The wife is still hurt. The husband’s work stress remains a ‘no go’ area. In the end, it’s an area of the relationship which becomes closed. Have a few of them from time to time, and the relationship not only loses wonderful opportunities for growth, but it will start to wither in key areas.

Truth is, time only heals small wounds. Just leaving things alone, especially if they are big things, only increases the capacity for pain and dysfunction in the future. And it makes it easy to repeat the same mistakes down the track.

So, how can we tell the difference between an issue we can leave, and one which needs to be addressed? Is it possible to know which wounds time will not heal? That’s for next time…

Q: Does this resonate with you? Has the maxim ‘Time heals all wounds’ worked for you? Leave a comment to share your experience.