More Than Conquerors

Today I had the privilege of attending the fourth quarterly gathering of Plant Midwest, a church-planting networking initiative that spans the Midwest but materializes for us as a Southeast Michigan chapter hosted by our friends at Restore Church in Detroit. Several of my friends and co-laborers have been attending these Gospel-centered gatherings for a time in the word, fellowship, and prayer. I always find these gatherings energizing. This quarterly's talk was about the exclusivity of the claims of the Gospel brought to us by Jared Wilson who is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, VT and a contributor to the Gospel Coalition Blog. A highlight of his talk for me was an edifying reference he made to John Chrysostom when he was being tried by the emperor as an example of how the true Gospel radically transforms our worldview. Here is the reference as it appears also on Pastor Jared's TGC blog (I hope you find it encouraging too):

In A.D. 404 John Chrysostom, the early church father, was brought in before the Roman emperor. The emperor threatened him with banishment if he remained a Christian.

Chrysostom responded, ‘You cannot banish me, for this world is my Father’s house.’

‘But I will kill you,’ said the emperor.

‘No, you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God,’ said Chrysostom.

‘I will take away your treasures.’

‘No, you cannot, for my treasure is in heaven and my heart is there.’

‘But I will drive you away from your friends and you will have no one left.’

‘No, you cannot, for I have a friend in heaven from whom you cannot separate me. I defy you, for there is nothing you can do to harm me.’

(And this anecdote always reminds me of my favorite line from Richard Sibbes’s The Bruised Reed: “A Christian is an impregnable person. He is a person that never can be conquered.”)

TGC source: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/gospeldrivenchurch/2012/02/27/a-christian-is-a-person-who-cannot-be-conquered/

  

The New Exodus & The Way Home

Find_Your_Own_Way_Home.jpg

My wife and I watched the movie Defiance the other night. It was about the true story of the Bielski partisans in World War II era Poland. The Bielskies were four Jewish brothers, who managed to flee to the Naliboki Forest after their parents and other family members were killed by Nazis in a Jewish ghetto in August 1941. Together with 13 neighbors, they formed the nucleus of a partisan combat group in the spring of 1942 who fought against the Nazi occupiers. Originally, the group consisted of around forty people, but grew quickly as more and more people were rescued from ghettos in nearby towns. Hundreds of men, women, and children eventually found their way to the Bielski camp in the forest. At its peak, 1,236 people belonged to the group, and 70% were women, children, and the elderly; no one was turned away. About 150 engaged in armed operations.

They lived in underground dugouts, built a kitchen, a mill, a bakery, a bathhouse, and a medical clinic for the sick and wounded. Herds of cows supplied milk. Tailors, shoemakers, leather-workers, smiths, cobblers, carpenters, hat-makers, barbers, and watchmakers all served the community and guests. Children attended class in a dugout school. The camp even had its own jail and court of law. The Nazi regime offered a reward of 100,000 Reichsmarks for assistance in the capture of the leader, Tuvia Bielski. However, not everything the Bielski group was involved in was innocent. They sent bands to raid nearby villages and to forcibly seize food. On occasion their raids involved violence and even murder. On a few occasions the camp was compromised and the entire entourage would have to pack up and relocate.

In the movie, at least, the leader, Tuvia, is thematically compared to Moses leading the people on an exodus journey out from the threat of Nazi extermination to freedom. Especially striking is a scene where the community is caught between an advancing Nazi unit on their tails and an extensive maze of swamps and rivers like Moses and the people of Israel caught between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea.

We gravitate toward Exodus stories. The Bielski community didn’t experience any nature-altering miracles like Moses, but we are moved by such Exodus-like stories nevertheless. There is something inside each one of us that knows deep down inside that the human race is enslaved and needs to be set free. Once free we are set on a journey to arrive finally at our home where we find rest. That journey often involves facing impossible odds. In the biblical Exodus story the impossible odds (like being caught between an army and the Red Sea) are what give God the most glory because he alone is the One who must miraculously rescue the people lest they meet their certain demise.

Not the only Exodus. The story of Moses and the people of Israel shaking off their Egyptian bonds and traveling toward the Promised Land is not the only Exodus story in the Bible. The theme shows up again a thousand years later at the time of Israel’s captivity in Babylon. The prophets just preceding that era like Isaiah and Jeremiah and those prophets who were contemporary with the Exile like Ezekiel and Daniel frequently speak in a manner that shows that what God plans to do in Israel’s future will involve yet another Exodus story.  There’s an initial “new Exodus” that occurs when Ezra and Nehemiah lead the remnant of Israel back to rebuild Jerusalem under the graciousness of King Cyrus.

Exodus in Acts? The 19th chapter of Acts may seem like an unlikely place to find references to a “second Exodus” but if we pay attention we will see that all the language is there. In Chapter 19 we find Paul returning to Ephesus after a visit to the “sending church” in Antioch. There he discovers and informs some Ephesian disciples of John the Baptist that their faith is not fulfilled without Jesus. They had only heard of the message of John the Baptist and hadn’t been filled in all the way about Jesus the very one to whom John the Baptist pointed. In Acts 19:1-11 Luke records: 

And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples.  2 And he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."  3 And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" They said, "Into John's baptism."  4 And Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus."  5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.  7 There were about twelve men in all.  8 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.  9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.  10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. 

Not the First Time. This was not the first time Paul had been to Ephesus. Apollos had been to Ephesus too. But on previous visits Paul had missed these disciples. Notice that Luke calls them disciples but at first doesn’t say of whom they are disciples. That comes out in Paul’s conversation with them. He probes with questions that reveal that they are not, in fact, disciples of Jesus at all but only of John the Baptist. Paul’s questions are revealing. John Stott points out for us that Paul's first question linked the Spirit with faith, and his second question linked the Spirit with baptism. In other words, both his questions expressed his assumptions that those who have believed have received the Spirit, and those who have been baptized have received the Spirit. Paul could not separate the sign of water baptism from the thing signified – the presence of the Holy Spirit in someone who had been born again. Paul simply took it for granted that baptized believers have received the Spirit. We have seen that Peter also taught this in Acts 2:38

And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

Both of Paul’s questions imply that to have believed and been baptized and not to have received the Spirit is an glaringly extraordinary inconsistency.{C}{C}[1]{C}{C} But some use this text as a proof that true salvation comes in two stages: first you believe in Jesus and then you later receive a second baptism of the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues. But a text without the context is a pretext for a prooftext. In other words, we need to look closely at what is happening here.

What has already been said? Just going from what has been said so far in the Book of Acts about “speaking in tongues” what can we conclude about it? Initially in accordance with the prophecy of the Prophet Joel God poured out the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and they spoke in different languages   that all could understand the gospel (in Acts 2). Then there were subsequent occurrences like in Acts 10 with Peter and Cornelius. Notice how Peter describes Cornelius’ encounter with the Holy Spirit to the apostles in Jerusalem in Acts 11:15-18

As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning.  16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'  17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?"  18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life."

These instances including here in 19:6 point to tongues as a sign to the Jewish background apostles that the Holy Spirit as truly fallen upon Gentiles which indicated to them that they were truly given repentance and salvation. But notice also that both Peter and Paul identify speaking in tongues as a fulfillment of John’s prophecy that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. So, far tongues is shown to be a sign that in Jesus, God was fulfilling all that John the Baptist was preaching about, preparing the way for, and pointing to.

They had heard only John. These disciples of John had obviously heard John preach by the banks of the Jordan river many years prior. But these disciples of John way out in Ephesus had not heard about what had happened at Pentecost. They were still waiting for that prophecy from John to be fulfilled. “In a word, they were still living in the Old Testament which culminated with John the Baptist. They understood neither that the new age had been ushered in by Jesus, nor that those who believe in him and are baptized into him receive the distinctive blessing of the new age, the indwelling Spirit.”{C}{C}[2]{C}{C} Paul showed them that John’s message was not complete in itself – it was only pointing to the ultimate way of restoration in Jesus Christ. In his gospel, Luke described John the Baptist’s ministry. In Luke 3:3-6 we read:

And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.  5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways,  6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God."

All Accounts Agree: John fulfilled Isaiah 40. Notice that Luke quotes Isaiah 40:3-5. Zachariah, John’s father makes mention of this same prophecy as he prophesied over his newborn son in Luke 1:76. John himself alludes to Isaiah in reference to himself in John 1:23. Isaiah 40:3-5 is significant for Luke. In fact, this quotation  provides the key for interpreting the rest of Luke and Acts (Luke's "two-volume set").{C}{C}[3]{C}{C}.

What is this uttering in Isaiah 40 all about? The quotation from Isaiah talks about a "new exodus" God would bring about. This new exodus in both Isaiah and in Acts is called the “way” (from Isaiah 40:3). This prophecy is “the beginning of an extended section in Isaiah that prophesies the coming of a new exodus whereby Israel will be delivered from bondage in Babylon.”{C}{C}[4]{C}{C} This prophecy of a new exodus is developed extensively throughout the following chapters of Isaiah and it is paralleled in Luke’s description of the advancement of the gospel in Acts.

Here’s how it works: Isaiah tells us that although they were being punished for 70 years in captivity under the Babylonian empire, one day the remnant of Israel would be on their “Way” out of exile – not simply to return to Jerusalem but to return to God Himself. If you read the story of the return of the remnant of Israel to Jerusalem in the books of Ezra & Nehemiah in the Old Testament, you will see that yes, they rebuilt the temple, but God’s presence never comes down and inhabits the temple as he did with the tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Solomon. God would wait to dwell among his people in a different way. God would ultimately restore his people to himself through His own Son, Jesus.

John said, "I prepare the way." This is what John meant when he recited the words of Isaiah the prophet in reference to his own ministry. He understood that Israel’s return to the land 400+ years before his own time was not the ultimate restoration God had in mind. The ultimate restoration of Israel was not to bring them back to the land and rebuild the temple. It was to restore them to God Himself.

Jesus said, "I am the Way." And God would restore his relationship with his sheep along with sheep from outside the original sheepfold to himself through Jesus – the one for whom John “prepared the way.”  Later Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) You see, the “true exodus” is not from bondage in Egypt or exile in Babylon but an exodus from the bondage of sin. And the ultimate and true restoration - truly “coming home” - is not coming into the promised land or rebuilding the temple, but the restoration of our broken relationships with God and coming home to be with God for eterninty.

Luke said the Church is the "Way" cont'd.  The new exodus journey continues on into the book of Acts. In Acts the namethe Way” is then given to the church. Notice the repeated reference to the Christian movement as ‘the Way’ in Acts, which most of the time occurs in contexts of persecution or opposition.”{C}[5]{C} (Two of 6 references happen in chapter 19)

Acts 9:2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Acts 19:9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.

Acts 19:23 About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way.

Acts 22:4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women,

Acts 24:14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets,

Acts 24:22 But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, "When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case."

This is intentional. God orchestrated that this name be given the early believers. The use of the name “the Way” identifies “the church as God’s true people” under Jesus and the New Covenant that He is bringing home into restoration through faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. God is telling us that the church was beginning to fulfill the prophesies of Isaiah that Israel would return from exile.

A new identity and a new life by grace alone. And what we have discovered from the story of Acts is that the name the “Way” isn’t reserved just for ethnic Jews. But the "Way" describes both the ones just joining the journey and those who had belonged to it for a long time. This is because the only way to “participate in this restoration journey [is] by believing in Christ and joining others who already believed and were walking on ‘the Way,’ progressing in their new-exodus journey,” following their Messiah. This is accomplished by the grace of God, not human will nor birthright. But the "Way" also referred “to a manner of ongoing Christian living as part of a restoration journey.”{C}[6]{C} It’s not just about being saved by grace it is about living by grace.  

How does this way continue today? In a word: by the gospel. This is why we preach the central message of the Bible, the gospel. Isaiah says, “the word of God stands forever.” Luke reminds us in Acts 19:10 that:

"This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks."

In verse 20, one of Luke’s chapter markers he writes:

So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.”

The repeated phrase "the word of God" or "the word of the Lord" (occurring over 20x, plus other variants with ‘word’ in Acts) also points to Isaiah’s new-exodus prophecy. The stress in Acts on the journeying of God everlasting and all powerful word in creating a community based on the word pops up throughout Acts as kind of “chapter markers” (e.g., 6:7; 12:24; 19:20). It is God’s mighty word being preached that brings about the restoration in Isaiah and it is God’s mighty word that creates the church in Acts. Despite opposition from the Jews, the rioting of the Gentiles, or even the attacks of the demon-possessed (see the rest of Acts 19), the word makes its way and accomplishes its goal of creating the church community, which, in contrast to the Jewish religion, is identified over and over again as the true heir of all God's "new exodus" and restoration promises in Isaiah.[7]

So, Luke in Acts shows that the end-time second exodus prophesied in Isaiah 40 was being fulfilled. Believing Jews and gentiles together compose the true Israel that is journeying in this second exodus toward their true home in Heaven with God.[8]

Let me ask you a quetion: Are you on that journey? Or are you...

1}·        Stuck in a "religion" trying to please God and be accepted by God through your obedience? The Gospel says you can be accepted by God by his grace. The way home by God’s grace is to put your faith in Jesus, The Way, alone.

2}·              Stuck in an incomplete state of exile? Perhaps like the Ephesian disciples of John you repented of your sins but then went back to relying on your own works to please God. Again, The way home is by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, The Way, alone. Preach the gospel of grace to yourself every day.

The way out of addiction – the way out of legalism – the way out of bondage to a past of abuse – the way out of loneliness - the way out of brokeness - the way out of anger - the way out of bitterness... AND

The way to a belonging – the way to wholeness – the way to holiness – the WAY HOME...

...is by the Grace of God to put your faith in Jesus Christ, the Way, the life and the Truth.

[1] John Stott, The Message of Acts, 304.

[2] Stott, Acts, 304.

[3] Greg Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 857.

[4] Beale, NT Biblical Theology, 857.

[5] Beale, NT Biblical Theology, 857.

[6] Beale, NT Biblical Theology, 858.

[7] Beale, NT Biblical Theology, 702.

[8] Beale, NT Biblical Theology, 703.

What Do You Think About Gaza?

In a recent email prayer-letter I mentioned that a gentleman on our church-plant team for Christ Community Church here in Dearborn, a pediatric surgeon at Beaumont Hospital here in the Detroit area, has had a tremendous burden to be used for God’s glory in Gaza. This week he was granted permission to travel into Gaza for 10 days under the auspices of a reputable international medical organization to lend a hand in the overwhelming need for medical and surgical assistance thereHe is our dear and beloved brother. We love his heart and we love his family. Our brother goes not just to repair bodies but he goes for the sake of Jesus and his Gospel and we are sending him in the grace of God, the name of Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit. In the hope that the Spirit will stir your heart to prayer, I wanted to share Nathan’s own prayer letter with you:

Dearest friends,

For years now I have sensed God’s call for me to go to war-torn countries – particularly during the war.  God has been gracious in training me in both adult and pediatric trauma surgery and with that comes responsibility. Additionally and more importantly, Christ’s love compels me – controls me to love as He loved.

It is for this reason that when I saw the suffering in the faces of the people of Gaza I could not suppress my desire to go.  God opened a door for me to go to Gaza tomorrow. My plan is to arrive around 10 am Eastern time in Israel. I will spend the night in Jerusalem and then travel into Gaza City.  As I write this, the ceasefire was just broken 3 hours before it was due to expire. 

I am not afraid. I believe God has called me to this and His Sovereign Will is better than any plan I could devise. I do ask that you pray for me and the situation. God hears the cries of His people. [My wife] and the girls need your prayers too. If I am killed they need your prayers and your support. The Church is called to care for widows and orphans and so I ask that you would love them and care for them in my absence. I have no doubt that God will show His Faithfulness to them through many things but often and maybe most visibly through you.

Please pray also for the Gospel to be heard and for Palestinians and Israelis to receive Christ with joy. He is the only hope for salvation and the end of wars. 

Come Lord Jesus!

For Christ and His Kingdom,

If these words seem extreme or unreasonable to you, I would encourage you to re-read the words of Jesus to his disciples about his own suffering and theirs. Jesus said,

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.  25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?  26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26)

I would encourage you to ask yourself if you really take seriously the call to follow Jesus, if you really take to heart the commission of Jesus, and if you really believe in the sovereignty of God and the rock-solid certainty of his promises of a glorious future for all who trust in Christ. I would also encourage you to read a couple books that explore these themes like John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life and David Platt’s Radical.  

For a balanced article to start a better and more reasonable discussion of the Church's biblical response to the past and present conflicts in Israel & Gaza please see World Magazine's article The Awkward Truth About Evangelicals and Gaza

http://www.christiantoday.com/article/the.awkward.truth.about.evangelicals.and.gaza/39393.htm

Finally, from August 8-19 please pray for wisdom, discernment, medical effectiveness, gospel-opportunities, and God’s protective hand to be upon our brother as he travels into a very difficult region in the name of the Lord.  Please pray for his wife and girls as they await his return. Thank you for praying with us for our brother as he serves the Lord like the Lord served us.

Antioch: The City, The Church, The Christians.


 Paul & Barnabas' 1st Missionary Journey starting in Antioch

Paul & Barnabas' 1st Missionary Journey starting in Antioch

"Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews.  20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus.  21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.  22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.  23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose,  24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.  25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul,  26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians." (Acts 11:19-26)

Before the conversion of  Saul, the severe persecution under his zealous leadership had scattered believers as far as Phoenicia, which is present day Lebanon, the island of Cyprus which is off the coast of Lebanon to the Northwest, and all the way up north to the coastal city of Antioch (in modern day Syria). The believers who fled to these places brought the gospel message with them. Most of them, Luke points out, had preached the gospel to other Jews only. But some believers crossed cultural divides and proclaimed the gospel to non-Jews too. As a result we are told, Gentiles were also coming into the Kingdom. The city of Antioch then became the location of a new new outpost for the advancement of the mission of the church into the rest of the Roman Empire.

But even though the church experienced a relative time of peace with the conversion of Paul, sporadic persecution continued over the years. A great amount of time is summarized between the end of Chapter 9 and the beginning of chapter 13 – possibly nearly 15 years. During that time Herod had James, the brother of John put to death and sought to arrest Peter (12:1-3). Peter ends up thrown in jail but was miraculously rescued when late at night an angel loosened his bonds and escorted him out past the gate into the street. Herod was enraged but eventually met his own end when he received the praise of some of his subjects from Tyre and Sidon calling him a god, and “Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory…” (Acts 12:23). With Herod out of the way “the word of God increased and multiplied” more freely again (Acts 12:24).

Now once Barnabas had brought Paul to Antioch a new phase in the advancement of God’s Kingdom began (Acts 13:1-5).

Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. 4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.

And that would constitute the start of what we call Paul & Barnabas’ first “missionary Journey” which is tracked from city to city in the Roman Empire in chapters 13-14. So here we see a shift of geographical focus from one city (namely, Jerusalem) to another city (Antioch). Jerusalem was largely a Jewish city but with Antioch, now we see a shift to a radically diverse metropolis. The hub of the church’s gospel mission has shifted from one major city to another major city. Now the young church has moved from its Jerusalem-based, Judaism-oriented origins, and is becoming increasingly Gentile as a movement based in a Gentile city. From this point onward Antioch will act as the starting point for all three of the Paul’s missionary journeys through out the Roman Empire (chaps. 13,15,18).[1] Let’s explore these passages from the word of God in three movements:

The City – The Church – The “Christian”

The City: Antioch & its significance. The city of Antioch was significant in the empire. The Roman Empire was one of the most urbanized empires the world had ever seen. Only now in recent history is the world beginning to look like what the Roman Empire looked like. It had the most densely populated cities, it was the most pluralistic Empire religiously, It was the most troubled – with disease and inner strife, and it was extremely multi-ethnic. The city of Rome itself had 1 Million people! After the fall of the Roman Empire that size and kind of city didn’t appear again until the 1850’s. And those more recent cities were much more homogeneous than Rome. Tim Keller remarks that we’re only just now catching up with kind of cities in the world that resemble the cities in the Roman Empire. Antioch was the 3rd largest city in the Roman Empire (after Rome & Alexandria) and some estimate that its population was about 500,000.[2] Antioch's importance in the Roman World cannot be underestimated. It was founded in 300 B.C. by Seleucus Nicator after his victory over Antigonus. The name Antioch was given in honor of his father. In Acts, two cities by the name of Antioch are mentioned, Antioch of Syria and Antioch of Pisidia. Antioch of Syria was located at the head of the Orontes River about twenty kilometers inland, east of the Mediterranean Sea and although it was inland it was possible to navigate by boat along the river from the sea to Antioch. Under the Greek Empire it flourished and became a wealthy sophisticated meeting point of Greek and Oriental cultures. When Rome occupied Syria in 64 B.C., Antioch became a regional military headquarters. Due to the importance of the city it underwent many renovations and improvements along Roman lines, which not only added to its beautification, but also served more practical purposes, such as communication and defense. Another significant factor about Antioch is that it was…

The city of Antioch was Culturally Diverse. With a population as high as 500,000, or more, Antioch was quite urban, even by today's standards.[3] The city, shared many of the characteristics typical of urban centers today. There was a great multiplicity of cultures. Many languages were spoken, as traders, travelers, and full-time residents interacted. Communication to and from Antioch was possible with almost anywhere in the Roman world.

 The City of Antioch was also pluralistic Religiously. Like we see in many of today’s cities, where there is a multiplicity of cultures there is naturally also a greater spirit of religious pluralism and tolerance (maybe even universalism). One scholar describes it this way:

In the time of Christ, a special religious situation had grown up in Antioch which was to make the city peculiarly fertile ground when Christianity reached it. Antioch had shared, with other centers in which Hellenistic religion and philosophy had flourished, the changes characteristic of the late Hellenistic age, in which the old religious cults and philosophies were tending to become matters of individual belief… In addition the city, as a meeting point of the Greeks and the Oriental civilizations, filled with orientalized Greeks and Hellenized Orientals of all classes and all degrees of education, had come to contain, as part of its normal daily existence, not only the old established Hellenic cults, of Zeus, Apollo, and the rest of the pantheon, by the Syrian cults of Baal and the mother-goddess—partly assimilated to Zeus and Artemis—as well as the mystery religions with their doctrines of salvation, of death and regeneration, and their promises for the afterlife. As one of the largest cities of the Roman Empire and one of the great commercial centers of the ancient world, with business connections in all parts of the empire, Antioch saw the coming and going of people of all sorts, bringing news of events everywhere in the Roman world. Another factor of prime importance was the presence of a large and ancient Jewish community. This community had attracted to its ceremonies and its teachings numbers of Gentiles who found in Judaism an ethical doctrine that was more satisfactory to them than the pagan teaching. Thus Antioch was peculiarly receptive to the new message.[4]

For the sake of keeping peace and order in a city with such a diversity of ethnicity, cultures, and religions, somewhere along the line in Antioch’s history, walls were built to fence off the various groups from one another. Jews lived in their quarter, Greeks in theirs, Romans in theirs. These walls were symbolic of the great divides between the worldviews of the co-inhabitants of Antioch. Later, by the time Barnabas and Paul would arrive there, “by far the biggest wall was that which divided the Jews and the Gentiles.” From a worldview perspective, the Jews had as the center of their religious culture their faith and law. They understood themselves as the people been chosen by the One True God, YHWH, for a special purpose to bring God’s will to bear on the world. The Greeks on the other hand, upheld their great civilization and wisdom as the center of their worldview. Gaining Knowledge and cultivating the human society was of utmost importance to them. For the Romans it was Power. For the Jews, everything revolved around their religion— their chosenness, the supremacy of the Lord God. 

The Church: Christ's body in Antioch thrived! (we’re moving from the “city” to the “church”) The amazing thing is that despite all this diversity and pluralism of religion and culture – something today we typically see as a serious challenge to Christianity…the book of Acts tells us that the church flourished in this environment. The gospel just broke out and spread like wildfire! That is the opposite of what most believers think when they think about the city. Why did the church at Antioch thrive?

The church at Antioch thrived because of the transforming power of the Gospel My son and I spent a lot of time in some rough neighborhoods in Detroit this summer. Josh was doing the filming for an urban ministry called Hope For the City that a friend of ours heads up. When we met people who have come from small towns to help with the ministry here they remarked about how fearful they were to come to the city. We have found that people in rural parts of Michigan even perceive Dearborn with fear. We have a friend who is a young adult planning to move here to Dearborn and her parents are scared to death about her coming here. Most Christians just don’t think the city is a good place for Christians. Tim Keller insists just the opposite: that “The more urban the place is the greater the power of the gospel to be revealed.” The more people there are in close proximity, the more sin, sickness, and desperation there is in one place. When people in these kinds of circumstances meet with difficulty, suffering, and trial there is a greater sense of their need for hope. The physical or circumstantial desperation leads people to a greater sense of their spiritual need for outside help. And when they hear the gospel it is more often met by people who already know their need for transformation and hope. This was what Jesus was describing when he told the story of two men praying at the temple:

"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.'  13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'  14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:10-14 )

There are many people who are humbled by their circumstances in our city and these people tend to be more able and ready to admit their humility and need within for a Savior to cleanse from sin. Why else did the church at Antioch thrive?

The Church at Antioch thrived because it’s congregation and leadership mirrored the Cultural Diversity of  the city (consider Acts 13:1-3)D.A. Carson points out that the “church leadership in Antioch must have been extraordinarily diverse (13:1).” Barnabas was a Levite (of the Jewish priestly heritage) but he was from the Greek society on the Island of Cyprus (4:36-37). Then there was Simeon (a Jewish name) “called Niger” an expression that pretty much just means “Simon the Black” so he could have been the son of African proselytes to Judaism or a convert himself. We don’t know much about Lucius of Cyrene but apparently, he, like Barnabas, was from a Mediterranean island, and the form of his name shows he belongs to the Hellenistic world.[5] Manean had enough connections with minor nobility that he had grown up with Herod the tetrarch. Then, of course we have Saul, by this time a veteran evangelist, church planter, and Bible teacher of fifteen years’ experience. Just as Jesus had called him he moved more and more in Gentile circles, and used the name connected with his Roman citizenship, Paul (13:9). Paul was from out of town – from Tarsus. So the leadership of the church Antioch reflected the ethnic and cultural diversity of the city of Antioch! It is our desire too that CCC’s congregation and leadership would reflect, yes, mirror the ethnic demographic of our city, the age demographic of our city, and the socio-economic demographic of our city. This will mean we are doing our job to make disciples of all ethne! This means we celebrate diversity of race and language and culture. Why? Because this reflects what our eternity will be like:

"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  10 and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" (Revelation 7:9-10 ) 

But how does this happen? This leads us to our final movement:  “The Christians”

Not only does the City reveal the power of the gospel to transform individuals but it also reveals the power of the gospel to transform our relationships. When Seleucus Nicator built the city of Antioch why did he build walls within it to separate people of different backgrounds from each other? He knew every race typically thinks of itself as greater than all the rest. So he built walls around the ghettos to protect each of the ethnic neighborhoods from harming the others.

Now here’s another question: Why were the believers first called “Christians” in Antioch? Many speculate that it was a derogatory name that stuck. Like “Yankee Doodle” or the “nun” in Iraq. But consider this: if some citizens in Antioch from every race and creed were putting their faith in Jesus then people were literally crossing lines and climbing walls to worship with each other. There was a new identifiable group – it needed a new name! Jesus broke down the dividing walls! So, they could not be identified by their race or any of the existing religious or pagan identities. What these people shared was eternally deeper than culture, or race, or shared religious heritage and the people of Antioch could identify them according to their shared transformed lives in Christ – their new identity was in Christ! This new transformed identity transformed their relationships – the walls came down. Only the gospel message can do this in a city – and our city has a very checkered past when it comes to racism. High and thick walls must come down and only the gospel message can make that happen.

There has been a movement in missions in the Middle East to encourage the disuse of the label “Christian.” I would be careful.  This term appears in only one other place in Scripture. It is where Peter writes: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” (1 Peter 4:16). But more important than the name – is what the name represents. Consider this:

"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,  16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility." (Ephesians 2:13-16) 

What's the Personal application here? Well, consider a few points: First, without the gospel and the City you wouldn’t have the friends you have – your pride or zoning would keep you away from each other.

Secondly, you can be like Barnabas. At a time when the church in Jerusalem was growing so quickly it must have been impossible of the apostles to remember everyone’s name, this Joseph was noticed for his remarkable gift of encouragement; as a result he was rewarded with a nickname that reflected his character: Barnabas – Son of Encouragement.[6] 

Barnabas was not involuntarily scattered like the others. He was commissioned and sent by the church in Jerusalem to move to Antioch and be intentionally and permanently “scattered”. Nobody does much for God if they stay put where they already are comfortable. At CCC we like to think of our GPS what is your Gospel Positioning Strategy – strategy cannotes intentionality – are you being intentional with where God has placed you in this city for the gospel?

Barnabas served. Isn't it amazing that Barnabas who probably could have done a decent job pastoring the church in Antioch, goes and gets a better preacher (Paul)! Barnabas came not only to build a great church but to transform a great city. He new he needed someone as cross-cultural and articulate as Paul. When you are engaged in that kind of kingdom-minded thinking and recruiting it makes you a more effective person for the gospel than you were before. 

So, how do you pray over Dearborn/Detroit? How do you pray over your city? Are you sent? Do you serve? May God give us the grace to do likewise.

Bibliography:

Johnson, Sherman E., Antioch, the Base of Operations” Lexington Theological Quarterly 18 no 2 (Ap 1983), p 64-73.

Rowe, C Kavin, “The ecclesiology of Acts,” Interpretation 66 no 3 Jl 2012, p 259-269.

Rutt, Douglas L., “Antioch as Paradigmatic of the Urban Center of Mission,” Missio Apostolica 11 no 1 (My 2003), p 34-42.

Strauss, Stephen J., “The Significance of Acts 11:26 for the Church at Antioch and Today,” Bibliotheca Sacra 168 no 671 (Jl-S 2011), p 283-300.

Notes:

 

{C}

 

{C}[1]{C} Stephen Um & Justin Buzzard, Why Cities Matter, 74.

[2]{C} Rutt, Douglas L., “Antioch as Paradigmatic of the Urban Center of Mission,” Missio Apostolica 11 no 1 (My 2003), p 34-42.

{C}[3]{C} Douglas Rutt, “Antioch as Paradigmatic of the Urban Center of Mission,” Missio Apostolica 11 no 1 (My 2003), p 34-42.

{C}[4]{C} Downey in his definitive volume, Ancient Antioch 120-121 as quoted in Rutt, “Antioch as Paradigmatic.”

{C}[5]{C} Carson, For the Love of God, July 26.

{C}[6] Carson, For the Love of God, July 26

Nic @ Night Take-away

In the devotional 21 Days of Flesh by Hugh Halter that we are reading together as a church, Halter writes on Day 3:

Jesus lived 33 years but only “worked” for God the Father three years. In that short time, he was able to pour enough into a few men and women, that they were able to carry out a global movement that reached us.  This only happened because Jesus wasted no time. He didn’t try to change the whole universe. He poured his life into just a few, and for a few, 3 years was plenty of time.

It was Jesus’ best use of time to pour his life – his eternal life - into just a few followers. I find that so encouraging! At the same time when I read things like that I really question whether we’ve got our priorities straight. One person Jesus poured his life into was a man named Nicodemus. In fact, he spent just one evening with him and it changed his life.  Jesus had been in Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. We are told in John 2 that Jesus had been spending his days teaching and doing miracles and that “many believed in his name.” Because of the placement of the story of Nicodemus just after that statement we can assume that this is the story of how one of those people came to believe in his name.

There is so much to take-away from this encounter. We have the foundational teaching of Jesus on what it means to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit or "Born Again." We have Jesus' use of the Numbers 21:4-9 passage about Moses' raising up the bronze image of a snake - looking to which in faith would bring healing from poisonous snake-bites as a foreshadowing of how Jesus would be 1) raised up on the cross, 2) raised up from the grave, and 3) raised up to take his place at the right hand of the Father. If we look to the "raised up" Jesus in faith, like the ancient Israelites looked to that bronze snake, we will be healed of the power of sin over us and be delivered from the destruction of the second death.

But here is another take-away from the Nic @ Night account. We don’t hear a whole lot about Nicodemus after his encounter on that dark night alone with Jesus.  But what we do see is that he couldn’t go it alone. Even though as a religious leader he probably had to keep a low profile for fear of persecution from the other religious leaders who would later want so desperately to put Jesus to death. Once later (in John 7) when the Pharisees and chief priests were condemning Jesus and discussing what they should do about Jesus, Nicodemus stood up for Jesus asking them “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” (John 7:50). This public comment must have caught the attention of Joseph of Arimathea another prominent man who was on one of the leadership councils (Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50-51) and is called by John a secret disciple of Jesus (John 19:38). By the time of the crucifixion of Jesus Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea had connected up as brothers in the Family of God and were there together taking care of Jesus’ body and burying him in the tomb from which he would rise three days later (John 19:38-40). The heart that is truly born again seeks out community – companionship – Kingdom family. The great command Jesus left his disciples with was that they would love one another.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)

It is the primary mark of the kingdom of God and you can’t carry out the command to “love another” when you’re going it alone.

Also it is the resurrection that makes such family-fellowship possible. Jesus said that he needed to rise and ascend to the Father so that they would send the Holy Spirit. And it is the Holy Spirit who binds us together as a family. That’s what the blessing at the end of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians points to when he says:

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14)

The Holy Spirit brings fellowship! Jesus described being born again as being “born of the Spirit.” When you believe in Christ and put your trust in Jesus the Holy Spirit makes his home within you. When someone puts trust in the sacrifice of Jesus as sufficient for the cleansing of sins then that person becomes resurrected inwardly – born again of the Spirit and it becomes possible to be inhabited by the Holy Spirit - people who were otherwise sinful and uninhabitable now have the Holy Spirit alive within. Now the Holy Spirit in me recognizes the same Holy Spirit in you and we are bound together in true fellowship.

This key characteristic of the Kingdom – loving one another – also shapes how the kingdom expands. Loving one another grows the church. When it comes to sharing the good news of this re-birth with others it best reflects the Kingdom of God when we do it in community. The next thing Jesus said after he commanded his disciples to “love one another” was:

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35)

The very love we show for one another in this family we call the church has a testimonial element to it. Our love for one another is the way by which we will be identified with Christ – it’s how people know we are indeed Jesus’ disciples. This is likely how Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea found each other. They each saw the love of Christ in the other.

So, we must be careful to maintain a balance in our lives and in our church. When we share the good news of all Jesus has done for us on the cross and all he promises to do for us in the future. When we seek to introduce people to Jesus that they too might be “born again” we need to maintain a clear understanding of what our “job description” is and what God’s work is. We don’t need to coerce anyone into the Kingdom. That’s not what Jesus was doing with Nicodemus. Rather we show love toward one another and share the good news about Jesus with others and it is God who transforms hearts and lives.

But we do need to fuel in ourselves a passion to see people and ourselves transformed by the gospel – not simply to get people “converted.” That’s a rather short-sited goal. Jesus told his disciples to make more disciples not just convert people. But when people are born again we must understand that they are no longer simply individuals but individuals who are now adopted members of the family of God. So we need to see both conversion and community. In the church there is indeed individual transformation but it always takes place in the context of God’s Kingdom – the family of God - that is the church.

This will require us to invest in the people around us. This will be costly. It will demand that you turn on your radar for caring, listening, and responding to real people all around you with real wounds, people who are hurting, who are lonely, who are angry, who are rejoicing in things that don’t last and ultimately destroy them, people who are lost and afraid. It has been difficult for me for much of my life to stay put long enough to really make long-term investments in the people around me for the Kingdom. For more than half of my life I have had my eyes so far on the horizon that I have missed many opportunities to share the love of God with the people living closest to us. Again from Day 4 of  Hugh Halter's 21 Days of Flesh:

One of the greatest myths of life is that ‘its better over there, having what they have or doing what that person does.’  Our world is a transitional space and we move at a pace that pulls us away from being settled in the place God wants us to be.  Most people move at least every three years.  We get on planes to get away.  We struggle to commit to people or to processes because we don’t want to lose our freedom, and at the end of our lives, we have very little legacy with people and often find a gaping hole in our own sense of faithfulness to God.  Christ was from Nazareth… he had a home town.  Yes, he did walk around quite a bit. But before his ministry was visibly in full bloom, he lived 30 years in one area and learned both the discipline and benefit of staying put.  A great question for any leader or any serious follower is, “Lord, where have you called me to invest and live my life?”  “What is my home town?”  “Lord, why am I afraid of committing to this area or these people?”  These are the questions that lead to not only the right answers but real kingdom legacy.  When you find what keeps you on the move, and the underlying insecurities and self-oriented concerns that wage war against ‘the simple life’, AND you let God speak into these issues, you will not only find rest for your soul, but you’ll see fruit begin to bloom all around you.

Let me end on this note: Doesn’t it strike you as absolutely fascinating that the Incarnation of Jesus means that the Almighty God, the Creator, Ruler, and Sustainer of the entire Universe – Lord of both the universe "out there" in the endless expanse of Space and the Lord of the inner universe of the microscopic and atomic and all the immeasurable space between space – that God – the Word that was with God and was God of very God became man of very man and slowed down and walked the dusty roads to Jerusalem from his earthly hometown in Nazareth, and had time to entertain the questions and curiosities of a single man, Nicodemus - on a night that Jesus could have been resting, vegging, recuperating from busy days of healing and teaching in the crowds of stinky pushy people. The Incarnate word of God had time for Nicodemus and it transformed Nicodemus into the man he was created to be – a man who is twice-born, born of the Spirit, complete, forgiven of sin, enjoying eternal life. That Jesus is the Jesus we call “Lord and Master” and it is sufficient that we should become like our “Master.” 

Love Your City Well

Last Fall my wife and I had the privilege of attending the Biennial Meeting of our affiliate churches of Converge MidAmerica held at a church in a southern suburb of Chicago. All of the speakers and break-out sessions were inspiring and informative. As these things go however, a few major points will be made at such conferences that just "stick" with you. One session we attended was entitled "How to Reach Our Increasingly Multi-Cultural Population" by Pastor Garryn Scheske of Heartland Church, Indianapolis. His main point? He said they never set out to plant a "multi-cultural church." But, he said, what they did do was to "Love our city well." We have taken this to heart. As Christ Community Church publicly launches out into Dearborn, our city, we are committing to love our city - the whole thing and everyone it it - well. That's why I'm excited that one of my first public re-introductions to my hometown comes in the form of an article I was asked to write for the Dearborn Free Press. Have a read at: http://www.dearbornfreepress.com/2014/04/09/do-you-love-your-city-why-i-moved-back-to-dearborn/



The Heart of Worshp Part 2

"For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned." (Romans 12:3 )

Does the name Mamoru Samuragochi mean anything to you? Samuragochi is a man once hailed as Japan’s deaf musical genius and likened even to Beethoven. Sadly Samuragochi faced the wrath of his nation last Friday, appearing in public for a press conference for the first time since he was exposed as a fake. During the interview Samuragochi described how his childhood love for music came to fuel an elaborate deception. He had claimed to be the son of a survivor of the attack on Hiroshima, overcame the loss of his hearing at age 35 by writing compositions that captured Japan’s heart.  His Symphony No. 1 “Hiroshima,” about the 1945 atomic bombing of his home city, won accolades and sold almost 200,000 copies. His work even accompanied the Japanese Olympic figure skater Daisuke Takahashi’s program in Sochi, Russia last month. But it all ended when an obscure part-time lecturer at a Tokyo music college revealed that he had been Mr. Samuragochi’s ghostwriter since the 1990s. Even more shocking, he claimed that Mr. Samuragochi was not really deaf. Samuragochi said, “I thought the truth would come out some day.” He confessed at the news conference, “It all grew beyond my control, and filled me with terror.”[2] Pride led to deceit of an unprecedented level and filled Mr. Samuragochi with a kind of inner terror that teetered dangerously on the edge of insanity.

For the follower of Christ – the true worshiper of God, “It’s just not all about you!” It is worship when believers have a mindset that is not inwardly directed (i.e. full of pride), but rather when they have characters that are developing authentic, “sober, sane, sensible, and realistic estim[ations] of themselves.”[1] Indeed pride can produce the most unbelievable examples of inauthenticity coupled with mental self-absorbed insobriety.

Generally speaking, our culture seems to have extremely low tolerance for fakes like Mr. Samuragochi. There’s nothing wrong with desiring authenticity, especially among our leaders and those in positions of influence, authority, and power. But we must also be careful not to make an idol out of authenticity. Anymore, it seems if someone is judged as "inauthentic" then he or she is shunned, never to have any real friends or credibility again. But true humility does not lash out at others for their lack of humility! Jesus said that his disciples would be recognized by their unity and love for one another and in this way show the world that Jesus indeed was sent from God.[3]

So here’s the challenge: Is your worship of God manifesting itself in a realistic estimation of yourself as well as a growing love for others? Do you find yourself having a less censorious, judgmental spirit toward those who do not have as high standards for excellence as you do, or toward those who struggle in their faith? How’s your patience with those who fall, or those who are self-deceived?[4] It is a form of worship to extend grace toward yourself and toward others.

[1] Thomas Schreiner, Romans, 651.

[2] Hiroko Tabuchi, “Disgraced Musician Faces an Angry Japan,” NYTimes, MARCH 7, 2014, accessed on 3/13/14 at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/08/world/asia/disgraced-musician-faces-an-angry-japan.html?ref=hirokotabuchi&gwh=5A6CA8D7ED5D909B45A2CC833A08326D&gwt=regi

[3] John 17:21,23 “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me… 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

[4] Tim Keller, Center Church, 75. Based on the sort of questions asked at a Welsh seait or “Experience Meeting” of William Williams.

The Heart of Worship

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:1 )

The tagline under our church name (as seen here on our website) reads: Glorying in God | Gathering in Grace | Gospelizing the City. This comes out of a basic definition of the church as “God’s People on God’s mission for God’s glory.” We often employ slogans like these to summarize what we are all about. But they are only slogans. It is always important and necessary for us to go deeper into God’s word to understand the great truths that lie behind our slogans. Sound-bytes and slogans are helpful for our memories but alone they don’t feed the soul. In the old days churches often employed Catechisms which are a series of inter-related questions and answers, as a tool to help children and young people learn basic Bible teaching. We have used this learning tool with our own children at various times in our family life. Most of the old Catechisms usually started out with a question that goes something like…

Q: “What is the chief end of man?”  (“Chief end” means “ultimate goal”  i.e. “what are we here for?”)

Then the answer goes…

A: “To glorify God and enjoy him forever”

In his book Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper’s basic thesis launches from this truth and argues that because the ultimate goal of all people is to worship God – to give God glory with our entire selves – then being on God’s mission is (1) making better worshipers of those who know God as well as (2) making more and more worshipers out of people who do not yet know God. How is your growth as a worshiper of God? Are you reflecting the glory of God more and more in your life? Are you coming to know him better, love him deeper, and reflect his glory more brightly? Are you leading others to become worshipers of God?

Being a worshiper, we are told from Romans 12:1-2, is not just showing up on Sundays or even simply gathering for mid-week Bible Studies or Gospel Community groups. From verses 1-2 we saw last time that worship means “Glorifying God on every day and in every way.” The English novelist Aldus. L. Huxley who wrote one of those books we had to read in high school, The Brave New World, once quipped, "It doesn't take much of a man to be a Christian--it just takes all of him." Being a worshiper of God means worshiping God with your entire being. So…

Worship is not a duty but a delight. Our worship is a heart-felt response to the measureless mercy and great grace you have been shown by God through Jesus.

Worship is a continual transformation. If you are in Christ then you will be going through a transformation or metamorphosis of the mind. Paul exhorts the same thing in  2 Corinthians 3:18 when he speaks of the new reality of the believer in Christ: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another…” This transformation is one that makes us more and more like Jesus, reflecting his glory.

Worship is discerning God’s will in our daily actions (vs. 2b).True worshipers of God are moving from idolatry to true worship in everything we do, whether eating or drinking, or whatever we are doing we are learning to “do all to the glory of God.” (1Cor 10:31)

Many of us are fasting during this season leading up to Easter we are calling the "Valley of Vision." For those who are fasting I hope you are finding that it helps you to discern God's will in all you daily actions. When we deny ourselves our favorite gifts from God, we are telling God, I love and adore you more than anything else and I am completely satisfied in you alone. All these gifts God gives us may be good things and we’re thankful for them but it is God alone whom we worship!

Bavinck Widsom

"To live and die in the comfort and blessing of salvation we need more than fallible human intellectual conclusions; we need a word from God. Faith that we have heard such a word rests on the testimony of the Holy Spirit, which provides a sure certainty. Faith and reason belong together; neither a subjection of faith to reason nor a divorce of faith and reason serve the church and the cause of the truth."

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, (Baker, 2011) 116.