Monday, February 23, 2009

White Board Image #2: "We were made for work."

This is from Sunday, February 22. (Click to enlarge.)

White Board Image #1: Redemptive History

This is from Sunday, February 15. (Click to enlarge.)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Redemptive History

A week after my sermon, I wonder how much of the big-picture story of the Bible that I shared last week we remember. Happily, there was alliteration to help! Here are the eight P's:
- Kingdom Pattern
- Kingdom Perished
- Kingdom Promised
- Kingdom in Part
- Kingdom Prophesied
- Kingdom Present
- Kingdom Proclaimed
- Kingdom Perfected

I didn't remember to plug this during the message, but reading through the Bible is probably the best way to see how the big picture fits together. I have been working my way through a plan this year, and it has been great.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Holy Spirit & The Church

Is the local church an organism, or is it an organization? On Sunday night, we discovered that it is both. The local church is an organism in that it is a living, breathing, active, moving thing with elements of both predictability and unpredictability in its behavior. The local church is an organization in that it has leaders, systems, strategies, plans, etc. Both of these identities of the local church are evident in the pages of the New Testament.

The Greek word translated “church” is ekklēsia. It is a word that was appropriated from the culture of the day and means roughly “assembly” or “gathering.” (For example, in the Roman Empire, the assembly of the citizens of a polis or city for political purpose was an ekklēsia.) Why did the early Christians appropriate this word for describing the new thing that God was doing in their midst? In part, because it conveys two important things about the local church: (1) The church is people; it is the community of Jesus’ disciples; (2) The church is an event; it is something that happens ... it is the gathering of Jesus’ disciples.

So ... this ekklēsia is both an organism and an organization. The former identity is granted by many today, but the latter identity meets with some resistance. (Consider this common sentiment: “I just don’t like organized religion!”) However, as we read through the New Testament, it is evident that even the early church had leaders, systems, strategies, plans, etc.

With respect to his missionary journeys, the Apostle Paul organized his travel plans in advance and strategically focused his efforts on major urban centers. (Tim Keller has a great article about focusing on major urban centers here.) In those cities, he made disciples, appointed leaders, and then departed (see Acts 14:21-23). Acts 6 shows the division of labor, which is another feature of organizational life. Acts 15 shows the first church council ... the early church had meetings! :-)

Thus we can establish that the local church is, in fact, a kind of organization. But if this is true, what makes it different from other organizations?

Here is my thesis: It is the person and work of the Holy Spirit that sets the local church apart from every other organization on earth.

The Holy Spirit is a personal being, not an impersonal force. He is nothing less than the Spirit of God, equal in power and glory (essential being) with the Father and the Son, but different in function and role, actively working to regenerate those who are dead in sin, bind them together in community as Jesus’ disciples (a community called “the church”), transcending all conceivable social barriers to unity (esp. racial, socioeconomic, & gender), and empowering the community to carry out the mission of God (missio Dei) in the world.

From this summary, we can see three important ways that the work of the Holy Spirit sets the local church apart from other organizations:

1. The Holy Spirit changes people’s hearts (John 3:1-8; Titus 3:3-8)

How do people change? What causes their behavior? What changes it? We see in Scriptures such as Jeremiah 17:9 that behavior is a function of the heart. It comes from within. However, we also see in Scriptures such as 1 Corinthians 15:33 that behavior is a function of the environment ... Paul says that a bad environment can actually corrupt a good heart. So we see that behavior is a function of someone’s heart + their environment.

The truth is, we can’t change people’s hearts. Only God can do that. However, we can change their environments. Therefore, it is the task of the church to create environments that facilitate worship, growth/maturity, community, etc. (In fact, that is all any organization can do to effect change in its people: create new environments, or change the existing ones.) Beyond that, as the church we must trust the Holy Spirit to do his work.

The work of the Holy Spirit is regeneration. (This is what we see in John 3 and Titus 3, referenced above.) The Holy Spirit changes people by changing their hearts. He changes us from within and places us together in community as “the church.”

2. The Holy Spirit binds Christians together in unity (1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:26-28)

What binds people together in other organizations? A common mission, shared goals, social bonds, etc. These things bind us together in the local church as well, but are they strong enough bonds to overcome our biggest differences and divisions? No. We need the Holy Spirit.

The work of the Holy Spirit transcends all conceivable barriers to unity in the church: specifically, racial, socioeconomic, and gender barriers (as identified by Paul in Galatians 3:26-28). A beautiful example of this is the partnership between my church in Kansas City (historically white - located in one of the wealthiest counties in the Midwest) and Christian Fellowship Baptist Church (historically black - located in the urban core of KC).

3. The Holy Spirit empowers us for mission (Luke 24:45-53; Acts 1:1-11, 16:6-10)

The mission of the church is all about being and making disciples. If people are not meeting Jesus and growing in him, then we are not delivering on our mission.

What empowers the church to deliver on its mission? Is it education, finances, influence, talent, competency, skills, charisma, etc., as in other organizations? Although these things are often helpful, ultimately, it is the work of the Holy Spirit that empowers us for mission, as we see very clearly in Luke-Acts. In fact, Jesus specifically told the first disciples to refrain from mission until they had been clothed with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thus we see that it is the person and work of the Holy Spirit that sets the local church apart from every other organization on earth. This reality permeates every aspect of the life of the church.

So what does all of this mean for our community? What does it mean for Regeneration?

Generally, this means being and making disciples for Jesus. Specifically, I would like to cast the following vision for our community:

1. Vision: To see young adults transformed into disciples of Jesus, for God’s glory and kingdom. (This is in alignment with God’s aim to create a worshipping community for all of eternity.)

2. Mission: To create environments at BVC where young adults can connect with each other (community), grow in Christ, and engage the culture by doing culturally strategic gospel ministry. In this, we should strive to develop a blended community that welcomes college students and career professionals, singles and married couples, of any background, of any racial identity, recognizing that we are one in Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit.

What do you think?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Reading Round-Up

Business analyst Michael Kruse did an interesting series on his blog: “Consumption vs. Consumerism.” (Here are the links to Parts I, II, and III.) A couple of highlight quotes: “Activism against consumerism is all the rage these days. But what is meant by consumerism? . . . Frankly, some anti-consumerism activism is merely factions of the church diverting blame to the economy for the church’s failure to have effectively integrated economic life with our Christian discipleship. The reality is that when the church fails to present a compelling vision of how life has abundant meaning in relationship to God and community, the culture is going to find a substitute.”

Scot McKnight (Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University) is doing a thought-provoking series on how we read the Bible. Specifically, he is surveying the different “types” or “personalities” of Bible readers. So far: (1) Puzzlers, (2) Smileys, (3) “Red Letter” Maestros, and (4) Lawbook. More to come.

Although I voted for Barack Obama in the election and will support him as my President, I also believe I have a moral imperative to push back against his stance regarding abortion-on-demand. Will you join me, and sign this petition against the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA)? My signature was #625,676. Let’s keep ‘em coming.

A helpful talk from Pastor Mark Driscoll for dudes: Reverse Engineering Your Life. (Be warned though: this one is about 95 min long, so you’ll need to carve out some time if you want to listen to it and take notes.)

On that note, Mars Hill Church and Pastor Mark were recently featured on ABC’s Nightline: video available here (it is about 7.5 min long).

Some of us met Jesus later in life and have awesome “before-and-after” stories. Some of us met Jesus early in life, perhaps even in childhood, and have very different stories. Here is a great testimony from someone who met Jesus early on: Changed By Jesus.

Have you ever used Google Earth? It’s pretty cool, but let’s face it: Google Earth is only useful if you want to look at the 29.1% of the earth’s surface that is covered by land. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could look at the 70.9% of the earth’s surface that is covered by oceans and other bodies of water? Now you can ... the latest version of Google Earth allows users to “dive below the surface of the water to examine wildlife, mountains and shipwrecks in this murky world.”

And, do you think biblically about facebook?

The annual list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” has been released . . . and guess who came in at #96? That’s right, T-Mobile! :-)