Friday, May 27, 2016

Embrace God's Family with Welcome

For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35 ESV)

Enlivened by the Gospel, we will engage God’s world with winsomeness ...

This is where we ended last week, in our articulation of vision, engaging our Father’s world. But what happens when we do? As God, through the Gospel, works in the hearts of people, some (many) are drawn into a relationship with the Lord and drawn away from lives lived solely for themselves. In the words of Colossians they come out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his marvelous light (Col. 1:13,14). Or as Jesus says in the verse above, they become members of his family. Which leads us to the next phrase of vision articulation:

We will embrace God’s family with welcome ...

One of the richest metaphors that we find throughout the Scriptures for God’s people is that of a family. God is our Father and we are his children (Col. 1:12 and countless other places). Jesus is our older brother (Heb. 2:11). Fellow Christians are called sisters and brothers. In other places we are called the bride of Christ (Rev. 19). Family is everywhere. And it is not just a metaphor, it is a way of life for God’s people that is given expression in the local church. To be sure being part of God’s family extends beyond the walls of the local church. I am sure that you, like me, have been amazed when miles from home, you find a camaraderie with the people of God in other locales. But it is in the local church that we are embraced most fully as family. Where, like in a family, we are known and know; and still love.

A couple of thoughts to take this deeper: There is an old saying, “you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” How true that is in the church. As mentioned above, God is at work through the Gospel to bring people out of darkness into the Kingdom of Light, his family, where we share his inheritance. And the people that he is gathering are from every tribe, tongue, people and nation (Rev. 7). They are short and they are tall. They are rich and they are poor. Extroverts and introverts. Democrats and Republicans. Married, single, old and young. Some get along marvelously with others, while others are more prickly. God takes all these people, throws them together in a local church and says, “Family.” Talking about embracing this family with welcome means gladly receiving this broad diversity because God has done it, and collectively this family gives us the clearest picture of the God we serve.

But loving this kind of diversity is not easy. Therefore, we are encouraged through the Gospel, to embrace the family that God has given us. Embracing is an act wherein we encircle someone with our arms to draw them close and hold them tight. Obviously we cannot physically do this with all in the church. So what does this look like? The answer is surprisingly broad, and surprisingly simple. It looks like showing up: for church, graduations, birthdays, hospital visits, and the like. Our presence is an embrace. It looks like staying steady: rejoicing with those who rejoice, mourning with those who mourn, bearing the burdens of those weighed down, standing in the gap for those whose lives are headed off the rails. It looks like listening... a lot! Sharing what we have. Perhaps most significantly, embracing one another looks like saying sorry and learning to forgive (as God in Christ forgave us - Eph. 4:32). If there is one thing you can count on in the church it is that we will both be offended and offend, be wounded and wound. Embracing our family means leaning into the resources the Gospel affords and learning to live at peace with one another.

How wonderful it is to belong, through no merit of our own, to the family of God. As we do embrace our family with welcome, we give testimony to the world of the reality of the Gospel and more importantly we bring glory to God.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Engaging God's World with Winsomeness

One of my favorite hymns growing up was “This is My Father’s World”. For some reason, as a boy I connected with the truths expressed in that hymn, both the beauty of creation that declares the glory of God, as well as the absolute sovereignty of the Lord over his world. For today I want to think about our Father’s world as the arena in which we begin our response to the Gospel, picking up from last week in our attempt to articulate who we are as a church.

Enlivened by the Gospel, we will engage God’s world with winsomeness ...

Last week we started with the centrality of the Gospel with regards to who we are and in turn how that informs how we live. And of course where we live is our Father’s world, this wonderfully created cosmos that shows forth his splendor day by day. As humans we are the crowning point of his creation, a status that we as Christians share with every other human walking the face of this earth. It is this shared status within our Father’s world that gives shape to the service of the redeemed. First, we are to love the world that he has made. The birds with their carols, the morning light, the lily white, they all declare their maker’s praise. How can we turn our backs on that which God has endowed with such beauty? This comprehensive care for the world is not limited to creation, but also extends to the social systems developed by his image bearers. The care for creation and the development of creation result from the cultural mandate to tend the garden and keep (Gn. 2:15) it and fill the earth and subdue it (Gn. 1:26-28). Second, we are to love the crowning point of his creation, namely his image bearers that inhabit his world. There exists within humanity an incredible equality. We all, regardless of our ethnic background, social status, or religious convictions are made in his image. There is no room in our Father’s world for looking down our noses at those who are different from us, either ideologically or ethnically.

If the world is theatre of our living out the Gospel, what is the manner in which we do so? Two things stand out. First we engage. To engage someone, one is to attract their attention or establish a meaningful connection with them. As those ravished by the Gospel, our great desire is to share the good news with those who are not living with the benefit of Gospel resources. Or as others have put it, as beggars who have found bread, we want to share the good news of where to find bread with other beggars. This is the church scattered. At home, at work, in our neighborhoods, community centers, grocery stores, school systems, retirement homes, wherever God had planted us in his world. We look to engage. We engage informally on our own time and in our own ways. We engage more formally as a church community, inviting, advocating, sharing, always with the Gospel at the center. Secondly, because it is the Gospel that we are engaging the world with, we can always do it with winsomeness. The Gospel is a heart-achingly beautiful story. It is a warm sunrise after a cold night. The Gospel overflows with grace and truth. It is true that the Gospel preached will be the odor of death to some (2 Cor 2:15,16), but that is the message of the Gospel falling on hearts dead set against it, it is not the manner of our messaging that offends. When it comes to engaging God’s world we must be very careful of being “Angry Christians.” A careful reading of scriptures reveals that God’s anger is most often reserved for His people who should know better, while a gracious hand is extended to those who are outside of his grace.

And so we build an ethos, one that starts with that Gospel, and then looks to live that Gospel in our Father’s world. Next week we will take it a bit farther and begin to look at what happens when the Gospel engages the world.

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears ….

Friday, May 13, 2016

Enlivened by the Gospel

Being back in GR and being relatively new I often get asked about our church. Where is it? What is the PCA all about, etc.. ? So after I explain that the church is located on Breton, north of 28th street — and then to clear up their confusion say, “behind the drive-in church” — I endeavor to explain what makes us tick. Articulating what makes us tick is actually a conversation that we have been having on the Session level. How do we best capture who we are in a way that honors the past, reflects the present and points us to the future. I want to take the next couple of weeks to share with you some of the fruits of those labors. For those that have been at Christ Church for some time you will recognize a lot of continuity. Ideas like “where we see the world through the cross of Christ” will resonate, as will “reach up, reach in, reach out.” But as we move forward into the next phase of the journey that God has us as Christ Church on, it is our belief that a fresh articulation of these old themes would be helpful in uniting old and new alike and galvanizing us in the service of the Kingdom.

So where do we start? Where else but with the Gospel. The starting place we have chosen for describing who we are as a community is this Enlivened by the Gospel... Let’s take this statement apart for a minute, starting with the term Gospel. The Gospel is the good news (for all who will humble themselves in repentance) that though we are more broken and sinful than we can imagine, through faith in the atoning work of Christ, we are more forgiven, loved and accepted than we ever dared hope. As you can see, the Gospel is good news for individuals. As Jesus said to Nicodemus many years ago, “ you must be born again”. The promise of the Gospel is that through faith in the finished work of Christ we are reborn, converted as it were from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light (Col. 1:13). This is great news, and it is even better in that the Gospel is not only good news for individuals but it is also for communities, cities, indeed all of creation! We will look more into this in coming weeks.

But it is important to note that the Gospel is more than just the starting point for entry into the kingdom; it is actually the prism through which we see and evaluate every aspect of our lives, returning again and again to the truths of the Gospel for guidance. Why did Peter, a mature believer, get off track in his treatment of the Gentiles? Because he was not walking in accordance with the truths of the Gospel (Galatians 2:11-14). We start in the Gospel and we stay in the Gospel. We don’t ever graduate beyond the Gospel. I hope you recognize this as foundational to who we are as a church. Preaching, teaching, counseling, worship, fellowship, service; everything is informed by the good news of God’s truth and grace, the Gospel.

Also note the term Enlivened. This is a passive term, i.e something that is done to us. All of us by nature are conceived and born in sin (Ps. 51:5). The apostle elaborates on that by saying we are dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1, Col. 2:13). I trust that all of you know you don’t walk into a morgue and cry for the dead to rise. If the dead are to be brought to life, an outside force has to be brought to bear, they cannot do it on their own. And God through his Holy Spirit has brought about this miracle in his people, where there was death there now is life. But “passive” does not mean powerless, for where that life has begun it is continually enlivened by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. This Gospel life does not only convert us and make us God’s, but it empowers us to live as brightly shining stars (cf. Philippians 2:15).

So what is special about Christ Church? Nothing in and of itself, but we are community infused and enthused with the Gospel and that is something worth shouting about. It is this Gospel wonder that we want to share with as many as we can!

I recognize that we have only scratched the surface of all that the scriptures have to say about the Gospel. Many of you could add to, clarify and elaborate on the above thoughts. We could talk about justification, sanctification, imputation, active righteousness, passive righteousness, etc… Because the Gospel is so full-orbed there is much to ponder and wonder over each and every week. This week we are back to the “Gospel according to Amos”. Chapter 7 brings the justice and mercy of God into sharp relief. Remember this is God’s gracious word to a people whom he loves deeply. May our hearts be ready to receive it!