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The Unhurried and Unstoppable Mission of God

The Unhurried and Unstoppable Mission of God

For over two decades we have been committed in our church mission and organizational culture to narrow the Sunday to Monday gap so perilously prevalent in the American church. In the power of the Spirit and with biblical wisdom we have increasingly become a local church congregation with Monday in mind. As a church family we have never been more intentional or more committed to the primacy of vocational discipleship and vocational mission. Yet, I believe two of the most compelling realities for us to keep close to our hearts in narrowing the Sunday to Monday gap are gospel plausibility and proclamation, both of which are more important than ever in our increasingly secular age.

 

Seeing is Believing

The goodness of the gospel so often needs to be seen by others around us before it is truly heard from us. Taking the time to look back at church history reinforces this timeless truth. A particularly insightful church historian is scholar Alan Krieder. Like fellow early church historian Rodney Stark, the question of what enabled the early church to grow as it did against fierce cultural headwinds and formidable odds is one that captures their intellectual curiosity and disciplined research focus. In his excellent book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Krieder puts it this way; “Why did this minor mystery religion from the eastern Mediterranean—marginal, despised, discriminated against—grow substantially, eventually supplanting the well-endowed, respectable cults that were supported by the empire and aristocracy? What enabled Christianity to be so successful that by the fifth century it was the established religion of the empire?”

 Kreider answers this question by pointing to several factors we are wise to emulate. First, he describes what he calls habitus, that is, the very down-to-earth reflexive bodily behavior exhibited in the mysterious mundane of daily life where the early Christians lived, worked, and played. Kreider writes, “Their behavior said what they believed; it was an enactment of their message. And the sources indicate that it was their habitus more than their ideas that appealed to the majority of the non-Christians who came to join them.”  The early church theologian Cyprian summarizes Christian habitus as a non-compartmentalized, comprehensive, and distinct way of life. What we might describe as an integral and coherent life embraced not only on Sunday, but also lived on Monday. Cyprian wrote, “we do not speak great things, we live them.” It was the early Christians’ distinct lives forged and formed in a highly relational community that spoke volumes of plausibility to a curious and watching world. 

 

A Curious Lifestyle

Kreider points particularly to the virtue of patience. At first blush this may be a bit surprising, but the early Christians viewed God’s sovereign mission as “unhurried and unstoppable.” The result was they placed less emphasis on bold strategies and more emphasis on morally and virtuously distinct lifestyles that would be organically and relationally influential over time. The early Christians were known and at times scorned and ostracized for their sexual purity ethic, sanctity of life ethic–particularly for the unborn and newborn, their diligent work ethic, their sacrificial caring for the poor, and for a lifestyle of non-violence. 

 

Working Together

The gospel and its transformational influence was primarily spread in the context of the marketplace. Ordinary Christians, not clergy, were the missional key. Kreider notes, “Christians followed their business opportunities.” Pointing out the witness of Christians, Kreider notes that non-Christians observed distinct Christian differences in the marketplace. Non-Christians “experienced the way they (Christians) did business with them, the patient way the Christians operate their businesses.” Kreider summarized the profound impact of vocational discipleship and vocational mission. “What happened was this. Non-Christians and Christians worked together and lived near each other. They became friends.”

 

A Distinct Lifestyle

While the early church was far from perfect, their pluralistic cultural context is in many ways remarkably similar to our 21st century western world. There is much for us to learn from the remarkable legacy they left behind in shaping the Christian church. Kreider’s helpful insights on the early church’s long-term impact resonate deeply with our church for Monday strategic emphasis. It is our hope that vocational discipleship will bring increased spiritual formation and with it a distinct lifestyle and bold verbal witness to our local, national, and global marketplace. 

While we desire to employ our best creativity and strategic thinking moving forward, we are wise to remember the early church’s patient ferment, knowing that in redemptive history as it unfolds in front of our eyes, God’s mission is unhurried and unstoppable. With a tenacious trust, an unhurried pace, and a patient posture, may we not only speak great things, but also live them before a curious and watching world.

Horror and Sinai

Horror and Sinai

I jumped off the boat and into the lake, my skin grateful for the cool of the water. I floated, face up, and closed my eyes. The sun burned red through the lids. There was no gravity, no up or down, or east or west, and my thoughts sailed off in the light breeze. All my cares melted away like the clouds in the afternoon heat. 

Then it touched me. My body coiled and wrenched my mind back to earth. I kicked my legs,  swiveled my neck, eyes darting down into the darkness around me. Something icy, slick, and fast had slithered up my back. 

Try as I might, I could not see more than a few inches below the surface. I couldn’t see my own feet, straining up against gravity’s slow snare. A sick feeling bloomed in my stomach and oozed to my fingers and toes. A feeling of smallness. A sense of incomprehensibility. A dread for the shapeless and nameless things that might lay below. I swam hard for the boat. 

Later, I gave the feeling a name: horror. 

Some version of this horror has probably found you, too. It creeps up from the darkness of the deep water. It steals in through the telescope pointed out into the emptiness of space. It falls down on the head looking up from the feet of mountains. It’s not the horror of Jason in slasher movies like Halloween. It’s not the cheap thrill of The Exorcist. It’s not even the suffocating fear of human depravity like Rear Window or Psycho. It’s the horror of the unknown – or more precisely – the unknowable. 

H.P. Lovecraft made a living on this form of horror. You may or may not know the name, but you’ve probably felt his influence. He is widely known as the father of cosmic horror, a sub-genre that does not so much play to our fears of death or pain, but to more existential dreads about our place in the universe, our smallness in comparison, and the sheer incomprehensibility of it all.

It is an effective form of horror because it is so deeply rooted in the human experience. It is, in fact, a form of horror we encounter in the biblical story. When Moses and the people come to Mount Sinai in Exodus 19, Israel meets the living God like this:

 [16] On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. [17] Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. [18] Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. [19] And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. [20] The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. [21] And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the LORD to look and many of them perish.”

The sense of the story is terror inducing. To the ancient mind (and perhaps the modern one as well), a mountain was as permanent and as awesome as it gets. This is why so many places of worship were set atop a mountain. When God descends to Sinai in Exodus 19, and seems to consume it with fire, the people tremble at the power of God, who is bigger, and older, and higher even than the mountains themselves. It’s almost incomprehensible. It’s horror on a cosmic scale. 

The story is a reminder that God is, in the Lovecraftian sense, horrifying. To actually see God as he is, what he is capable of, his purposes and plans laid bare to our eyes, would obliterate us. When Isaiah is transported in a vision to God’s throne room (Isaiah 6:1-5), he is not fascinated or awe-inspired. He is undone. Lovecraft would approve. 

It is important, as I’ve reflected on this, to understand the horror of God. Not because he wants to hurt us or scare us, but because he is unknowable to us. He is higher, and deeper, and wider, and older than we are, and even older than the stars and the planets. The vastness of space still teaches the same lesson that Sinai did; who is this God even the quarks and the photons obey? 

If God were to turn our horror to awe, or even to worship, he would need to reveal himself, hide himself, in something much smaller, something weaker, something very much like a person. Something like Jesus of Nazareth. This is, after all, how the author of Hebrews understood the incarnation in chapter 12:

 [18] For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest [19] and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them…[22] But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, [23] and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, [24] and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

The Old and New Testaments, when read together, equally affirm how thin the line is between horror and worship. The whole thing ultimately pivots on the incarnation of Jesus. He is, in a sense, the line. He is the Word made flesh, the fire and lightning become skin, the unknowable made touchable. 

Lovecraft is only half-right: there is a dread just beyond our conscious thought that, when it slithers up our backs, can evoke a horror unlike almost any other, and that horror is a holy God in the presence of a sinful person. But in Jesus, our God reveals himself not to be the boogeyman, but the Son of Man; we do not fully know him, but he fully knows us. And when we finally see this “monster,” he does not confirm our worst fears, but defeats them. And our horror becomes awe. And our awe becomes love. And our love becomes worship.

We the Fallen People Includes You and Me

We the Fallen People Includes You and Me

I am a democrat [proponent of democracy] because I believe in the Fall of Humanity.

I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought humankind so wise and good that every one deserved a share in the government.

The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true…I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost. Much less a nation….

The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Humankind is so fallen that no one can be trusted with unchecked power over his or her fellows.

“Equality” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses* by C.S. Lewis

 

Political Partisanship

If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you are frustrated and perplexed by the political partisanship that only seems to increase with each passing election cycle. Whether it be disagreements over abortion, inflation, student loan forgiveness, public school curriculum, or anything else, thoughtful and charitable debate is hard to find. In spite of these divisions, there is one thing almost all politicians, pundits, and activists agree on: “most Americans want what is right and good, and they agree with me.” Both sides of our political discourse will creatively redefine what “most Americans” means to make this statement true. You would be hard pressed to find a public persona who asserts “Most Americans disagree with me on this, but they are profoundly mistaken.” In our contemporary political culture, the voice of the people is considered the voice of God. 

 

Sin and American Democracy

I recently had the pleasure of reading We the Fallen People: The Founders and Future of American Democracy by Robert Tracy McKenzie, Professor of History at Wheaton College. In this deeply thought-provoking book, McKenzie explores the relationship between the Christian doctrine of sin and American democracy. He argues that the founders, who were by no means perfect, had a robust view of the brokenness of human nature that coheres with the biblical view. They designed our constitution with that view of human nature in mind and created built-in checks and balances to guard against the tyranny of the majority. However, within a generation, this view of fallen humanity fell out of favor with the function of American politics. The will of “We, the People” gained the moral high ground simply because it reflects the majority of people who consider themselves essentially good. 

Biblically, this is not true. Humans were created good but were broken and tainted by sin when Adam and Eve fell. God sees “that every intention of the thoughts of (humanity’s) heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). The prophet Jeremiah locates this corruption deep within the human heart as it “is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). The apostle Paul, summarizing and combining much of the Old Testament, concludes that “none is righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). Even Jesus himself declares “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18).

 

Fallen Image-Bearers

Now this does not mean every human being is as wicked and evil as they could possibly be. Each human still bears God’s image even after The Fall (Genesis 9:6), and God’s goodness and common grace prevents humans from being absolutely evil. Also, Christians are not completely exempt from brokenness and sin from the moment of their conversion. Though sin is defeated when Christ redeems us and gives us the Holy Spirit, sinful desires and inclinations still remain within us. This is why Paul commands believers not to allow sin to reign in our mortal bodies (Romans 6:12). Moreover, the reality and depth of human sinfulness should lead even saved Christians to maintain a posture of humility toward others because we are all broken (Ephesians 2:1-9). Gospel-centered Christians can’t divide the world neatly into “good guys” and “bad guys.” Instead, we confess we are all the “bad guys”, and our only hope of being made new is the one Good Guy who died in our place.

Does our broader political engagement and faith in democracy embody this view? McKenzie says no and details major events in Andrew Jackson’s presidency that are emblematic of the opposite shift that still persist today. Notably, Native Americans were removed from the southeast portion of the United States during the “Trail of Tears” in order to distribute more farmland to white settlers. Though there was dissent to this egregious violation of justice and disregard for ratified treaties, such opposition was labeled as ‘elitist’ and wrong because it went against the “populist” will of the people. Jackson would say “the great mass of the people cannot be corrupted” in defense of these policies. This perspective prevails in the present day with our democracy functioning as though humans are individually good and collectively wise.

What should faithful Christians consider in our democratic process in light of this? 

 

Bearing Witness to God’s Kingdom

McKenzie does not argue that returning to the founders’ style of democracy, where only white, property-owning males could vote, would solve our problems. A tyranny of the minority is no better since all are affected by The Fall. He does point to the C.S. Lewis quote noted above and claims our motivation for pursuing democracy must reckon with the reality of human depravity. We should be cautious of assuming a certain perspective or policy is right merely because “the majority” believes it to be so. We should take care to protect the rights of minorities, practice restraint when our preferred “team” is in power, and advocate for principles of justice to be followed, even if they are unpopular. This is because victory for Christian values over our culture should not be the church’s goal, but rather to be faithfully present in the midst of culture to bear witness to God’s kingdom, no matter if the majority accepts or opposes our view.

Our engagement in politics ought to flow out of our virtue formation. One of the most commonly repeated quotes during election season is “America is great because she is good.” McKenzie explains how this is falsely attributed to Alexis de Toqueville, a French author who wrote about American democracy when visiting Jacksonian America. De Toqueville’s actual perspective was the opposite. He said “I cannot regard you (Americans) as a virtuous people.” He recognized a profound individualism in American culture that is antithetical to virtue, in that true virtue seeks the good of the whole at the expense of one’s self. A democracy that elevates the will of the majority, when there are not sufficient structures in that culture to instill the character of self-sacrifice for the betterment of others, will inevitably lead to tyranny and oppression.

Where Is Our Dependence?

As we enter into another contentious election season, let’s keep this in mind. American Christians have been given an immense privilege to have a voice in how our government is run. Engaging politically is potentially one of the most powerful ways to love our neighbors, while simultaneously also being an avenue that can bring immense pain and suffering to them. Let’s use that privilege virtuously to serve others. Let’s engage those we disagree with in a posture of humility. Let’s ask God for guidance and wisdom because we are dependent on him. Let’s interrogate our own political ideals as much as we question the “other side”, knowing that “We the Fallen People” includes ourselves.

Further Reading

McKenzie, Robert Tracy. We the Fallen People : the Founders and the Future of American Democracy. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2021.

Lewis, C. S. “Equality” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. First HarperCollins edition 2001 [revised]. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

*Lewis’ quote has been adjusted to reflect contemporary norms for gender-inclusive language for human beings.

One New Family?

One New Family?

I have been blessed with an incredible family. Even in my extended family, as weird as we sometimes are and with all of our faults, I am so deeply grateful. Yet I know that is not everyone’s experience. Some of us come from deeply fractured families or find ourselves in very disappointing or difficult situations, and we have that insatiable craving for more. 

One of the most beautiful things about “the mystery of Christ” referred to in Ephesians, is that because of the gospel we are given a whole new family. God is our Father. Jesus is our Brother. The Holy Spirit is our ever present Comforter. And we even have this with one another! We are surrounded by spiritual mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and even sons and daughters. We are given a new family!

But sometimes that family is also really messy. As we walk through a study in Ephesians, we will continue to come upon that phrase “the mystery of Christ.” In chapter 3 Paul makes it clear what this is referring to: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:6). The Jewish Messiah, Jesus, died for all the nations of the earth to make them a singularly united, at-peace family in him (see Isaiah 2:2-4 and 25:6-9). 

Think about this for a moment. Jesus the Messiah is ethnically a Middle Eastern Jew, but he is not the savior of Jewish people only. He is the savior of the whole world, Gentiles included, and thus all peoples of all ethnic backgrounds who follow Christ are already included in the “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15) by faith in him. This is certainly good news, especially since the vast majority of you who are reading this are Gentile believers in Jesus the Jewish Messiah. In Ephesians 2:11-22 Paul elucidates this “one new man” (or family) component of the gospel message.

This talk of inclusion and different ethnic backgrounds raises some questions in our current cultural climate. How are we to think about ethnic inclusion in the church today? More specifically, what does this mean for this church, here in Kansas City? We hear a lot of talk about “diversity,” “inclusion,” “racism,” “social justice,” and the like. At the very least all this talk highlights a need for informed, thoughtful conversation as we seek to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). How do we live into this reality that we are truly family with one another?

There is much that could and should be said about these matters, far beyond the scope of what is possible here. We will circle back to this conversation in a variety of spaces in the future, but for now we encourage engagement with several resources to help us think soberly, widely, and biblically about these topics.

We do not necessarily agree with everything written or said, either in the linked resource itself or by the authors and speakers in their other publications. However, we do believe them to be helpful starting points for further conversation. They are by no means exhaustive, but they will help us begin a deeper interaction with the questions we are already wrestling with. 

Read 
Listen
Watch

However you interact with these resources, the most vital response is to pray. This is the essential first step, and an essential practice to carry through every step thereafter. One significant way to pray in the midst of this conversation is through lament, which is prayer crying out to God on behalf of the injustice we see in the world. 

So let us lament. And let us be led in lament by God himself in his Word spoken through David  in Psalm 55, which is fulfilled in Christ crucified and risen for all peoples to become one in him. Let us pray this lament in solidarity with our sisters and brothers who bear the brunt of injustice in this country and around the world:

 

Psalm 55

1   Give ear to my prayer, O God,

and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!

2 Attend to me, and answer me;

I am restless in my complaint and I moan,

3 because of the noise of the enemy,

because of the oppression of the wicked.

For they drop trouble upon me,

and in anger they bear a grudge against me.

 

4   My heart is in anguish within me;

the terrors of death have fallen upon me.

5 Fear and trembling come upon me,

and horror overwhelms me.

6 And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!

I would fly away and be at rest;

7 yes, I would wander far away;

I would lodge in the wilderness; 

8 I would hurry to find a shelter

from the raging wind and tempest.”

 

9   Destroy, O Lord, divide their tongues;

for I see violence and strife in the city.

10 Day and night they go around it

on its walls,

and iniquity and trouble are within it;

11 ruin is in its midst;

oppression and fraud

do not depart from its marketplace.

 

12   For it is not an enemy who taunts me—

then I could bear it;

it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—

then I could hide from him.

13 But it is you, a man, my equal,

my companion, my familiar friend.

14 We used to take sweet counsel together;

within God’s house we walked in the throng.

15 Let death steal over them;

let them go down to Sheol alive;

for evil is in their dwelling place and in their heart.

 

16   But I call to God,

and the LORD will save me.

17 Evening and morning and at noon

I utter my complaint and moan,

and he hears my voice.

18 He redeems my soul in safety

from the battle that I wage,

for many are arrayed against me.

19 God will give ear and humble them,

he who is enthroned from of old, 

because they do not change

and do not fear God.

 

20   My companion stretched out his hand against his friends;

he violated his covenant.

21 His speech was smooth as butter,

yet war was in his heart;

his words were softer than oil,

yet they were drawn swords.

 

22   Cast your burden on the LORD,

and he will sustain you;

he will never permit

the righteous to be moved.

 

23   But you, O God, will cast them down

into the pit of destruction;

men of blood and treachery

shall not live out half their days.

But I will trust in you.

 

What Would It Look Like If We Treated Others the Way God Treats Us?

What Would It Look Like If We Treated Others the Way God Treats Us?

For many, Ruth is an obscure Old Testament story that only gets attention during a Read the Bible in a Year plan, its brevity a relief as one plods through Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. But Ruth has become my favorite book of the Bible.

The book of Ruth is a gem that you don’t want to miss out on. It is not just the historical account that helps bridge the genealogical gap to the birth of King David (Ruth 4:18-22), but it’s also so much more. I believe that this brilliant little book is meant to spark our imaginations; to ask, what would it look like if we treated each other the way God treats us?

In the book, there are no bad characters. There are only normal people (such as Naomi’s daughter-in-law Orpah and the unnamed relative in chapter four) and exceptional people (the three main characters). Observe the behavior of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, and you will see that their every action is driven by the principle of doing what is best for everyone around them. 

 

Sacrificial Love

Even in her grief over losing her husband and two sons, Naomi only wants what is best for her daughters-in-law, even though it might cost her the last two close relationships that she has. 

Ruth’s unending loyalty to Naomi (and to Naomi’s God) won’t allow her to leave her mother-in-law’s side. She takes an enormous personal risk to leave her land and her people to travel to a foreign place with Naomi, and every action she takes in the book is geared toward Naomi’s benefit.

Boaz uses his position as a wealthy landowner not for his own benefit, but to provide abundantly for his relative Naomi and her immigrant daughter-in-law. Like Ruth and Naomi, his kindness (in Hebrew hesed) overflows from his character – he can’t help but give and give and give to these two destitute women.

Every action that these three characters take is for the benefit of the others. Naomi just wants what is best for Ruth. Ruth wants what is best for Naomi. And Boaz wants what is best for Naomi and Ruth, and his status puts him in a position to accomplish the great act of redemption that occurs in chapter four.

 

Redemption

The book of Ruth is a foretaste of the great act of redemption that God would accomplish for us through Jesus. And it is also a beautiful picture of what the family of God could look like if we all looked out for others’ interests ahead of our own (Philippians 2:4). 

What would it look like if we treated each other the way God treats us? The book of Ruth paints this picture, and I believe it is meant to inspire us to “go and do likewise.” If you haven’t read it in a while, I encourage you to do so a few times over the next couple of weeks. And ask yourself, what would it look like if I treated others the way that God treats me?

His Body, My Choice

His Body, My Choice

This spring I was asked to prepare the Ash Wednesday sermon for the Brookside Campus. Ash Wednesday is a beautiful tradition that reminds us we are dying and the cross is our only cure. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return’ are the words spoken over each of us as we receive ashes.

I didn’t expect the concept of mortality to hit me very profoundly, but during my preparation, I was in the thick of relentless pain. My feet had totally betrayed me and decided to become weapons of torture every time I walked. So, as I wrote a sermon about the fact that our bodies are breaking down, my physical therapy, foot braces, and steady diet of ibuprofen reinforced that message.

 

A New Generosity

But then God did a new thing in my heart (as he always seems to do when I least expect it!). The afternoon of Ash Wednesday, I had rehearsed my talk for the last time, and I thought I’d take a breather and check some texts and social media. There on Facebook was an update from a dear, lifelong friend who needed a kidney transplant, and she needed it soon.

Everything in me said, “I need to do this!”  God had just impressed upon me through the sermon prep how temporary our lives are—that our bodies are not our prize, but eternity is. I felt him saying that although I struggled with pain, I had been forgetting the millions of other ways my body does work. One of those ways was having a rock star kidney that my friend Mollie could desperately use. Considering eternity opened up a new freedom to live with more generosity in how I use and see my physical body.

 

Choices

I have a choice on how I will use this body while I have it. Will I spend my energy cursing it for all the ways it breaks or doesn’t fit my standard of appearance/size/shape, or will I thank it? Will I accept that my physical body is the primary way God uses me to deliver his love to others— whether that’s through physical closeness (A wave! Smiles! Laughter! Hugs! Snuggles!), or through words (written or spoken) that bring life and goodness to others? If I don’t, I’m missing out on a very tangible blessing and a way that God has designed me to bring his light to the people in my space.

Will I see my body as something I have absolute rights over that must be defended at all costs or as something that, like Jesus, I am called to sacrifice – even my bodily rights – out of love for others? Is it my body, my choice, or is this the Lord’s body, which he has entrusted me with, loving me enough to give me the freedom to choose how I will use it? As we ask that question, let’s not forget that the freedom we have in Christ, is freedom not to serve myself, but freedom to love and serve others (see Galatians 5:13-14), just like Jesus did.

Jesus was also entrusted with a body – he was called Emmanuel – God with us. This “with us” nature makes him like no other God: all powerful and expansive while also as a friend who “sticks closer than a brother”. Christ was physically present on earth; he taught, touched, healed, hugged, and loved real people. Ultimately, he would end up using his physical body as a means to purchase our salvation on the cross. God clearly sees bodies as integral to his redemptive work in the world! 

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. – I Corinthians 6:19-20

 

Life to the Full

During the process of deciding to donate a kidney, I had dozens of opportunities to back out. The transplant process is designed well to ensure that donors do not feel pressure or coercion to donate an organ (which is great!), so at every turn, I had to choose again – do I want to make this sacrifice, or not? 

Trust me, I seriously considered all the “cons”: an invasive surgery with four nasty scars to prove it, dealing with pain and the side effects of being on heavy medications, recovery time, inconveniencing my co-workers, needing to ask (and graciously receive) help from my network of people, and putting a pause on my fitness routine. But, there was one item in the “pro” column that overshadowed them all: Mollie gets to live life to the full and see her kids grow up and grow old with her husband! That would mean Mollie gets to continue to choose to use her God-given body to bless people as she has done for years, whether that’s as an ENT physician assistant who cares deeply for her patients, or the children she treats in a Kenyan clinic each time she travels there to serve, or the kiddos in desperate situations she and her family foster. The choice was easy: if I choose to give this body away, God’s work can be multiplied in the days we still have here on earth.

 

Giving Thanks

Clearly, organ donation is not the path for all of us! You don’t need a major medical procedure to learn to love and appreciate all that your body is capable of. There are so many more easily accessible ways to pause and consider how you and your physical body can bring a little bit of the kingdom to someone else. 

Think about how you are using your energy today. How much of it is spent on your personal goals? Is there anything left for anyone else? Does some reordering need to happen? 

Your job, home-ownership, or parenting are excellent places to reconsider your body as a tool for generosity. What would not get done if you physically were not there? Your daily activities keep the ship afloat, so give thanks! Are there places we can reframe some aspects we might dread? Such as driving the kids from one activity to the next, collaborating with a chronically difficult co-worker, or how quickly a cleaned up house destructs into a mess yet again? 

These tedious or challenging spaces are actually opportunities to use your body to bring God’s joy, beauty and mercy to others, by simply being willing to do them. Next time you start one of these dreaded tasks, invite the Spirit to join you, using your body as the avenue to be the ‘kingdom come’ to those you do it with or for.

Let’s thank our God-given bodies and recognize them as holy spaces, where the Living God dwells, and let’s do it beginning today. Paul says it best in Romans 12:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12: 1-2

 

A Tool of Generosity

And to not leave you hanging, the kidney transplant procedure for Mollie and me is complete. I’m writing this while on medical leave with a good amount of healing yet to come, but on all accounts, it was a successful surgery. Mollie’s kidney function soared from only 14% to 93% shortly after surgery! We felt God’s presence and promises in what I can only describe as a worshipful experience. 

My body is His body, and what a freedom it is to affirm it as a good tool of generosity even when it has flaws. The day of perfect, redeemed bodies will come, but until then, let’s use what we have to give ourselves away!

 

A few additional resources have helped me see my physical body not as a project to fix or a trophy, but as an instrument for beauty:

 

Breaking Free of Body Shame, book by Jess Connolly 

Your Body is Not Your Masterpiece, article by Glennon Doyle

Reconstructing Faith In Ephesians

Reconstructing Faith In Ephesians

I am in a season of deconstruction.”

It is likely that you have either read, heard, or said these words in recent months. The deconstructing of faith is a popular practice these days. But what is it exactly? For some it is an opportunity to live their authentic life free of all moral and religious authority. For others it is a sincere attempt to determine if their faith has been formed by the words of Christ or by cultural ideologies. Regardless of the motivation, it is clear that we are in serious need of reconstructing faith. 

 

Deconstructing Faith

With that said, it is important to ask ourselves what it is precisely that we are deconstructing. And perhaps even more importantly, why we want to deconstruct these beliefs and ideas in the first place. It is absolutely healthy and even wise to deconstruct a belief or set of beliefs, especially if those beliefs are toxic, heretical, harmful, and downright false. As long as the motivation and desire is to pursue, understand, and embrace truth, then there is a goodness to the work of reevaluating, revisiting, and even reconsidering what we believe and why we believe it. But if our aim is to deconstruct for the purposes of liberating ourselves to live free of any and all authorities, then we are clearly not interested in remaining yoked to Jesus.

Thabiti Anyabwile makes the distinction between deconstruction and demolition. It is absolutely possible and often necessary for someone to pursue the work of deconstructing their faith with the aim of reconstructing a true, unadulterated, and biblical faith. When the goal of deconstructing faith is to properly and purely pursue Jesus for who he truly is, then it can be a beautiful and sanctifying process. Deconstruction for the sake of demolition is an entirely different story. In order to discern the difference we need to be clear on the intended direction that our deconstruction is taking us. Listen to how Anyabwile puts it.

As I watch the conversation, it seems to me a crisis of confidence often travels with deconstruction. Some boast about this; they see their deconstruction as a commitment to ambiguity, not knowing, taking a journey being guided mainly by questions or doubts. I don’t think such boasting is healthy. As G. K. Chesterton once observed, “The purpose of having an open mind, like an open mouth, is to close it onto something solid.” But others who are deconstructing have a more specific destination in mind. They can identify the particular issue(s) that need re-examination in light of scripture, history, practice, etc. I’d suggest specificity actually helps with knowing whether you’re making spiritual progress toward anything healthy or toward anything at all. 

 

A Better and More Faithful Approach

During a time when many people are deconstructing their faith with the goal of deconverting from their faith, we need to implement a better and more faithful approach. We do not need to throw out the deconstruction baby with the deconversion bathwater. So what do we need in order to properly deconstruct and reconstruct our faith? We need a solid foundation to build from. And that foundation is the cornerstone of the Lord Jesus.

The apostle Paul penned these words to the church at Ephesus who were themselves being compelled and coerced to compromise their faith by capitulating to the pervasive pagan culture around them.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,  Ephesians 2:19–20

 

Reconstructing Faith

It is this foundation that we need to return to and reconstruct our faith upon. This is precisely what we plan to do together in our sermon series Reconstructing Faith as we explore the foundations of the Christian faith through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Whether you have been following Jesus for years or you’re ready to call it quits, we want to begin reconstructing our faith together. 

The Gospel According to Twenty One Pilots

The Gospel According to Twenty One Pilots

At the end of each concert, the two frontmen of the musical group Twenty One Pilots stand together on the stage, put their arms around each other, and smile at their fans as the cheers rise. Throughout the crowd, people lift signs with “Thank You” written on them. After a while the lead singer lifts the mic and gives them his parting words: “We’re Twenty One Pilots, and so are you.” As the duo walks off, the crowd continues shouting out their thanks for their music, performance, and, for many, their witness.

Yes, witness. Witness to what? What are the crowds gathering at these shows so grateful for

I believe the reason the fans of Twenty One Pilots are so profoundly impacted by their music is because through it, whether we realize it or not, we are getting a glimpse of, even becoming participants in, the good news of Jesus Christ. 

 

The Art of Our Everyday Work

I need only one song to show you an example of how this duo embeds the gospel into their artwork. They become a witness and a guide for us as we embed the gospel into our “artwork,” that is, the art of our everyday work.

“Trees” is the song Twenty One Pilots always performs to end their shows. Its basic flow traces the dialogue between God and a man who is hiding in the trees, silent and afraid in the face of his impending death. And yet God comes after him, initiating a conversation and showing his heart’s desire to be with him. 

Clearly, this recalls the aftermath of human rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden, giving voice to the interchange of Genesis 3:8-9. Adam and Eve stood naked and afraid, hiding from God amidst the trees, and yet he came after them. He called them out of hiding and invited them to be known, even in their sin. 

What the song does next is repeat this scenario by repeating the same set of three verses, but building to a much bigger finish. This gives the sense that the same dialogue between God and a man happens again, but with a different outcome. 

And indeed, this is what the good news proclaims! Jesus takes on our shame and faces his impending death, fearful and exposed before his Father as he sweats blood amidst the trees in the garden of Gethsemane, pleading for the cup of the cross to pass from him (Luke 22:42). But this man, the last Adam, remains obedient to the end (1 Corinthians 15:45, Philippians 2:8). He gives himself up to make our death his own, crying out while he stands nailed upright on one tree amidst others, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). This is echoed in the lyrics from “Trees”: “Why won’t you speak, where I happen to be?… Silent in the trees, standing cowardly.” 

 

God’s Heart Cry

Then, the climactic refrain at the end of the song invites a response: “I want to know you, I want to see, I want to say, Hello.” This is God’s heart cry. God came in the flesh to be with us, which is what he has been after since the beginning. He’s always initiating, starting a conversation with us. Not from afar, but here, where we are, in the midst of our sin and shame and death, even taking it all upon himself. Then he rose from the grave to new life and Mary saw him standing amidst the trees, mistaking him for the gardener, and he called out to her (John 20:15-16). The cross and the resurrection are God’s song of invitation to know a love stronger than death. 

So when a slight, dark-haired man stands in front of a stadium full of thousands at the end of a show, he sings out the refrain of that invitation: “Hello.” He repeats it throughout the song, bending over his microphone while his friend sits behind him hammering away at his drum set. Then the hellos stop, and after another chorus and some intervening “la la las,” the beat stops. A synth interlude rolls over the crowd. They’re anticipating. Waiting. They know what’s coming. As the two men make their way down from the stage, the security workers in the front lift two large tom drums on either side of the audience from the orchestra pit. A small platform comes next, one beside each of them. Then the spectators become participants. Drumsticks in hand, the two men climb onto the platforms, held up by the people who have spent the last 2 hours singing their guts out along with them. And then it comes.

Confetti drops like a snowstorm from the ceiling as the two men pound their drums in unison. In between beats (buh buh – pause – buda buh buh buh – pause) they point their sticks out to their “Skeleton Clique” (their fan club). And the clique responds, as if coming to life. The crowd shouts a resounding “Hey!” each time, responding to the invitation sung from the stage just moments before. When the music stops, the duo gets back on the stage and says goodbye.

An Invitation to Participate

This is how Twenty One Pilots ends their show, every time. If you’re curious, you can WATCH a recording. They have designed their music and performances with an invitation for fan participation. If my interpretation is right, they have written their music to be sung out so that the singers become participants in the gospel narrative hidden in its folds. This is what Twenty One Pilots has made with their artwork. They’ve not written “Christian music,” but music that nonetheless points to Christ in story-form. 

What about the artwork of our own lives? Have we received the message that we have to make “Christian art” or do “Christian work” to be impactful in God’s Kingdom? With the apostle Paul I say, “By no means!” (Romans 7:13). 

In your home or at work, with your spreadsheets, with your meetings, with your budgets, with your coworkers, with your friendships, with your relationships, with your sexuality, with your (dare I say it) politics, with your grief, with your depression, with your trauma, with every particularity that makes up your particular story…what would it look like to embed the gospel story into your own story? Every single facet of our story can become a witness and invitation for others to participate in God’s Story. 

But we have to know our story to do this. And the best way, indeed the only way to fully know ourselves is to know the God who knows us. We have to let God in, and respond to his invitation. We need to yell “Hey” when he sings “Hello.” The deep desire of his heart is for us to know him even as we have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12). 

 

Reflect on Your Own Story

So reflect on your own story. Write it, draw it, yell it, sing it, dance it, however the Spirit leads. Then invite others to listen to your story. Allow yourself to be known before God as two or three gather around to bear witness to the work of God in your life (Matthew 18:20). In doing so you offer up your story as a prayer, giving voice to the silent dialogues between your heart and God’s, thus training the ears of your heart to recognize your Shepherd’s voice (John 10:3).  

If you’re convinced, come with me and follow the path that Twenty One Pilots have laid, to imitate their artwork as they seem to be imitating Christ’s (1 Corinthians 11:1). Jesus himself told stories and lived a life that perplexed most, but for those who have ears to hear, he has spoken and lived the very words of life (Mark 4:9-13, Luke 8:8-10, John 6:60-69). Let’s participate in his life, and through our lives invite others to do the same. 

A Prayer for a New Home

A Prayer for a New Home

A few months ago I received a unique and exciting pastoral request. A young couple, Luis and Marineya of our Downtown Campus, purchased a house, and they wanted a pastor to pray for God’s blessing over their new home. Marineya is from Bolivia and explained it is typical in her culture to invite one’s faith community and spiritual leaders to do this when moving into a new house. She said this can “be a way for us to dedicate our house to God in service in front of our church community since all we have is his and not ours.”

 

I was intrigued by this idea, having never heard of someone doing something like this. Also, I was deeply honored to be asked. So one Saturday evening, their community group, some other church friends, and I huddled together in their home to pray for God’s blessing over their journey there. We used a prayer liturgy adapted from Every Moment Holy, had a time for people to pray specifically for Marineya and Luis, toasted to their new home, and then continued the celebration with food and drinks. 

 

Whole Life Discipleship

 

For me, this experience so beautifully embodied the kind of whole life discipleship we talk about so often. Jesus is Lord over every area of our life and deeply cares for the spaces where we live, work, and play. We should intentionally find ways to remind ourselves of that reality. We spend much of our lives in our homes, and it is important to mark those key transitions with a focus toward God and his vision for them. I am grateful for Marineya and Luis’ initiative to invite their church community and me into this practice. 

 

Below you will find the adapted liturgy we used that evening. I encourage you to consider using this liturgy or something like it the next time you or a friend move into a new house or apartment! Gather others from your spiritual community and prayerfully and intentionally celebrate God’s blessing in the provision of a new home. Also, take some time to peruse the Every Moment Holy website and consider purchasing one of their prayer books. There are so many moments throughout our daily lives where we can intentionally remind ourselves of God’s presence in them. 

 

A Liturgy for Moving Into a New Home

– adapted from Every Moment Holy*

 

Leader: We thank you for _________’s new home, O Lord, for the shelter it will provide, for the moments of life that will be shared within it.

People: We thank you for this new home and we welcome you here.

 

Dwell with them in this place, O Lord

Dwell among them in these spaces, in these rooms.

Be present at this table as family and friends eat together.

Be present as they rise in the morning and lie down at night.

Be present in the work here. Be present in play.

 

May your Spirit inhabit this home, making of it a sanctuary where hearts and lives are knit together.

Where bonds of love are strengthened, where mercy is learned and practiced.

 

May this home be a harbor of anchorage and refuge,

And a haven from which they journey forth to do your work in the world. 

May it be a garden of nourishment in which their roots go deep

That they might bear fruit for the nourishing of others.

 

May this new home be a place of knowing and of being known.

A place of shared tears and laughter;

A place where forgiveness is easily asked and granted,

And wounds are quickly healed;

A place of meaningful conversation, of words not left unsaid;

A place of joining, of becoming, of creating, and reflecting;

A place where diverse gifts are named and appreciated;

Where they learn to serve one another

And to serve their neighbors as well;

A place where their stories are forever twined by true affections.

 

Grant also, O Lord, that their days lived gratefully within these temporary walls, enjoying these momentary fellowships, would serve to awaken within them a restless longing for their truer home. Incline all our hearts ever toward the glories

Of that better city, built by you, O God, a city whose blessings are never ending, and whose fellowships are eternally unbroken.

 

Amen.

 

*The original prayer was written for a family to pray together when moving into a new home, so I shifted the language so that it made sense for the broader faith community to pray over a family as they move into a new home.