Month: June 2020

Pastor's Blog

Dangerous, Missional Unity

On Sunday, we talked about the need to shift our thinking about unity. Following Ephesians 6:10-20, we saw that our picture of unity should be less like a family reunion and more like a company of soldiers on the battlefield. For them, unity is not a nice experience—it’s a matter of life or death.

We can carry this idea a step further into even more uncomfortable territory. Yes, we need unity because of the battle. But we should be aware of the ways in which unity itself might invite the battle by drawing the fire of the enemy.

Think about the words of Jesus in John 13:35: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Doesn’t that sound so great? As we sing the song, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love,” don’t we picture people flocking to Jesus because they’ve seen our love for one another?

But what did Jesus Himself say about being His disciples just two chapters after this comment? “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you…” (John 15:20). 

If we love each other, the world will know we are Christ’s disciples, and some of them will hate us for that. They will treat us like they treated Jesus. Unity is the uniform that will draw their fire.

We see this principle written all over this passage from Hebrews 10:

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.

(Hebrews 10:32-34)

Notice the connection between “having compassion on those in prison” and “joyfully accepting the plundering of your property”? I’ve heard it suggested that they went together, hand-in-glove. You’d go visit your Christian brothers and sisters in prison, and that would mark you out as “one of them,” and you’d come home to find your place ransacked.

Unity can be dangerous. And perhaps this is why the author of Hebrews had to tell them, just a few verses earlier, to not neglect meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). Maybe their reasons for not meeting together weren’t North American reasons like sports and fishing and sleeping in. Maybe they were neglecting to meet together because they were scared about having their homes ransacked and being thrown in prison.

And yet not meeting together was not an option. The more the enemy fires on us, the more we need each other. Because what’s the alternative? Being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and watching our faith shrivel up, alone?

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

(Hebrews 3:12–14)

Unity might be dangerous, but not near as dangerous as trying to do life by ourselves. Let’s commit ourselves to walking in a manner worthy of the gospel—a path of dangerous, missional, joy-filled and ultimately victorious unity.

Pastor's Blog

“10 Reasons to Come Back to Church After COVID-19”

Many churches are now resuming our meetings, or will soon. But these new services feel strange. Our sensitivities are heightened, our differences are on display, and we have to endure restrictions and protocols that are awkward, inconvenient, and frustrating. Then, no matter how safe we make it, some of our church family still can’t come.

With all this in mind, some believers may feel tempted not to come at all. If our restored gatherings are so different and restricted, our online options so available and convenient, and our physical presence a genuine vulnerability, why should we even meet in person?

Thus begins an excellent article by David Gundersen I highly recommend to you:

Many churches are now resuming our meetings, or will soon. But these new services feel strange. Some believers may feel tempted not to come at all.

 

Pastor's Blog

Getting Ready to Gather

This Sunday, we’ll be taking a step closer to coming together as a church (1 Corinthians 11:18) as we meet in two separate rooms at two separate times. (See more info here.) I’m really looking forward to this, and I trust you are as well.

Some pundits have prophesied that COVID-19 will be the end of the local church as we know it. I disagree. God made us to gather, and this isn’t the first time in history our gathering has been interrupted. In my observation, this time of being apart is going to strengthen the local church as we come to realize just how important it is to be together.

In that vein, I commend this recent article by Bob Kauflin, called “God Made Us to Gather.” It’s a good follow-up to Sunday’s message, and a good way to prepare your heart for this upcoming Sunday and beyond, as we keep looking to the day when we’ll be able to be all together in one place again.

One day we’ll gather again. And when we do, many of us will feel the wonder of corporate worship in a way we never have before.
Pastor's Blog

Outposts of the Great Assembly

On Sunday we explored three descriptions of the church found in the book of Ephesians. We saw that the word “church,” used in those passages, was not speaking directly about a specific local church. Instead, it referred to “The Church.” What we sometimes call “the universal church.” All of God’s people from all time.

We use the word “church” in this way when we speak about “the church across the globe today.” Jesus used it this way when He said that He would build His church (Matthew 16:18). Not churches, but church. Singular.

Here’s an important question we need to ask: if the word “church” basically means “assembly,” and refers to the assembly of the citizens of the Kingdom of God, then how can we use the word “church” to refer to all of God’s people in this way?

It makes sense to speak about churches, because local churches actually assemble together. But can we really use the phrase “the church” today, when God’s people are spread all over the world and it is impossible for them to all gather in one place at one time? Why call us an assembly if we never will assemble?

Here’s a way of thinking about it: have you ever seen those little shirts or other merchandise given to babies that say something like “Class of 2038”? (Here’s an example.)

When a parent puts a onesie on their baby that says “Class of 2028,” it’s like they’re saying, “If everything goes well, this child is expected to graduate in 2038. And so we are calling them something today based on what we hope they will be then.”

I know that “Class of 2038” onesies are a bit of a joke. But I hope you can see the idea: that you are referring to someone today based upon who they will be in the future. Perhaps you can think of other examples of this yourself.

I want to suggest that something quite similar is going on when Scripture refers to God’s people as “the church.” God is looking forward to the day when the kingdom will come and we will all be together with King Jesus. In that day, the citizens of the kingdom from all times and all places will be assembled together. 

Jesus calls us His “church” today on that basis. We are members of the people who will be assembled all together in the future. And today, as we live in this season of already-but-not-yet, we already get to participate in that spiritual reality.

A passage of Scripture that makes this point really well is found in Hebrews 12:

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

(Hebrews 12:18–24, ESV)

One day, we will experience these realities fully. But today, we already get to participate in them spiritually. (See also Ephesians 2:6 & Colossians 3:1-4). We are already a part of this heavenly “assembly of the firstborn.”

And guess what that word “assembly” is? εκκλησια (ekklēsia). That’s the word for church, and “church” is actually how the NIV and the KJV translate that word in this passage.

So let’s sum this up: one day, when the kingdom comes in its fullness, there will be a literal assembly of its citizens, gathered together from all times and all places. That assembly is the “church” that Jesus is building today. If we have been saved by Jesus, we can be assured that we’ll be a part of that future assembly.

But we don’t have to wait until then to share in its life. Today, we already get to spiritually participate in its heavenly realities. And even more than this, we already get to start living out kingdom life in community with other brothers and sisters in Christ. We assemble together with them into local churches (“assemblies”), which are outposts and anticipations of that great assembly, and in which we live according to the ways of the kingdom and exercise our authority as citizens of it.

So being called “the church” is kind of like a baby wearing a “Class of 2038” onesie. But it’s so much bigger than that. Because it’s like we’re already being treated as graduates and invited to participate in that post-graduation life even as we wait for it to come.

The church is so much greater than we think.