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It can be an interesting thing to pastor a church.

On the one hand, you see amazing things. God is clearly at work in your congregation and He is showing His handiwork in ways that are unavoidably beautiful. On the other hand, there is consistent opposition to His work. It is certain that the devil has come to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10).

The truth is that, in Gospel ministry you will see amazing things, but it will come at a cost.  Yes, God is good. And yes, life is hard. The pain that come from a tough life coupled with the opposition from the “thief” can be difficult to overcome.

But, there is good news. Sometimes this kind of opposition can be a clear sign that God’s work is in fact taking place. And, Christ Himself told us to take heart, for he has “overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Here are three things that you can do during tough times to partner with God in His good work! So, the next time that you face opposition in your life or ministry, draw clearly, draw near, and draw close!
(1) Draw clearly the picture of God’s goodness and His work. Let us clearly declare and proclaim the good work of God when we see it. There is power in testimony and praising God for the work he is doing. May we be a people who spend more time talking about the good things that God does than the difficulty that we face.
(2) Draw near to the Lord. God is already the victor, may we bring his work against the opposition/difficulty in this life. Identify that God’s good work does meet opposition with the Enemy, who wants to steal, kill, and destroy. With this, we should not fear the opposition, but in awareness of the opposition, bring God’s work on the cross and in the Spirit against the attack/difficulty (e.g. “I pray the work of Christ in this particular situation by the power of the Spirit”). James says draw near to the Lord and he will draw near to you. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. May it be so with us His body!
(3) Draw close to one another.  2 Timothy 2:23-24 warns us about what can happen in a body that is divided in the midst of conflict. Paul writes to Timothy, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” By contrast, Hebrews 10:24 invites us not to give up meeting together and instead to encourage one another all the more!
Let us bind together and encourage one another in the Lord throughout the various circumstances of life. God’s good work will continue to be done! In times of opposition, may we draw a clear picture of God’s good work, draw near to the Lord, and draw close to one another.

 

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As Christians, we must decide if we will set a table as though the whole world is invited to feast. While there is no evidence that all will feast (though one can hope), the hopeful Christian must live as though the whole world is at minimum invited.

The parables of Jesus were one such place where large crowds were given a taste of what the Kingdom of God and its feast are like. These stories have a real place in the actual, crowded world. Jesus’ answers (often given in questions) have teeth that penetrate the hearts of mankind. Or, as Mike Erre puts it, “The Gospel Isn’t Just Something that exists somewhere in people’s hearts. It has edges and can actually impact the world.”

Sadly, today’s church can often feel like an exclusive dinner where only a few privileged souls have a place at the table. Often times, we leaders in the church can act more like gatekeepers than bridge-builders. If you are an invited guest (long time attender or member), you may be more interested in reserving your usual seat than making room for a visitor. If you are an outsider (first time visitor), you may be wondering if it is okay that you are even at church. 

Things would look a lot different if we as the church intended for people very different from us to have an invitation to the Table. D.A. Carson writes,

“Ideally the church itself is not made up of natural ‘friends.’ It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything of the sort. Christians come together, not because they form a natural collocation, but because they have been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance. In the light of this common allegiance, in light of the fact that they have all been loved by Jesus himself, they commit themselves to doing what he says—and he commands them to love one another. In this light, they are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.”

The parable of the foolish rich man puts much of this conversation in extreme focus. The situation is that there is a crowd of people following Jesus and looking to see what He is all about. One of the people in the crowd fires a question at Jesus about how an inheritance should be divided between him and his brother. Jesus answers the question with another question and gives a stern warning about the effects of greed.

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” – Jesus

Then, Jesus launches into a story about the foolish rich man who didn’t quite know what to do with all of his wealth. (Talk about a “first world problem”: I just don’t know what to do with all this money I have!)

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

A pair of thoughts about this parable in Luke 12:16-19: First, life as God intended it includes abundant harvest. The desire of God is that your labor results in rich harvest. Unfortunately, a fallen world means that this is not always the case. The result is that there are times for celebration and times for sorrow, times where sowing results in harvest and times when sowing does not result in harvest.

Second, in the times where the harvest is plenty, there are foolish solutions and wise solutions. As we see in the parable, the foolish rich man concludes that he should build a bigger place to store his wealth. That we he can take life easy and live off the fat of the land.

At this, Jesus puts God into the parable (this is rare!). God asks, “Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” In other words, all the stuff in the world will do you no good the eternity that comes after this life. The stuff is only good in this life and can be used properly or not.

I know a man who is in the later years of his life and is trying to give away money as wisely as possible. This is a man who understands that he will not be able to see his stuff used for eternity after he has left this world (though his stuff may, in fact, continue to be used this way!).

When God asks, “Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” he gets to the heart of the matter. Will we use our stuff for eternal purposes or not? And, who has access? Who is invited?

Jesus indicates that there is a better way, a properly wise solution to the issue of excess. And, there is a God (even a Father) who enters the situation to give direction to the “divided brothers.”

In God’s economy, He is to be remembered in the midst of all the stuff. Proverbs 30:8-9 says,

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.

In other words, we must remember God whether we have much or have plenty (see Paul in Philippians 4:11-13). And it is actually better to have just what we need for the day (see Exodus 16 and Matthew 6:11). We must remember God in our stuff.

Also, we must be willing to share our stuff with all people. There is a reason that God instructed the people of Israel not to harvest the edges of their fields during the Festival of Weeks. Leviticus 23:22 reads,

“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.’”

In other words, God desired that the outsider would have room at the table. God desired that those who see themselves as gatekeepers would actually become bridge-builders so that insiders would become room-makers and outsiders would belong. We are to share our stuff with people, as though the whole world is invited to the feast.

Lastly, we do this so that we can live in abundance together. It is no accident that Jesus makes mention of great feasts in Luke 14 and 22. And, it is not accident that Revelation 19 tells of the marriage supper of the Lamb. God intends for his people to feast together for all eternity. John 10:10 indicates that the devil sought to steal, kill, and destroy while Jesus came that we might have life in abundance. The abundant life may not necessarily include an abundance of things, but we are foolish to think that God’s abundant life doesn’t impact our things.

Scripture tells of an eternal feast with God. Our things on earth can be used to set a table for the whole world. Let’s remember God in our stuff, share our stuff with all people, and live in abundance together.

(This is a post in which I may stolen lines from or hopefully accurately paraphrased Mike Erre. Thankfully, Mike has publicly given permission for anyone to do this. My hope is that I have not altogether misquoted Mike or acted boorishly like a Wolverines or Spartans football fan.)

 

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(The Virgin Mary Consoles Eve by Sister Grace Remington)

When it comes to Mary, it often seems that Protestants have thrown out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Due to a fear of idolizing Mary (which most Catholics and Orthodox DO NOT do) and in an effort to keep churchgoers locked in on the birth of Jesus (which is important during a season of waiting on Him), many Protestants just gloss over the very important traits found in Mary, the mother of Jesus.

With that in mind, here are 7 Awesome Mary Traits (That All Christians Can Celebrate):

Trait 1 – She stands toe to toe with one who stands in the presence of God. (Luke 1:26-29)

Mary was awesome. Most cower in fear when an angel shows up (see Zechariah’s reaction to a similar visit from Gabriel). According to Luke, Mary was simply…perplexed. She moved straight past the shock factor of a visit from Gabriel and straight to trying to understand his message. While most men cower in the presence of an angel, Mary stood toe to toe with Gabriel.

Trait 2 – She has the Lord with her (in her) and receives His favor. (Luke 1:30-33)

Gabriel tells Mary that the Lord is with her. While Mary had not yet become pregnant with Jesus, the angel tells Mary that God is already with her. She receives favor from the Lord. This favor is unmerited and comes before Mary had done anything. God with us (Emmanuel) will soon literally be with her, as she becomes with child. But, before all of this, Mary is willing to receive and in Mary, God finds a willing vessel. This is an excellent example for the Christian. When God comes near, invite him in, and receive His favor.

Trait 3 – She doesn’t ask IF God’s Will will be done, but how. (Luke 1:34-37)

Most of us are caught still asking the question whether or not God is able to accomplish his will. Mary is not concerned whether or not God’s will is able to be done, but how it will be done. Again, contrast this with the way that Zechariah received his message from Gabriel. Mary believes already that God’s Will will be accomplished and asks not IF it will be accomplished, but how.

Trait 4 – She hears the word of the Lord and becomes obedient to it. (Luke 1:38)

Mary understands that it is not enough for the Christian to simply hear the word of the Lord. Instead, the Christian must hear the word, believe the word, and be willing to do the word (see James 1:22). The mark of the Christian is that the Christian becomes obedient to the word of God. Like Mary, we are to have Christ formed in us as we become obedient to the Word.

Trait 5 – She does not hesitate to share the word of the Lord and the work of the Spirit. (Luke 1:39-45)

If we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths (see Romans 10:9), we will be saved. Mary wasted no time in sharing the word of the Lord and the work of the Spirit with those around her. Like Mary, we ought to boldly share the work of the Lord in our lives and be willing to give our hearts and our lips to the Lord.

Trait 6 – She proclaims God’s justice BEFORE it becomes a reality. (Luke 1:46-55)

The Magnificat (Mary’s Song) is a butt-kicking proclamation for oppression and injustice. In it, Mary proclaims that God has scattered the proud, brought down rulers, and sent away the rich empty-handed. At the same time, she proclaims that God has raised up the humble, filled the hungry with good things, and done great things for the bondslave. And, the original language uses a type of future tense as a declaration that God has already accomplished these things BEFORE they have come a reality in the world. Wow. Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection would literally upset the fallen order of things and restore salvation to humankind. Yes, in Christ’s birth, Mary consoles Eve. And like Mary, the Christian should console the world with God’s justice even in a world where it is severely lacking.

Trait 7 – She rests in God’s promised Word, knowing that it is God who accomplishes his purposes. (Luke 1:56)

The text in Luke 1:56 shows that Mary stayed for three months after this and THEN returned home. Most of us can’t wait three months for anything. Most of us would hear this word and frantically begin working towards the promises that God had just revealed. Rather, Mary rested in the promised Word that the Lord had given her, stayed three months with Elizabeth, and then returned home. After all, Isaiah 9 had prophesied in Isaiah 9 that “the zeal of the Lord” would accomplish all this. None of this is passive for Mary, but all of it rests in the promises of the Lord.

May each of us, today and this Advent season, follow Mary’s example of hearing the Word of the Lord, giving birth to Christ in our own lives, and proclaiming the work of His Spirit to a world in need of his justice!

“In reality, all congregations are ethnic.” – Sandra Maria Van Opstal

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In her new book, The Next Worship, Sandra Maria Van Opstal challenges worshipers and worship leaders to a new understanding of how to glorify God in our diverse world. She asks the questions, “When the church invites others to the table in worship, what assumptions do we make about what is and is not normal?” and “What happens when a diverse church glorifies the global God?” These questions (and the other questions she raises) are much needed questions to be discussed, as the people of the world (and the church alike) can often seem to have grown increasingly polarized from one another. Primarly, we get stuck in a narrow perspective of who are God is and who we are as His church. We tend to think that everyone thinks and acts like we do and we even fantasize about a God who looks like us! We forget that the church down the street (let alone across the globe!) can have significantly different approaches to worship that we do and as a result, we tend to insist upon others “doing church” or “doing life” the way that we do. This problem, in itself, reveals our need for a God who is other and has created a vastly diverse Creation to reflect His image. For this reason and others, Van Opstal’s book is timely and needed.

The church where we worship, Greenwood Community Church in Greenwood Village, Colorado, is increasingly waking up to these questions, as we seek to be formed as a body of Christ-followers that invites men and women (and children and youth and the elderly) from every tongue, tribe, and nation into a unified corporate expression of the worship of Jesus Christ. This is no easy task, as the potential divisions are endless. The devil, who seeks only to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10) has been creating divisions since the beginning. And, Melkor sang a new melody of discord in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth origin, the devil has continued to sow discord in the world to this day. It is for this reason that Paul warned the church in Rome, I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.” (Romans 16:17-18). In this way, to watch out for this division is really the first step among many. 

The problem, after all, is not God’s. Instead, His children have continued to make a mess of his creation after millennia of the Good Father providing His children with gifts. As Frank Burch Brown argues, this warrants an approach that is both inclusive and discerning. (Note that discerning does not, here, mean non-inclusive). In his book, Inclusive Yet Discerning, Brown writes, “The mere fact that God’s created beings use very different languages in prayer and praise is presumably no problem for God, of course. We can safely assume that God, who is said to know all of us better than we know ourselves, has no personal need of translators. The problem is ours. The very moment we tell the whole world we want to praise God together, we must necessarily rely on our own language, culture, and concept of God. But that may be alienating rather than inviting, and it threatens to undercut the experience we are most hoping to share—the experience of being united in praise of God. How can we even know whether we are all praising the same God, given that we are speaking different languages and may have rather different ideas of God to begin with?” – Frank Burch Brown

So, how can we know if we are praising the same God? The starting (and finish) line is found in the greatest commandments ever given: loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). And, as you might recall, we are given a stern warning in Scripture of the consequences of loving God and hating our brother or sister. As we seek to remember Christ at the table in our churches and our homes, may we diligently pursue a posture of love for our Global God and His children of every tongue, tribe, and nation!