“You are the light of the world.
A city set on a hill cannot be hidden”
~ Jesus, Mat 5:14
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of church and the city the church is in, and the more I think and pray about it, the more I think of the unique impacts the gospel made upon distinct cities in the book of Acts – from Jerusalem to Samaria to Corinth to Ephesus to Rome to many others. Each city was changed in different ways by the gospel and those preaching and living the gospel.
I wonder what God has for us in Claremont. I wonder what the needs are in Claremont. I wonder what the Lord will embed in our hearts and our DNA as a church that is specifically needed for Claremont and from Claremont, the San Gabriel Valley; and from there, our part in spreading the gospel to the uttermost parts of the world (btw – i deeply believe in global missions!)
In the City, Of the City, Against the City – or FOR THE CITY?
I was reading this preview of Darrin Patrick’s book “For the City, Proclaiming and Living Out the Gospel”. It is well worth 10 minutes of reading because it so captures where my heart is at. This is the type of church I want to pour the next 30 years of my life into!
I don’t want to be a church just “in the city” of Claremont, and I have no desire to a church that is “of the city” of Claremont (as Lot was of Sodom), nor do I ever ever want to be a church “against the city” of Claremont (jesus said – “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”).
I want to be a part of a church that is deeply and practically and intentionally “for the city” of Claremont and it’s people. I want to love them and relieve them of their deepest hurts and pains and sufferings – first and foremost the eternal suffering of being separated from God – but then also the secondary sufferings of living in a fallen world that is shattered by sin and it’s consequences.
Noun: The study of the nature of God
Of the many things that can define the DNA of a church (from community to missional to programs), what beats in my heart the more I study the word of God and the more I preach the word of God is God-centered theology. That by the way, is a bit redundant to say, “God-centered theology”, because theology is by definition “God-centered”. And yet, I find it’s easy to make the bible and Christianity and the cross and the Jesus who rules over all that to be subservient to me, hence making my theology “me-centered”.
So what do I think about “theology” and it’s importance in a church?
Let me start off by saying what I want to write about the importance of theology is summed up it this excellent short video.
Thinking About Finney
Lately I have been hearing the word “revival” a lot, and inevitably tied to that is the name Charles Finney. I’ve never studied Finney, I’ve only heard tidbits hear and there. In fact, just the a few months ago, I ended up using Finney in talking about the baptism with the Holy Spirit. For that, I have some regrets.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Cor 4-7-10)
I am not positive what all Paul intended when he said:
“…. always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. “
Clearly Paul is at least referring to the persecution that he suffered for the sake of the gospel and with that the nearness and tenderness of the presence of Jesus in those sufferings. Over and over again in Paul’s life Jesus showed up at the darkest of times. Acts 9, Acts 22:17-21, Acts 19:9-10 describe some. In Acts 23:11 Paul is waiting his trial and Luke records
“The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” (Acts 23:11)
At the end of Paul’s life he could say this:
“At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.” (2Ti 4:16-17)
So Paul’s life was one of suffering (ie. carrying about death) and in the midst of that discovering the presence of Jesus (ie. the life of Jesus). But I think the original verses in 2 Cor 4:7-10 means more than that and it’s meaning carries big weight in how ministry is to be done.
Having served as an elder for a handful of years now, my observation is that church transparency is not an easy topic. How much drama and hurt does open transparency stir up and how much distrust and questions does non transparency foster? In my opinion, there is no one-size-fit-all solution.
Recently I ran across this post by Reality LA:
It reminds me a lot of John Piper’s annual report about his ministry:
and the annual report from his church:
For me, these reports convey intention and purpose and direction and inspires in my heart a desire towards cooperation with what the Lord is doing. I am sure some will scrutinize it for their own purpose, but in the end, I think those people will ultimately find something to scrutinize anyways.
So in the end, I think more transparency is better than less transparency. There is wisdom to be sought on how much transparency a church should have, but I lean on more than less with the hopes that it will lead and inspire God’s people.
There is a command that God gives which takes a lot of work to obey. Here it is:
(Eph 4:3) being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Churches approach the doing of this command in various ways that I think ultimately reflect the personality of and the experience of their leaders. For me, here is my thought on what best “perserves the unity of the Spirit”:
Act 2:17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;
Act 2:18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
The unity here unites “all flesh”. This includes gender division (sons and daughters), age division (young men and old men), and social-economical divisions (“even on my male servants and female servants”, meaning the poor and lowly in status are included in the “in” group). Add to that the reality that Peter is speaking to the ethnically diverse group of people there in Jerusalem for Passover and Pentecost, I find the type of unity found in Acts 2 to be one that crosses even harsh racial-ethnic boundaries.
So what was this unity that had such great power to unite? It was a unity found in being filled by the Spirit of God. But for what purpose? For the purpose of mission, for the purpose of the gospel, for the purpose of being a witness to a dying world.
From this I find the deep conviction that a church will be most united when the mission of Christ is at the most forefront of their hearts and minds and prayers and preaching and budget and planning. The camaraderie and fellowship that is experienced in the mission of Jesus is not different than the camaraderie experienced by soldiers in real life. Their bond and care for each other makes unity based on common sports teams or common political views or common entertainment like feel trite at best. One feels like bonds forged in the moments of life and death and the other like moments strung together in the fluff of chatter and temporary amusement.Unity comes when the members of a church are filled with the Spirit. The rest of Acts 2 proves this to be true and to what radical extent it is true.
So then, I find my best means as a leader and part of a leadership team to foster unity is not necessarily picnics and holiday events and even peer groups. I shepherd the flock towards unity best by pushing towards mission and the gospel, if by grace we might find a common empowering of the Spirit for the mission and in the process discover the unexpected experience of UNITY 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. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2Co 3:18)
So I’ve been thinking about transformation a lot lately and how that comes about and how the ministry of the Word and of people and of the church enables or hinders that work of God’s Spirit.
First I think it’s important to realize that this is a work of the Spirit of God: “for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit”. Programs are good, accountability groups and counseling is good, but the deep need in finding transformation is a deep need in depending upon and crying out to the Holy Spirit. For a church to believe and breathe this, it has to make central to it’s heartbeat the simple work of prayer. Effective fervent prayer instead of dynamic creative programs will portray how much this is believed. So as much I believe in strategic programming of ministry, I am learning that I need to be most strategic about leading people and making opportunity and preaching on and exemplifying prayer.
Second thought I have about transformation is that it can’t be hammered into people. It has to be seen by people. That is, if people want to be transformed into the image of Jesus, they have to see Jesus – see Him in His glory and His majesty and His sovereignty and His holiness and His power. This makes sense to me because the Spirit’s work is to “bear witness” (John 15:26) of Jesus. Seeing Jesus is of more importance than even practical application or impassioned exhortation. So what resonates in my heart is that central to every song worship echoing in the sanctuary, central to every ministry within the church, and central to every message preached from the pulpit is Christ-centeredness, Christ-exalting, Christ-worshiping clarity. There is place and purpose for practical exhortation ,but the OVERWHELMING experience and take-away has to be an awe and sense of “I met with God and I can’t believe I am alive”. When that happens week in and week out (as oppose to weekly tidbits on how I should live my life this week), then people will live God inspired lives that are radical, abandoned, subversive, faithful, and Christ-like. That in my opinion will be revival and awakening that will bring glory to His name.