Where Was This When We Were Raising Kids?

We start a new round of Equipping Hour classes this Sunday. I’m excited about all four offerings.

I get to teach another newcomers class. You can read my blog post about that here.

James Harvey will tackle the church history elective. I expect that will be a rich journey through the ages of God’s work among His people.

Pastor Mike and Ben Hamilton will lead the evangelism and mercy ministry class, always a gospel-shaped, practical treatment of our calling to bend the gospel outwards as followers of Jesus.

For our parents, we have Chuck and Pam Mitchell facilitating the Paul Tripp DVD curriculum entitled Getting to the Heart of Parenting. I was moved by the video promo shown on Sunday and included it at the top of this post for any who missed it. May I strongly encourage our Dads and Moms to take advantage of this unique teaching content? How I wish I had thought and acted in these categories when Nancy and I were bringing up our sons.

Hope to see as many of you as possible this Sunday, April 26, at 9:30 AM!

Live Like a Missionary (2)

In my first post by this title, I shared a list of things Tim Keller suggests in his book Center Church for engaging our neighbors with a missionary mindset.

In this followup post, I want to bring the list he suggests for engaging colleagues, coworkers, and friends.

  1. Do recreational activities with them – watch sports (live or on TV at home or in a nightspot); go to a theater show, museum exhibit, art gallery exhibit, etc.
  2. Invite them to join a sports league with you.
  3. Invite them to work out with you at a gym.
  4. Put together a movie night.
  5. Go out of your way to eat with them as often as possible. Invite people over for a meal in your apartment or home or just invite them out to try a new restaurant.
  6. Plan trips or outings – a trip to the beach, a historical site, etc.
  7. If the person has a skill or interest, ask them (sincerely!) to educate you.
  8. Organize a discussion group on something – politics, books, etc., inviting mainly non-Christians.

Last week I got to have lunch with one of my neighbors. We had a terrific conversation about his atheist beliefs. It was another important step in my life-on-life relationship with him toward an opportunity to share the gospel. I have invited him next week to catch a movie with me while Nancy visits with her Mom for her birthday.

Are you embracing your identity as an on-mission Christian by engaging the folks where you live, work, and pray? May Paul’s rally cry in 1 Cor. 6:19 be that of our own – woe unto me if I do not preach the gospel.

By the way, I learned today that about one quarter of all the volunteers signed up to serve at the Chinese Student Welcome Party this Saturday night are from OGC. Way to go, church!

Live Like a Missionary

Yesterday morning our church planter in Salerno, Italy, Jutty Valiquette gave a moving message from Daniel 7 entitled Missionary God, Missionary People. You can listen to the audio here.

Last night, in our monthly concert of prayer, I led off with a devotional from 1 Peter 2:9-10.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

The connection between the two texts lies with the word proclaim. As missionaries of sorts in the places where we live, work, and play, God has made us His own for the purpose of humbly proclaiming the excellencies of Jesus to those who don’t know Him. A person with a gospel-shaped identity gets this and lives it out by God’s grace on an ongoing basis.

Tim Keller, in his book Center Church, comments:

Christians should  be engaged with others. Mission for a contextualized believer is a matter of everyday life–of developing nonsuperficial relationships with their neighbors, colleagues, and others in the city.

Then he goes on to offer practical, simple ways to do this with neighbors in particular:

  1. Take regular walks in your neighborhood to meet others who are out and about. Keep a regular schedule. Go to the same places at the same time for groceries, haircuts, coffee, shopping. This is one of the main ways you get to know those who live geographically near.
  2. Find ways to get to know others in your building or neighborhood–through a common laundry area, at resident meetings, and in numerous other ways [like neighborhood book clubs!]
  3. Find an avocation or hobby you can do with others in the city. For example, don’t form a Christian backpacking club, join an existing one.
  4. Volunteer alongside other neighborhood residents at nonprofits and with other programs.
  5. If you have children, be involved at the school and get to know other parents.
  6. Participate in city events–fund-raisers, festivals, cleanups, summer shows, concerts, etc.
  7. Serve in your neighborhood. Visit the community board meeting. Pick up litter regularly. Get involved in neighborhood associations. Find individual neighbors (especially elderly ones) and find ways of serving then.
  8. Be hospitable to neighbors–when and where appropriate, invite them over for a meal or a movie, etc.

Why not prayerfully pick one or two of these suggestions to implement in your own “live-like-a-missionary” life and see what God will do?

Keller also has some suggestions for ways to engage with colleagues, coworkers, and friends. Lord willing, I will include those in my next post.

Boldness in the Air

I prayed for a first class upgrade on my return flight from Minneapolis last week. It worked for the outbound version on Monday morning. I could get to like that treatment.

But, as usual, the inbound to Orlando flight on Wednesday night saw every seat filled. I had to settle for coach. Woe is me.

God had a design in it all. Surprise, surprise. I got seated by a Delta pilot on his way home from a flight from the UK. Turned out he was verbal. He actually wanted to talk. In this day and age of the tablet and smart phone, most folks plug in and lay low. Witnessing chances on planes come few and far between.

So I took the plunge and engaged. Turned out his kids attend Master’s Academy. I breathed a sigh of relief. He must be a believer, I thought. Surely he wouldn’t send his children to Christian school if he wasn’t. I was off the hook. This was going to be a breeze. No pressure. Piece of cake.

Then I asked him where they went to church. Let’s just say the answer put me back on alert that I might still have some gospel work to do. But then the beverage cart came around. He donned his ear buds to watch a movie. I figured that was that. End of story.

But as the plane started its descent into Orlando the conversation window opened again. Man, I debated whether or not I would take the plunge. I am such a weenie. Then I remembered the exhortations I heard at the conference about trusting the sovereignty of God and being bold in witnessing for Jesus. Regeneration is a miracle anyway so why not trust God and determine to be His means of conversion if He is so pleased?

So off I went. Long story short, I got to share the gospel with the man. Gave him my card. Invited him to church. Chalk one up for boldness in the air.

Now if only I can muster up  some boldness on the ground where I spend most of my time. Lord, hear my prayer for me and for us all.

An Opportunity We Simply Must Buy Up

I just finished hemorrhaging over my latest message earlier today. I decided to study and write with a grand opening of our facility service in mind. I felt led to camp out in 1 Timothy 3:14-16. I entitled the message Why Church?: A Case for Christianity in a Many-Gods Age. I worked from the word pictures Paul employs for showing the true nature of the church and why it should compel our priority participation in its ministry.

We still don’t know when we will schedule such a service. It all depends on the granting of a CO by the city and the timetable for “soft openings” so we can get our act adequately together for a “hard opening” service likely to happen no earlier than sometime in June.

But mark my words. Whenever it does happen we have to determine to act intentionally and strategically with a Colossians 4:5 kind of mentality in mind. Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.

Paul actually uses the metaphor of walking in the original for the way we live our lives. He calls for us to walk in wisdom toward outsiders, those who have yet to embrace faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What does that kind of wise walk look like? It involves making the best use of the time. This is an interesting phrase in the original. Literally it reads redeeming or buying up the time or opportunity.

The New Bible Commentary makes this remark on the idea here noting that the word redeem or buy up suggests an intensive activity, a buying which exhausts the possibilities available because they recognize that their time is limited. Kind of like determining to purchase all the remaining copies of some print of a famous painting because you know its a limited edition.

May I suggest that the occasion for opening our facility and publicizing an inaugural service in that facility represents a unique opportunity for reaching out to those outside in a winsome and wise way that we as a congregation simply cannot afford to miss?
Thus I wrote a sermon specifically with this in mind. Thus we will do a mail out with this theme in mind. Thus we will provide printed  invitations that you can give to the folks where you live, work and play that you have been laboring to reach for the gospel that they might hear that gospel in a contextually crafted, biblically sound way (oh, Lord, I pray that’s what I have written in this message!) with this in mind. Thus we may determine on that Sunday to host a barbecue following the service to meet and greet those who come specifically because of the opening of our building.
So let me ask you to pray with me that God will work powerfully in this once-in-a-lifetime-of-our-church opportunity to acquaint many of those “outside” with the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is an opportunity we simply must buy up exhausting all the possibilities available because we recognize that the time is limited.

An Inherent Danger in Owning a Building

I suspect there are more than one. This post concerns the prospect of danger in church growth given the fact that we will double our space at 872 Maitland Ave. We will have a lot more room for a lot more people. That alone, coupled with finally gaining a physical presence within our community, along with the nature of our ministry by God’s grace, rightly causes me to expect us to grow in terms of our numbers.

What’s wrong with that? Where’s the danger? The danger lies in the nature of the growth. If the increase of numbers comes in the way of disenfranchised believers migratng from other churches alone, we have a problem. That’s dangerous. Because while we understand that such a thing happens (not always for good reasons I might add, but God does move His people around according to His purposes), we need to recognize that growing that way alone or predominantly does not reflect our mission to reach people outside the faith.

Those kind of folks, caught up in our hyper-modern, pluralistic culture, will likely not come to us just because we open a building. They likely could care less about us getting a home of our own. They’ve crossed Christianity off their list a long time ago. It’s no longer a spiritual come-and-see landscape where a Field of Dreams philosophy of ministry – if you build it, they will come – carries the day in the good old USA. Not on your life.

Tim Keller, in a blog post of his own entitled The Big Issues Facing the Western Church listed this concern among others:

The growing cultural remoteness of the gospel. The basic concepts of the gospel — sin, guilt and accountability before God, the sacrifice of the cross, human nature, afterlife — are becoming culturally strange in the west for the first time in 1500 years. As Lesslie Newbigin has written, it is time now to ‘think like a missionary’–to formulate ways of communicating the gospel that both confront and engage our increasingly non-Christian western culture. How do we make the gospel culturally accessible without compromising it? How can we communicate it and live it in a way that is comprehensible to people who lack the basic ‘mental furniture’ to even understand the essential truths of the Bible?

Good questions all. I commend them to us.

If we will avoid this danger inherent in having our own building, then we must think all the more like missionaries to our surrounding neighborhoods. Let me suggest some action steps to that end.

  1. Pray for outsiders regularly. Have you written a prayer card yet with key people you are asking God to save in 2012?
  2. Make time for outsiders in your schedule. Do you have times built  into your schedule that put you in the vicinity of people who need Christ?
  3. Build bridges through acts of mercy when you see need. Are you on the look out for opportunities to demonstrate the love of Christ when circumstances open a door for such?
  4. Learn a gospel presentation or stock copies of the same. Do you have a supply of Two Ways to Live tracts to use, or some other favored resource, when someone expresses interest in the gospel?
  5. Invite outsider friends to Easter Sunday’s grand opening of our building on April 8. I promise to bring a message on the resurrection aimed in part to helping you share your faith. More people accept invitations to visit a church on Easter than any other time. It’s the one time the come-and-see strategy can work now a days, especially when coupled with a I-would-love-to-show-you-our-new-church appeal.

The rest of the time we must ask the Lord to give us gospel hearts that adopt and execute a go-and-tell-in-love strategy. Once the new building reaches capacity we will suffer the danger of thinking we have accomplished our mission when, in truth, there will still be a whole lot more people out there than there will be inside our four walls.

Lord, give us a heart of compassion and mercy for the outsider.

His Mission/Our Mission

Yesterday’s message from Luke 19:1-10 is now on the website. You can listen to the audio here.

Here’s how I wrapped things up:

Grasping Jesus’ rescue mission to even this world’s lost of the lost summons us to embrace that same mission as our own – grasping the interest He drew, the initiative He took, the irritation He made, and the inspiration He gave. The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. He did that with Zacchaeus. He did that with me. If He has done that with you, then He lives within us with the same gospel-shaped, soul-stirring mission to engage lost people that they might be found even as we have been found. As we look to the opening of our building next year, let’s be all the more about making His mission our mission through the power of the gospel.

For more information of the book I recommended at the top of the message click here.

Beautiful Feet

These don’t look so hot to me today.

But they dazzled with beauty on Friday, August 5, in the village of Mrima, Kenya. I mean with an Isaiah 52:7 kind of beauty.

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

I got to do that with this man, among others.

Allow me to introduce you to Tandara, the village chief and local Muslim imam of Mrima. He hosted us for the dedication of the well OGC funded to have dug in this unreached community of Eastern Africa. You can see the well pump in the background. In this photo Tandara had just accepted a copy of the Digo New Testament.Pray he reads it!

During the dedication ceremony, with all the village surrounding us and Tandara seated at my feet of all things, I found my anxiety growing about the words I would say in preaching the gospel to this man and his people – people who likely had never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ before. To say the least, this was not my normal Friday morning agenda!

The Lord was gracious to me as he brought to mind the promises of His word, especially the one above about lovely feet. I claimed that as I stood to preach the gospel from John 7:37-38 with as much boldness and courage as I could muster with the help of the Holy Spirit. Rarely have I felt such anointing from the Lord. I was so grateful for His help. I felt so privileged to accomplish such a mission.

Do you think of your feet as beautiful when it comes time to share the gospel with someone? You should. Last Sunday I put forth an appeal at the end of the service to look for opportunities to share with others and to let me know when the Lord opens the door.

God has been so gracious to me already this week. And it is only Wednesday! On Monday I met with a young man who is new to our church. He is on fire for evangelism and practically begged me for outlets to share his faith. I put him in touch with some folks in the area who go out on Friday nights and he was so grateful. On Tuesday I heard about another brother in our fell0wship who plays basketball in his neighborhood on a regular basis. He recently invited some of his unbelieving friends to church and they accepted his invitation. Another brother shared with me how he and his wife have been befriending neighbors who are Mormon. Recently he had a discussion with the husband about how the Old and New Testaments fit together in terms of the covenant faithfulness of God.

I felt like the Lord encouraged me to see that we have many beautiful feet in the congregation at OGC!

Do you see your feet in such a light? Are you praying for open doors for the gospel where you live, work, and play? When you feel the anxiety hit you in such situations, remember the promises of God, especially that your feet are most lovely when you proclaim the good news of the gospel.

The week is only half done. I would love to hear from anyone else in the body about your exquisitely beautiful, most lovely, gospel feet!

Bin Laden's Death in a Different Light

As one might expect, the blogosphere is alive and well about someone who isn’t. I refer, of course, to the death of Osama bin Laden.

The flurry of activity on this score, some of it excellent (see Justin Taylor for example), gave me pause about piling on to the discussion.

Obviously, I gave in. Blame it in part on yesterday’s message in John 12:34-36, The Parting Plea of the Public Christ.

Two billion inhabitants of the planet earth have never heard the blessed gospel of the glorious God, the good news of Jesus Christ, the light of the world, come to live a perfect life and die a substitutionary death on behalf of undeserving sinners, so that they might know forgiveness, have credited to their spiritual account the 100% righteousness of Christ, and receive the gift of eternal life.

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect Osama bin Laden was one of them. More than likely he never even had a chance to walk in the light that the darkness might not overtake him, as it most surely did given the acts of evil he perpetrated.

Oh how grateful I am, who except for the grace of God may well have gone the way of bin Laden, for the mercies of God which opened my eyes to my rebellious heart, and brought me out of the domain of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13-14). If He hadn’t shown me such mercy, how easily the same darkness, to one degree or another, could have overtaken me.

Can we see this poor, evil, got-what-we-all-deserve man in this light? Have we in the west, with so much greater access to the gospel of Jesus, heard His plea to walk in the light while we have the light? Spurgeon warned:

I put before you this serious consideration, that you are at present favored with the Light of God, but you are only favored with it for a certain term. Do not reckon upon always having it, for the Light may be removed from you. My dear Hearer, the day may come when you will have to go away from this country and be found far off in the bush of Australia, or the backwoods of America. Or you may even, in this country, be located where you will not be able to hear the Gospel, for what you will hear will not be the Gospel, and you will be obliged to confess that it is not! Therefore, while you have the Light of God, remember that it is a favorable season for your decision for Christ. The day may come, as I said before, when the voice that has thrilled you, again and again, and that wakes the echoes of your soul’s most secret chambers, shall be silent in death. The time may come when, although your minister and you, yourself, are still left in the same place, yet, so far as you are concerned, the Holy Spirit will be gone, and so the Light will have departed from you. Take heed, I beseech you, lest it really be so, and use the Light while you have it.

Can we who by virtue of our union with Christ gained the privileged and responsible identity of sons of light see this man’s death in yet another light? Does it not call us to double and triple our efforts to shine like stars (Philippians 2:14-16) in bringing the good news to those near and far with gospel works and words?

Lord, shine your light in our hearts regarding this state of affairs and more that we might look beyond the obvious, the superficial, the carnal, the political, that we might see with the spiritually discerning eyes of the gospel.