Wednesday, February 23, 2011

One message man

Paul was a one message man.When he wrote to the Corinthians he described his visit to them as follows. "I resolved to know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified." I mean, he was passionate and knowledgeable about many things, but the essence of His life's message was distilled down to 'Christ and Him crucified."

He speaks to a community puffed up with the pride, and divided into factions around their favorite preachers, insisting that the only basis for their unity is their agreement about the centrality of the Gospel. 'I did not come to baptize but to preach the gospel.' He is asking them to be sure what hill they will die on, and to live united upon that hill.

As a church community grows, it usually grows not just in number, but also in diversity.You have people who are passionate about Christ and Him teaching - doctrinal integrity is important and we celebrate it. Then you have people passionate about Christ and Him healing - a demonstration of the Spirit's power is their war cry, and for that we are thankful.Others are more motivated by Christ and Him liberating - the call to help the poor and address social injustice is a vital one.Others are consumed with Christ and Him commissioning - planting churches and reaching unreached people groups is their passion, and we desperately need that. Then there are different worship tastes, and approaches to discipleship, not to mention different end-time theology, and approaches to the Sovereignty of God.

In all this diversity, the deepest seat of our unity must be "Christ and Him crucified." That we agree upon this as the main street of our 'town' allows us to carry diverse passions. The Gospel is the holy ground of our agreement.

And because of this we have ceased boasting in ourselves. We understand that God's Sovereign Grace chose, called and saved us, not any morality or sophistication that we might have had. Salvation is not like choosing a puppy at a pet shop, where God chooses the 'cutest one.' We rest in the fact that we were loved when we were not loveable. The Gospel also stops us from boasting in others, from elevating or fixating on a preacher or leader that we like. Our confidence rests on the power and wisdom of the cross, not on man's eloquence or wisdom. We trust the cross to do its work. We expect the preaching of the cross to have with it a demonstration of the Spirit's power irrespective of the preacher.

Our boasting is in nothing else. Our boasting is in the folly cross.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A cup of culture.

I have vivid memories growing up, of my mom keeping this weird cup of of yeast culture in the fridge. She would cultivate it over a few days before she kneaded it into the bread she would bake. A cup of culture. Invisible in the bread but a vital agent for the final product. Yeast in scripture is often a negative metaphor.Jesus described religious pride as 'the yeast of the pharisees.'

But He also used it positively to describe the kingdom. "The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that a man plants, which turns into a large tree. It is like yeast that works itself through the whole batch of dough.'(Luke 13 my precis') The mustard seed is small but grows large and visible. The yeast remains invisible but permeates the bread, giving a sense of lightness, quality and flavor. Invisible but very tangible.

My question. Do we spend more time on 'mustard seed cultivation' - practices that hopefully will make our churches grow, than we do on 'yeast cultivation' - less tangible cultures that will keep our churches healthy?

By God's grace our community has grown fairly rapidly. We are grateful for that. What we have found though, is that mustard seed growth can put pressure on 'yeast culture.' You have to work harder to maintain it in a season of growth.

One of those cultures is a sense 'compelling community' - intimacy, gladness and sincerity, family.One has to find other forums than Sunday to cultivate it. Life groups become more important.Perhaps a one-on-one mentoring initiative. Encouraging leaders to live with open homes.Looking out for individuals in the crowd.Some people feel that to have intimacy you have to be small.I don't think that's true. But you do have to work harder to keep it.

Another is a culture of Holy Spirit flexibility. As a community grows one has to administrate more intentionally. It is like a married couple getting a child. You have to prepare better, and have more of a rhythm.You can't decide you are leaving for a weekend to Vegas on Friday afternoon when you have a baby!You have to plan ahead more.But in a growing community, one has to maintain a strong sense of responsiveness to the Holy Spirit's leading rather than relying on meticulous planning. He must have ultimate leadership in gatherings, in decisions and in vision. We cannot programme Him out of our communities.

What are some other 'yeast cultures' that we need to cultivate in a growing community? I'd love to hear from you. let's keep cultivating our cup of cultures.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Grace to you. Grace with you.

Fascinating how Paul begins his first letter to the church in Corinth with 'Grace to you'(1:3), and ends it with 'Grace with you.'(16:22) Some commentators suggest that Paul begins with commendation, moves on to accusation, and then ends with a bit of commendation - kind of like a condemnation burger with a bun of grace top and bottom to make the 'burger' taste better. Others take his grace introduction and conclusion as support for their believe that 'God doesn't see their sin because it is covered in the blood of Jesus, so nor does Paul'.

May I be so bold as to say that neither of these approaches are correct or helpful.

The truth is that Paul takes much of the letter to address issues of sin in this dysfunctional church. If their sin was not an issue he wouldn't need to address it. He would have ended the letter in verse 3! Grace to you!

Instead he addresses them lovingly, with a clear thread of grace throughout the letter. He calls them 'sanctified.' That's their identity. They are not 'sinners who sin' they are 'saints who stumble' because they have been pardoned and cleansed. This is how Paul sees them and how God sees us too.

And yet they are also 'called to be holy' in actual fact - they are still in process if truth be told. They are a church who have had an amazing grace encounter but they have not understood grace as a journeying partner. They have not understood 'grace with you'- grace that sanctifies.

They have not realized that grace has an ongoing effect. 'I am what I am by the grace of God and that grace to me was not without effect!"he says. "I worked harder than any of the other apostles, yet not I, but the grace of God within me." Grace energizes him to change and to work, and he claims that it can energize them too.

But grace aims much higher than just 'not sinning.' Grace reconciles them to Jesus. "God has brought us into fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ." And for Paul, being reconciled to Christ is the basis for getting sanctified. "Don't you know that you are members of Christ himself?"

Reconciliation is what will stop them from quarreling and lawsuits. "Is Christ divided?" he asks, and follows by arguing that if they are one with Christ and Christ is one, then they cannot be divided.

Reconciliation is also the basis of his appeal for sexual purity. 'Shall I unite the members of Christ with a prostitute? Never!" 1 Cor 6:11 If I am one with Jesus, then I am not free to leave Jesus out of the 'normal' parts of my life like sexuality. He is with me still.

Grace, the unmerited operation of God's favor on my heart, is not just the bun on the burger. Its the whole burger from beginning to end.
'Twas grace that brought us safe thus far and grace will lead us home.
Grace to you, and grace with you.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Love Re-Imagined - with a little help from our friends

Well, the first double has come and gone, and I'm still processing, but deeply encouraged by the God-life, community-buy-in, creative color and people growth
that it brought with it. There are few things like a community responding to God's leading together in faith! It's always better together. In the words of the Beatles, 'we get by with a little help from our friends.'

Talking of friends, I've loved preparing the series with a little help from my friends. Some of those friends are here in the church with us and they're going to be co-teaching with me. Others are no longer alive. One of those 'friends' is John Calvin. His 1546 commentary has been incredibly helpful to me. Surprisingly readable. In those times any book needed a benefactor. Calvin’s was Lord Burgundy,and in his intro letter thanking his benefactor, he says,“I am so confident of the quality of my work that I want to warn you when you read it not to get carried away ion your affection for me!” I’m not as confident as Calvin but I’m pretty sure you’re going to find this series helpful,whether you are watching from afar, or up close in the community. (we now have sermon series up on vimeo!)

John Stott said that our culture blinds deafens and dopes us, and I think that is particularly true when it comes to the word Love. It's been corrupted and cheapened by our culture. We use the same word love for the way we feel about our dog, our iphone, our wife/husband, our God and our favorite taco stand.(sometimes in that order!) 1 Corinthinas 13 serves as a beautiful catalyst in helping us to re-imagine love. Love is patient, love is kind, it is not easily angered, it does not delight in evil but rejoices in the never fails."

It's a stunning piece of poetry. It is virtually impossible to live up to though, because it describes the way that God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit love one another. Love is the language of the Tri-Une God. God has many attributes, but the whole essence of his character is distilled into 3 words:God is love.

This passage is like a lens through which we view God. His character comes into sharp focused definition. God is not only loving to Himself. He is loving to His creation. The most often quoted self – description of God is ‘The Lord, the Lord, the gracious and compassionate one , slow to anger and abounding in love.” The most powerful demonstration of his loving nature was to give his only Son. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved explained it simply and profoundly. “This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and gave his only Son for us."

But the passage is not merely a description of God that we admire. It serves as a lens through which we view our lives as Christ followers.. “Follow the way of love” is how Paul lands the love passage. Make no mistake, Love is poetic and romantic and we want to celebrate that. But its far more than an emotion or a sentiment. I often hear people say, ‘I’m just not feeling it.” Biblical love is most truly tested when we’re not feeling it. The last time I checked, no father ever felt like giving His innocent, only son to die at the hands guilty men.

So, we're going to spend a bit of time looking at how Paul embodies this gutsy, practical love to the church in Corinth, and how with God's help, we can re-imagine, and follow through with the same love. After all, its convincing proof to a watching world.
"By this shall all men know that you're my disciples, that you love one another."