Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Do Mission and Church Belong Together?

Reading: 2 Corinthians 10
Are the church and mission antagonistic toward one another? Is church life inconsistent with accomplishing mission? Paul's idea of mission was not, “mission at the expense of the church,” or, “mission in lieu of the church.” Rather, it seems to have been, “mission in concert with the church.”
Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand, 16so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. (2 Corinthians 10:15-16)
Paul understood that you can't export what you aren't producing. So when Paul wants to see Gospel activity expanding in the regions near and around the Corinthians, he works toward the strengthening of their faith. He knew that if they grew in Christ, they would become a model for the regions around them, a platform from which he could preach the Gospel.
When Paul went into regions, it appears, the example of how the churches of that region lived out the Gospel became foundational to what Paul was proclaiming. Therefore Paul wasn't quick to move on, but labored to build solid foundations wherever he went.
This kind of thinking guided Paul's view of activity with the church. Hence Paul would labor to build strong churches and then export that model to other places as he worked the regions around. As a result, Paul didn't see the work of building the church and the work of mission in tension with each other—one pulling against the other. Rather this kind of model birthed in Paul a real passion to build into the church as a means of accomplishing mission.
This is definitely a more consistent missiology. Since the goal of mission is the conversion of souls and therefore the planting of a local church, it is inconsistent to view the work of building the church in tension with mission. We can see Paul express his passion for building this local church again in 2 Corinthians 13:4, 9:
For to be sure, [Christ] was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God's power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God's power we will live with him to serve you.... 9We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection.
Paul was glad to invest everything into the church which God had entrusted to his care because that church would be a platform for more Gospel proclamation. In fact, when the NIV says Paul prayed for their perfection, he uses the same base word that he uses when writing the Ephesians about the purpose of ministry to the church.
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Ephesians 4:11, 12
Paul's prayer was for the church at Corinth's full preparation, complete equipping. This base word is also used in the Gospels in a way that I think provides a great illustration of this.
Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets.(Matthew 4:21)
Other translations say, “mending their nets.” Both are good. But the picture is clear: These fishermen didn't see their nets as a hindrance to catching fish, but as a means of catching fish. So they didn't neglect their nets in order to catch fish, they mended, or prepared their nets in order to catch fish.
It is to these kind of fishermen that Jesus says, “Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." (Matthew 4:19) As I shared a couple Sundays ago, they didn't envision standing on the shore, or in a boat, casting out a single line by themselves, catching a fish. Rather they envisioned casting a net.
Paul apparently saw that net, if you will, as the church. He wanted to catch many fish, so he didn't neglect the church but prayed and labored toward their complete preparation or mending. He prayed and labored that they would be built up and strengthened in faith. And he knew a strong, well prepared net would catch a lot more fish than if he just went around throwing in his single line.
God has called each of us to be involved in fishing for men, but he has called us to do it as a part of a net, a local church which is striving to live out the Gospel. In turn a Gospel living church will become a platform for effective Gospel proclamation.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Friday, December 5, 2008

Gospel Community in the Church

Reading: Colossians 3   

What picture does the New Testament paint of life in the community of God's people? I don't think we can overstate the value of Colossians 3 in forming in our churches the kind of community Christ has called us to. One of the keys sources of the life this chapter describes is described as:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
Here is the picture: the people of God instructing and admonishing one another with all wisdom and doing so in the context of lives filled with worship and gratitude.
This is really a glorious picture. This is body life. This is body ministry. Not absent of leadership as is sadly often what is falsely taught as body ministry, but growing from the example of servant leadership. This is community life. This is “accountability”. But how do we arrive at it? It is certainly not automatic. This is intended to produce the kind of life described in Colossians 3:5-14.
This happens when the word of Christ is dwelling in us richly. That being the case, it is important that we understand what this means. What does it mean for the word of Christ to dwell in us richly?
First, what is meant by the word of Christ? For years I have just assumed what appeared to be the obvious meaning without thinking about it. However, there are two possible meanings to that phrase: 1) the word of Christ as in the words which He taught; and 2) the word about Christ, or the word which extols the person of Christ. The first meaning would be saying, “Let the words of Jesus, the words which He taught dwell in you richly.” And certainly this would be good, and would be included in the second meaning. However, if the second meaning is intended, the first is not as instructive to us in how to reach the glorious goal described in the text.
The second meaning would be saying, “Let the word about Jesus, the accounts of His person, the Story of His Life, including what He taught, and accomplishment dwell in you richly.” This one is centered on the person of Christ, not merely the instruction or information He brings. So the big question is, “Which one did Paul intend?”
I believe we find the intended meaning by first looking at an earlier verse in Colossians that corresponds to this one.
27To them [the saints] God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. (Colossians 1:27-29)
I emphasized the particular phrases which show correspondence to Colossians 3:16. Paul describes the hope of glory, the goal of the Gospel as Christ being formed in His people, as Christ living in and through His people. That is a glorious goal: the church functionally living as the body of Christ. This is magnificent. And how did Paul spend his time and energy laboring toward that goal? He proclaimed the person of Jesus Christ, and through that message he was admonishing and teaching with all wisdom.
So when Paul tells the church, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom,” Paul is instructing us to do the same: Let that proclamation about Christ, the Person, dwell in you richly. Contemplate Him, think about Him, dwell on Him. Read of His life, dwell on His miracles, talk amongst yourselves about the Person Jesus Christ and His humbling self-sacrifice in the Gospel, bearing our humanity, His perfect life lived vicariously for us, His bearing our sin, bearing our punishment, and, as you are doing so, with this, teach and instruct one another in how to live. Warn one another, counsel one another. And from this will grow a community life of worship and thanksgiving. It is helpful to remember that when the apostles preached the Gospel, they were essentially preaching what we have as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—the accounts of Christ. And through the Person of Christ they were proclaiming the work of redemption.
What is dwelling in us richly? Is it a consuming passion for the Person Jesus Christ? What is the first thing to occupy your conversations? What is the first thing to occupy your free time? Are you talking about Jesus Christ? When you are your instructions and encouragements one to another will be filled with wisdom!
Let's grow together in our passion for the Savior, only then we will grow together in our experience of the community life which God intended for us.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Thursday, December 4, 2008

What Happened When David Forgot to Draw Lines?

Reading: 2 Samuel 13 & 14   
David forgot to draw lines from the Gospel to his own family, and his family suffered greatly for it. We must learn this lesson from his error, for our own families. David's son Amnon lusted after his half-sister Tamar, “the beautiful sister of Absalom, son of David.” Amnon, on advice from his friend and cousin Jonadab, arranges a fake illness in order to lure Tamar into his house to make him bread, and proceeds to rape Tamar. “Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her.” (2 Samuel 13:1-15) In response to this event, Absalom arranges to kill Amnon, and then flees to another town where he lives for three years away from the king.  (2 Samuel 13:22-29)
After 3 years, Joab, David's general, coordinates a scene in which a woman tells David a long story about how one of her two sons killed the other and now everyone wants to kill her son which will leave her without an heir. David promises to intervene to save her son at which time the woman reveals her real purpose:
The woman said, "Why then have you devised a thing like this against the people of God? When the king says this, does he not convict himself, for the king has not brought back his banished son? 14Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him. (2 Samuel 14:13-14)
Verse 14 reveals that David forgot to draw lines from the Gospel as he knew it, to his own life and relationship with his son.1 You see, in 2 Samuel 11–12, we have the story of David and Bathsheba. In that story David commits adultery and then kills Uriah the Hittite in order to cover it up.
How does God treat this lying, murdering adulterer? He sends Nathan the prophet to rebuke him in order to bring him to repentance so that his relationship with God will be restored. David though initially blind to his wickedness, is brought to repentance by God's grace and before the chapter ends we see that he is both worshiping God and experiencing great victories in battle again (2 Samuel 12:20, 29-30).
God did not take David's life (2 Samuel 12:13), but God devised a way to bring David who was banished from relationship with God through his treacherous sins back into relationship with Himself. God reconciled David to Himself, but David had not gone after Absalom in the same way God had gone after David.
So God orchestrated one more reconciliation between Himself and David reminding David how God had acted toward him. God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.” (2 Samuel 14:14) In effect he is saying, “David, go live this: draw a line between how God has acted toward you, and you go live that same way toward your estranged son Absalom.”
As we have been talking about in our Sunday preaching series in 1 John, David is being told to love the Story and live the Story. The Story is defined as the story of God's love toward us in the Gospel. Unfortunately David never really quite connected the lines between the Story of God's reconciling love to him and the life he lived toward Absalom. And the consequences were grave. No doubt this is a warning for us. It is not optional for us to love the Story, while we fail live the Story toward others.
Maybe you are estranged to God right now. Maybe you are living with sins, known or secret, which have kept you in a banished relationship toward God. God may be using this very reminder that He is not counting your sins against you, and has reconciled you to Himself through Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:18-21) Now, having been reconciled to God, all of us need to make certain we are living out this reconciling grace toward others.
What relationships in your life remain estranged? What relationships do you need to apply the reconciling Story of God's redeeming grace to? Make haste, do not delay: Live the Story.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1This references an illustration I have used many times on Sunday mornings at Gulf Coast Community Church. Just like the tests in school in which we had terms on the left and definitions on the right, and we had to draw a line and match the terms, so, there ought to be a connection between the Gospel and our lives. If the Gospel is on the left (the terms), and our lives are on the right (the definitions), can we draw a line and match? If not, the grace of God toward us has not been extended through us toward others. We must make adjustments.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Let Your Kingdom Come

Reading: Exodus 21-24   
This morning my Bible reading led me into that often perceived wilderness section of laws for the Hebrew society—laws regarding how to treat a servant, how to deal with personal injuries (liability), various ways theft can occur and how to deal with it, a laundry list of social issues from a man's responsibility toward a virgin he seduces, deviant sexual behavior, treatment of foreigners, widows and orphans and so forth. Now I realize that for many of us this is fly over country—those portions of scripture which we jump into autopilot and read kind of mindlessly hoping merely to get them done, and not expecting to find anything particularly useful from them. I too have to fight that temptation.
However, as I read this section this morning, I was given grace to see them in a different light. As I read this section this morning, I was first struck by the obvious effectiveness of this law over the complex and often convoluted laws by which our society is governed today.
The Effectiveness of God's Law
In our day, if someone steals, then the honest people of society support them for a few months to several years (depending on the situation), and then they get out Scot-free. I have twice had my home broken into, twice had things of value stolen, twice the police have caught the perpetrator, twice had courts order restitution as a stipulation prior to release, and never have I received a penny of that restitution. I'm not sure exactly what happens between the sentencing and the release to change it all, but our penal system is not oriented in the same way God's system is oriented. In God's system, the thief will have to work hard, not get free room and board, because the thief who steals a sheep now has to pay back four sheep. In addition to the victim being compensated, the thief has learned how to get sheep when he needs them: work! If he can earn four sheep, he can certainly earn one. And if I have to earn four sheep every time I steal one, it shouldn't take long for me to figure out not to steal.
While admittedly dealing with issues that can seem mismatched with our own such as mistreatment of slaves, God's system was oriented toward the victim, brought about justice, and would be far more effective in reform than the system we live under. It also taught us the practical application of love your enemies when it says, 4If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. 5If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.” (Exodus 23:4-5) As good as it is, I don't think the purpose of this section for the believer today is to strive to set up this form of government on earth. (However, for those involved in the legal process it ought to provide a model toward which to reform our own system.)
Godly Dissatisfaction
The second thing I was struck by as I read this section this morning is what I believe to be a godly dissatisfaction with earthly governments. This dissatisfaction is accompanied by a heart cry, “Our Father in heaven, let your kingdom come.” Oh how good it will be to live under our Father's rule. We were not made to be fully satisfied in earthly kingdoms. The political process was never intended to bring about heaven on earth. The United States, as much as I love it (it is the best men have come up with in all of history), is not the Kingdom of God, nor can it ever be. As believers we should be involved actively as salt and light in this nation, but we should do so as if not engrossed in it. (1 Corinthians 7:29-31) We should always be longing for God's kingdom to come.
While a reading of God's law through Moses reveals God's justice clearly, it should also be understood that Israel never really lived under this. Well, not for more than very brief periods of time. This side of heaven, God's kingdom has never fully come. Except once.
God's Kingdom Fully Come
And this is the third thing which struck me this morning as I contemplated how this section of Scripture applies to us today. There is one time when God's kingdom fully came: when the rule of God had full sway in the affairs of man. That one time was in the man Christ Jesus. Jesus Christ did nothing outside the will of His Father. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law. If ever you want to see how we would live if we lived fully under God's kingdom look at Jesus.
In fact, as believers, this reminds us why we are not called to live under the shadow law (Moses' law), but rather we are to live under the reality law: Christ (Colossians 2:17). “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11) The hope of glory for the Christian is not a world full of people living under the Mosaic law. The hope of glory for the Christian is Christ formed in us! (Colossians 1:27) When Christ is formed in us, the law will be fulfilled. When we are clothed with Christ, we will have put on “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” We will “bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances [we] may have against one another.” We will “forgive as the Lord forgave [us].” (Colossians 3:12-13)
So as we go about our days, let us not strive to set up an earthly kingdom ruled by God's law externally (some form of theocracy). Rather, let's strive to have Christ rule and reign in our hearts, Christ being formed in us, so that “whatever you do, whether in word or deed,” we can “do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17) And, let our hearts cry, “May Your Kingdom come, may your will be done, in earth as it is in heaven.”
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,