with the comfort which we are comforted by God

Comfort

Comfort comes with responsibility.

…the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, SO THAT we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

2 Corinthians 1:4

Comfort is the experience of future hope in the present.  At Restoration, one of our core convictions is that the gospel calls us to lives of responsibility and coherence.  As followers of Jesus we become obligated:  To care.  To see the world the way Jesus sees it.

We embrace Jesus’ instruction that,

…everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required…

Luke 12:48

 

For most of us who show up on Quincy Street, this church has been a means of God for our comfort.  It is not necessary an alleviation of pain, but it is a clear reminder that God walks with us into it.

When we get here, we look around and we see friends  friendships that have most often been forged in smaller settings:  one on one coffees, play dates between your kids, golf outings;  serving on a team at AFAC, volunteering with RiLA, going with a group to one of our global partners;  pouring over a small group Bible Study, being prayed for after a service, being a volunteer who helps make our liturgy happen. 

You have experienced the comfort of being known, the comfort of friendship, the comfort of being a part of something that is bigger than your single life. 

So, if Jesus and Paul are right…  and we are comforted so that we may be able to comfort others… then one of the most practical ways we can do that is by giving our resources to the establishment of the thing that comforted us.  In our Restoration context, we are responsible to give our time, treasure, and talents to church planting, which is the creation of communities of hope.

To start, over the last couple of years, we have increased our investment in 2 long term projects in Cambodia and West Asia.

Now we are beginning to aim our resources at the possibility of 2 or 3 local church plants in the next few years.  To that end, we have created a Church Plant Steering Team.  This team is seeking to hire a church plant resident in 2017 who would be looking at a church plant location inside the beltway in Maryland or Virginia in a couple years.  All of this has been imagined in our strategic plan called, Restoration 2019.

Every single one of us will be involved in ‘being a comfort’ by praying and giving towards this effort.  Most of us will remain a part of the work God is doing through Restoration on Quincy Street.  But, some of you will go and experience the tangible joy being a comfort by inviting others into an experience of hope.

This is where it gets fun.  

-David

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.

the measure of your faith

different measures

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

On Sunday, we considered what it means to not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think.  If we have chosen to follow Jesus, we have chosen a life that that requires a reorientation of what lies at our center.  In order to mature and to grow up as a Christian, we must change the way we think about ourselves–  we must embrace a diminishing self-awareness, a diminishing self-consciousness, a diminishing self-referential orientation.

In order to do that, Paul instructs us to think with sober judgment according to the measure of faith that we have been given.  This phrase ‘measure of faith’ has perplexed scholars for a long time.  C. E. B.  Cranfield, writing over 50 years ago, states in his commentary that

‘measure’ has 7 possible meanings, ‘faith’ has 5, and ‘of’ has 2, making 70 possible combinations altogether!”

But from that diversity, scholars usually distill 1 or 2 meanings as they look at this passage.  They are both important for us as we seek to offer all of who we are to God (Rom 12:1).

Option 1:  ‘measure’ as the standard of something.

That is ‘measure’ refers to an instrument for measuring something.  Both Cranfield and the late Rev. John Stott support this option.  Stott sums it up best:

A standard by which to measure ourselves; that this for all Christians is the same, namely saving faith in Christ crucified; and that only this gospel of the cross, indeed only ‘Christ himself in whom God’s judgment and mercy are revealed’, can enable us to measure ourselves soberly.

According to this view, to think of ourselves rightly, followers of Jesus are called on to estimate themselves in accord with the standard of their faith, Jesus himself.  We measure our actions and our choices against the idea of how Jesus would do it.  We think with sober judgment using Jesus as our ruler and our aspiration.

Option 2:  Measure as the quantity of something

In this option, measure relates to the apportioning of our faith- meaning that God gives a varying amount of faith to different Christians.

Paul is speaking of the quantity of faith or trust that each believer possesses.  Paul acknowledges elsewhere that believers have different levels of faith (Romans 14.1)…

Some of us are weak at some points and strong at others.  For example, one person may have a lot of faith about financial matters–  they do not experience anxiety or worry about whether they have enough or how they will pay for something.  But that same person may lack faith about relationships–  consequently they experience great anxiety about things they said, conflicts they have experienced, and situations that feel unresolved.  In God’s unique creativity, He has given a large measure of faith to a specific person about a specific situation and not as much faith about a different category.

So thinking soberly about ourselves in this second option requires that we recognize that in some situations we will be weak and in others we will be strong.  Thus we need people around us who are strong in our weakness to help us think rightly about ourselves and the context in which we find ourselves.

Called to go deep in the body of Christ

Both of these options require that we would be deeply known within our local expression of the body of Christ–  so that we have people who are pushing us towards the standard of Jesus himself AND so that we have people who fill up our measure of faith where it is low.

At Restoration, we provide a place for you to do that in our small groups.  They all start next week.  So you have time to sign up and jump in right at the beginning.  The trimester is short–  only 8 weeks.  You don’t want to miss any of it.  So sign up today.

May we be people who think rightly about ourselves–  according to the measure of faith that God has given us.  Thanks be to God for the people He has put in our life to help us do just that.

-David

Advent Processionals

Processional

 

Thanksgiving conjures up memories of getting up far too early in the morning to help my dad stuff the turkey. Before anything else, we would set up the television in the kitchen to watch the parade festivities and football pre-game shows as the rest of the day progressed in an alternation between preparing food and watching television. Celebrity interviews, musical guests, and commentator speculations bolstered anticipation for the much anticipated floating colorful giants in the sky.

The enthusiasm and joy surrounding such a parade provides a helpful point of reference to appreciate the use of the processional in the church. People go to great lengths to attend a parade: purchasing expensive tickets, arising early, traveling a long distance, breaking through hoards of people, or enduring bitter cold. To what end is this done?

What the church calls its procession derives from the ancients who had their own parades of victory filled with sights, sounds, and even smells. The hope of the Psalm 68:24 is that God will reign victorious as a king, entering the sanctuary in joyous procession for all to see. The Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:14, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.”

During this Advent season, the cross and light will enter the sanctuary followed with a train of liturgical ministers.  Each Sunday we come to bring our praise as an offering to the Triune God, yet each week our sordid past rears its ugly head, telling us the lie that we cannot live in the victory of our victorious king.  The light and cross will enter the sanctuary and we are reminded of Christ’s victory; light has come and Christ has won.  Each Sunday of Advent we are reminded of the victory won, but we likewise experience a longing for the victory to come. After joining in the celebration within the sanctuary we are invited to process out with the recessional. As Christ’s body we now take the light and cross into a dark world filled with all manner of stumbling blocks.

In the words of my favorite Syrian Bishop,

Deliver me from the enemy who fights with me, for I cannot                     conquer him without Your aid.

Do not look to me to conquer in that great occasion bloodshed.

Take for Yourself the battle and the victory befitting You.

Deliver me from it and let the crown and fame be Yours, and                   neither attribute to me triumph, nor victory.

Deliver me from it and let the entire glory of the athlete be                      reserved for You, for You have conquered the enemy.

Homily on the Prayer of our Lord, p. 711-718

Mar Jacob of Sarugh ( ca. 521 CE)

 

-Morgan Reed

Gentleness and the Call to Civility

Public Square

 

We are coming to the conclusion of our summer sermon series on the Fruit of the Spirit.  These are 9 characteristics that St. Paul listed out in Galatians 5:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Outside of a relationship with God, they are character traits that we admire in people and most of the world aspires to have more of these.  But for those who have a relationship with God, these 9 traits are not a wish list of what would make someone a better person.  These are the promised manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the life of one who follows Jesus.  As we let Jesus lead more of our life, this fruit is what happens in us and what people notice about us.  Christians aren’t ‘trying to be more joyful or patient’.  No, they are trying to know God, trust Jesus, and be filled with the Holy Spirit–  as those things happen, the fruit of joy, patience, and others comes out.

In talking about gentleness, I mentioned 2 universal relational realities that will always require gentleness but will always tempt us to choose a posture that is harsh and protective:  relating to those with whom we disagree and relating to those who are far from their Father in heaven.  In spite of our natural inclination, choosing to be gentle results in the possibility of real life change for those with whom we disagree and real ‘rest for your souls’.

There are 3 contexts where we could work on the fruit of gentleness, what the secular world calls ‘civility’.  Civility in our households, in our interaction with those who choose to not belong to a church community, and in the public square.  As I talked through those contexts, I quoted a variety of people who have thought deeply about the role of civility and gentleness in our day to day discourse.

In 2011, Tim Keller wrote about backlash and civility for his church newsletter.  Keller gives some ‘rules for civility’ and helps us understand the historical scope of this conversation by interacting with Robert Putnam and David Campbell’s book American Grace:  how religion divides us and unites us.  That book has been very helpful to me as I imagine the kind of church that Restoration could be in the midst of hard and contentious cultural conversations.

In 2008, Os Guiness wrote The Case for Civility:  and why our future depends on it.  Os is so good at providing historical and societal context that is clear and persuasive.  He argues that much of the answer to whether or not we’ll learn to live with our deepest differences depends on rejecting two erroneous responses to the culture wars. First, we must say no to a “sacred public square”—a situation where one religion has a position of privilege or prominence that is denied to others.  We must also say no to a “naked public square”—the situation where public life is left devoid of any religion. This is what is advocated by the new atheists.  The alternative to both is a “civil public square.” one in which everyone—peoples of all faiths, whether religious or naturalistic—are equally free to enter and engage public life on the basis of their faiths, as a matter of ‘free exercise’.  

Tim Challies had a great interview with Os and developed some of these ideas more fully.  It was helpful to me as we imagine Restoration as a place that promotes truth, embraces the reality of pluralism, trusts that the good news of the Gospel will rise above the cacophony of voices, and (maybe most important of all) refuses to demonize those with whom we disagree.

I hope having access to some of the original sources that I was quoting will help you as you talk to God about gentleness and choose civility as your posture with those whom you disagree.  May God, by the presence of the Holy Spirit, use our opportunities to be gentle to make us more like Him.

-David

 

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

a pastor more than an activist

congestion

 

How’s it going?  Feeling congested in your soul?

This post is a little longer than most, but I want to bring you up to speed with what God has been doing in my heart and the hearts of the people at Restoration.  Thanks for reading.

We just finished our 4th week in a sermon series about Justice and the Generosity of God.  Each week I gave you an invitation to go deeper into what God is saying to us.  Here is a summary if you need to catch up…

Week 1  We began by defining ‘the justice of God’.  It is grounded in his never-ending steadfast love.  God’s justice rectifies wrongs and distributes rights.   The prophet Jeremiah tells us

“Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but  let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.  For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

Jeremiah 9: 23-24

If we want to know God and be a part of the things He is doing, we will do justice by practicing these things as well.  I invited you to consider 4 categories that might define your posture as you come to this topic of God’s justice:  the sentimentalists, the suspicious, the frayed, and the hardened.  What have you decided regarding the state of your heart?

Week 2  We recognize that all of us are maxed out.  We have a hard time coming to this justice conversation because we are so pressed and working constantly.  It makes us get so caught up in counting ‘what we deserve from our work’ that we don’t notice ‘what we have received by grace.’   I invited you to make space for justice by practicing the disciplines of gleaning and sabbath–  gifts that God gave to His people so that their lives would look different from everyone around them.  How is it going making space?  

Week 3 I invited you to own what you have been taught about who is on the outside of God’s justice.  We must recognize that each of us learned in our families, our homes, and the places where we grew up–   the people it was ok to leave on the outside.  None of us comes to this conversation with clean hands or completely open minds.  Everyone has their personal criteria for determining who is in or out:  race, social class, level of education, work ethic, place where you live.  We must be vigilant in searching our hearts and admitting our assumptions that this person or group of people do not deserve the steadfast love, justice, and righteousness of our Lord.  How is it going with your searching confession of the criteria you use?

Week 4  I invited you to own what’s been done to you.  It is difficult to have compassion for others when you are bitter about the injustice that’s been done to you.  “Why should I care for someone else when no one cared for me?”  It’s almost impossible to do justice unless you have experienced justice.  It is almost impossible to extend grace unless you have experienced grace.  Our experience of justice often releases us to do justice for others.  So, I carefully, tenderly invited you to remember your injustice:  The things you have done.  And the things that have been done to you.

Walking into the memory of injustice will push you to this question:  Do you believe that God will vindicate the just?  Vindication is the experience of being made right in the eyes of others.  It is the opposite of shame, which is the experience of being exposed as guilty in the eyes of others.   We looked at the heart wrenching story of Abraham, Sarah, and Abimelech in Genesis 20.  For those who have perpetrated injustice like Abraham, there is the hope of forgiveness.  For those who have been placed in the way of harm like Sarah, there is the hope of vindication.  How is it going walking into your memory of injustice?

Hard Work

If you have accepted these invitations and engaged these questions, then God has been doing a lot in your heart over the last month.  These are inquiries that probe the depths of our soul and shake our foundations.  It’s hard work.

Why?

Some of you may be asking, ‘David, why are you doing this series this way?  Why start with us rather than the systems and cycles of injustice in the world?’

It’s because I am more of a pastor than an activist.  There are activists who are excellent pastors and teachers (people like Soong-Chan Rah or Shane Claibourne or Brenda Salter McNeil).  But my calling is to create, nurture, and pastor a community of people who will be transformed by the Holy Spirit and be sent out into the world to do the work God has given them to do.

And so, in a sermon series on justice, my first priority is to expose and heal the stuff that is broken in US.  I do that first because I love the people of Restoration.  My heart is crushed by so much wrong, harm, evil, and pain that is in the world–  that comes from broken systems and broken people.  But (and!) out of all the injustices that I want to see God change by His power through His people, the place where I bring all the prayer, love, intellect, and creativity I can muster is the church gathered and scattered on Quincy Street each week.   I am called to you.

We’ll get to some of the big topics.  But we had to start with the place in which we have the most visibility and ability to change–  our own hearts.  How’s it going?

See you soon.

With love,  David

critical moments

critical moments

Jesus was never afraid to ask the hard question.

In fact, sometimes that seems like the sum of his entire work…  a ministry of hard questions.

On Tuesday night, our Tri2 Small Group Leaders got together for a bit of training as we head in to this trimester.  We spent our time talking about the well-resourced young man in Mark 10.  It is such an encouragement as we think about the critical moments that God gives us with all kinds of different people.

It begins with this man, who seems to have everything (financial wealth, moral obedience, good standing in society) running after Jesus to ask him a question.  And what a question!  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  It gets at our core longing to know peace and security, to be right with our Maker.  It picks up on our ubiquitous insecurity–  have I done enough.  Everyone asks it in one way or another…  and it is especially poignant coming off the lips of one who seems to have all the answers.

Everyone has an entry point to hear about Jesus-  no matter how much they appear to not need him.

In response to the most important question this man could ask, Jesus says the most difficult thing he could hear—  sell everything you got and come follow me.

The guy balks.  Then walks away in the opposite direction from Jesus.  The answer was too much.  He had too much of his worth, identity, and security invested in his stuff…  and Jesus was not compelling enough to make him leave it.

In between the most important question that one can ask and the most difficult thing that one can hear, Mark notes that Jesus looked at the man and loved the man.  These details of seeing and loving are almost ‘asides’ but they hold the key to the entire interaction–  Jesus says this most difficult thing because he loves him and he sees what he most needs.  Critical moments become life-changing moments when the difficult answers to the hard questions come from a posture of being seen and loved.  

As followers of Jesus, we are called to regularly speak REALLY difficult things.  And, like Jesus, we may very well experience the rejection of others in response.  It happened to Him.  It will happen to us.  Regularly.

Love is how we share in the cost of what is difficult to say.

Our obligation is to say things from a posture of knowing/seeing the person and loving the person.  Love is what allows us to share in the cost of what is difficult to say.  And love is what turns critical moments in to life-changing moments.

We have 2 critical moments on the horizon for our church:

  1. Tonight at 7pm, Dan Allender will begin his To be told conference at Restoration.  Over 350 people will get to consider the critical moments in their story when Jesus intervened to change their life.  It’s happened for all of us–  the invitation is to live God’s story as one who has been restored by grace.
  2. On Sunday we start a new sermon series:  Justice and the Generosity of God.  This is one of those watershed series where almost every part of our private and corporate life comes under the scrutiny of the Gospel of Grace.  As we will see, we can’t escape that ‘doing justice’ is a central (maybe the central?) part of being the people of God.  ‘Doing justice’ is how God expected Israel and then the church to be known.  And the way God described ‘just’ will challenge us every week.  I hope you won’t miss a Sunday between now and the end of June. And I hope you are in a small group during the week to wrestle through the consequences of these passages.

None of us wants to miss the critical moments that Jesus brings in our life.  All of us want to know we are loved.  Some of us will put it together and run after the author of life who loves us more than we ever hoped.

Grateful to be running with you,

-David

Holy Week 2015

Holy Week 2015

Holy Week — the week between Palm Sunday and Easter — is the heart of the Christian year. This is the time when we remember Jesus’ final days, his passion and death, and ultimately his glorious resurrection. We’re deliberate about walking through this story step by step, inviting God to draw us more deeply into the great truth that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead so that we might have life in him.

It is THE week when those of us who are in the church have a profoundly different experience from those who are not.  Most of you will work during the day.  Many of you have plans for spring break while the kids are off from school.  Let me encourage you to not miss this week, to not treat it like the other 51.  We have an opportunity to take a journey together.

Here are all the details you need for each corporate worship gathering.  Please look for notes on the liturgy, childcare, parking, and what you need to bring.  I look forward to walking alongside you.

Palm Sunday:  March 29 at 9am, 11am, 5pm

  • We’ll begin our worship outside on the front terrace, waving palms and shouting, “Hosanna!”  We’ll end our worship with the story of Jesus’ trial and execution, shouting, “Crucify him!”  It’s a powerful, ironic journey in just 90 minutes — and a bit of a preview of the week to come.
  • Preschool-5th grade Kids’ Small Groups check in will be outside.  Nursery check in will be inside.
  • Please allow 15 minutes for parking and getting to your seat.  We use the lot at the corner of Quincy and 15th Street and provide shuttle service to the church.

Morning Prayer:  Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 7am

  • Each morning we will gather for 30 minutes to focus our attention on the passion of our Lord and to listen to the voice of our Father in heaven.
  • Kids are welcome, but there is no childcare provided.
  • Please park in the lot that is adjacent to our building.

Maundy Thursday:  April 2 at 7:30 pm

  • The liturgy includes a service of footwashing and ends with the Holy Eucharist.  We remember the story of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, when he taught them to serve each other and to remember him in the breaking of bread.
  • Kids are welcome in the service.  There is a nursery available for those who are 2 and under.
  • Please allow 15 minutes for parking and getting to your seat.  We use the lot at the corner of Quincy and 15th Street and provide shuttle service to the church.

Good Friday:  April 3, 9am-5pm

  • The sanctuary will be open for silent prayer and meditation from 9am until 5pm.  There will be an opportunity for you to nail a piece of paper with your sins written down to a cross as part of your confession.
  • At 12pm, 1pm, and 2 pm, there will be guided reflections on the stations of the cross for adults and children.  Our RestoArts team has worked hard to create images that will be used to remember these key points in Jesus’ passion.
  • Kids are welcome to participate in the stations and to nail their confessions to the cross.   There is no childcare provided and please be aware of others who are gathered for silent prayer.
  • Please park in the lot that is adjacent to our building.

Good Friday:  April 3 at 7:30pm

  • In the evening we will have a corporate worship gathering that focuses on the Seven Last Words of Christ.  The liturgy is done in the darkness and is a beautifully poignant series of reflections, prayers, and music.
  • Kids are welcome in the service, although the adult reflections are sometimes more mature in content.  Nursery is available for children 2 and under.
  • Please allow 15 minutes for parking and getting to your seat.  We use the lot at the corner of Quincy and 15th Street and provide shuttle service to the church.

The Great Vigil of Easter:  April 4 at 8:30pm

  • This corporate gathering of worship is the culmination of Holy Week and the beginning of the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection. The liturgy is in four parts and through Scripture, song, and sacrament, unfolds the story of redemption.
  • The liturgy begins outside on the front terrace with the kindling of the new fire and the burning of the papers from Good Friday.  Then we tell the whole story of creation, fall, and redemption, finally shouting out the first joyful “Alleluias!” of Easter and celebrating the Eucharist.  Bring a bell to ring!  Cow bells, sleigh bells, dumb bells.  Bring em!
  • A “resurrection party” follows in the fellowship hall — we’ll break our Lenten fasts together.  Bring food and a fun beverage to share.  You can put them on tables in the fellowship hall before the liturgy begins.
  • Kids are welcome in the service, although the length is close to 2 hours.  Nursery is not provided.
  • Please allow 15 minutes for parking and getting to your seat.  We use the lot at the corner of Quincy and 15th Street and provide shuttle service to the church.

Easter Sunday:  April 5 at 9am, 11am, and 5pm

  • Invite a friend or neighbor to join you as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection!
  • Kids are welcome in the service.  We will not have our normal Kids’ Small Groups, but will provide a worship guide for children during the service.  Nursery is available for kids 2 and under.
  • Please allow 15 minutes for parking and getting to your seat.  We use the lot at the corner of Quincy and 15th Street and provide shuttle service to the church.

 

 

the shame of being a vine

the shame of being a vine

In the Old Testament the vine is a common symbol for Israel.  Most remarkable is the fact that whenever historic Israel is referred to under this figure it is the vine’s failure to produce good fruit that is emphasized, along with the corresponding threat of God’s judgment on the nation.

-Don Carson from his commentary on John

For example, on Sunday we prayed through Psalm 80 which refers to the unique specialness of Israel as a vine that God himself rescued and cultivated:

You brought  a vine out of Egypt; you  drove out the nations and planted it. You  cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.  The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches.  It sent out its branches to  the sea and its shoots to  the River.

But then immediately refers to the judgement that Israel is facing because of her infidelity and apostasy:

Why then have you  broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?  The boar from the forest ravages it,   and all that move in the field feed on it.

You were my choice, chosen people–  the vine I brought out of Egypt.  But you have wandered from me and not followed my good instruction.  So I have allowed you to experience the consequences of those choices–  just like a vine that is not tended becomes overgrown and ineffective for bearing fruit.

Every time Israel is compared to a vine, it is for the purpose of showing Israel the consequence of her failure, shortcomings, and disobedience.  Take a look at:  Isaiah 5:1-7, Jeremiah 2:21, Jeremiah 12:10(ff), Ezekiel 15, 17, 19.  And maybe most poignantly to us in the most expensive county in the United States…

  Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit.   The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars.  Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt.  The LORD will break down their altars and destroy their pillars.

Hosea 10: 1-2

Every time that Israel was compared to a vine, it was a teaching moment to show them their shame.

So can you imagine what it was like when Jesus said to his friends, in the last evening he had with them, ‘I am the the true vine.’  Their impulse must have been to expect a lecture on how they had failed–  that’s what prophets did when they compared God’s people to a vine.

But Jesus doesn’t bring up this ‘vine-word-of-their-shame’ to criticize them.  He calls himself the vine because He wants to re-write and re-orient the experience of their shame.  We are fundamentally creatures that want to attach.  We want to connect and to be in a vine.  And, like Israel, we are all aware of the ways we have failed in our attachments.

So Jesus explains:  I am securely attached to my Father.  And you can be securely attached to Him through Jesus by the Holy spirit that lives in us.

Abiding in the vine can re-write our story, can re-orient us to what is true, and can attach us to what brings life–  forever.

JESUS is the vine.  We are branches.  Our shame is gone.  Thanks be to God.

-David

You can listen to the whole story right here.

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