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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.

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.

The Lord Is Near

The Lord Is Near

I’ve been feeling it again lately, the tightening in my chest, the tension that gathers there. It’s how my body lets me know that I need to slow down and pay attention. It’s my warning light. All is not as it should be. This is my sign that worry and anxiety are on the rise. This is my signal to get back to basics, do the things that I know are healthy for me; mind, body, and soul. So I make sure I am getting enough sleep, exercising and eating well, spending time outside and with friends and family. I make sure I am spending intentional time in prayer, I dig into the Psalms, and I return to my go-to Scriptures for times like these. I want to be clear that I am not talking about clinical anxiety; we live in a broken and fallen world and our bodies don’t always work the way that God designed them to. Medication is important and needed for many people to manage their anxiety, I understand that. Here I am speaking about average low-level anxiety. 

So I found myself reciting Philippians 4:6 again last week. “Do not be anxious about anything…” and for the first time, that word “anything” just brought me to a full stop. Wait, what? “Do not be anxious about anything.” Anything. Anything? It feels like there are a lot of things happening in our world today that seem very logical to be anxious about. War, gun violence, so much political division and anger, cancer, poverty…I could go on and on. It seems like this verse should say, “Do not be anxious about most things, but there are some things it’s perfectly reasonable to be anxious about.” But it says “anything.”  And, Paul wrote this while he was in prison. It seems like if anyone should get to fret it would be Paul. I even tried looking up the Greek to see if I could find a loophole. Nope. 

I am a worrier by nature, (an Enneagram 6 if you are into that kind of thing) and this verse has always been a challenge and an encouragement to me. But it just feels especially hard right now. So I sat with the “anything” for a while. Honestly, I am still wrestling with it. But I kept going, and I am so thankful that even though the word “anything” brought me up short, the verse does not stop there. God does not leave us with a seemingly impossible command without help. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” In every situation we are to turn over our anxieties, our fears, our plans to God. Open our hands that are clenched into fists with anxiety and trust that He is good, He is sovereign and He loves us. 

This is not easy. Sometimes the darkness seems so very close. But we are to stop and present our requests to God. And thank Him for who He is and the blessings in our lives. And as we zoom out and read this along with the surrounding verses. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, Rejoice (v. 4)” Always rejoice. “Let your gentleness be evident to all (v. 5a)” Be gentle to all. Living a life of rejoicing and gentleness doesn’t seem to leave a lot of room for worry and fear. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (v. 7)” 

Sometimes I feel the peace of God and sometimes I do not. Sometimes I cannot seem to really trust that God’s good plans and purposes will prevail.

I think the key to all of this, the rejoicing and the thanksgiving and the being anxious about nothing, is verse 5b, “The Lord is near.” This could mean either close in proximity to us, or close in time, or Paul could mean both. But the Lord is near. I think the source of a lot of our anxiety is our impoverished view of God, and that definitely rings true for me. And our gracious God doesn’t leave us wondering who He is; He tells us over and over in His Word. A few examples…

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgressions and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6-7

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. Psalm 147:4-5

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Your is the kingdom, O Lord and you are exalted as head above all. 1 Chronicles 29:11

This is just a small sampling that shows us the God who is near. Merciful. Gracious. Slow to anger. Abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Forgiving. Just. Gentle. Lowly. Giver of rest. Powerful. Creator. Omniscient. Glorious. Victorious. Exalted. 

He is good. He loves us. He is in control. We don’t have to be. 

We can rejoice always. We can be gentle to all. We can even not be anxious about anything. So during this time of heightened anxiety for me, this has become a breath prayer for me. “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious.”

The Lord is near.

Are We Building the Altar?

Are We Building the Altar?

In 1 Kings 18 we find one of the most dramatic Old Testament accounts. Elijah, the prophet of the one true God of Israel, challenges the prophets of the Canaanite god, Baal, to a contest to demonstrate whose God is real. 

The terms of the contest were simple. The prophets of Baal and Elijah would each prepare an altar and each would sacrifice a bull on the altar. But neither would set a fire on the altar. Instead, each would call on the name of their god and whichever god answered with fire, that god was the true God.

Tim Keller in his recent article “The Decline and Renewal of the American Church: Part 3 — The Path to Renewal” points out that many Christians have seen this Old Testament account as a helpful metaphor for how God brings about renewal in the church. Keller defines a revival or renewal this way: “Revivals are periods of great spiritual awakening and growth. In revivals, ‘sleepy’ and lukewarm Christians wake up, nominal Christians get converted, and many skeptical non-believers are drawn to faith.”

Only God can bring the “fire of renewal.” Human technique and effort alone cannot produce renewal. Nor can the church compel or manipulate the means or timing of God’s work. However, this does not mean there is nothing we can do as we long for a fresh work of God in our lives, churches, and culture. We can build the altar. As noted by Keller,  “Christians looking for revival, they are ‘building the altar,’ praying that God will use their efforts to bring a fire of renewal with a movement of his Spirit.” 

In the first two installments of his four-part series of articles, Keller gives an account of the decline of both mainline and evangelical Christianity. Both articles are lengthy and nuanced and well worth careful reading. Keller’s point in both articles is summed up this way: 

Virtually everyone agrees that something is radically wrong with the church. Inside, there is more polarization and conflict than ever, with all factions agreeing (for different reasons) that the church is in deep trouble. Outside the church, journalists, sociologists, and all other observers either bemoan or celebrate the church’s decline numerically, institutionally, and in influence.

While the church is always in need of reforming and refining, it seems like this moment in American Christianity is in need of something more than refining. This seems to be a moment when something like renewal or revival is needed.

Over 30 years ago Christ Community was founded with the longing and prayer that this local church would be a catalyst for spiritual renewal in Kansas City. That longing and prayer still endures today.  

How can Christ Community build the altar?

Keller suggests three altar-building practices. 

Recovery of the gospel

It is all too easy for pastors and congregation members alike to functionally forget the radical good news of grace. This is the news that in Jesus we are completely known and loved — not because of anything we have done — but because of what Jesus has done for us. 

Theologian Kelly Kapic in his wonderful book You’re Only Human invites his readers to consider two questions. First, do you believe God loves you? He suggests that most Christians would say of course, God loves me. But then he poses a second question: does God like you? How would you respond? He writes: 

Have you ever felt that your parents or spouse or your God loved you, and yet wondered if they actually liked you? Love is so loaded with obligations and duty that it often loses all emotive force, all sense of pleasure and satisfaction. Like can remind us of an aspect of God’s love we can all too easily forget. Forgetting God’s delight and joy in us stunts our ability to enjoy God’s love. Forgiveness, as beautiful and crucial as it is, is not enough unless it is understood to come from love and lead back to love. Unless we understand the gospel in terms of God’s fierce delight in us — not merely a wiping away of prior offenses. Unless we understand God’s battle for us as a dramatic, personal rescue and not merely a cold forensic process, we have ignored most of the Scriptures as well as the needs of the human condition.

It is this understanding of gospel love and grace that is the keystone in the rebuilding of the altar.

Corporate prayer

The second altar-building practice is corporate prayer. While private individual prayer is vital, a quick survey of the history of renewal moments shows a common thread: Christians gathering together to pray for God to work and move.

As we seek the renewal of our churches and communities, prayer is critical. And not just corporate prayer within Christ Community but with other like-minded Christians and churches, especially across racial and socio-economic dividing lines. 

Creativity

Finally, altar-building is marked by creativity. No two renewal moments have looked exactly the same. Building the altar isn’t a matter of simply trying to reproduce the methods from previous moments. It is about looking for fresh insights into this particular moment, discerning how the Spirit is working. A fantastic resource for understanding this cultural moment and sparking creativity is Mark Sayers book Reappearing Church: The Hope for Renewal in the Rise of Our Post-Christian Culture. Get a copy and read it with a group of other believers.

Conclusion

In the story of 1 Kings 18, not only does Elijah build the altar but he saturates it with water. The more soaked the altar is, the more dramatic the demonstration of God’s work and word. As we approach deeply contentious election seasons in 2022 and 2024, and face violence, war, and economic challenges in our nation and world, it is obvious; no mere human can light the fire. 

But we trust the resurrected King Jesus who, when He had ascended to the right hand of His Father in Heaven, sent the Holy Spirit. The Spirit in Acts 2 appeared as flames of fire above the heads of those gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost.

This is my prayer: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we pray, we ask, we plead: do it again! For your glory and our good, make yourself known to us, renew us, heal us. Make us faithful to build the altar. We trust you and your timing for the fire. Amen.

E90 Is Over… So What’s Next?

E90 Is Over… So What’s Next?

“I have loved watching my heart soften toward the individuals that I have been praying for, and how often I’ve been thinking of them and noticing things about them. Much more intentional interactions!” – Linda

 

Spending 90 days praying for others to come to know Jesus was an amazing time together as a church. Over the course of these 13 weeks, close to 400 different people across all five campuses texted me about their experiences witnessing and praying for others. I was blessed to hear so many people, just like Linda, share how praying each day for the same people shifted their perspective toward them. It is surprising (though it really shouldn’t be) how many opportunities for greater connection with others arise when you intentionally and regularly pray for them. I was even more deeply encouraged when I heard about perseverance through the challenges people faced in their witnessing.

 

A handful of people let me know that one of their nine made a decision to follow Jesus during these 90 days. Beyond these, so many more had their nine make significant movement toward God. Some of their nine reached out with spiritual questions for the first time. Others reached out while facing significant life difficulties and asked for prayer. Some of their nine decided to visit church with them. Others saw their relationship with their nine deepen in new ways. There are so many more powerful stories that you can read about on theformed.life/e90

 

But if you’re like me, as soon as these 90 days finished, you wondered what’s next.

 

Was this just a cool 90 day challenge? One more project to mark ‘done’ and move on? No, from the beginning of our team’s planning process, we hoped e90 would be a catalyst for continued growth in prayer and personal evangelism for our church. Though this initiative is done, we continue to be a caring family of multiplying disciples, influencing our community and world for Jesus Christ. Here are four ways you can continue to grow in this even after e90.

 

Keep Praying

 

Just because the 90 days are over does not mean you need to stop praying intentionally and specifically for others to come to know Jesus! This season hopefully started a habit that remains with you well after it officially finishes. Consider how you can keep praying regularly for others. Think about how much movement you’ve seen in yourself and in them over 90 days. How much more could happen through the rest of the year? Maybe your list of nine grew to fifteen. Keep praying for your fifteen! Perhaps there are just two people from your nine God has highlighted to you these past few months. Keep praying for those two!

 

Pray Together

One of the best parts of e90 was that this was something we did together as a whole church. It reminded me that I’m not alone in witnessing to others. This doesn’t have to end either! What if your community group decided to keep praying for others specifically to come to faith as a part of your regular prayer time? What if you and just one other person committed to praying together for your lists? You could do a short phone call once a week and pray together. Or you could exchange names and pray for their list in addition to yours. This would encourage you to stay consistent in praying for others.

 

Learn Together

 

Another awesome part of e90 was how praying and witnessing motivated greater learning about the gospel and how to practically share it with others. This doesn’t have to end either! What if your community group, or just you and one friend picked a book about evangelism to read together? In addition to discussing what you’re learning from reading, you can also debrief how you’re practicing those things as well. If you don’t know where to start, two of my favorite books on evangelism are The Sacrament of Evangelism by Jerry Root, and Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman.

 

Keep Inviting

 

Lastly, we can continue to grow in personal evangelism beyond e90 by continuing to invite others. Continue to invite them to hang out with you in a relaxed setting with other believers, to read one of the gospels from the Bible together, to come to church with you, to hear your story of what God has done in your life, to consider what following Jesus might look like. Not every invitation will be responded to with an enthusiastic “Yes!” but that does not mean we’ve failed. Even small invitations and planting seeds over time can be used by God to draw others to Him.

 

I encourage you to keep praying, keep learning, keep inviting, and do all these together with other believers. And I hope I continue hearing how God is working through it all to reach others with His love for His glory.

 

A Liturgy Against Shame Before Creating

A Liturgy Against Shame Before Creating

The greatest enemy to creativity isn’t lack of time, money, tools, or training. The greatest enemy of creativity and productivity is shame. More than distraction or busyness, shame steals the energy and courage required to create. And even more disastrously, shame disrupts the relationships that are necessary for creating and producing together. Even creative tasks that are undertaken alone are always done in dialogue with other minds, in conversation with other image-bearers. Shame disrupts creativity and productivity causing us to hide from one another. Shame breathes lies. Shame lies and says:

You’re an idiot. You have no business doing this work. You’re going to fail. You always fail. You’re never good enough. You never will be good enough. You’re a fraud. This is so derivative, so unoriginal. Nobody will care about this work. Nobody should care about this work. It’s trash. People will laugh at you. People will steal your work. People will think what you are doing is dumb. 

The louder the voice of shame, the more energy it takes to overcome it and create something good and beautiful. It robs us of energy we could otherwise use to create. This is a major theme in Curt Thompson’s work. Curt is a Christian psychologist and author who writes on the themes of shame and creativity, andt Christ Community recently had the privilege of hosting him for an evening conversation. You can watch his talk HERE and read more in his books The Soul of Shame and The Soul of Desire.

All of us are creating even if we aren’t professional graphic artists or creative writers. Making dinner is a creative act. Building a presentation slide deck and building a deck on your house are creative acts. Putting together spreadsheets and spreading fresh sheets on the bed are creative acts. 

And wherever there is the potential for creativity and ushering goodness and beauty into the world, shame is lurking — seeking at all costs to choke and strangle that creativity. I want to offer you a practice for combating shame when you’re preparing to create. This is a liturgy, a prayer, for combating shame that you can use when you begin a creative endeavor. 

Liturgy Against Shame Before Creating 

All:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
You are the Creator and Sustainer
of everyone and everything,
You uphold the universe by the Word of Your Power.

Leader:
You have made us creative collaborators in your image;
Male and female you have created us. 

Created us to be creative.
Created us to draw out all the fulness and beauty
of the world you have lovingly formed and fashioned.

Yet now as we stand on the precipice of this creative endeavor,
the threshold of this good work,
this good work, O Lord, which you have prepared for us to do,
we find ourselves haunted by shame.

In the face of this shame,
we shrink back, we hide;
we grow suspicious of others,
contemptuous of ourselves.

King Jesus, who for the joy set before You despised the shame of the cross,
teach us now to despise this shame.
Against the lie of shame which says, I am worthless.
We speak the truth of Your voice:

We are fearfully and
wonderfully made.

Against the lie of shame which says, I have nothing to offer.
We speak the truth of Your voice:

We are God’s handiwork,
created in Christ Jesus to do good works,
which You prepared in advance for us to do.

Against the lie of shame which says, They can’t be trusted, they will hurt you.
We speak the truth of your voice:

We are all baptized by one Spirit into one body,
we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, defend us now
from all the assaults of shame.
And shepherd us into the green pastures of your goodness and beauty.

Amen.