Advance the Indispensability of Jesus Together

The Surprising Dispensability of the Leader

The 2014 NCAA Football season for the Ohio State Buckeyes had as many twists and turns as your favorite roller coaster ride. On two occasions, injuries threatened to undo their successful run. As a fan of the Buckeyes, I remember watching the quarterback situation unfold, and after each injury thinking—“That guy is indispensable; the season’s over.” Each time, the next guy who stepped in proved me wrong.

In August, starting quarterback, Braxton Miller, was injured and out for the remainder of the season. Second-string quarterback, J. T. Barrett, replaced Miller, and he continued the Buckeyes success on the field. However, in November of that same season, Barrett was injured and would miss the remaining games, including any Bowl games or Championship attempt.

The weight of the season fell upon third-string, red shirt sophomore Cardale Jones. The first start of his college career took place in the Big Ten Championship against the Wisconsin Badgers. Jones led the Buckeyes to a 59–0 blowout victory. Next, he started in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against the number one ranked, the dreaded Alabama Crimson Tide. Jones led the Buckeyes to a Sugar Bowl victory, 42–35. Then, it was onto the National Championship Game against the Oregon Ducks. Jones’ success continued and delivered a 42–20 win against the Ducks and a 2014 National Championship to the Buckeyes.

Over the years, I’ve had similar, personal experiences when I’ve had the privilege to work with young, pastoral interns. I am convinced that most if not all of them will accomplish far more than I ever will for the kingdom if they continue to follow our Lord faithfully. They will soon catch up and surpass me in the things that once made me their superior (i.e., the one leading the internship). Be it education, tech savvy, experience, networking, or ability; I am confident (and hopeful) that they will go far beyond whatever reach I may have in my lifetime for the gospel.

Which means this: I am dispensable.

The Dispensable Steward of the Indispensable Promise

In our study of Genesis, we are finishing up the Abrahamic story. He’s a pivotal figure in the unfolding of the program of God—his calling, his faith, his experience. Yet, he dies. He dies while the promises of God are barely realized. We can’t help but feel that the Patriarch of the patriarchs drew his last breath before his time—even if he was 175 years old.

Concerning Abraham’s death, Allen Ross writes in his commentary on Genesis entitled Creation & Blessing,

The message in this part is straightforward: believers will die, and so they must ensure that the work begun in them by God will continue as God desires. It may be through their children, children in the faith, or by some other means; but no one may personalize the program so that no thought is given to the next generation . . . Even though faithful believers die, the program of God to bless the world continues . . . We’re part of something much bigger than ourselves . . . No one is indispensable in God’s program. Good people die (some when they’re young and some when they’re old), and others take up the task to continue God’s program.

So, the question begs, “If I am dispensable (and I am), then what indispensable thing can I hand off to the next generation?” What thing of lasting, eternal substance and weight can I pass on that will endure — come what may in the world?

Think back to Abraham’s journey of faith. The longer he walked in the light of God’s promise, the more singular and pure his faith and devotion became to that promise. The major turning point happens in chapter 22, when he has to offer up Isaac. The writer of Hebrews gives us divine commentary on the event:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He had received the promises, yet he was ready to offer up his only son. God had told him, “Through Isaac descendants will carry on your name,” and he reasoned that God could even raise him from the dead, and in a sense he received him back from there (11:17–19).

Whether it was his belief that God could raise Isaac from the dead, his actions to secure a burial site at the Cave of Machpelah in Canaan, or his efforts to select Isaac as his sole heir, all these things reveal that Abraham had finally captured what was truly indispensable — it was the promise. He realized that the promise was much bigger than him. Abraham may have been the initial partner in the bilateral agreement; he didn’t view himself as the sole owner and beneficiary of the blessings. The patriarch came to realize his role as the dispensable steward of the indispensable promise.

Now, don’t misunderstand. By saying that Abraham was dispensable, I’m not implying that he didn’t have worth as a person or that he wasn’t important to God — obviously he was and is. However, as the biblical story demonstrates, even he was replaceable. His own life and position was not superior to the program of God. Think of the links in a chain. Every link is important, and every link has to steward the weight that bears upon it for the whole chain to complete its purpose and job. Yet, we also recognize that a link in a chain can be replaced by the one who created it and gave it purpose.

Stewarding the Indispensable

As Abraham’s faith matured, he understood his stewardship better and his actions aligned accordingly. Here are three ways his mature faith strengthened his stewardship of the promise:

  1. He sacrificially stewarded the promise. His faith in the promise of God led him to believe in the power of God to raise the dead.
  2. He securely stewarded the promise. His faith in the promise of God caused him to make decisions that aligned with the details of God’s promise, regarding its location in Canaan.
  3. He selectively stewarded the promise. His faith in the promise of God brought a singular focus on God’s selection of Isaac.

Today, we are charged with being the dispensable stewards of the indispensable promise of God in Jesus Christ. In what way has the story of Abraham challenged you to mature in your faith and stewardship of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

The power of God in the resurrection of Jesus Christ—I believe—provides us with incredible room and liberty to steward the gospel sacrificially. Having demonstrated that he can raise the dead, what sacrifice is there that should cause us hesitation or doubt? At the end of Paul’s famous chapter on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, he writes, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” The reality of the resurrection frees us to sacrificially steward the gospel for the next generation. Here’s the list of sacrifices mentioned in the New Testament, enabled by the power of the resurrection:

  • The Sacrifice of Our Bodily Activities for the Benefit of Others and the Glory of God (Rom. 12:1).
  • The Sacrifice of Selfless Love (Eph. 5:2).
  • The Sacrifice of Pouring Out Your Life for the Community (Phil. 2:17).
  • The Sacrifice of Generosity with Money (Phil. 4:18).
  • The Sacrifice of Praise, Good Deeds, and Sharing/Fellowship (Heb. 13:15–16).
  • The Sacrifice of a Spiritual Life (1 Pet. 2:5 and following).

When Abraham purchased the field and burial plot in Machpelah, he sent a clear message—“I believe the promise, and I’m not turning back.” What decisions do you need to make in order to prepare and position the next generation to receive and pass on the gospel?

I think one of the most important ways we can securely steward the gospel to the next generation is by making clear decisions that allow young people to see the unique value and power of the gospel in our lives. When they look at your bank statement, do they see a clear commitment to the gospel? Do they see the clear priority of the gospel in your family calendar? When they watch your marriage, do they see mom and dad clearly yielding to the Spirit in their dying to sin and raising to a new and better way? Do they see grandma and grandpa’s clear decision not to ever retire from ministry and service, even though they’ve retired from their vocations?

In Abraham’s day, Isaac was God’s clear choice. He was selective—he did not choose Ishmael or the sons of Keturah. The program of blessing selectively continued through Isaac. Today, God’s selection to continue his program of blessing is Jesus Christ, his beloved Son. Therefore, I believe that we selectively steward the gospel by making Christ visible to a watching world. “Throw some paint on the Invisible Man”; through our words and deeds, let’s give shape to Jesus and the announcement of his good news. Convict the world of sin; convince them of God’s love; and call them to the truth.

We learn from the apostles’ example in the book of Acts that the best way to help people “see Jesus” is to get out where they are with our works and message. While this may imply “leaving the building” so to speak, it may also mean employing the building and its programs or ministries to meet people where they are in life. So, if you believe that God has selected to continue his program of blessing through Jesus Christ alone, what are you doing to help paint this picture for people? How are you stewarding God’s selection of Jesus?

Blessing Beyond Our Lifetime

If we steward the gospel of Jesus sacrificially, securely, and selectively, then we will pass on that which is indispensable to the next generation. We’ll build momentum that will last beyond our lifetime. We will effectively be the dispensable stewards of the indispensable promise. 

In the epic story of The Lord of the Rings there is only one truth, one promise that was indispensable — the ring of power had to be destroyed in the fire of Mount Doom. Before they destroyed the ring, everyone believed the fulfillment of the promise depended upon someone bearing the ring to the fire. After the fulfillment, everyone believed it to be the key event that ushered in an era of blessing.

Along the journey the team members who joined the fellowship to destroy the ring proved dispensable stewards of the indispensable promise. They sacrificed for it, secured it, and devoted to this promise with a singular aim. They advanced the cause together and experienced the blessings of the finished work together. By mature faith in the promise, they passed on blessing that would last far beyond their lifetime. Before us today is the opportunity to advance the indispensability of Jesus together. I pray that we’ll steward it well.

2017 Destination: Spain

We made it to our gate; everyone’s enjoying dinner now :-). Thanks for your prayers! Weather is a little rough outside; please keep this matter in your prayers! See you on the other side of the pond.

Recapturing the Great Commission: Part Two

Exciting Opportunities at West Lisbon

We have an exciting month ahead of us at West Lisbon Church in the area of World Missions. This Sunday, March 12th at noon, our Destination: Spain and REACH Mission Teams will host a Missions Auction & Breakfast to raise financial and prayer support. Find out more here.

Additionally, the WLC Missions Committee will host our annual Missions Conference on March 18–19th. Our guest speaker for the weekend is Dr. Greg Parsons. Greg is the current Director of Global Connections at Frontier Ventures. Frontier describes itself as

We are a community of dreamers and doers who long to see Jesus worshipped in the earth’s darkest corners.

Pretty awesome. Greg is also engaged in the leadership of the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. If this guy doesn’t fan the flame of world missions in your soul . . . you may want to check your pulse!! Find out more here.

In light of all of these exciting, learning, and serving experiences, I thought that I would focus the February and March Messenger articles on the Great Commission of Matthew 28:16–20. In this month’s edition, we’ll take a look at the words of Jesus’ commission.

Matthew 28:18–20 (ESV)

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The Words of the Great Commission

Last month, we looked at the setting of the commission in verses 16–17, and we discovered first that the people of the commission are described as the eleven, second that the place of the commission is described as the mountain in Galilee, and third that the faith of the commissioned is described as “little” or mixed with doubt. The Lord would commission this group knowing their “little faith.” Today, I think we’ll see why he could and would commission an imperfect group of eleven to begin his global mission. Now, let’s move our attention to the words of the commission spoken by the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.
Authority

Authority

First, Jesus spoke of his authority. Verse 18 reveals two things about this authority: (1) It is total in scope, and (2) it is legitimate in nature. The totality of the scope of Jesus’ authority is expressed by the word “all” and by the phrase “in heaven and on earth.” The term “all” is used again with “authority” in 1 Corinthians 15:54 (NET), “Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he has brought to an end all rule and all authority and power.” This speaks of the future time when Jesus has nullified all other bearers of ruling authority. The little word “all” carries a lot of theological weight! Think totality—any, every, each level or part. All authority. While “in heaven and on earth” implies the universal scope of Jesus’ authority, it particularly emphasizes the authority Jesus possesses in every realm—both heavenly and earthly, over the spiritual realm and the natural realm. Jonathan Pennington writes in his book Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew,

He has achieved authority in both realms and his followers can now live in hope for his heavenly authority to one day be manifested throughout the earth . . . This has been inaugurated by Jesus’ resurrection and will be consummated at his Parousia [second coming]. Additionally, Jesus’ authority in both heavenly and earthly realms now transforms the disciples’ mission. Originally, Jesus endowed his disciples with his authority and sent them to preach the kingdom of heaven only to true people of the land of Israel (10:5–7). After the resurrection, they are re-commissioned to preach to all nations (205).

With the resurrection from the dead, the scope of Jesus’ authority expanded not only over the whole creation but across both heavenly and earthly realms.

His authority is not only total in scope, but it is also legitimate in nature. Our world is full of people claiming to have authority and power, but is it legitimate? At the 2017 Moody Founder’s Week, Dr. Tony Evans shared a funny story about legitimate and illegitimate authority. When he was chaplain with the Dallas Cowboys, he had special access and privileges because of his rights and position as chaplain. I believe it was his son that wanted to go with him to a game one day. Dr. Evans explained to his son that if he traveled with him in his car, then he could get special parking, privileged access, reserved seating, so on and so forth; however, if he decided to travel to the game on his own, he wouldn’t benefit from any of his father’s legitimate authority. You see, it was attached to his name and person, not to his son’s name and person. This reminds the reader of Daniel 7:13–14 (ESV), which reads,

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

The Greek term is ἐξουσία (ex-zoo-sia), and in this context it means “the right to control or command, absolute power, warrant.” By virtue of his identity as the beloved Son and his finished and faithful work in his death and resurrection, he possesses legitimate authority.
Commission

Commission

Second, Jesus gave his commission. “Therefore” connects the scope and nature of Jesus’ authority to the commission that he will give to his disciples. The primary command “Go . . . make” is an urgent one. We find a similar phrase with similar urgency in Matthew 2:13–14 (NET),

After they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to look for the child to kill him.” Then he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and went to Egypt.

The angel’s command to Joseph employs the same grammatical urgency Jesus used in his commission—“Go, hurry, now, don’t delay—and make disciples!” Too often, we hear the commission like this, “As you go, make disciples,” but this misses the grammatical urgency Jesus intentionally puts into his commission. They are to urgently make “disciples.” Disciples are learners of Jesus. Don’t forget that Jesus is commissioning imperfect disciples to go and make more disciples, so that the task of disciple-making is a task every Christian shares. As Jonathan Pennington noted in the quote above, the mission expanded beyond Israel to “all nations” because Jesus has “all authority.” Acts 1:8 describes the commission as a local, national, and global witness to the person and work of Jesus Christ. We are to make disciples among the familiar and among the unfamiliar, among the near and the far, among those like us and among those unlike us.

Two participles describe the activity of disciple-making: baptizing and teaching. The term “baptize” by itself implies dipping or immersing. It was used in the dyeing of garments, so that when a white garment was “baptized” into a dye, it came out of the dye changed and transformed. A broad study in the New Testament reveals that Christian baptism has a threefold nature. First, it is confessional. Even here in Jesus’ commission, we see the implied confession of the Trinity—there is one God who eternally exists as three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. Notice that it isn’t “names,” but “name” in verse 19. A baptized disciple confesses the Trinity and the person and work of Jesus Christ, because his death and resurrection is symbolized in the immersion. Second, baptism is transformational. It is an act of public repentance from the old life of sin, and the public pledge of a new, sanctified life. Third, baptism is communal. The baptized disciple expresses his or her desire to belong to the body of believers, and the body of believers acknowledges the confession of the baptized and accepts him or her into their community.

Teaching refers to instruction in both informal and formal settings. Remember, Jesus taught in small groups, in crowds, in parables, while traveling, while eating, while debating, while caring for the sick and oppressed. His settings were varied, but he was always teaching the twelve. Specifically, the disciples were charged to make disciples, teaching them to observe all that Jesus had commanded them. The term “observe” can mean “to persist in obedience”or to keep and guard. With all the language of heaven and earth and men being entrusted to keep and guard something once again, my mind travels back to the creation of the heavens and the earth, and man placed in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and to keep it. Jesus has established a new humanity with a new commission. Disciple-makers must make disciples who obey and keep the commandments of Jesus, and we must do it in such a way that disciples know how to make disciple.
Presence

Presence

Finally, Jesus spoke of presence. The Gospel of Matthew began,

This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: “Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God with us” (Matthew 1:22–23 NET).

It ends with a great commission followed with the assurance of the Commissioner’s presence, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The term “always” literally reads “all the days” or “the whole of every day.” We may understand this as his moment by moment presence accompanying us in the mission. Yet, it is also a presence that lasts until the consummation of the age. Jesus is guiding and directing his disciples in his mission by his legitimate authority in every moment all the way until we can all say: “Mission Accomplished!” And so, he forever connects his commission of the church in history to the end of the age. Ecclesiology and eschatology are connected. The mission now and his return later are in relationship.

Recapture the Great Commission

Therefore, given Jesus’ total and legitimate authority, his clear and urgent commission, and his momentary and enduring presence, are you encouraged to go and make disciples? You lack nothing that is needed to participate in the Great Commission. So what holds you back from making disciples? Seriously, try to answer that question. Is it an authority problem? Is it a problem with the instructions? Is it a need for the assurance of Jesus’ presence? He has answered all of these things for us. Are you worried that you have little faith? He still commissions you, as he did his disciples. He equips you with the Holy Spirit. Maybe you feel that you missed out on discipleship of your own. I’ve met many Christians who have felt this way. If you realize this need, then go get discipled! If you haven’t been baptized, then do it. If you need to be taught what Jesus taught, then find someone willing to teach you. Pray for God to provide this person or group.

Many times, however, the problem that causes us not to participate in disciple-making is that we simply don’t want to make disciples. Such an investment interrupts our “status quo” living. Walking alongside people in their week-to-week with the intent of helping them follow Jesus to a point that they themselves are then able to make disciples can be messy business. It can take a long time, and it can be frustrating— just think of how patient Jesus was when his disciples worried about bread that they forgot . . . loaves and fishes anyone?! I think sometimes too we feel that disciple-making requires more or additional . . . one more thing that I don’t have time for . . . like reading this blog! But perhaps, disciple-making doesn’t require additional, maybe it requires an intentional rethinking of your week. I am guessing that everyone reading this eats food, sometimes even three times a day. Why not intentionally pick out some weekly meals that you’re going to share with someone who needs to learn the way of Jesus? You’re already eating, just be intentional. Brothers and sisters, Jesus commissioned us . . . all of us . . . if we love him, then we’ve got to go. Let’s figure it out together. I am teaching a Sunday School Class right now at West Lisbon called Discipleship with Jesus and the Apostles on Sunday mornings at 9am. We are talking about this very topic. Come and join us. It’s one way to get started. Take advantage of some of the other opportunities coming up at WLC!

Home: The Elusive Search for Place, Belonging, Rest, & Origin

Home

Where Is Home?

For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
(Hebrews 11:10 ESV)

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines home in multiple ways:

  • one’s place of residence
  • the social unit formed by a family living together
  • a familiar or usual setting,” related to this is the idiom at home, which means “relaxed or comfortable, in harmony with the surroundings, or on familiar ground
  • a place of origin

What about you? How would you define home? The dictionary definitions may be narrowed even further to (1) a location, (2) a people, (3) rest and harmony, and (4) origin.

My personal experience, which I realize that everyone may not share, is that home can be elusive. Here is what I mean. As you get older, home changes . . . locations may change; the people who make up home may change; the familiar expectation of rest and harmony may change too. However, young people and children can also experience these changes to home. Sometimes the changes that come upon a home are a calling into a new adventure and opportunity for growth — for example, higher education, an opportunity to advance a career, serving God’s mission, building a new house, an adoption or foster care, etc. Yet, sometimes the changes that come upon a home are the result of unexpected tragedies or unplanned invasions into the dreams that you had — death of a loved one, a house that burned down, divorce, job loss, abuse of all kinds, disease that requires special care, etc. Maybe you haven’t been able to put words to the feeling before, but I bet in some way or fashion many of us have asked, “Where is home?”

Another element of elusiveness is added when you begin to follow Jesus as a Christian. Perhaps the old Southern Gospel song, “This World Is Not My Home” says it best,

This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue;
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Chorus
O Lord, You know I have no friend like You,
If heaven’s not my home, then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

They’re all expecting me, and that’s one thing I know,
My Savior pardoned me and now I onward go;
I know He’ll take me thro’ tho’ I am and weak and poor,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

I have a loving Savior up in glory-land,
I don’t expect to stop until I with Him stand,
He’s waiting now for me in heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Just up in glory-land, we’ll live eternally,
The saints on every hand are shouting victory,
Their songs of sweetest praise drift back from heaven’s shore,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

For the Christian, there is a search for a new location to call home; there is a search to belong to a family that isn’t bound by a loyalty made merely of earthly flesh and blood (c.f., Mark 3:31–35); there is a longing for true rest and perfect harmony. I would even say that there is an ancient longing of origin—when a person comes to know God as Creator, Father, and Savior, the idea of origin and returning to a place and people of origin takes on a new meaning. Consider these words from the writer of Hebrews:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city (Hebrews 11:13–16 ESV).

Abraham, for example, searched for this city— “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10 ESV). Was Canaan all that Abraham searched for? Was Sinai all that Moses and Israel searched for?

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.’ Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear (Hebrews 12:18–21 ESV).

Even the earthly Jerusalem on Mt. Zion appears to have been only a pattern shaped after a better city of promise,

On the holy mount stands the city he founded; the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob. Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God (Psalms 87:1–3 ESV).

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, 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, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:18–24 ESV).

If you look closely, you’ll see in the previous verses that there is (1) a location—the heavenly Jerusalem, (2) a community—innumerable angels, the assembly of the firstborn, and the spirits of the righteous, (3) rest and harmony—festal gathering, made perfect, the mediator of a new covenant. We may even see a hint of origin and return here with the mention of “the city of the living God.” Perhaps, this new Jerusalem is something like Eden was meant to be.

The writer of Hebrews indicates that “passage” into the city that the Christian seeks actually requires a journey “outside the camp.” The way of Jesus is outside the gate, outside the camp. For the audience of the writer to the Hebrews, this meant choosing Christ by faith, which was a confession that he was better than Moses, better than the temple, better than the sacrifices, better than the High Priest, and offered a better home than Jerusalem. The road that leads to the city we seek is marked with suffering, reproach, and sacrifice.

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Hebrews 13:12–16 ESV).

The final words of Scripture to us about this new city are found in Revelation 21:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:1–4 ESV).

Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Revelation 21:9–14 ESV).

Where is home? Home is “the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14). It is an ancient city that God has been building for ages, and he invites us into this home. He built its gates out of his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He built its foundation out of the apostles. Jesus Christ is its cornerstone. He’s still building it out of the supply of “living stones” in the church (1 Pet. 2:4). The location of this home is now heavenly, but there will one day be a move to earth, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come,” and “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” There is a social, family unit forming, held together by our common faith and fellowship in Jesus Christ by the Spirit of God. You can feel the true rest and perfect harmony when John writes, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Doesn’t dwelling with God in the new heaven and new earth also remind us of Genesis in the Garden of Eden?

So what? Home is a residence, a community to which you belong, rest and harmony, and a place of origin. For many people, home is elusive. The heart awakened by the gospel begins to reimagine what home is, and the two views of the earthly home and the heaven. Home begins to orient itself around God—his city, his people, his rest and harmony, and a return to his purpose for humanity.

I think that this gospel reorientation of home is practical in four ways.

Enemies of Home

First, it exposes sin, Satan, and death as the enemies of home. They destroy locations, divide families, make us restless and interrupt our harmony, and blind us toward God’s purpose in creating us.

Grace at Home

Second, the gospel reorientation of home allows us to have grace with our current home situation, empathizing with and understanding its imperfections and limitations and rejoicing in the glimpses it gives us of our future home.

Hope for Home

Third, we have a future hope in a dwelling, community, rest & harmony, that will fulfill God’s purpose for us and that will be free from the threats of sin, death, and Satan.

Church as Home

Lastly, I think that the closest place we can experience anything like that future home is in the church—a location of assembly, a community and family united in Christ by God’s Spirit made up of many fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters, spiritual rest and peace in Christ, and a place of fellowship around God’s purposes for our lives. Let’s be the best home we can, with God’s help, at West Lisbon.

Merry Christmas Aleppo

citadel of aleppo

I’m not a professional in political science at the international level. I don’t know all of the inner-workings of the conflict that is raging in Aleppo, Syria. All I know is that I woke up and checked my newsfeed, just like many Americans this morning. CNN reported breaking news of the advance of Syrian forces, who were reported to be employing execution style methods to weed out the final population of rebels in eastern Aleppo. Then, I opened Facebook. My cousin had shared a video collage of certain Syrians giving perhaps their last moments and words to a watching world.

Sometimes, I hate the internet. I despise the mobility of information I’m exposed to from around the world. I muse, “If there were no internet, I wouldn’t know about all the horror in Aleppo.” Yet, for the very same reason, the internet is a great grace to us. It makes us aware of needs throughout our local, national, and international communities. I am aware of deep injustice and evil in the world, residing in the heart of humanity. I am aware of the need for the dawn of a new King, a new earth, and a new humanity—a new creation.

It’s Christmas time in America. Is it Christmas time in Aleppo? Choke that one down. There’s nothing pleasant about war, death, and starvation. While many of us will probably enjoy family, decorations, food, laughter, presents, the fruits of our labors, and reminders of the Incarnation, Aleppo will be weeping and mourning—families destroyed, decorations of rubble and bloodshed, hunger and starvation, wailing and crying, no provisions, let alone presents, fruit from vocational work as a distant memory . . . and will there be any reminders of the Incarnation?

I don’t know. I just don’t know. I hope so. It may be all that some have left—their faith in Jesus and the hope of eternal life. Aleppo has ancient roots in Judeo-Christianity. The Aleppo Codex (“The Crown of Aleppo”) was housed there for half a millennium, which significantly contributes to our understanding of the Hebrew Bible. Did you know that Aleppo is only an hour and a half drive (65 miles) from Antakya, Turkey? Antakya in the book of Acts is known as Antioch—the mission center from which the Holy Spirit called Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey. But today, Aleppo is in ruin and misery.

Remember that time Jesus chose to praise a Syrian over his own worshippers? In case you don’t, here’s the story for you,

“And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they [the residents of Nazareth] heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him [Jesus] out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.

(Luke 4:27–30 ESV)

Jesus’ praise of the Syrian caused such anger in his own people that they were ready to kill him. The message of course is clear — just as Naaman rather than the Israelites experienced God’s power, so would others rather than the residents of Nazareth experience the power of the Son of God.

You can read more about Naaman in 2 Kings 5:1–14. His name means, “one endowed with beauty” or “pleasantness.” It’s kind of an ironic name for a tough, military commander. It’s also an ironic name for a leper. There’s nothing pleasant or beautiful about war and leprosy.

Elijah and Elisha prophesied in Israel during an era when it was a spiritual wasteland. Oh, there was plenty of religious activity going on—plenty of prophets, plenty of sacrifices, plenty of altars, plenty of worship, plenty of gods, plenty of offerings, etc. Yet, it was very rare for a person in Israel to have an undivided heart for Yahweh, the true God of Israel. Hence, we have a number of stories from that era in which those outside of Israel graciously receive the miracles and the word of God. Naaman was one of those recipients.

God sprinkled his grace all over the story of Naaman. First, 1 Kings 5:1 reads,

. . . through him the LORD had given Syria military victories.

Wait, what? The God of Israel gave military victories to a Syrian commander? Yep. Paul House writes,

At first this claim may seem startling because Naaman is not an Israelite. However, 1, 2 Kings emphasize repeatedly God’s sovereignty over all nations and all people (271).

Second, God raised up help for Naaman from unknown, common sources. Elisha the prophet may seem to be the obvious hero in this story, but really, I think it’s the unknown servants who point Naaman to God’s healing power. The young Israelite slave girl shares the knowledge Naaman needs (1 Kings 5:2–3). Her suffering at the hands of a Syrian raiding party led to Naaman’s deliverance. She was like Daniel and Ruth—seeking the blessing of those around her despite their own sorrow. Later on, other servants approached him after the words of Elisha provoked his angry pride. They steered him away from pride and toward common sense—

“O master, if the prophet had told you to do some difficult task, you would have been willing to do it. It seems you should be happy that he simply said, ‘Wash and you will be healed.’” So he went down and dipped in the Jordan seven times, as the prophet had instructed. His skin became as smooth as a young child’s and he was healed.

(2 Kings 5:13–14 NET)

Lastly, God healed Naaman. He didn’t merely heal his skin disease; he converted his soul. He said in 2 Kings 5:15,

For sure I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel!

He responds to his new faith in the God of Israel by modes of generosity and worship (2 Kings 5:15b–17). He also has the insight to request forgiveness for the idolatrous duties wrapped up in his vocation (2 Kings 5:18–19), and recognizing the rare sincerity of his faith, the prophet tells Naaman to “Go in peace.” Such a discerning faith was not common in Israel during Elisha’s day.

Human Rights Watch reported yesterday, December 12th, that residents in eastern Aleppo have not received aid since July of this year. Civilians caught in the fray between opposition groups and Syrian forces are starving to death and are not receiving necessary medical treatment. Now, house to house executions are reported to have completed. One resident was reported as saying,

Massacres are happening and the world is watching.

This afternoon, news sources are now reporting that the Syrian forces have secured Aleppo and reached a ceasefire with the rebel opposition. Supposedly, the Bashar Al-Assad regime is ready to make way for overdue humanitarian aid.

In the very least, may we pray for God’s grace upon the Syrian people. Surely, we believe that God’s omnipresence and sovereignty extends over that nation.  Maybe God will use you. May God’s grace heal the wounds — body and soul — of the people of Aleppo. Lastly, may we, the Church, pray and seek God in a way dissimilar to the residents of Nazareth in Jesus’ day, but rather may we carefully and intentionally share in suffering where we can and pass on blessing as we’re able. May God’s grace restore and endow the people of Syria with beauty and pleasantness as he did for Naaman. Merry Christmas Aleppo. Merry Christmas.

What Is Revival? Part 3

Revival

What Is Revival? Part 3

This will be the third and final part to the Messenger series on revival. The previous two parts also entitled “What Is Revival?” are available online. In this third part of the series, I’d like us to consider our cultural moment. Alvin J. Reid wrote a book entitled Firefall 2.0: How God Has Shaped History Through Revivals. Throughout the book, Reid indicates that cultural moments of upheaval and uncertainty can become moments of opportunity for the people of God to seek him for revival.

Looking out over our upcoming election and cultural climate, I feel that we Americans together must not neglect our ownership of this cultural moment. I believe that we are in such a time of upheaval and uncertainty that God’s purpose for us now is to return to him in desperate, repentant prayer. The two major party candidates—regardless of what we think of either of them—largely represent our corporate choices. They represent us. Even if they were not the primary choices of some, we all contributed to this cultural moment. Nationally, we have committed sins against God, against our neighbors, and against the weak among us. Nationally, we have neglected obedience and faith toward God, resulting in injustice, a lack of mercy, and a twisting of truth and goodness. The time has long passed for us to “argue with God” or to “defend our righteousness” before him. He won’t hear these defenses. He’ll only hear repentance. The righteousness that we offer him is stained and filthy. Eugene Peterson’s rendering of Romans 1:32 says it best,

And it’s not as if they don’t know better. They know perfectly well they’re spitting in God’s face. And they don’t care—worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best!

It’s time for us to find our need for the gospel of Jesus Christ afresh.

Therefore, if these two candidates are descriptive of our general, national spirituality and character—and I believe that they are—then we must hit our knees and avoid bartering with God about a winner. There is no winner for us between these two. It’s like having to choose between Jeroboam or Rehoboam, like choosing between Ahab or Jezebel.

Here are five devotional thoughts—in no particular order—on biblical living for this current cultural moment. First, let’s agree with God about our guilt in this cultural moment. To our knowledge, Daniel lived a life that we all would describe as faithful to God. He was loyal to the point of facing death multiple times in key cultural moments for the people of Israel. Yet, read his prayer in chapter 9. In response to what he reads in the word of God, he owns the sins of his nation before God. He doesn’t excuse himself from the corporate sins of Israel. Let’s stop fighting for what we want, and start asking God what he loves. It’s an opportunity for the church to humble herself and repent and seek God afresh.

Second, pray carefully about our vote. There are many perspectives about how Christians should vote. Some say that we should vote for “the lesser of two evils.” Some see a vote cast for either major party candidate as approving a liar and adulterer on the one hand or a murderer and crook on the other hand. Others say vote for the Vice President that you prefer. Some say that a widespread Christian silence should be our voice in this election. Others say to be loyal to your party while being critical of its failures in attempts to reform from within. Some are considering starting or joining a new political party. Others plan to write-in the primary candidate that they had hoped would make it into the national election. The multiplication of our reasonings reveal the trouble in our hearts about this cultural moment. May God graciously persuade our national heart to accomplish his will—whatever that may be.

Third, pray for the candidates. Proverbs 21:1 in the ESV reads,

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.

One of them will be our president. Interestingly, the apostle Paul instructed his son in the faith, Timothy, to pray for leaders even while they were living under Emperor Nero. Christian historian, Justo Gonzalez, quotes the Roman historian, Tacitus, to remind us of Nero’s cruelty to Christians that followed his false identification of them as the ones who started the great Roman fire,

Before killing the Christians, Nero used them to amuse the people. Some were dressed in furs, to be killed by dogs. Others were crucified. Still others were set on fire early in the night, so that they might illuminate it. Nero opened his own gardens for these shows, and in the circus he himself became the spectacle, for he mingled with the people dressed as a charioteer, or he rode around in his chariot. All of this aroused the mercy of the people, even against the culprits who deserved an exemplary punishment, for it was clear that they were not being destroyed for the common good, but rather to satisfy the cruelty of one person (The Story of Christianity, vol. 1, 35).

My brothers and sisters, if Paul could instruct his young pastoral protege and his church plants to pray for Emperor Nero and for a Roman culture that so despised the very existence of Christians, then I think we can pray for these candidates and for our neighbors regardless of their present political views. It is this kind of peaceful prayer that commends the gospel to a watching world. Read the stories of the kings of Israel and Judah in 1 & 2 Kings and in 1 & 2 Chronicles. You realize quickly that the story of every nation is one woven by the reigns of both good and wicked leaders. However, you also learn that there is a God who intervenes, hears prayer, and acts to accomplish his redemptive purposes throughout the whole earth for his glory.  Chuck Colson famously exhorted that our hope does not come out of Air Force One. May we be found as a people praying to this end for every candidate on the ballot.

Fourth, pray for the transition of power to result in the expansion of the gospel in our own nation and into the global community. It is true that moral and ethical legislation can be a common grace to all of us, but Christians know that real change results in the new birth of the human heart. This is why we need revival. The only news on earth that effects such a change of heart is the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lift up your eyes and look beyond to what God’s interests are in our world. He’s neither a Republican nor a Democrat. He has accomplished his aims throughout history in countries ruled by democracy, socialism, communism, dictatorships, monarchies, and even nations supposedly ruled by the theocracy of a false god. What I am saying is this: be more confident in your God to accomplish his purposes in our cultural and political moment than the political imaginations of humans. If anything else, allow this election season to solidify your identity in Jesus Christ and his kingdom.

Lastly, let’s be directly thankful to God for what we’ve been given. It is difficult to locate gratitude and thankfulness in the current climate. But honestly, how bad is your life right now? Really, how bad is it? Expressing thankfulness to God has a way of softening our hearts and a way of decreasing our complaints—even in times when it is genuinely and terribly bad. Remember the old hymn “Count Your Blessings” written by Johnson Oatman Jr.,

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,

When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Refrain:

Count your blessings, name them one by one;

Count your blessings, see what God hath done;

Count your blessings, name them one by one;

Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?

Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?

Count your many blessings, ev’ry doubt will fly,

And you will be singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,

Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;

Count your many blessings, money cannot buy

Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

So, amid the conflict, whether great or small,

Do not be discouraged, God is over all;

Count your many blessings, angels will attend,

Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Perhaps, the Lord will graciously give a revival to our countrymen and women like he has in times past. I am thankful to be able to vote. I hope you are too, even given the circumstances. The pastoral role in these moments should continue to point people to God. We have one God and Savior, and he unfortunately will not be on the ballot this Tuesday. However, let us not forget that it is he who truly reigns over the affairs of the world as the Psalmist reminds us,

The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting” (Psalm 93:1–2).

The Lord is an ancient monarch, who establishes the earth by the permanence of his rule. He’s seen it all. May this election cycle cause a renewed longing on the ballot of our hearts for the rule and hope of this ancient King of humanity.

What Is Revival?

Revival

Growing up in Scioto County, Ohio, I remember many little churches decorating the landscape. Every now and then, you would see on the outdoor church sign something like this: “Revival! Sunday through Friday! 7pm each night! Come on out and join us!” As a kid, teenager, and young adult, I attended many of these meetings. There was a very predictable format—a special and very dynamic speaker would be invited; the revival was scheduled; many times special musicians were also brought in, and the altar calls didn’t end until somebody made their way down the aisle.

I think that I was part of a real revival once in that Appalachian country. However, it wasn’t scheduled or coordinated. It also happened at multiple places, rather than at one local church. It wasn’t the result of a solitary, drawn out altar call. Now, don’t get me wrong, the Lord may very well use all of those things—and has before—but the revival I think that I was a part of didn’t fit that repeatable, copyable, scheduled pattern employed over and over again by churches in my hometown area.

Tim Keller spoke on A Biblical Theology of Revival (a.k.a. What Is Revival?) at the 2013 The Gospel Coalition Conference. It is definitely worth an hour of your time. If it doesn’t stir your heart into longing for revival, then maybe you should check your pulse! I’d like to summarize and share some of my own thoughts from Keller’s comments on biblical revival.

Since there are many descriptions and definitions out there on revival, it helps to begin with the same: Biblical revival is “the intensification of the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit” (Keller). So, it is the Holy Spirit doing what he already does, but in a more intense way. What are these ordinary operations? There are 4 that Keller highlights: (1) conviction of sin (John 16:7–11), (2) conversion (Acts 16:14–15; Titus 3:3–7), (3) giving of assurance (Ephesians 1:13–14), and (4) sanctification (growth in holiness) (Romans 8:1–11). The Holy Spirit certainly does more than this in the Christian life, but these are the intensified Holy Spirit operations when there is revival.

When the Holy Spirit intensifies these operations of his, three things seem to happen. First, sleepy Christians wake up. Sleepy Christians are neither happy nor sad enough, Therefore, they do not experience high assurance of salvation (the Spirit bears witness to my spirit — Romans 8:16), nor do they experience deep repentance (godly grief produces repentance that leads to salvation — 2 Corinthians 7:10). The difference between a sleepy Christian and an awake Christian can be illustrated in the relationship of a father and a son. A father and a son share a legal relationship. It can be declared that the son is in fact the son of the father and vice versa. I can be officially documented on the birth certificate. Now, imagine when a father embraces his son. The son is not legally more a son, but he is certainly experiencing sonship in more than a legal way.

Second, the nominal Christians get converted. Nominal Christians are those who are baptized, church attending people, but during revival they will come and say, “I was never really a Christian.” These are surprising conversions: church leaders, spouses, long-time members, etc. During times of revival, the Holy Spirit goes through the church, and this is consistent with the pattern of Scripture. When God wants to do a fresh work—be it for judgment or for redemption—he starts with his people.

Third, hard or seemingly impossible to reach non-Christians are powerfully converted. Those dear ones out on the fringes that seem beyond the reach of the church and even God encounter the long arm of God, and the Holy Spirit generously and gloriously converts their souls by the gospel. When sleepy Christians wake up and nominal Christians are converted, the Holy Spirit beautifies the church, even to non-Christians.

Revival, brothers and sisters, is what we need, because it results in both adoration and attraction. An internal shift occurs in our posture toward God resulting in changed lives. If this is what you long for, then the best thing to do is to ask God for it in your own life. Pray for God to wake up, convert, and to reach out. Better still, start a prayer meeting with others to pray for revival. If we ask, seek, and knock, perhaps the Lord will kindly unlock an entry for us into such an experience (Col. 4:2–6).

Returning to my story, once I—a nominal Christian—was truly converted, I returned to the church of my youth to discover that a number of my peers had experienced the same thing. I would describe some of the older Christians around me at that time as having been awakened from slumber! In a very small, rural church, I became one of seven men, who felt a call into full-time gospel ministry. It was very unusual. To my knowledge, five of those seven are still serving in ministry in some capacity. We wouldn’t have probably described it as revival back in those days, because revival to us was predictable and scheduled. However, looking back and knowing what I know now about revival, I think that I experienced a small taste of it, and I long for it again.