presence in all the absences of the world

Presence in all the absences

“The very purpose [of the church] was to be a light in the darkness–  to be a presence in all the absences of the world.

Greg Thompson, from his talk at Q

When we started preaching through the book of Jeremiah this fall, I knew at some point we would have to talk about lament.  This week, that’s where we are going.

Is there no balm in Gilead?   Is there no physician there?   Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored?  Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night…

Jeremiah 8:22-9:1

Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?

Jeremiah 15:18

Last Sunday, over 58 people were murdered by a shooter in Las Vegas and over 515 were injured.  The shooter had somewhere between 8 and 10 guns with him in his hotel room.  He had set up cameras so he could watch the approach of the police and gauge how much time he had before he, Steven Paddock, murdered himself.

There will be people who call for our nation to take a look at our gun laws.  And people will be mad that a call to change gun laws could change the freedom they enjoy with regard to firearms.  “Guns don’t kill.  People do.”

There will be people who call for our nation to take a look at the way we care for people with mental illness.  And people will be mad because mental illness is not an excuse for destructive behavior.

The mass murder in Las Vegas exposed yet another absence that is crying out for presence.

When injustice and tragedy happen…  When the absences of the world are exposed,   humanity tends to respond in 3 ways:  we protest, we serve, we lament.  We need all 3 to be present in the absences of the world.

So this week, we will choose to lament.

I wanted to give you a heads up and to encourage a few things:

  1. Lament might involve emotion but it is mostly a deliberate choice to ‘enter in’ ( to feel, to be empathic, to understand, to identify with).  We will invite you to feel the wrong of what is broken and busted in the world.  We will not expect you to have an emotional response.
  2. For some of us, we are assisted in our ‘feeling’ by ‘writing’.  If you are one who uses a journal, I invite you to bring it on Sunday.  You will have an opportunity to reflect, to write, to feel.
  3. As always, a particular event is grown and nourished in a broader culture.  We live in a culture that is entertained by violence and the desolation of the image of God.  The conflation of entertainment and violence should push us to lament.

Breathe.

For some of you, you are already mad.  For some of you, this topic feels overwhelming.  For some of you, you want to come to church to feel hope and encouragement, not lament.

I do too.  I don’t like the broken fallenness of our world.  But I am grateful to God that He walks with me (and you) into the absences while holding my hand and being present.

The light of the world.

-David

An update on Holy Orders for women in the ACNA

The College of Bishops for the Anglican Church in North America met in conclave from September 5-7 in British Columbia, Canada.  Here is the statement that they made at the conclusion of their time.

They met to discuss the report of the Theological Task Force on Holy Orders.  The report itself is over 300 pages long and well worth the time it takes to digest it.  You will see the careful thinking of the writers and you will learn a lot about church history and church polity.  The report underlines the reality that every decision has decades of background and convictions that shape the assumptions which lead to the final conclusions.

In the social media space, many people have reacted to the report that lead into the conclave and then subsequently to the decision that was made by the College of Bishops at the conclave.

I want to give my brief thoughts as the pastor of Restoration Anglican Church in Arlington, VA.  I speak for myself.  Restoration is a church that joyfully affirms the leadership and gifts of women in every part of our life together.  We have women who are elders (vestry members), small group leaders (for kids, youth, and adults who are male and female), and priests (ordained clergy).  I want to be clear that not all of Restoration’s members agree with my view.  But we live in charity with one another and we work in mission alongside each other.

My response to the College of Bishops Statement

Generally I was thrilled by the conclusions of the College of Bishops for 4 reasons:  

  • First it was unanimous.  Currently, in the Anglican Church of North America, about 17 dioceses do not ordain women to the priesthood and 13 dioceses do ordain women to the priesthood.  There is significant disagreement on this issue within our province.  So to have a unanimous vote is quite incredible.  By the grace and discernment of the Holy Spirit, they found words to articulate a way forward in which all the bishops could agree.  Thanks be to God!
  • Second,  their statement does NOT say—  we agree that some of us believe this and some of us believe that.  We know there are differing opinions and convictions.  Saying, ‘We disagree’ would have been a non-statement.  Instead, they stated the elements where they found agreement and how our province could remain together even though there is disagreement on this issue.  Thanks be to God!  
  • Third, the statement acknowledges that “Anglicans have differing principles of ecclesiology and hermeneutics that are acceptable within Anglicanism and lead to divergent conclusions regarding women’s ordination to the priesthood.”  This statement affirms the beauty and charity of Anglicanism.  We find our authority in the unchanging Scriptures and that people who trust the Bible have come to different conclusions on this issue.  But we can stay in relationship with each other.  Thanks be to God!
  • Fourth, as expected, the bishops agreed that the ordination of women cannot be mandated across the whole province.  The College of Bishops decided that each bishop and diocese will be able to make that decision for their diocese but not for other dioceses.

    To be clear, this is the way we talk about the leadership of women in our church, here at Restoration:  all of us have to decide what we believe about the expression and use of gifts that God has given to women.  You can make a Biblical case to limit the role of women and you can make a Biblical case for women to use their gifts in all aspects of the parish.  Restoration strongly encourages women to lead, teach, and serve in every part of our church.  Thanks be to God!

I encourage you to read the statement from the conclave.  And to dig into the 300 page report that was prepared over 5 years.  It is excellent work.

As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions or concerns.  I love Restoration and I am grateful that our bishops have made a way for us to continue our Biblical practice of affirming the leadership, teaching, and serving gifts of women in our parish.  Thanks be to God!

-David

2017 Fall Retreat Speaker

joe_ho2_0-2

Joe Ho, Vice President of Focus Ministries

The Problem of Race and the Power of the Cross

The tragic events that unfolded in Charlottesville over the summer are a vivid reminder that racism and racial tensions are alive and well. Senseless violence and hate is leaving us at a loss desperate for answers. But what are we to do – and what can the Church do during these heart wrenching and incredibly difficult times?

During this year’s annual retreat, we will confront these difficult questions head on thanks to our special guest speaker – Joe Ho, the Vice President of Focused Ministries. Since 1993, Jo has worked at Focused Ministries in a number of capacities taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to cultures of all backgrounds.

Having earned an MA in Religion from Reformed Theological Seminary, Joe is well equipped to talk about race, race relations and the redemptive power found on the Cross.

Joe is planning to bring a convicting, heartfelt and inspirational message to our congregation:

There is good news for Christians. God hasn’t left us to figure this out on our own. The Bible does indeed speak to the issues of ethnic differences and conflict. Following the Biblical art of creation, fall redemption and renewal, we will consider the Bible’s Good News about race and ethnicity, in hopes that we as a church can offer this good news to the world.

The time to register for this fall’s retreat is fast approaching, but there is still time to sign up and gather as our church listens to Joe Ho, and his message about race and the power of the Cross.

Sign up here: http://restoration.formstack.com/forms/fall_retreat_2017

Financial aid to cover all or a portion of the expenses is available upon request. Please contact a staff member for further details.

Gifts for the Common Good

Spiritual Gifts

On Sunday, in the midst of #snowzilla, I preached a sermon on spiritual gifts.  Here are the notes for the sermon, which will be helpful for Resto members who are in small groups this week.

A Biblical Theology of Spiritual Gifts

What are spiritual gifts?  ‘A capacity for service which is given to every true Christian without exception and which was something each did not possess before he became a Christian.’ (Ray Stedman)  In the NT the word for that kind of gift is charisma, charismata (p).  The most important thing about the word charisma is that it is based on the Greek noun charis, meaning grace.  Grace is unmerited favor, the emphasis is that spiritual gifts are dispensed by God according to his good pleasure.  One Christian will receive one gift, one will receive another.  Some may receive more than one. (J. M. Boice)

Where do they come from and when did they become accessible to everyone?  On the day of Pentecost, God pours out his Holy Spirit on men and women.  Luke writes:   “And they were all  filled with the Holy Spirit and began  to speak in other tongues  as the Spirit gave them utterance.”  (Acts 2:4)  Peter follows up in his speech that according to Joel, this was the plan all along: “‘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…’”  (Acts 2:17)   All of the gifts are available to all people.  God did not give some gifts to a particular sex for a particular situation.  No.  Pentecost was a huge, generous outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the sake of the building of the body of Christ and the redemption of the world.  All the gifts are available to both men and women.

Before we discuss the diversity that comes from gifts of the Spirit, we must remember that we have tremendous unity in the body of Christ. No matter your religious background, your skin tone, your ethnic heritage, your socio-economic class, your marital status, your educational pedigree—  We are one body in Christ.  We have one way of entering in: baptism.  We have one way of being made right of being justified: the cross of Christ.  We have one future hope: the restoration of all things in a new heavens and earth.  Paul declares, “For just as  the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body,  so it is with Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12) 

God is tremendously creative in the gifts He gives.  There are varieties of gifts…  one God.   

  1. Rom 12: 4-5  For as in one body we have many members,  and the members do not all have the same function, so we,  though many,  are one body in Christ, and individually  members one of another. 
  2. 1Cor. 12:4-6   Now  there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;  and  there are varieties of service, but  the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.   
  3. “All the lists emphasize the variety of the gifts, each seeming to be a random selection of them.”  (John Stott)  These categories are not rigid or even static.  They are eclectic, illustrative lists.  “19 gifts mentioned, but that is not an absolute figure:  different words can conceivably be used to describe the same or nearly identical gifts, and there may be gifts not mentioned.” (James M. Boice)]

We each get one.  Every follower of Jesus gets at least one spiritual gift.  The gift is not about you (It’s grace-  a gift).  The gift is not a sign that you are superior because you got it. 

    1. But  grace was given  to each one of us  according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  (Eph 4.7)
    2. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another,  as good stewards of God’s varied grace:  (1 Peter 4.10)
    3. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Cor 12:7) 
    4. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: (Rom 12:6)

The gift is not about the gift.  It’s about the community in which the gift receiver resides.  God gives spiritual gifts “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”  (Eph 4.12)  You received a gift for the sake of the community to which you are called.  To not use your gift is to make the community weaker.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul addresses 2 Objections that frequently materialize in a discussion about spiritual gifts.  You have probably felt one (or both, although we usually lean one way or the other) of these.

    1. My gift is not important to you.   (Verses 14-20).  Paul attacks the notion that because we don’t have the gift that someone else has, we are not important to the body of Christ.  For example, ‘because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body.’  No.  We all have something that the body needs.  If we don’t give it, the body is missing something. 
    2. Your gift is not important to me.  We all desire to be autonomous.  We have a natural, sinful proclivity to make categories of people who we can dismiss because we don’t need them.  Instead Paul takes this head on:  “On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”  (v.22)   You want to be self-sufficient.  Maturity is learning that you are not.  Maturity is not needing people less.  Maturity is discovering the richness and fullness of the presence of others in your life.

What is the difference between a ‘spiritual gift’ and a ‘natural talent’?  This is taken from J. M. Boice (p. 608-609):  “Natural talents are also gifts of God…  it is also true that a Christian may exercise a spiritual gift through a natural talent.  Examples would be one who fulfills the gift of ‘helping’ through a talent for carpentry, baking, financial management, or similar things, or one who fulfills that gift of ‘exhortation’ through a natural ability to get close to people.  Still, spiritual gifts are not talents for the simple reason that they are given for spiritual ends only, and only to Christians.  They are ‘to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.’ (Ephesians 4:12)  An example from the Old Testament is Bezalel in Exodus 31: 3-5 “Bezalel had been given the natural talent of craftsmanship, but he had also been given the spiritual gift of knowledge or intelligence which directed him in the way his natural talents were to be used.  Because of the spiritual gift he was able to produce objects for Israel’s worship.”

What are categories of gifts that are mentioned in the New Testament?  See the attached table for where all 19 gifts appear.  Remember that this is an illustrative, not an exhaustive group.  As you group the individual gifts, you can see categories of gifting that may invite other specific gifts that are not directly mentioned. 

  1. Leadership Gifts:  Apostles, Shepherding, Administrating, Leading/ Giving Aid.   There were only 13 apostles (the 12+Paul) who were directly called to the office by Jesus himself.  But the gift of apostleship (as opposed to the office) is often found in pioneering entrepreneurs who start new things and tap new resources.  The other ‘leadership gifts’ are critical for helping people in all contexts and situations move from ‘here’ to ‘there’.
  2. Word Gifts:  Prophecy, teaching, exhortation, tongues, interpretation.  As followers of Jesus under the authority of Scripture, we live in tension between the revelation of God in His Scripture and the on-going revelation of God through His Spirit.  Words that are revealed in the Spirit through prophecy, teaching, and tongues can be enormously encouraging and convicting.  All of these words must be tested in community for authenticity and reliability.
  3. Insight Gifts:  Faith, knowledge, wisdom, ability to distinguish spirits.  God does not want His people to be uninformed.  Over and over He gives insight into situations, people, and problems so that physical, emotional, and spiritual breakthroughs can happen.  New understanding in science.  New art.  Clarity about demonic activity.  Clarity about justice, redemption, and punishment.  Supernatural strength to persevere in hope and trust.  The body of Christ needs these people for the endurance of the church. 
  4. Evangelism Gifts:  all of us are called to give a verbal witness  about Jesus.  Some of us are given a special gift from God such that this is easier and more fruitful.  We know how to creatively apply the Gospel to the lives of our friends and family.  We are bold.  We are courageous to close the deal.  The body of Christ needs these people for the growth of the church and the expansion of the Kingdom of God.
  5. Gifts that demonstrate the new heavens and earth:  healing, working miracles.  Some day every knee will bow.  There will be no more tears or pain or suffering.  We will have bodies that function as they were created.  That ‘day’ has begun but is not yet here.  In order to encourage His people to endure for that day, God sometimes heals and does miracles—  signs of the age to come.  The body of Christ needs these gifts for its witness to the world.
  6. Generosity gifts:  service, mercy, contributing.  All of us are called to serve, to give, and to be merciful.  Some people have unique gifts that make them particularly generous in these ways.  The body of Christ needs these gifts for the sake of being salt and light to a world that is inherently greedy and self-centered.

What is the purpose of my spiritual gift?  Here is Tim Keller’s paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 12: 7: ‘Every Christian (“to each one”) receives spiritual gifts. A spiritual gift is an ability (“working” or power) that comes to you freely (“gift”) for the purpose of ministering to needs (“service”) so as to build up Christian community in size and depth (“the common good”).’

Keller goes on to say,

 

Every believer has an almost unique “gift matrix.” We have different gifts in different constellations.  We have different gifts for different ministry venues and objects. We have different levels of ability. On top of this, there are different seasons in our lives, when the contexts we live in call the gifts out in us in different ways. Put these variables together and each person’s ministry may be as unique as a thumbprint. By implication, there are some deeds in life that only you can do! There are some people to reach whom only you can reach!  Spiritual gifts fit you for your mission in life (see Eph 2:8–10).

11.  How do I discover and use my spiritual gift(s)?

Serve in the body of Christ.  Serving is putting the needs of others ahead of our own, or putting the needs of the community ahead of our individual needs.  There are many benefits for doing this, but one of the best is self-knowledge.  You don’t know your real gifts and capacities until you do a lot of humble serving in many different capacities around your community. Only as you do that will you come to understand your own aptitudes.

We can discover our particular gifts when three factors begin to come together: Affinity (my passions and interests); Ability (the things I am good at); and Opportunity (the needs that are around me and my capacity to address them).  When all three factors come together, you can begin to see how God has equipped and called you to do something or to move in a certain direction. (Affinity, ability, and opportunity are categories derived from the works of John Newton).  The only way you will ever really come to know your gift(s) is if you do a lot of different things and observe how your ability, affinity, and opportunity converge.

A Table of Spiritual Gifts

Ephesians 4: 1-11

1 Corinthians 12: 8-10

1 Corinthians 12: 28-30

Romans 12: 6-8

1 Peter 4:11

1

Apostles Apostles

2

Prophets Prophecy (v. 10) Prophets Prophecy

3

Service Serves

4

Evangelists

5

Wisdom

6

Knowledge

7

Pastors/ Shepherds

8

Teachers Teachers Teaching

9

Exhortation Speaks oracles of God

10

Faith

11

Healing Healing*

12

Working Miracles Working Miracles*  (these are switched in order in 28-30)

13

Ability to distinguish between spirits

14

Contributing

15

Helping Leading (can also be translated, ‘giving aid’)

16

Mercy

17

Administrating

18

Tongues Tongues

19

Interpretation of Tongues Interpretation of Tongues

This table lists out 19 spiritual gifts that are mentioned in the New Testament.  In the 5 places they are introduced, it always says ‘there are varieties of gifts’ but the same Spirit (or God).  Each passage also says, that we each get one.  For example, ‘grace was given to each one of us  according to the measure of Christ’s gift.’ (Ephesians 4:10). 

These 2 observations tell us 2 things about spiritual gifts

  1. The ‘variety’ means that this list is not static.  It is illustrative.  You could have a gift that is not listed here.  Instead of cramming yourself into a particular gift, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal yours to you.
  2. The ‘grace was given’ means that you DEFINITELY have a spiritual gift that is intended to be used.  It is a ‘grace’ meaning you don’t get to choose it and you can’t be envious of someone else’s.  You got a gift.  Ask God what it is and use it.

Bethany Hoang

Bethany Hoang

As promised…  When we began this series, I mentioned that we would have a few ‘experts’ who would take the pulpit and talk to us about justice.  On May 17, we will hear from Bethany Hoang who is one of the premier voices in North America on the theology of justice.  From her bio…

Bethany is an author and speaker who is passionate about helping others live the connection between justice and spiritual formation. She serves as special advisor and founding director for International Justice Mission’s (IJM) Institute for Biblical Justice

She has been profiled for her leadership in the justice movement by Christianity Today (one of “50 Women to Watch”), Outreach! and Relevant magazines, the White House, Fuller Seminary, as well as organizations such as Catalyst, Q Ideas, The Justice Conference, Urbana, Lausanne, and Ideation.

Bethany has published two books:  Deepening the Soul for Justice (IVP, 2012) and forthcoming The Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perseverance with coauthor Kristen Deede Johnson (Baker, 2016).  In addition to these longer works, she has written numerous essays and articles, as well as notes/commentary on Zechariah for the “God’s Justice” global Bible project (Biblica, 2016).

Bethany holds a BA in religion and history from Miami University of Ohio, and an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary, where she received the distinguished Fellowship in Theology. Born and raised on the East Coast, she now lives with her husband, two kids, and a puppy in Minneapolis.

I like to say that Bethany Hanke Hoang is ‘the famous one’ in our family.  She is an incredible speaker with a compassionate heart who is living these things out in her one, small life on a big, influential stage.  You don’t want to miss this.  I’m a huge fan and a proud big brother.

-David

Do you love money?

snares

 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.  It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

1 Timothy 6:10

It was Tim Keller who said, “It is really hard for us to see our greed.  No one thinks they are greedy.  In fact, as a pastor, I find that it is easier for people to talk about their sexual sin then about their greed.  I cannot recall anyone ever coming to me and saying, ‘I spend too much money on myself.  I think my greedy lust for money is harming my family, my soul, and people around me.’  Jesus warns people far more often about greed than about sex, yet almost no one thinks they are guilty of it.  Therefore we should all begin with a working hypothesis that ‘this could easily be a problem for me.’”  Counterfeit Gods

One of the ways we can discern if ‘the love of money’ is a problem for me is by asking lots of questions that come at our emotions and behaviors around money.  You will have a chance to process your answers with your small group this week.  And you can listen to my thoughts on contentment and greed right here.

These are a tool to honestly dig out what is going on in your heart.  Hope they help you avoid the snares and live in freedom.

  • How do you treat people when they ask you for money?  Are you proud that you have something they need?  Are you annoyed that they can’t figure out how to get it on their own?
  • Are you doing a job that you don’t love but you can’t leave because of the income?  Are you loving money more than vocational flourishing?
  • Do you want to be noticed and recognized when you give generously?
  • Do you expect lots of accountability when you give a financial gift–  This better not be wasted or used for something different?
  • Do you only give to a point that it doesn’t affect your day to day life?  Have you ever had to say no to something you want because of the money you gave to someone else?
  • Do you get mad about money?  Do you fight with your spouse about what the other is spending or who makes decisions or who has control?
  • Do you want people to notice what you wear, what you drive, or what you talk on?  Do you like it when people ask you—  ‘where did you get that?’
  • Have you ‘spent all your money’?  Are you carrying consumer debt of any kind?  Do you live beyond your means?  In a weird irony—  sometimes the ability to save money is an indication that you don’t love money.
  •  In a weird irony, sometimes your choice to save is a clear indication that you love money.  Are you ‘spending all your money’ by saving it so that you feel secure?  How much do you need to feel secure?  What’s your number?
  • Do you worry about money?  Are you distracted because you are not sure how much you have?  Do you wonder how you are going to pay that bill?
  • Have you ever just given a lot away?

Tim Keller says that money is a surface idol that can lead us to our deep idols–  the ones that drive us and we aren’t even aware.  Our love of power, approval, comfort, and control.  These are the deep idols that shape how we love, trust, and serve a surface idol like money.  Those deep idols are the ones that can destroy us.  Those deep idols are where we need to be rescued by the grace of Jesus Christ.

God loves you.

-David

Men and Women in the Church

men and women in the church

Over the last two weeks, we have worked hard to understand what is universal and what is tied to a particular time and place from 1 Timothy 2: 8-15.  Paul is writing to Timothy about how men and women should interact in the public worship assembly.  Digging in to this passage has afforded us 2 helpful tools for studying the Bible:

  • The Principle of History affirms that God always spoke his word in particular historical and cultural settings:  the Ancient Near East (Egyptian, Hittite, Canaanite culture) is the background for Old Testament revelation, Palestinian Judaism is the background for the Gospels, and the Graeco-Roman world is the background for the rest of the New Testament.  Every word was spoken in a cultural context.  Our task in the 21st century is to ask which things were tied to that particular time and place and which are normative for all times and all places.
  • The Principle of Harmony affirms that when God spoke these words, He did not contradict Himself.   Thus, the conclusions we draw from reading 1 Timothy 2: 8-15 have to ‘harmonize’ withe what God teaches about the interaction between men and women in the rest of the Bible.

The passage is preached in 2 parts.  Part 1 deals primarily with verses 8-10 and Part 2 gets in to the leadership and teaching roles of women that are discussed in verses 11-15.  Feel free to offer comments or critique below!

My Conclusions

In part 2, I attempt to concisely state my position on the leadership of women in the church.  I include it here as a means to understand how I have chosen to lead Restoration.

I believe the Bible teaches that both men and women are given gifts by the Holy Spirit to equip the saints for the work of ministry and to build up the Body of Christ (Acts 2:17, Ephesians 4:13, Romans 12:3-8).  The Bible teaches that the church is the household of God (Ephesians 2:19, 1 Peter 4:17).  God has called men to have caring responsibility (AUTHORITY) for their household  (Ephesians 5:22-23, Colossians 3:18, 1 Peter 3:1).  Christ is the head of the household of God (the church) and He is the model for how men should have caring responsibility for the family household and for the church.

A church with hierarchical authority (that is, one with pastoral offices that submit to each other– such as presbyter to bishop) is best positioned to both have a male head of household AND to create an environment where women can flourish as leaders, teachers, and in all the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  I believe the Bible teaches that women can be deacons, presbyters/pastors/priests, rectors, and bishops, serving under the authority of a male head of the church.

Restoration facilitates a monthly conversation for men called ManUp and a monthly conversation for women called Women Unscripted.  ManUp meets tonight at 7pm for dinner and then a program start of 7:30 sharp.  Women Unscripted meets next Tuesday (October 21) at 7:30pm.  Both of these conversations are open to anyone.  Bring a friend.  These are issues that affect all of us, that can give us hope, that can stir up pain, that remind us of our need for a Savior who delivers us and offers the possibility of reconciled partnership in the Gospel.

Grateful to be in this with you,

-David

Gaps and Growth on Ascension Thursday

ascensionOn Sunday, I talked about acknowledging gaps in our faith, including our knowledge.  When I woke up this morning, I realized I had gaps in my understanding of the Ascension.   Today is the day that the church celebrates Jesus’s ascension into heaven, and while I’ve studied this before, it’s not the easiest concept to wrap our minds around.  So I spent a little time digging, and what I found was really encouraging to me.

We’re all familiar with the concept.  We say it each week in the creed: “On the third day he rose again, he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.”  But this idea provokes some significant questions in us:  Why did Jesus go back to heaven?  Why, after this amazing victory over his enemies and death itself, would he go away to a place where we could no longer see him?

The apostles had a similar question in Acts 1:1-11.  They assumed Jesus would establish his kingdom here, now that he had risen from the dead.  But instead, he proceeded to float into the air and vanish from sight.  Kind of a let down, right?  But Jesus had already told them this was going to happen and that it was going to be for their benefit and ours.  He said in John 16:7 that “… it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send him to you.”

So, let me get this straight: the guy who is amazing to be with and does awesome miracles is about to disappear, and instead we get the Holy Spirit, whom we can’t see?  And this is supposed to be to our advantage?

One thing to keep in mind is that God works in ways that are often counterintuitive to us and that we don’t always understand.  But we can try to at least get a sense for why God might do things the way he does.  And I think one key to understanding why Jesus had to ascend is to think about God’s presence in the world.  At the beginning, his Spirit was present in an intimate way with his creation (Gen. 1:2).  It was normal for him to communicate directly with humans (Gen. 3:8a).  But after sin entered the world, this intimacy was broken.

Only after a long period did God establish his temple where humanity could experience his presence.  This was a gift, but it was limited by the fact that you had to go to a specific place on the planet, and even then, only certain people were allowed.  Then Jesus came as the true temple, the place where God’s presence could be encountered.  This was a huge leap forward, because not only could you talk to him, he accepted anyone, saint/sinner, Jew/Gentile.  But still – and here’s the important thing to note – access to God was limited to a particular place, namely, wherever Jesus happened to be.

But because Jesus ascended into heaven and poured out his Spirit on the earth, what we have now is a return to his original intent for his presence in the world.  Now God, by his Spirit, can relate to the whole world in an intimate way, and he does so on the terms set by Jesus, terms where we relate to God based on our identity as sons and daughters reconciled to him by Christ’s work.  No longer do we need to go to a specific place, accessible only by those who have the wherewithal to go there, financial or otherwise.  The God revealed by Christ is accessible anywhere, any time, by his Spirit.

I’ve said before that we’re right to desire more intimacy with God, because he has plans to bring us into greater intimacy with him (Rev. 22:4).  But in the meantime, while it can be difficult to walk by faith and not by sight, it’s really important for us to keep in mind that things are better than they once were.  You and I can live in the D.C. area, of all places, and have direct access to the God who made us.

I’m excited to be alive during this period when we can relate to God in this way.  I’m excited to encounter him in the various places I find myself today.  This is one example of how acknowledging a gap in my understanding has caused my relationship with God to grow.  I hope that coming to a deeper understanding of the Ascension might help you grow closer to God today, and I hope that you’ll continue to grow closer to him the more you understand the story of his love for the world.

-Clay

 

Ruling Over Sin

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I love this story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. We started it last week and we will finish it on Sunday.  I love that God comes to Cain and gently grabs him by the arm, looks him in the eyes, and says,

Be careful.  The anger you are cradling will destroy you.  Sin is crouching–  just out of sight, but ready to pounce.  If you don’t evade and change course, it will destroy you.

God does not mess around with him.  Sin is never a one and done act.  It changes you.  It gets in you.  It deteriorates you.  We are complete fools if we think we can fondle sin and come out unscathed.  Much stronger and better people than you or I have been destroyed by that conviction.

So God reminds Cain.

You don’t have to do this.  I can see your heart.  I know what you are considering.  You don’t have to do it…

Sin desires to have you.  You must rule over it.  You don’t have to go this direction.

I want to remind you of the way we ‘rule’ over sin:  God has made a way because of the cross, the Spirit, and the Church.  Remember ‘rule’ doesn’t mean sin goes away.  It is there, but we have authority over it.  God is instructing Cain to be in charge of his sin.

If you are a follower of Jesus, this is how we do it:

Jesus has delivered you from the penalty and power of sin.  Romans 6.6-7  We know that  our old self   was crucified with him in order that  the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For  one who has died  has been set free  from sin.  Jesus has made it possible for us to be freed from sin.  It is possible for us to rule over sin.  It is possible for us to NOT sin because of what Jesus did.

The Holy Spirit now lives in you to talk to you.  Romans 8.10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  Not only are you forgiven, God is living inside of you.  Killing sin creates the opportunity to have the Holy Spirit inside you.  God is in you.  He is talking to you.  You can talk about your temptation.  He will show you what sins are hidden and desiring you.  The Lord talked to Cain and told him that he was in danger.  The Holy Spirit will do that for you.  

The Church is around you.  Hebrews 3.13 But  exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by  the deceitfulness of sin.  We rule over sin alongside the people God gives us to walk with us.  You have a small group because you cannot rule over sin on your own.  You need a church because you need good teaching about the crouching sins and you need good strategies for how to rule over them.

Many of us do not take our sin seriously enough.

Most of us don’t embrace what God has done with enough hope.  Sin is dead.  The Holy Spirit is in you.  The church is around you.  His divine power has granted you everything you need for life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3)

-David

 

DMH Update

Hey folks, a few quick thoughts this week…

GAFCON II

On Saturday, I will leave the fall retreat early and fly to Nairobi, Kenya.  A few years ago, in response to the growing crisis within the Anglican Communion, a new fellowship was created of provinces, bishops, and dioceses who hold fast to a common belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is called the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.  Next week, this body will gather in Nairobi for the second Global Anglican Future Conference.  I am privileged to be one of four representatives from the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic.

In Nairobi, I expect to meet faithful men and women who are holding to the Gospel in situations of great challenge.  Most of the attendees will be from Africa–  Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya.  There will also be brothers and sisters from Asia, and Latin America.  I am hoping to connect with the leaders of the Diocese of Singapore who over see Cambodia, where our missionaries Jesse and Sarah Blaine are working.  I am sure I will hear great preaching, inspiring stories or perseverance, and meet people who are courageously walking with Jesus.  Thank you for sending me.  I look forward to giving an update on our blog while I am gone.

The sermon…

On Sunday I preached about the Gospel hope of being naked and not ashamed.  I would like to give a couple reflections on the sermon:

I was trying to do 3 things with the sermon–  

  1. Introduce the consequence of gender as created categories that are good
  2. Critique the narrative that is given us by the wider culture–  a story that is destructive and attractive and working it’s way into every area of our life.
  3. Talk about the goodness of marriage as a covenant relationship where people can get what they most want–  which is not sex or gender exploration–  but being known completely by someone else.

I made the mistake of trying to preach 3 sermons on one day.  It was long and unwieldy.  I feel like I introduced a lot of significant ideas, but I did not have the time to unpack all of them.  This is actually always a problem when you talk about gender, sexuality, or marriage.  You have to frame the issues and then make sure you talk about all the ways the Gospel speaks to them.  It is very difficult to do in 25 minutes.  And this one was closer to 35.

I did not try to caveat the goodness of marriage in order to be sensitive to those who are not married and who really want to be.  This was a function of time and information overload.  But at the end of the message, the strength with which I was talking about the goodness and intentionality of marriage would have made a caveat to singles seem like an insensitive nod.  I didn’t want to be trite with those who are experiencing deep longing and pain about being single.

Our best spouse is Jesus.  Everything else is proximate.  He is my best spouse.  He is my perfect help-meet.  He is the one who submitted His will for my needs.  He is the one who is most perfectly committed to my transformation and wholeness.

There are days when that truth is transformative and there are days when that truth just rings hollow.  I know it.  And I try my very best to not give trite answers.  So for my friends who are married and not experiencing the intimacy they long for.  And for my friends who are not married and long for the opportunity to know and be known by another human on earth…  I know that these topics can be excruciatingly painful.  And I don’t know, I can’t know, the pain of your particular story.  But I do know that Jesus is exceedingly committed and exceedingly able to meet your every relational need.  Sometimes He does that by providing a human spouse.  Sometimes he doesn’t do it through a spouse because your spouse falls short or because you don’t have a spouse.  But He is committed to doing it and He will find a way.

-David

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