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A Migraine and a Psalm

I woke up this past Tuesday morning at 2:00 am with a migraine. This isn’t uncommon. I’ve been having migraine headaches for close to thirty years. Sometimes the pain is mild, sometimes severe. Tuesday’s was the latter.

By God’s grace I was able to sleep most of the morning and get out of bed without the nausea that so often accompanies the headaches. I figured I’d head (no pun intended) to the Psalms to read through my 'five psalms a day’ and spend some time in prayer, specifically asking—once again—for complete healing from these headaches.

The first psalm for the day’s reading was Psalm 56. Here is David’s poem song asking God for deliverance from his enemies and his declaration of confidence that God will act to bring that deliverance. 

This psalm floored me. I didn’t get past this psalm to the next four because of the gravity of this verse:

"You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book.” (Psalm 56:8 MSG)

I wasn’t running from enemies seeking to take my life as was David. I wasn’t lying awake crying out to God for deliverance from oppression or violence. But I was lying awake, as I have many nights before, asking God to bring deliverance from these headaches and sickness.

Have you ever read a verse for the eight hundred and fifth time and it seemed to connect with you on a much deeper level than it had before? Verse 8 is the verse that did it for me on Tuesday morning. I’ve read this verse so many times without giving it a thought longer than a minute or two. But this time it hooked my heart.

Every toss and turn I’ve made all these years; every sleepless night; every tear I’ve shed; every agonizing plea for God to heal and deliver; every headache, stomach ache, nerve ache and body ache—God knows and God cares.

Think about this: God keeps track of our sufferings because it matters to him. He knows everything we’re going through and how it specifically and intimately effects us. Every physical, emotional and spiritual misery we feel is laid out before him. He knows and he cares.

David knows this to be true. That’s why he can declare in verse 9 that “this I know, that God is for me.” Later he sings, “in God I trust; I shall not be afraid” (v.11). 

The pain and misery I feel in the middle of the night (or early morning or late afternoon) may try to convince me that God is not for me. The pain and misery you feel may try to deceive you into thinking that God cannot be trusted. Don’t give in to those lies. God is always present, always aware, and always cares for what his people are going through. 

Because this is true of God, I can trust him as I continue to pray for healing. I can hold firm to his promise that he is for me and will bring me deliverance. He will answer my plea. It may be today or next Tuesday or the day I stand before his glory. But deliverance is coming—physical, emotional and spiritual.

So when you find yourself tossing and turning in the night, turn to him. When your tears flow, let him collect them in his bottle. When your aches become more than you can bear, cry out to the God who listens, cares and answers.

The Proof of Love

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately on living everyday life in faithful and joyful obedience to God. While reading Psalm 26 this morning, I was struck by what David says in verses 2-3:

“Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness."

Just for a bit of context, David is writing this song quite possibly because he has been the victim of some undeserved wrong. He declares his determination to follow God “without wavering” (v.1). The Hebrew verb means “to slip, slide, totter, shake.” In spite of mistreatment, David is resolved to trust God without slipping or sliding under the burden.

In verse 2, David is opening up himself to the Lord. He invites the Lord to “Prove…try…test” his inner being (see Psalm 139:23-24). David wants God to scrutinize his very heart, to make an examination of his motives and desires. When wrong comes David’s way, he turns to God to test his character so that he does not give in to sinful attitudes or responses. He is trusting that God knows his innocence in light of this mistreatment.

David continues to in verse 3 by declaring his commitment to remember God’s “steadfast love” and to live obediently in God’s “faithfulness.” No matter what comes along, David is resolved to view all of life through the lens of God’s steadfast love. When tough times come, David’s eyes on are on the Lord’s love, and his guide is the Lord’s truth.

David is declaring his willingness to obey God no matter what. The proof of David’s love for God is his obedience to God. Remember what Jesus says about the proof of love for him?

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15)
"Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21)
"Jesus answered him, 'If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him'” (John 14:23)

Our love for God manifests itself in faithful and joyful obedience to God. Our obedience to God is motivated by God’s love for us in Jesus.

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)

Our willingness to obey is coupled with our ability to obey because we have the Spirit empowering us to obey.

"Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us” (1 John 3:24)

No matter what you’re facing today, resolve to walk in faithful and joyful obedience to God. Mediate on his steadfast love toward you. Saturate your heart with his faithful promises found in his word. If you’re struggling to obey, ask God to transform your heart to learn to walk in his ways in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).

Our Gospel Identity

The Bible teaches that if we are in Christ, the gospel has made us disciples who are now part of a family of missionary servants, sent to serve the world as disciples who make disciples. This is who we are. This is our new gospel identity.

The more we understand and believe this to be true, the more our lives will be transformed for God's glory and our good.

Take some time this week to consider what is true about us because of who God is and what He has done for us. 

We Are Family. We Gather.
God, the Father, has adopted us as His children. We live in community as brothers and sisters, sharing our lives together. We gather regularly to worship, eat, celebrate, remind one another of the gospel and live life together.

We Are Disciples. We Grow.
As followers of Jesus, we are constantly being changed and transformed into his likeness. This can be an uncomfortable process, but a healthy one. Recognizing how graciously our Father has accepted us into His family, we have a desire over an obligation to look more and more like the children He has made us. We dedicate ourselves to growing in His Word and understanding our story through the lens of the biblical story.

We Are Missionaries. We Go.
Ever since mankind has rebelled, God has been on a mission to reconcile creation back to Himself. The Father sent the Son to earth to redeem His people. The Son sent the Spirit to enable His people to take part in His mission. We, in turn, are sent ones – called to “go and make disciples”, bringing good news (Matthew 28:18-20).

We Are Servants. We Give.
Jesus left his rightful place on his throne in heaven, made himself a fragile baby and came to dwell in our mess. He went out of his way to heal the sick and lame, speak good news to the lost, wash his disciples filthy feet, and ultimately serve us to the point of death. If the King of Kings is willing to serve in this way and we are called to be disciples of him, how could we expect to live any different? We are committed to serving one another as family, as well as our neighbors outside of the church. We have been blessed by God to be a blessing to others, so we strive to give of our time, energy, money, and resources for the sake of God's kingdom.

Why We Do What We Do || Why Sunday Liturgy?

Each Sunday we have a unique opportunity to gather as God’s people to hear from his Word, be reminded of his Story, sing his praise, and enjoy his presence. As a church family, we gather around Jesus and his remarkable grace. Over the course of ninety minutes we have an order of worship: readings, prayers, songs, sermons, announcements, and sometimes a potluck meal. All those parts make up a Liturgy. Liturgy has been described as ‘embodied worship’; worship expressed through a certain visible order or structure (thus the phrase “order of worship”).

Liturgy simply means “the work of the people.” In one sense ‘liturgy’ is what we do together as we gather to worship God. But in a much deeper sense, liturgy isn’t at all about what we do; its about what God does. Each Sunday, we believe that we encounter God through song, scripture, sacrament (communion and baptism) and the fellowship of the saints. In other words, we gather around the Word and the Table, singing and praying together as the family of God, listening to the Spirit of God along the way. In our liturgy, we draw from the rich treasury of the Church's historic worship practices while being attentive to the fresh work of the Spirit in our day. Our worship at Missio is rooted in history with room for mystery.

Many think of liturgy in terms of something churches did in the past or what more formal churches do today. We’ve found that instead of thinking in terms of “Formal/Informal,” it is more helpful to think in terms of “Intentional/Unintentional.” We want to be intentional with our Sunday gatherings. Our liturgy is not put together haphazardly. The repetition, the structure, and the communal nature of the liturgy is all done on purpose with the prayer that the Spirit draws us into God’s Story again and again. So much of our lives are lived out hearing other stories with other saviors. In the ninety minutes we have week after week, month after month, year after year, we are drawn anew into God’s story. We are formed to be a community shaped by the Gospel and sent out on God’s mission.

WHY LITURGY IS IMPORTANT

We could give a ton of reasons, but here are a few:

Liturgy tells the True Story of God. Each day we are bombarded with false stories that prompt individualism, promote consumerism and push hyped-up emotionalism. We need to fight these idols with the good news of the gospel. Our liturgy draws us back each week into God’s true story (we’ll talk more this week about the elements of our liturgy and how they do just that!)

Liturgy helps form a missional people. We are called to declare and demonstrate the good news of Jesus Christ in all of life. We are a missional people who must have our desires, our vision, our very selves reordered out of the ways we have been trained in consumerist America and ‘re-gospelled’ into the Missio Dei. Liturgy that is Scriptural, historical, theological, accessible and organic (part of everyday life) helps form us as God’s servant missionaries who are equipped and sent out, energized and empowered by the Spirit to bring good news to our neighborhoods, workplaces, communities and homes.

Liturgy teaches us how to worship. Liturgy teaches us to reorient our lives in complete devotion to God. Liturgy calls us to repentance and faith as we acknowledge God as King of all creation; as we confess our sins; as we embrace the promise and reality of forgiveness; as we hear God’s Word preached and read it together; as we celebrate the gospel in the Lord’s Supper. Liturgy helps us to rehearse Christ-centered worship and allows engagement with the Holy Spirit to be sent out on mission.

Liturgy creates much-needed habits. James K.A. Smith’s work has been influential in teaching how all of us have liturgies in life that shape and form what we love (read his book, “You Are What You Love”). We know by knowledge and experience that doing something as a regular rhythm of life can be powerful. Our habits form what we love, and we are shaped by what we love. Each Sunday we come back to something familiar to us. We are shaped and formed by Christ-saturated liturgy. We stand together and acknowledge God’s power and sovereignty. We confess our sins together. We hear the God-breathed word of scripture. We sing praises to our King. We partake in the Lord’s Supper, having our faith nourished once again in a tangible and visible representation of God’s grace. These rhythms and habits are powerful and life changing.

May the Holy Spirit shape and guide our Sunday liturgy, using it to form us as Jesus’ disciples and to send us out as faithful missional communities. To God be the glory!

The Great Sympathizer of Our Suffering

Several years ago I worked as an administrator in an alternative high school. This was a job I had spent years dreaming about, furthering my education to obtain what I thought would be the job I always wanted. What I found was that this job crushed me. It seemed like an utter disaster and a waste of a year of my life. From the very first day on the job I had my life threatened, my iPod stolen, a parent cuss me out, and a severe migraine. It only got worse from there.

I would drive to work in a flood of tears, crying out to God, “Why did you allow me to take this job? Lord, I am in despair! I hate this! Are you listening? Do you care? This isn’t what I signed up for!” Some days I would sit in my car in the parking lot unable to walk through the front door of the school. I was completely paralyzed. I was so overcome with fear and despair that I literally couldn’t move. In those sickening times I truly questioned: “God, are you there?”

To be honest, it was one of the darkest times of my life. I lost over twenty pounds. I fell into a deep depression. I felt like I couldn’t lead my wife well. I felt distant from my kids. I was trying to lead a Missional Community and help lead a church. I felt like a complete failure. I felt like God didn’t love me very much because the darkness seemed to prevail over me. Not only was my health deteriorating, but my spiritual health was being attacked from all sides. Was it Satanic? Possibly. Was my own sin involved? Certainly. Was God in it all, even when I couldn’t see it? Definitely.

What kept me going? What sustained me in those times when I felt like throwing in the towel and quitting it all? In my depression and anguish, what was it that enraptured my soul and spoke to my heart when all seemed hopeless? It was God’s promises.

During this year, my wife would write a bible verse on an index card almost every week and would place the verse in my lunch bag or in my car. Many of the verses spoke of God’s love for me and his promises to see me through suffering. Sometimes the verses spoke of how I fail to trust God, but also reminded me that his faithfulness would always prevail. Most often, the verses pointed me to the truth that God is exalted in all things; through trials, temptations, and tribulations in this life. One verse told me that Jesus suffered more than I could imagine so that I could have eternal life:

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…” -Hebrews 5:7-9

Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered.” Have you considered this truth before? Until this trial in my life, I really hadn’t. What’s important to note is that Jesus, in his incarnate state, had to learn lessons of obedience that could only be achieved through suffering. He certainly wasn’t disobedient prior to this! As God, he needed to learn nothing. Jesus did not need to learn how to obey because it would be impossible for God to be disobedient. Rather, as the God-Man in human flesh, he had to learn what was involved in obedience. In this way, he identified with us.

Jesus was “made perfect.” This doesn’t mean that Jesus was imperfect before his sufferings. The idea was that Jesus was made to go through the crucible of suffering so that he could perfectly identify with the human race, and demonstrate his complete human, temporal obedience to his heavenly Father.

By being made perfect, Jesus brought God’s redemptive purposes to their fulfillment. This enabled him to become our perfectly equipped high priest, who not only became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, but also the great Sympathizer of his people:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” -Hebrews 4:14-16

In my time of suffering and pain, I had to go to the throne of grace. I needed God’s mercy and grace more than ever. I needed his word. I needed his promises. I needed to remember the hope that I had in the perfect Jesus who knew everything I was going through and who could sympathize with my every emotion.

I still carry those index cards around with me. They may be in my car or in my pocket. Most of them I’ve memorized. They are a constant reminder that during my darkest hours, God has never left me. What seemed like a waste of a year of my life ended up being the greatest time of dependence on Christ Jesus. In my fear, I learned faith. Through my suffering, I learned how to trust in him. I learned to repent of my sin and fall face first before the throne of grace. I began to learn what Paul meant when he wrote:

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” -Romans 8:15-17

I’m still learning how to walk in obedience through my sufferings. Some days it’s a tiring walk. But my Abba—my Father—promises that in my suffering he is making me more like Jesus in order that I may be glorified with him. This is a profound and difficult mystery, but a glorious truth.

Withdraw and Pray

Luke 5:15-16-" But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray."

Jesus had just healed a leper and again demonstrated his power and authority over physical sickness. Once again Jesus poured out mercy as he brought immediate healing to an societal outcast. Jesus' touching of the leper made him unclean in the eyes of the religious authorities, and thus, demonstrated his identifying with the leper rather than the religious establishment. Jesus showed, as he had so many times before, that he came to rub shoulders with the isolated; the unclean; the broken; the lost.

Jesus told the leper to tell no one what he had done (v.14), except for the priest to whom he was to go and sacrifice according to the Old Testament Levitical law (Leviticus 14:2-32). The sacrifice itself would not cause the cleaning; the sacrifice would be one of thanksgiving for the cleansing Jesus had done. The man's sacrifice would be an opportunity to witness to the priest, proving that Jesus was divine and working miracles throughout the region.

So why does Jesus tell the leper not to share the incredible miracle that just occurred? So that crowds would not continue to build and riot, seeking Jesus only for miracles. Yet we get the sense that the leper may not have kept the good news to himself. For "now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities."

Jesus' popularity continued to grow. People wanted to hear him and be healed by him. The amazing news could not be contained. But instead of embracing the popularity and following the demands of the crowds, Jesus withdrew to desolate places to be with His Father. Jesus went where prayer led, not where people led.

Time and again we read of Jesus spending time in silent prayer (Luke 6:12; 11:1). The Son of God desired to commune with his Father and delighted in following his Father's leading. God knew where Jesus' work was to be done and how it was to be done and with whom it was to be done. Time in prayer gave Jesus clarity in his ministry and mission as he sought the Father's will, full of the power of the Holy Spirit, who empowered Jesus for his ministry (Luke 4:14; 4:18). Quiet, intimate times of prayer in secluded, desolate places gave Jesus the right mindset, which was to obey his Father, abide in his love (John 15:10), and to preach the good news of the Kingdom (Luke 4:18).

Let me ask you: has your prayer life diminished recently? Are you seeking to live life in your own power instead of God's power? Are you feeling crushed by the crowds? Is anxiety taking over? Has the lure of popularity and worldly desires hooked you? Let me encourage you to do what Jesus did: pray. Find a desolate, quiet place to pray and pour out your heart to the Father. Ask him to strengthen you in the power of the Spirit (Ephesians 3:16-17) so that you can live each day in joyful obedience. Plead with God to grant you wisdom in everything going on in your life today. If our Savior needed to meet with His heavenly Father in prayer, how much more do we!

The True Story in Ephesians

If you’ve been a part of the Missio family, even for a short period of time, then you are probably quite familiar with the six acts of the true story of God: Creation, Rebellion, Promise, Redemption, Church, New Creation. We never tire of retelling and rehearsing God’s true story in word and deed, in language and life. We believe the Bible tells one story from beginning to end, the true story of the whole world. This good news or gospel story offers the liberating reality that through Jesus our identity can be given, not earned. As we have been traveling through the letter of Paul to the Ephesians, we see Paul—like so many of his letters—taking us through the true story of God. How does Paul do this? Let’s look at it together.

In the act of Creation, God creates humanity in his image—to reflect his likeness to the world. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them.” (Gen.1.27-28). In Ephesians 1:3, Paul states that we are blessed again by God. This is Creation language.

In the act of Rebellion, Adam and Eve chose to follow their own way rather than God’s way (Genesis 3). Their refusal to trust God and his word for all things lead to not only their own punishment, but also to the entire creation being under a curse. Paul certainly hadn’t forgotten this part of the true story. In fact, Paul reminds the Ephesians of just how bad their situation used to be: "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-4).

In the act of Promise, we read in Deuteronomy 7:6: “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” In Ephesians 1:4 Paul tells us that God “chose us in Christ…that we should be holy and blameless before him.”

In the act of Redemption, Paul reminds us in Ephesians 1:7 that we have redemption through Christ's blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.

As the Church, Paul tells us that we have already obtained an inheritance and are sealed with the Spirit as we learn to love God and love others (Ephesians 1:11-15). God’s plan from the beginning has been to display his “manifold wisdom” to the rulers and authorities of this world and in the heavenly realms through the church (Ephesians 3:10).

And in New Creation, we know and hope for the inheritance that is to come, as God finally unites all things in heaven and on earth in Christ (Ephesians 1:10-14).

Where else do you see the acts of God’s true story at play in Ephesians?

Increasing Our Joy As We Become Saturated With Scripture

In John 15, Jesus tells us how we become people filled with his joy as we abide in him and live by his words. We become people who flourish in Spirit-given fruit as we learn to love God and obey his Word, trusting that Jesus alone can give us the life-giving nourishment we need for total joy. As we shared with the Missio family in January, one of the ways we are intentionally seeking to pursue joy in Christ is to inhabit the Story of God throughout the calendar year. We want you to hear God’s voice through his Story—the Bible—as we encounter the everyday. We want to see ourselves as participants in the life of Jesus so that we can be transformed, renewed and sent out into the world to tell the good news of life in Christ.

Listen to what David has to say about God’s word:

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

-Psalm 19:7-11

Have you thought of God’s word this way? More to be desired than gold? Rejoicing your heart? Teaching you what’s right and how to walk in God’s ways?

What a thought! Could it be true that if we commit to reading and memorizing God’s word this year that we, too, could experience the joy that the Psalmist had?

I totally believe it! God’s word will bring joy, strength, conviction and growth as the Spirit empowers us to understand the truth of God, and as we commit as Learners to love Jesus more in and through His word.

Several of us in the Missio family have committed to reading through the Bible together this year. There’s a great Bible reading plan, in addition to the Revised Common Lectionary, the cycle of Scripture readings prescribed for public worship and used by many traditions. We’ve created a group on the City to help encourage one another in this journey. It’s never too late to join and dig in with us.

I also wanted to share with you a rhythm I’ve begun to help saturate my heart with God’s word. At the beginning of each week, I write down the four Lectionary readings scheduled in the calendar week and write down a word or phrase from each passage. I’m continuing to dwell on these passages, meditating on them and asking the Spirit to fill me with the fullness of God’s word. It’s amazing how these phrases stick with me throughout the week.

What rhythms help saturate you with God’s word?

 

How We Grow as a Missional Church

*We’ve been going through the Missio Basics, a four-week preaching series aiming to reorient us around four gospel distinctives that fuel Missio Dei Peoria. These four “basics”--gather, go, grow and give--help to shape and define the way we live out our gospel identity here, near and far for the glory of God. You can read more about these four “basics" here.*  

A few weeks ago, we looked at several ways in which we grow in the gospel, abiding in Christ so that we are saturated with his power and presence in our lives. As new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), we seek to become mature disciples who are sent out on God’s mission to make, mature and multiply disciples. What is a disciple? A follower of Jesus who is increasingly learning how to submit his or her life to the empowering presence and lordship of Jesus. As we grow in the “grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18) we increasingly grow as disciples in our awareness of our need for Jesus in the everyday stuff of life. We learn to walk with Jesus and learn to be led by Jesus in every place and in every way.

Learning to submit all of our lives to Jesus doesn’t happen overnight. We believe that discipleship is on-going process of increasingly submitting all of life to the empowering presence and lordship of Jesus.

All-of-life is the key! Learning to follow, trust, and obey Jesus in the everyday stuff of life—and training others to do the same—requires that we listen and obey God’s word in three essential environments: life on life, life in community and life on mission.

 

LIFE ON LIFE

Life on life discipleship means that we get up close and personal with others. People have access to our lives and are committed to speaking the good news of Jesus to us. We become vulnerable and real with others, providing the opportunity for God to grow us in his grace in and through the love, words and actions of his people—people who are committed to bringing our brokenness out into the open and reminding us of the gospel of Jesus that restores us.

Jesus lived life on life with his disciples. He knew them intimately. He observed what they believed and watched the way they lived their lives as they followed him. He knew their brokenness and witnessed all the wrong they said and did. They were exposed. And as they were exposed, Jesus helped them to be restored.

If we desire to be a people who are learning to submit all of our lives to the power and presence of Jesus, we need to have people in our lives who get up close and personal with us. We need people to speak the gospel to us when they observe our faulty thinking and sinful behaviors. We need disciples in our lives who tell us when we’re not believing the truth about Jesus and what he has done to transform us.

Life on life discipleship means we have to be willing to be vulnerable with others, knowing full well that it will get messy, uncomfortable and difficult. But God is gracious. He will use this process to grow us in becoming devoted followers of Jesus in all of life.

 

LIFE IN COMMUNITY

When we look at the life and ministry of Jesus we see that he discipled his followers as they lived life together in community. In fact, looking through the gospels, you could say that this was the primary way he discipled! As the disciples followed Jesus for three years, they did so together—learning, growing, even failing!—together.

The church is Jesus’ body. It is one body made up of many parts (Romans 12:4-6;  1 Cor. 12:12-31). Each of us has a role in equipping one another in building up the body of Christ, with a commitment to see one another develop into a mature disciple. In fact, discipleship that happens as we live life together in community will lead to disciples looking more like Jesus as he works through his body.

One of the things we believe about our true identity in Jesus is that we are God’s family. We are children of God and brothers and sisters of one another in Jesus. The life we now live as God’s family is not a burden; its a privilege. We share life together in community, centered on the gospel, showing the world what God is like in and through our lives together.

 

LIFE ON MISSION

Jesus called his disciples to follow him on his mission to make other disciples. He taught his disciples how to make disciples as they lived on mission together, telling them that he would make them “fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). The disciples were witnesses to everything Jesus said and did. They walked with him, talked with him, learned from him. They saw Jesus demonstrate compassion and mercy, forgiveness and love. They saw him cast out demons and heal the lame and sick.

Jesus used the mission to shape and form his disciples. While on mission, the disciples’ own sinful hearts were exposed as Jesus challenged them to think correctly about God, the kingdom and themselves. The disciples learned quickly while on mission that they were selfish, prideful, angry, and ignorant. Yet, Jesus moved toward them in forgiveness and love, always training them in the true ways of God. After awhile, Jesus invited the disciples to share in the work he was doing. He sent them out on his mission together—preaching the gospel and healing everywhere. After their return, they reported to Jesus all that they had experienced (read Luke 9 and Luke 10). Still, the disciples had much more to learn. For three years, Jesus trained his disciples, nourishing their hearts, minds and hands to live their lives for God’s glory and God’s mission. Jesus trained his disciples for mission while they were on mission!

 

Our God is a missionary God, and we see his missionary heart all throughout the biblical story. God sent his own Son to earth to rescue and restore all of humanity and creation from the tragic affects of sin. Jesus came to be one of us, to live among us—to be with us!

Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection saying, "'Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:21-22).

Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to empower his disciples to know his true word and to fulfill the mission of making disciples! And for those of us who belong to Jesus, we too, have the Holy Spirit living inside of us, teaching us all of God’s truth and empowering us to live out the gospel in all of life—life on life, life in community and life on mission.

Just as Jesus’ Father sent him, he now sends us. We are missionaries…literally, “sent ones.” We are disciples…learning to increasingly submit all of our lives to the empowering presence and lordship of Jesus. In Christ’s power, may we seek to live all of life for the glory of God!

Why We Gather As A Missional Church

*This past Sunday we kicked off our new series, "Missio Basics," a four-week preaching series aiming to reorient us around four gospel distinctives that fuel Missio Dei Peoria. These four “basics”--gather, go, grow and give--help to shape and define the way we live out our gospel identity here, near and far for the glory of God. You can read more about these four “basics here.  

If you’ve been a part of Missio Dei Peoria for any length of time you’ve heard us teach that church isn’t an event or a building. You’ve heard us preach that the church is God’s people, saved by God’s power, for God’s purposes. We emphasize the importance of living everyday life with what we call gospel intentionality—purposely living out the good news of Jesus in word and deed. We encourage people to see all of life as countless opportunities for evangelism and discipleship, happening over coffee and meals, in the workplace, at the gym, in our neighborhoods. We seek to live our lives as missionary servants, sent by Jesus to show the world what God is like, beautifully demonstrated in a Jesus-centered community on mission (what we call Missional Communities).

So why is it important for us to gather together every Sunday morning to sing and hear a sermon and partake in communion? If we teach that discipleship is life-on-life, in community and on mission, doesn’t a Sunday gathering seem to conflict?

You can listen to Sunday’s sermon for great answers to these questions…in fact, start there!

Heres' some additional thoughts on why we believe it’s essential for the scattered church to gather regularly as a family of missional communities:

1. We gather to remember the gospel story.

The Church is a story-formed community that is rooted in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. As we gather together each week, we sit under the authority of God and hear him speak through his word, the Bible. The Bible narrates the world for the Church, and the gathering of the family of God is the primary place for this to happen. We hear God’s true story loud and clear as we remember his mighty deeds—past, present and future—and find our place in his story. The organization of our gatherings, including the songs we sing, the liturgical rhythms of praise, confession and assurance we recite together, and the other elements of worship point to who God is and what he has done in Jesus to rescue the world from the ravages of sin.

2. We gather to retell the gospel story.

Each week we gather to hear God’s word preached. Preaching is a powerful means by which God’s people may be nurtured and empowered for God’s mission. Preaching helps us to see that the Bible is one unfolding story that is the true story of the world. Preaching helps us to see that the family of God must learn to live everyday life more and more in this story. Preaching brings listeners face-to-face with Jesus and his saving power to equip us to live all of life for his glory. We retell the good news of Jesus as we encourage one another through times of prayer, sharing of stories, and partaking in communion together.

3. We gather to respond to the gospel story.

Our Sunday gatherings help nurture and form a family of missional communities that are rooted in the gospel and come to know God’s saving power in worship, preaching, and prayer. But it doesn’t stop after the gathering is done. In fact, we gather to be equipped and encouraged so that we can be sent out into our culture as a people living the new life of God’s kingdom. We respond to the gospel story as we live everyday life—Monday through Sunday—with gospel intentionality.

Michael Goheen in his book A Light to the Nations points out that a people responding to the gospel story will be:

  • A community of justice in a world of injustice; a community of generosity and simplicity in a consumer world
  • A community of selfless giving in a world of selfishness and entitlement
  • A community of humble and bold witness to the truth of God in a world of uncertainty
  • A community of hope in a world of disillusionment and consumer satiation
  • A community of joy and thanksgiving in a hedonistic world that frantically pursues pleasure
  • A community that experiences God’s presence in a secular world (pp.209-210)

What other amazing things occur when we gather together? How is God glorified, Christ exalted, and Missio Dei Peoria empowered for mission as we gather together each week?

We Gather | We Go | We Grow | We Give

This past March was a pivotal time for our church family. Fresh off the heels of a beautiful merger between Mosaic Community Church and Church of the Cross, we became Missio Dei Peoria—a church family committed to giving our lives to see the Valley saturated with families of missionary servants, witnessing to the Kingdom of Jesus in word and deed so that every child, woman and man has a daily encounter with the gospel. This is the vision for the entire Missio Dei Communities family. Our mission is to form, equip, and encourage families of Missional Communities in the Valley who declare and demonstrate the gospel. Each congregation of Missio Dei (Camelback, Mesa, Tempe and Peoria) is comprised of multiple Missional Communities who take responsibility to be a faithful embodied witness of the gospel in their city. We are committed to equipping spirit-led communities to make, mature, and multiply disciples who are devoted to the glory of God, the growth of the body, and the good of their cities.

Thinking through this vision and mission stirs my heart with joy! God is working in and through this church to reflect the glory of Christ here, near and far. I’m excited to be a part of what God is doing in this family, and I’m diving all in…are you?

What does it mean to be “all in” with the Missio Dei Peoria family? Consider theses four Missio “basics”:

We Gather: We gather weekly on Sunday morning to meet with God and celebrate all that Jesus is for us. We are sent out and empowered by the Spirit to share and show the gospel with our city.

We Go: We believe a missional community (MC) is a family of missionary servants seeking to make disciples who make disciples. An MC is not primarily a bible study, weekly meeting, self-help group, or a social activist group. Though elements of each these types of groups are often experienced in an MC, none of them fully embodies the vision and mission of a missional community. In MCs we gather as a community to worship and submit all of our lives to Jesus by learning to love one another as family, serve the “least of these” in our midst, and be a witness to the good news of Jesus Christ.

We Grow: We desire to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18) through God's word, through prayer and in fellowship with the Holy Spirit and family of God. Everyone at Missio Dei Peoria is encouraged to be part of a triad of believers called a DNA Group. As we're led by the Holy Spirit, we help one another to: Discover Jesus in the Scriptures, Nurture the truths of the gospel in our hearts, and take Action to obey what Jesus calls us to. These groups (three people of the same gender) meet weekly to share what they are learning and how they are growing as believers in Jesus. This is a time to care for one another and bring deep accountability into each other’s lives.

We Give: We are a people that share our time and resources. This means we help to serve our body in all the areas mentioned above. We are both free and gifted to do this. Free, because Jesus as King served us with his life, so that we can now serve others with His love and power. Gifted, because God, through Jesus, has made us and given us each unique personality and gifting so that we can bring glory to him by serving others in our community. This means we are generous with our money and our possessions in order that the world can be blessed. We are free to do this because God has shared his greatest riches with us by giving us his Son Jesus.

We believe with all our heart that Missio Dei Peoria is called to gather, go, grow and give for the glory of God--here, near and far! We’re giving our lives for this very purpose.

Join us as over the next four Sundays as we look at each of these Missio Dei “basics”. Our prayer is that your love for Jesus, His word, His church and His creation catch fire in your hearts. It’s totally worth it…are you in?

*You can find out more about our vision, mission and distinctives as a Soma church.

The 4 Gs

Have you ever heard that all you need to do to change your life is to simply try harder? If we’re honest, not only have we heard this lie, but we’ve believed it to be true. No doubt, effort is required for change to occur in our lives; but true change—beautiful and life transforming change—does not begin by working harder. It begins by believing better. True and lasting change comes when we we place our faith in Jesus Christ. We are saved as we turn to the truth of the gospel, believing that Jesus alone is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). We are changed as we continually turn to the truth of the gospel, allowing the promises of God to sink into our soul, nourished in righteousness by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Many Christians remain cemented in patterns of sin because they focus on their outward behavior instead of fighting the unbelief that lies below the surface. They work hard to change, but all their effort goes into working harder instead of believing better. In other words, they believe lies instead of believing God’s truth. And behind every sin is a lie about God.

Looking back into God’s true story, we see that this has been true since Adam and Eve. God had commanded that Adam and Eve not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:17). God loved Adam and Eve, and he knew what was best for them. His command for Adam and Eve was good. All they needed to do was trust that God was good, showing their trust and love by obeying God’s word.

Then the serpent came along and convinced Adam and Eve to believe a lie about God. What was the lie? That God was not good. That God was holding out on them. That they could be like God himself.

"But the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” (Genesis 3:4-5)

Eve is convinced that God is not good. She believes the lie of the serpent instead of holding fast to the truth of God. Once she believes the lie in her heart, she acts upon it:

"So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Gen. 3:6)

Behind every sin is a lie about God. Adam and Eve believed the lie that God was not good. They disobeyed God’s word and death entered into the story.

For life transforming change to take place in our lives, we must reject the lies we’re told and believe the truth about God.

In his book, You Can Change, Tim Chester identifies four liberating truths about God:

God is great - so we don’t have to be in control God is glorious - so we don’t have to fear others God is good - so we don’t have to look elsewhere for satisfaction God is gracious - so we don’t have to prove ourselves

Chester noted that underlying all our sinful behavior and negative emotions is a failure to believe one of these truths at a functional level. Embracing, believing, trusting and delighting in the appropriate truth about God has the power to set us free from sin – though we need to recognize that this typically involves a daily struggle – the fight of faith.

But it’s not a fight we take on alone. In fact, we can’t fight the lies and believe the truth about God without the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. The Holy Spirit reveals the truth about God to us, for he is the Spirit of truth (John 15:26). The Spirit reminds us of Jesus’ words, which are truth (John 14:26). The Spirit points us to God’s truth and empowers us to reject the lies that plague us and to embrace the truths of God that free us.

Through the Spirit, we are brought to repentance and faith. Repentance is turning from the lies about God and the sin that comes from those lies. Faith is believing the truth about God and living in faithful obedience because of that truth. We experience true and lasting change as we live in a posture of continual repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

For the next four weeks we’ll be exploring these four liberating truths about God—what we call the “4 Gs.” These four liberating truths offer a great diagnostic tool for addressing sin in our lives and in the lives of others. Our prayer is that God will nourish our souls with his truth, bringing about life transformation for his glory and our good!

Walking in Obedience

I often hike the H-Trail at Thunderbird Park and stop to look at the stretch of city that can be easily viewed from the trail (Have you ever looked at it? If you haven’t, you really should. It’s amazing). Last week on my hike, my eyes were drawn to Lubben Mountain, which lies just north of the trail. At the foot of the mountain are several neighborhoods, along with GCC’s north campus. I’ve seen this view a hundred times, but this particular time, I had to stop and take a picture. I wondered if the people who live and work close to the mountain ever stop to look up at the creation before them. Do they enjoy looking at the mountain? Do they think it’s beautiful or drab? Do they wonder who created this? Do they hike this mountain? Does it go unnoticed?

As I thought of these questions I couldn’t help but think about that time in Exodus 19 when God finally had Israel to himself at the foot of Mount Sinai (go ahead…read it again!) God enters into a covenant with his people, promising to be their God and they his people. On one hand, this relationship would be full of God’s blessing and sovereign rule over Israel. On the other hand, this relationship called Israel to loyalty and obedience to God.

Remember that this covenant was based solely on what God had done for Israel—he had redeemed them from slavery in Egypt (see Exodus 19:4-6). God’s grace and redemptive action came first. Israel was to respond in faithful—and joyful!—obedience to the law and covenant. Their obedience would be motivated by grateful response to who God is and what he had done for them. Their obedience would also enable them to be the holy people God desired them to be as they lived among the nations of the world.

And now that God had his people close to the mountain he was going to show them his awesome power and holiness. God was going to come down on the mountain to show the majesty of his presence and to give Israel his Law and covenant. But first, Moses was to set limits around the mountain, and Israel would have to consecrate themselves for two days by washing their garments and abstaining from sexual relations. The point of this was for the people to present themselves before a holy God with "minds ready unto obedience" (John Calvin). The mountain was designated holy ground, and Israel needed to be made pure and set apart. They needed to be ready with obedient minds and hearts to hear God’s covenant and Law.

Do you remember what Israel said when Moses told them all that God had said? “All that the LORD has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8). The people were willing to obey God. They were willing to consecrate themselves in order to meet God. They were ready for faithful action!

As I stood on the H-Trail I wondered if the people who gather around Lubben Mountain—in their neighborhoods, in the classrooms, on the hiking trails—have ever said the same. Have they experienced the presence of the holy God in their lives? Have they experienced the redemption that comes through Jesus the Christ? Are they walking in faithful obedience to the God of the universe?

And then I wondered the same of our Missio family. Is the presence of God set before our eyes? Does his majesty move us toward faithful and joyful obedience? Are we seeking to be a family of missionary servants sent to make disciples?

Do we read Peter’s words to the church and believe the same of us?

"Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:13-16)

The God who called Israel at Mount Sinai to faithful covenant is the same God who calls us today to walk in faithful obedience to him. Although Israel had the willingness to obey, they lacked the ability to do so faithfully and perfectly (just read the rest of the Old Testament story!).

But Jesus entered into the Story and obeyed God’s law faithfully and perfectly, becoming the “mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 9:15), a covenant which God promised way back in Jeremiah 31:31-34:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

And now, those of us who have believed in Jesus have been redeemed by Jesus and have the new covenant written on our hearts. Now, our willingness to obey is coupled with the ability to obey—for the power of the Holy Spirit equips us to live obediently before the One who has brought us "redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

Are you walking in faithful and joyful obedience to God? If not, what is keeping you from doing so?

Take some time today to reflect on who God is and what he has done in Jesus to redeem us from sin’s bondage. Remember and mediate on the truth of who God has called you to be in Jesus (Ephesians 1:1-14 is a good place to start).

And then take a hike on the H-Trail and take in the view…and praise God for all he’s done to make us his covenant people.

Participating in the Missio Dei | Part 4

In part 3 of our series we learned that God had granted Israel an earthly king whose role in leading the people would help nourish Israel’s missional identity and role in being a blessing to all nations. God had promised this earthly king, King David, that another King from David’s line would someday come and rule over a universal and everlasting kingdom. This promise anticipated God’s continued mission though Israel—that all nations would be blessed through them and called into covenant with God. As the earthly king ruled over God’s people, he was to lead the people in God’s power in defeating idolatrous nations, encouraging righteous conformity to God’s law among Israel. Additionally, the king was to promote temple life among Israel. God had established the temple as a symbol of his presence among his people. The temple was to help nourish Israel’s missional identity and role in spreading God’s holy presence among the nations (see 1 Kings 8:27-43).

We see in 1 Kings 8 and in Isaiah 56 that the temple was also to be a place of worship and sacrifice. Both would be essential for Israel’s missional identity and role. God had initiated the sacrificial system so that there could be restored relationship between God and Israel when they broke God’s covenant. We see a beautiful picture of this in Leviticus 9 as Aaron, the high priest, offers multiple offerings unto God: the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the fellowship offering (Leviticus 9:15-17, 22).

The sin offering was a sacrifice that secured forgiveness when sin was transferred to an animal as the priest placed his hands on it and killed it in place of the sinful individual. The burnt offering was a sacrifice that was to be completely burned and dedicated to the Lord. This sacrifice was a picture of the total consecration and dedication following forgiveness. The fellowship offering was a sacrifice that served as a celebration of the restored communion between God and the sinful individual. The emphasis on sacrifice was an important act of worship for Israel, for it was God’s way of making the unholy pure again and restoring fellowship in the presence of God. If Israel was to be a missional people in the sight of the nations, she would need to know and experience God’s forgiveness, renewed commitment to God, and fellowship with God.

The temple also nourished Israel’s missional identity and role by pointing Israel to the goal of God’s redemption: to fill the whole earth with God’s glorious presence (see Habakkuk 2:14). The temple was a place of sacrifice that provided a way of restoration for the people when they failed to keep God’s covenant, thus setting them on the right road of holiness. The temple was a place of worship that nourished Israel’s faith in God as the one, true Lord over all creation. The temple would be a place of exhortation for Israel to embrace God’s universal mission to restore humanity and all creation from the ravages of sin.

God also used his prophets to help nourish Israel in her missional identity and role. The prophets in the Old Testament challenged Israel when they forgot their missional calling and failed to keep covenant with God. We see Israel time and again be engulfed by the darkness of idolatry and fail to be the holy nation God had called them to be. Israel’s earthly kings fail in their calling to lead Israel as well (read 1 and 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles!) Over and over the prophets would call Israel to remember their true identity and purpose for existence. As Israel continued to rebel against God’s rule over their lives, they experienced judgment and banishment from the promised land. The prophets proclaimed that Israel was being judged for their sin against God.

The Old Testament story ends with both failure and hope. Israel fails to be a light to the nations that God had called them to be as they succumb to the darkness of idolatry. God judges his people and sends them into exile. But in God’s mercy, he sends his prophets to encourage the people that all is not lost. The prophets tell of a time when Israel’s sin would be paid for (Isaiah 40:1-2) and a time when Israel would be gathered and renewed to fulfill their missional calling (Ezekiel 36:22-32). This would happen as the climax of God’s Story when his kingdom is finally restored through an anointed king in David’s line and by the power of the Spirit (Joel 2).

For centuries Israel lives in fervent hope that God will keep his promise to gather and renew Israel and establish a worldwide kingdom. Israel longs for God to send his Messiah and Spirit to rescue them from bondage and sin. Israel had a sick and wicked heart (Jeremiah 17:9) and needed a new heart—a new spirit. Israel needed God’s law written on their very being in order to live out her missional identity and role.

Would God be faithful to his promise to gather and renew Israel? Would the promised Messiah finally come and fulfill God’s mission that Israel failed to live out? How does the Story continue?

Participating in the Missio Dei | Part 3

Last time we learned that God gave Israel his law so that Israel could learn to walk in God’s ways for God’s glory in sight of the nations around them—this was Israel’s missional calling. The law was the means for Israel to live in a way that challenged the idolatry of the culture surrounding them. Israel was also to take seriously the task of instructing the next generation to know God and to walk in his ways. Idolatry would not be the only threat to Israel's faithfulness— the danger of forgetting God’s mighty acts and his way of life was also a threat, especially the danger of failing to teach the torah to their children, and to their children after them (Deut. 4:9-10). It was essential for Israel to train the next generation to walk in the way of the Lord and to live in holiness—different and distinct—in their everyday lives. Thus, God’s law was good news for Israel—and, ultimately, good news for the nations as they observed Israel’s obedience to God and heard the invitation to join the covenant community. However, Israel struggled to fulfill their missionary role in being a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6). Instead of pointing the nations to God, Israel became engulfed by idolatry and chose to follow the nations around them. The book of Judges tells the tragic story of Israel’s cycle of idolatry (see Judges 3-16)—Israel sins, God’s brings his judgment, Israel cries out to God, God sends a deliver (Judge), and the land has peace. Over and over again, God demonstrated his mercy, love and judgment on Israel in order to restore them to their missional calling. Yet, Israel continued to disobey God’s law and chose to walk in the darkness of idolatry (see Judges 17-21). The refrain that ends the book of Judges demonstrates how far Israel had succumbed to darkness; however, it also suggests what God will do in the future to enable Israel to be a faithful missional people: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 21:25). The book ends with the cry for a king.

But would a king enable Israel to fulfill it’s missionary role? The people’s cry for a king is answered by God in the story of Samuel, but there seems to be little hope that an earthy king will solve Israel’s problem. Israel’s desire for a king was motivated by their desire to be like the nations that surrounded them: "But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, 'No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.’” (1 Samuel 8:19-20). Israel desired to be just like the pagan nations around them—this was not God’s purpose for Israel!

God continues to show faithful love to Israel and provides them with a king who would be a man after God’s heart—King David (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). God is Israel’s true King; David would be the earthly king who would mediate God’s rule over Israel. David was called to mediate God’s blessing and rule over the people and to encourage Israel in her missional identity and calling as a light to the nations. God allowed this monarchy for Israel so that they would become a people reflecting God’s social order among the nations, living all of life under God’s torah. As David committed to living under God’s rule and covenant, Israel would be formed into a missional community that reflected God’s will for every area of their lives: social, political, economic, legal and religious. King David would also have the task of defeating idolatrous nations that threatened Israel, encouraging the people to live in holy conformity to God’s law.

In 2 Samuel 7:11-17, God makes a covenant with David, promising that one day a king would arise from David’s line who would rule over a universal and everlasting kingdom. This promise anticipated God’s continued mission though Israel—that all nations would be blessed through them and called into covenant with God. Israel’s earthly king would play a vital role in nourishing Israel’s missional identity and role.

Next time we’ll look at how God used the temple and his prophets to shape and form Israel into his missional community. We’ll also begin to look at how well Israel’s earthly king—and the kings after him—did in their missional task of fostering Israel’s missional identity and role.

Participating in the Missio Dei | Part 2

In part one of our short series, we saw how God had called Israel to be his missional people, living in the sight of the nations as a priestly kingdom and holy nation. Israel was to be a community on display—a missional community who would live in God’s ways for God’s glory and for the blessing of the world. God gave Israel his law, which would form and shape them to be his missional people who would reject the destruction of idolatry and walk in the paths of righteousness. As Israel lived in this way, they would be an attractive community of God’s love and blessing, drawing others to God. In order to understand the missional calling of Israel—and the church—we need to recognize the connection between the law and creation. Since Genesis 3, God’s mission had been to restore humanity and all creation from the ravages of sin. God made this promise to Adam, and then began his rescue mission of redemption. Traveling through Exodus, we see God redeem Israel from slavery to Egypt, and begin to form his people to be the conduit of his missional promise. Israel is to embody God’s promise to renew the whole world. The life of Israel is to point backward to God’s original intent for creation and human life. Their life is also to point forward, looking to God’s promise to restore creation.

When God gives the law to Israel, his intent is that the law’s instruction would govern all of Israel’s life. Israel now serves and worships God in a covenant relationship. This relationship involves Israel submitting every area of their lives to God. God’s law would remind Israel that there is no area of human life outside of his rule; for Israel must consecrate their social, personal, financial, familial and cultural lives to him. Thus the law is intended to shape the lives of God’s people so that their lives will reflect his character. Only as God’s law shapes their whole lives will they fulfill his calling to be a missional people who mediate his blessing to the world.

God’s law is good news! The law tells Israel how to live in God’s ways for God’s glory…for their own good! The law also calls Israel to live in a way that challenges the idolatry of the culture surrounding them. As we’ve mentioned already, Israel is to look backward and forward as a contrast community; but they area also to look outward against the idolatry that hijacks and pollutes human life. Because of this, we see the law expanded in the book of Deuteronomy in order to address the dangers Israel will encounter as they make the journey to the promised land. God desires that Israel will conform to his law, so that they will live in a radically transformed way in the sight of the nations around them. As they walk in God’s law, the nations will see that God is the one, true King of all creation.

There is much more to be said regarding Israel’s conformity to God’s law and their carrying out of God’s missional purpose. In fact, the remainder of the Old Testament is a commentary on just how well Israel lives out their God-given role. Israel is to be a light to the nations; however, instead of living over and against the idolatry of the pagan nations, Israel succumbs to the darkness of idolatry. Yet, God acts in mercy and judgment to restore them to their missional calling. God gives Israel everything they need to carry out their vocation: the law, the sacrificial system, priests, a temple, kings and prophets. But Israel continues to walk in rebellion against God. Because of their sin, Israel is judged and banished from the land that God had promised them.

Is there any hope left for Israel? Can they ever hope to live out their missional calling to be a blessing to the nations? Next time we’ll look at how God begins to answer these questions.

Participating In the Missio Dei | Part 1

The Bible tells the true story of God’s mission to rescue and restore the whole world. The missio Dei (Latin for “mission of God” or “sending of God”) involves God setting out on a long journey to restore His good creation from the ravages of humanity’s sin. In love, God promised to make a new world and to gather a people who would embody His work of healing in the midst of human history. This story is nothing less than the true story of the whole world. It begins with the origin of all things and moves toward the goal of all history. It is a story of God’s active mission to heal and liberate His creation, bringing restoration to all of human life and all of the non-human creation. In Genesis 1-2, we see God’s original design for creation. Genesis 3-11 tells the devastating story of man’s rebellion against God and the tragic effect man’s sin has on all creation. In the midst of this darkness, God chooses Abraham to be a light to the nations around him. God promises Abraham that He will make him into a great nation and restore to them the blessing of God’s good creation. He also promises to bless that nation so that they would be a blessing to the world around them (Genesis 12:2-3).

From the beginning, God’s mission is carried out through His chosen community—a people called to show the world what God is like, giving the world a foretaste of what God had originally intended for His creation and what He will ultimately bring about at the end of history. As we have been studying the book of Exodus, we’ve seen that the people of Israel were called to be this community. God delivers and redeems Israel from slavery and idolatry in Egypt and brings them to Mount Sinai in the wilderness. At Mount Sinai, God calls them to be a holy nation and a priestly kingdom (Exodus 19:3-6). This call upon Israel to be a priestly kingdom will involve a life of mediating God’s blessing to the nations around them. They will be a a people on display, proclaiming and demonstrating what God is like and what it means to live in God’s ways.

Exodus 20-23 tells of God giving Israel His decrees and laws—the Torah—which is intended to lead Israel to the abundant life God intended for all humanity in creation. God’s law is to govern all of Israel’s life as they learn to live as a holy a nation. As we learned at the beginning of our Exodus series, Israel’s life was to face in three directions at once: backward, embodying God’s original design and intention for human life; forward, as a sign and preview of God’s final purpose for history; and outward, confronting the idolatry of the nations they were to encounter. God’s law would direct Israel in this orientation of life, forming them to be His missional people who would reject the destruction of idolatry and walk in the paths of righteousness. As Israel lived in this way, they would be an attractive community of God’s love and blessing, drawing others to God.

Over the next several weeks we’ll be looking at how well Israel carries out the missio Dei. We’ll dig into the story of God a bit more and see why it was necessary for Jesus to step onto the stage of history. We’ll also see how the church in the New Testament—as well as today!—is to be a preview and sign of the coming kingdom of God, participating in the missio Dei for the sake of the world.

Standing Firm & Mature in Christ | 2016 Bible Reading

This past Sunday I shared two verses (Phil. 4:1; Col.1:28-29) that God has placed on my heart for my own personal growth and for my role in equipping the CotC family for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. My prayer is that every one of us would seek to “stand firm” in the Lord, “mature in Christ.” With God’s strength, I will toil and struggle with his energy to encourage you and equip you to this end. But it will be the Spirit’s power within us to accomplish this goal! One of the ways we want to equip you to stand firm, mature in Christ, is to consistently point you to God’s word. Listen to this:

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

-Psalm 19:7-11

Have you thought of God’s word this way? More to be desired than gold? Rejoicing your heart? Teaching you what’s right and how to walk in God’s ways?

What a thought! Could it be true that if we commit to reading and memorizing God’s word this year that we, too, could experience the joy that the Psalmist had?

I totally believe it! God’s word will bring joy, strength, conviction and growth as the Spirit empowers us to understand the truth of God, and as we commit as Learners to love Jesus more in and through His word.

This year I want to encourage us to journey together in reading the entire Bible. There are many Bible reading plans out there, but here’s ONE I think would be great for us to read together.

What’s encouraging about this plan is that it gives you both an OT and NT reading each day, and the reading is never more than four chapters a day. The reading is structured so that you get a full picture of the storyline of the Bible and the unity of the Scriptures.

Additionally, to prevent the frustration that many of us get when working through a Bible-reading plan, each month of the plan only requires twenty-five (25) readings. This means that you get several “free days” to catch up.

Will you join me? I started a new City group where we’ll encourage and equip one another this year. Please join!

Let’s commit to learning God’s word together this year so that our heads, hearts and minds are renewed by the power of the Spirit. Let us stand firm in the Lord, mature in Christ!

Exodus | God Saves - God Promises - God Sends

This Sunday we begin a new journey through the book of Exodus. Exodus is the second book of the Bible which continues the story of God’s mission in and through His people, first established in the book of Genesis. Exodus means departure, flight, evacuation. Here we see how God rescues and redeems the people of Israel, establishes a covenant with them, and comes to live in their midst, all in fulfillment of His promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3. Throughout Exodus we will see three major movements take place: redemption, covenant, and tabernacle. These movements must be interpreted in light of God’s missional purpose revealed to Abraham—that of making Abraham into a great nation and blessing all nations through His people.

Exodus shows the role and identity of God's people in the Old Testament story, giving us a basis for understanding the church in the New Testament. In Exodus we will see God first work in Israel so that he can continue His mission through Israel, bringing about the salvation of creation and all nations. The missional nature of the church is rooted in God’s calling of Israel.

Exodus will show us how we can truly understand the nature of the Church and our role as God's missionary servants to the world. As a missional people, we understand that we are God’s people living in God’s way publicly before the eyes of the nations. We are a Christian community—God’s Family—sent to the world and existing not for ourselves but to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to those here, near and far.

Thanksgiving, Advent and the Heart of a Pastor

Yesterday morning I read from the pen of the apostle John as he expressed a heart of thanks for the people of God. In 3 John 1:4 he writes:

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

As I began to think of all the things my heart is thankful for, I found myself cheering alongside the beloved apostle in his joyful sentiments. There is no greater joy for a pastor than to see, hear and experience the children of God walking in the truth of Jesus Christ. And by God’s grace, I am seeing the Church of the Cross family walking this out in the thick and thin of everyday life. What a day for Thanksgiving! 

And the thanksgiving continues as we begin our first Sunday of Advent this weekend. Advent season begins the first Sunday after Thanksgiving and ends Christmas Eve. Advent means “coming.” We not only remember God’s faithfulness in the past but we also long for His promises to be fulfilled in the future. When we look forward to celebrating the first coming of Jesus Christ (his birth) during Advent, we also look forward to His Second Coming, when Jesus will return and put an end to sin and injustice.

The Advent season is a time for remembering and rejoicing, watching and waiting, and a time to reflect upon the promises of God and to anticipate the fulfillment of those promises with patience, prayer and preparedness. 

Advent is one of the ways we reorder our lives around the true story of the gospel. We remember who God is and what He has done in and through Jesus Christ. We also reflect on our true identity in Jesus and strive to live holy lives by the Spirit’s power. Advent stirs reflection, anticipation, and action in the hearts of God’s people.

I pray that during this time of Advent we would all continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, so that we:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

I love you, Family, and you truly are my joy!