Differentiated Discipleship

Friends–

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership lately. I’ve read a ton over the years, studied, gotten counsel, input, coaching, modeling. I’ve taken classes, been a part of ongoing conversations, I’ve led and been a part of networks. I’ve got great leaders around me locally, and great leaders consistently providing input and counsel through our Central Indiana Presbytery. And, as I’ve reflected, I think that the greatest need for leaders is to know the peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding. This is true at whatever level or context you’re called to be a servant-leader in. Christ’s peace, received through faith in an ongoing way, lived out by the grace of the Holy Spirit, encouraged and nourished through the life of the Church, is what establishes his disciples as faithful and courageous servant-leaders who will not be moved, no matter the strains, oppositions, setbacks, victories, tangent opportunities, or the banalities of daily life.

If we don’t know this peace of Christ which allows us to find our ultimate joy and satisfaction in God, we will be moved away from God alone as our refuge by every wave of doctrine, every attractive desire, every sad circumstance or trial, or every tendency to hold up others as our ultimate savior or ultimate enemy. When we are moved in these ways it’s a sign that we have allowed our or others’ emotional storms to drag us in, shape our perception of what is true, and lead us to harmful or unfaithful actions. Through our panic to create our own peace, we buy into a distorted view of God, our selves, and others. Our internal panic can lead us to seek counterfeit peace. And, this counterfeit peace, while it can look attractive from the outside because it gives us the feelings we might want, can actually lead us to pull others in or be pulled in to a toxic environment because it is not true peace through the grace of Christ.

This is precisely what we see happening with the disciples throughout the gospel accounts in all of their blunders of competition with one another, alienating outsiders, and even abandoning Jesus. The true peace that Jesus was bringing through his person and work for them, was not what they expected nor wanted because it challenged their sinfully distorted view of God’s truth, and required them to trust in Christ for their peace, rather than their own efforts to manufacture peace.

As we all enter into the new Fall season of roles in work, school, service, relationships, athletics, family, neighborhood, and church, consider how the presence and peace Christ invites you into through faith in the gospel of grace can affect your own personal sense and presence of peace for others. It’s living into and out of this peace secured by Christ and given to us as a gift, that God’s people can function as true servant-leaders within each area of influence God has placed us– even when the areas (and, people, big and small) we are serving can be challenging or even toxic.

(Borrowing from common grace observations of Edwin Friedman from his book “Failure of Nerve) God’s grace shapes us into people who can be compassionate, yet not enmeshed in anxious emotional processes of others, separate yet remaining connected. And, this allows us to maintain a loving, non-anxious, and sometimes challenging presence. A leader is “someone who can manage his or her own reactivity to the automatic reactivity of others, and therefore be able to take stands at the risk of displeasing.”

Jesus’ call for his disciples to servant-leadership for the sake of others is clear (Mark 10:43-45)– this is for all of us whether we’re servant-leading in the home or the office, the classroom or the fraternity, the church or the job site, our circle of friends or our families. For disciples of Jesus, we have no choice, we’ve been enlisted in his mission in the “toxic” realm of this fallen world. And the only way for us to proceed forward in obedience is to abide in Jesus, receive and live out of his peace, and trust in the Holy Spirit to form us into people of peace so that we can be a loving and sometimes challenging presence to a world swirling in the storms of anxious emotional processes.

Here’s a short video summarizing Friedman’s theory of Differentiated Leadership in order to help you understand what practical application of Christ’s peace might look like in your areas of servant-leadership:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgdcljNV-Ew

 

The Church’s Call to “thermostat” Discipleship

Thoughts on Martin Luther King’s call to what we ought to view as “normal” Christian discipleship…

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“In deep disappointment, I have wept over the laxity of the Church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the Church; I love her sacred walls. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson, and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the Church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the Church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the Church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were a “colony of heaven” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.

Things are different now. The contemporary Church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the archsupporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the Church, the power structure of the average community is   consoled by the Church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the Church as never before. If the Church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early Church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I am meeting young people every day whose disappointment with the Church has risen to outright disgust.

Maybe again I have been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?”

-excerpt from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, April 16, 1963

Jesus’s call to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14) is not a mere invitation to join a social club called “church”. Jesus’s call is a call to actual discipleship in a body of self-giving and grace-dependence, a spiritual union with one another and with the Holy Trinity, initiated by the Father’s will, accomplished through the cross and resurrection of the Son, and sealed by the Spirit of God himself. This is what the normative Christian life is to be. There’s nothing radical about it.

This call to apprentice with Jesus, is a call to personal and communal transformation, a call to suffering and dying to self, and a call to hope in and live for a Messiah who brings renewal to the world through his simultaneous judgment for sin, and grace for broken, desperate, and contrite sinners.

And, it is through this gathered body of apprenticing sinners-renewed-by-Jesus’s-grace-alone that we see the advance of the Kingdom of God breaking in to challenge and transform the distorted mores and practices of what the Apostle Peter calls “this corrupt generation,” (Acts 2:40). This was true for Christians in the 1st Century advancing the gospel under Jewish and Roman opposition; for those in the 2nd-4th Century facing Roman persecution, the corruptions of Roman decadence, and the threat from heretical movements; for Christians in the era of the Reformation facing the threat of violent suppression of the gospel through the Roman Catholic establishment; for Christians in the era of the First Great Awakening facing the messianic allure of revolutionary political movements, the decadence of that era, and the ever-present gravitational pull of the slave trade on all aspects of society. And, this certainly remains the case for Christians today in a culture that has become habituated to sin, where the “empire of personal desire” is the primary ruler and driving force in the lives of most of us, and where the Church is once again caught in the tension of functioning as either a “thermometer” or a “thermostat” for our culture.

This call to discipleship under Jesus is beyond the politics of the Left or the Right. The call to Christ supercedes political dispositions, cultural affiliations, and racial identifications. The call to discipleship with Jesus is a call to Jesus himself as he comes to us through the gospel and received by faith as the incarnate, crucified, risen, and ascended Son of God himself. This is a call to Jesus’s Body itself as instituted through the gift of the Holy Spirit built on the Word of God given to the apostles and prophets. This call to discipleship with Jesus, by the Spirit, through the Church centered on the gospel, for the glory of God– this is the only way in which the Church can actually be who she was instituted to be, and the way in which God’s Kingdom renewal might once again spill over through the lives of ordinary disciples and into all the spheres of culture, bringing about both social transformation and personal conversion to Christ.

The impact of the gospel through the preaching of grace, affirmed in the sacraments, and witnessed through disciples’ own lifestyles of humble faith and repentance is just the sort of influence our world is desperate for, that the Church was instituted to effect, and the way in which the Church regains her faithfulness with the power Jesus has delegated to her.  This is the Church as “thermostat”, the Church normal, the Church living a lifestyle of repentance and faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Training our children for reality

We just concluded our Summer Bible Camp today, and one of the things I asked as I briefly addressed our guests was why we are dealing with such serious themes with children? Why are we not just having a saccarine sweet, nostalgic, feel good time? Isn’t this why we line the kids up and have them sing, isn’t this the point of church— make our kids as happy and clappy as possible?

Our curriculum had plenty of happiness woven in, but it was a happiness that sprang from the continual reminder of Christ’s deliverance of his people from our sin through the suffering of the cross and the victory of the resurrection. The great allegory “Pilgrim’s Progress” was published in 1678, and John Bunyan accurately creates a story that mirrors that of the Christian’s real journey through life. One that is not categorized by nostalgic feelings, sentimentality, or a series of entertainments; but, a real life that includes darkness, attacks by the enemy, doubts, despair, temptation— true evil. Yet, also a true hope in Christ that has overcome this evil on our behalf. And, we were explaining these things to our children! Why? Because this is exactly what the Bible itself does, and is exactly what characterizes the real life that our children and ourselves live and are called to grow within. To deny this reality is to shut off true truth to ourselves and our kids— how can we possibly survive and how can our children’s faith survive if we hide our heads away from real sin before a holy God and burrow in to the comfort of the American suburban dream? I believe this is one of the greatest temptations facing the American church today.

Which brings me to the tragic massacre that occurred in Charleston 2 nights ago. Certainly, depending on the age of a child, they should only be exposed to a certain amount of detail when it comes to such brutality— we should be shields and censors on behalf of our children. Yet, we should also seek to thoughtfully engage our kids with the truth of the broken world within which we live. Our kids must know what evil is and what good is, what sin is (anything that breaks the Law of God by commission or ommission), and what righteousness is. They MUST know this! And, if we don’t sit down with them, communicate, ask and answer questions, clarify, define, point them to the true truth of God revealed in the Bible, if we don’t do this as the church and as fathers and mothers and teachers and adult examples, then someone else will. The culture will be very happy to define and teach and parent and indoctrinate our children for us according to the world’s values and the whims of the current feelings on race, sex, gender, violence, love, relationship, truth, identity, freedom, shame, origins, and ultimate destinations. This does not mean we withdraw from the culture, or fortify ourselves in a family friendly ghetto; but, it does mean that we must be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves in order to live in and engage the world with the truth of the gospel and all its implications without being ensnared or drawn in or lulled into blindness by the values and vision of a world that is vandalized by sin in every human capacity, and expects all other worldviews to come under the lordship of our culture.

With all of this as a preface I encourage you to speak with your children, and speak to one another about the reality of evil that we saw explode in Charleston recently. I did this last night with my own kids.

How do we do this?

Here are some ideas and words to consider:

  1. Return to THE STORY— Remember that months-long series last year on the Mission of God? One fundamental point to that entire series is that the Bible tells a true story of God’s mission to bring glory to himself. He does this first through the: Creation— “God made all things good, humans after his own image and this was very good. This is the basic framework we must begin with when thinking about racial sin and sin in general. God created race. He gave skin its different tones, and this is good. Its very good. Our kids need to know that race and skin colors and different languages and diversity of cultures is a good thing.” Rebellion— “yet, humanity refused to obey the Lord, we worshiped the created things rather than the creator (Rom 1). And, so the things that were created good became the objects of our worship, and so became distorted. This includes race, but also can include our human sexual desire as well. We worshiped race. Race became the core of our identity, our defining feature, one race better than another, skin and body features defining the “goodness” or “badness” of people, the trustworthyness of people, the “humanness” or “inhumanness” of people who were created in God’s image. This is a tragedy.”
  2. Return to the Story— There is another story to return to. And, this is the story of the African-American experience in America. You need to know this, or at least be familiar with broad brush strokes, and we need to help our kids be familiar with the context of the injustice that still exists today. “Because of the worship and distortion of race, darker skinned people in Africa were forced into slavery, sold, families broken apart to enter into forced labor and a fear and shame-based culture in the Americas. This was also done to the native peoples of this place as well. Centuries of slavery, fear, hatred, shame, and being crushed down by the power of others has attached itself to the way our culture works— even though slavery is ended, hate and fear and restriction has continued for darker skinned people because of their race. There have been long periods of time when people with darker skin were killed, terrorized, beaten, their things stolen or burned because they wanted to be able to vote, or say hello to a white person, or swim in a public pool, or even eat lunch in a restaurant. And, even though the law says this isn’t allowed to happen any more, the law can’t change people’s hearts. The law can’t stop people from worshiping the wrong thing. And, so people continue to worship race, and they continue to hate people who have a different skin color. And, people with darker skin in our country still feel a lot of this hate, distrust, and restrictions even today.”
  3. Return to THE story— Share the broad story of what has happened in SC, sparing gory details, being sensitive when answering questions, and being careful to identify evil as evil, sin as sin; yet, also making sure that this is not connected to the whiteness or any other easily identifiable outward feature of the killer, but is connected to the heart of sin— and that is the worship of something other than the true Triune God which makes our hearts sin and makes us blind to sin. “There are still people that worship race so much that they keep hating anyone else that is a of different race, even though God made all different races to be a very good thing. These people, even some who say they know Jesus, are worshipping the wrong thing, they’re sinning against God, they’re idolaters and they don’t even know it. The other night one of these people, far from here, in Charleston SC, because of how he made his whiteness into his god had so much hate in his heart for darker skinned people, that he went to a church while our brothers and sisters were praying to the one true God, and he shot and killed some of them because of his hate. He killed 9 people because of the color of their skin. This is how horrible the worship of things other than the true God can become. Not only does sin hurt ourselves but it hurts other people also.”
  4. RETURN TO THE STORY— Our kids need to be reminded of what God has done to redeem his people through the incarnation, life and ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. When I say “redeem,” this means to “buy back,” and thus the truth of real sin- both systemic but also personal- and its enslaving consequences must be included in any conversation about “redemption.” Many popular pastors like to say “redemption” these days, yet leave out what people are actually redeemed FROM. Redemption— Kids need to know what sin looks like, and they need to know that they themselves sin, and they need to know what Jesus has done to redeem, cleanse, and restore them through the gift of his body and blood. They need to know that this is open to any who respond to the calling of God’s grace. That this grace is even available to the worst of people, even Dylann Roof. Restoration— They need to know that Jesus is King, that one day he will return to set all things right, to judge and punish the evil in this world, to restore and renew the bodies of his people and the physical creation he delights in. And, as a result of this we pray “thy Kingdom Come on earth as it is in heaven…” We can pray for God’s kingdom renewal to break into this world into and through our lives right now. That means that we can lead and help our kids to pray for the families of those who were killed. For the congregation of Emmanuel AME. For the African-American community. For the repentance and conversion of Dylann Roof. For the comfort and encouragement of the darker skinned people who are in our own lives, for our own repentance in neglecting to love and be loved by these brothers and sisters, and for our church to be used by God to both receive the gospel and live out the implications of the gospel through our genuine sacrificial and generous love for others.

We must walk our kids through this based on the categories provided us through the Scriptures, the theology that comes through them, the worldview shaped by this Word, and the grand story within which we find ourselves. If we don’t do this with true truth, then the culture will with its own distorted version of reality, and this injustice, hate, idolatry, and pain will continue to inflict its wounds upon people and overtake us with complacency, numbness, and blindness in the process.

We must face this and help one another and our children face this in the power and hope of Christ together.

Holy Week and a Worship-Formed Life

This Sunday, Palm Sunday, we begin a time in the church calendar referred to as “Holy Week.” Now, this week is really not any “holier” than any other week of the year. Jesus is Lord over all days and weeks, and through his kingship every day bears a weight of glory that will see fulfillment in holiness with the life to come.

At the same time, we also acknowledge the necessity for people to have rhythms to life and worship— this is one of the very reasons why the Scriptures give us a patterned flow to our worship which we seek to emulate in our own Sunday liturgies.

This worship rhythm also extends to our daily and weekly routines as well as our seasonal and annual routines. A lifestyle of worship is really a lifestyle shaped by the relational and doxological flow we see in the liturgy of the church. Seeing our lives conformed to the heart of God as he’s revealed through the Word applied by the Spirit, means seeing our very lives shaped according to our pattern of worship:

  1. God seeks us, we respond to him in praise and adoration
  2. He reveals our struggles and sin and reminds us of the accomplished work of the Son in the gospel
  3. We respond through confession and thanksgiving, experiencing the Father’s embrace through this regular act of reconciliation
  4. He shapes our minds, hearts, and wills through Jesus present with us in his Word
  5. He nourishes us in grace through Jesus present with us in the sacrament and through the Spirit’s ministry through one another
  6. He sends us out in mission and lifestyles of worship in our vocations under the kingship of Jesus and in the power of his Spirit to continue God’s redemption in the world

This pattern of worship ought not to simply mark our Sunday worship services, this is a pattern which our entire lives conform to and are shaped by through a liturgical lifestyle. We are fundamentally worshiping creatures, and so at the very core of who we are, we are formed by some sort of pattern of worship and the object of our worship. We follow the liturgical narrative above because it is the very narrative that is presented to us in the Scriptures, and is the true meta-narrative that makes sense of the way things actually are in God’s creation, and the way things ought to be under the kingship of Jesus.

This rhythm of worship-in-life also challenges our natural tendency toward narcissism: “my life is about me.” The Redemptive-Historical story of the Bible, and the liturgy shaped by it, repeatedly insist that our life is not about us, life is about the Triune God— his glory, his rescue, his renewal, his presence with his people; all accomplished through his redemption of me as a member of his people, the church.

Worship is a continuing recapitulation and re-participation of these truths and of this drama. We are continually drawn back into God’s story, shaped by God’s hand, and made more aware of God’s presence in Christ through his indwelling Spirit.

Why do I write all of this?

Because we need to think about worship. What it is. What the purpose of it is. Where it points us. How this is a delight and a discipline God calls his people to enact regularly as the core of our life together. Especially as the church I serve approaches our 1-year birthday as a worshiping congregation, and as we all approach the week of remembrance of the Passion of Jesus, we must keep God’s pattern and intent for worship as a priority in our personal and communal life.

So, a week such as this coming week is an important place-marker in lives customarily marked by busyness, frenetic pace, activities, demands, a lack of silence and space for contemplation of our God. What would it mean for you to seek to make intentional space in your life this week to move through the rhythms of liturgy personally, with a small group, with your family, with your congregation?

Let’s contemplate the cross and resurrection of Jesus this week— the reason for this (the brokenness, sin, and rebellion of the world and our selves), the historic actions taken through these, God’s disclosure of his heart and fulfillment of his plan through this, the rescue and establishment of not just “me,” but of “me in the community of Christ’s church.”

Let’s worship the Redeemer this week, and celebrate our union with him through his work in the body he has redeemed- his church.

Freedom and the Will and the Church

Once each month a group of friends– people from our church, and other friends not involved in church– get together at the sweetest brewery in town (Function Brewing: revived brick building, maple floors, great beer) and haggle through an issue of the day. We’ve discussed topics like Suffering, Race Relations, Power & Authority, Homosexuality, Trinitarian Theology, Ghosts, Anger, you name it.

This morning I got a text from one of the new guys who just had a big discussion with his friends on the topic of freedom of the will. I texted him back. A rather long response to be typing with my thumbs on an iPhone. My “shoot from the hip” thoughts on freedom of the will are below. Perhaps these will stir up your own considerations, or rekindle your sense of community desire and commitment…

A discussion on “Freewill” all hinges on your understanding of the notion of “free”. What is “freedom” ultimately?— Is it the ability to do whatever you want whenever you want? If this is the case, then our freedom is then contingent on both our “wanting” and our ability to actually get/do what we “want”. If this then is the case, then the conversation about free will must necessitate a conversation about human desire, and even whether our desires themselves, or our ability to desire ultimate good, are in line with what “goodness” actually is.

If freedom is the ability to choose that which we desire, then I must admit that we do have a certain amount of freedom, yet even that is boundaried and shaped by our circumstances as well as our capacities to gain what we desire. If freedom is the ability to choose that which is good, then I must confess that when I honestly examine my own heart (aka “desires”), if I were left to my self, without the extra nos (“outside of me”) intervention of an ultimately good and powerful being who has the power, desire, and will to reshape my ability to desire, I would never choose that which is good. Even when I seemingly chose the “good” (eg helping others, caring for the environment, etc), self-oriented fixation on the pleasing of my own desire, propping up of my own deficiency, exercise of power over others, would always weasel in. Thus, left to myself, any good that I choose would become corrupted by Self. In which case, I must then ask, “what kind of freedom is it that is enslaved to the pleasing or justification of one’s own desire?”

Further, this question also brings up another dynamic of freedom, one that is fairly recent to western thought since introduced by Kant, and this is one of the idea of “autonomy.” Is “freedom” the same thing as “autonomy”? And is “autonomy” even a good thing, something that is inherent in human design? I would argue that it is indeed not good; however, it has become one of the primary drivers of our current culture- both inside and outside of the church.

“I decide what is best for me.” “I am my own authority.” “Just me and Jesus.” “I think, therefore I am, therefore I can be utterly independent of any one, any institution, and community, any tradition, all of those are suspect and come under submission to the autonomous self.”

Although perhaps not inherent within the idea of “freedom,” the above mindset has become the paradigm that many approach the notion of “freedom” with. And, this also is why “church” has become for many a “food court” for the autonomous self, who is under no authority, to consume and get their feet wet with no reciprocal obligation or commitment to a real church organism AND organization.

Certainly, human community should not be some huge complex co-dependent community, people should be appropriately “differentiated,” but this is far from the notion of “autonomy” or “freedom” that has become the ideal in our present generation. But, healthy “personal differentiation” (or boundaries of knowing where your Self ends and another person’s Self begins) has become overtaken and exaggerated by our hyper-individualistic tendencies further exacerbated by a tech age that facilitates and encourages solipsism. This is so because “autonomy”/”freedom” fundamentally has come to connote Self over and against commitment and submission to the common good, which leads to lack of commitment, lack of unity, and a bunch of lonely people wanting relationship yet medicating themselves with the “aura” of community.

And, this is where I see our obsession with autonomy leaving this current generation. I meet person after person, couple after couple (some whose relationships are falling apart), who say they want “community,” “relationship,” “vulnerability,” etc. yet when these things actually require something of them… “peace out,” they’re gone. The reason why is that true “community,” real “relationship,” intimate “vulnerability,” is not something that we can merely consume or splash around in the shallows with. Our generation has created cliches out of these concepts in order to suit their desires (not for true transformation which ultimately requires the pushing in to conflict and pain under Christ’s leadership), but for an easy, emotional therapy, a soothing of their anxiety so they can continue functioning as autonomous Selves, with no attachments holding them back, no commitments restraining their options, no boundaries restricting their attempts at immediate gratification of desire, and no obligations to an institution bigger than themselves requiring them to sacrifice personal preference for the sake of the “community” they so long to have surrounding them.

And, this also is another key to the “aura of community.” No longer do people in our culture see the necessity to become a part of a community, for them to enter in to belong; instead, this has been exchanged for the expectation that the community is meant to curve in around them, their desires, their schedules, their needs, their tastes become the all important priority for the community of faith. And, so churches have learned to strategize and create program after program, make change after change to suit the constantly fluid desires of the consumeristic American mindset. And, so we see a schizophrenic theological and ecclesiological landscape, of churches creating their own individualistic confessions and practices to appeal to the masses who expect a food court filled with options, each courting them, personally.

There no longer remains the calling of the community to the person, requiring something of the person to become a part of the community. This smells of heavy-handed authority because it obligates and limits personal autonomy for the sake of the church community’s mission and priorities qua Jesus’ missional church.

Give over, submit, our individualistic autonomies for the real freedom that comes with will and desire renewed by the God who calls us into the true and good community of Jesus’ church? No way. This is not what our generation wants. I’ll stick with the aura of community, thank you very much. Give me the cliche, give me the shallows.

HopePres Strategic Plan. “Nurtured for Growth”

The church I’m serving recently had our first “Vision Renewal Gathering.” This is a practice we hope to continue on an annual basis in order to see and celebrate what God has done in our midst, discern how the Holy Spirit is currently working, and hear about and pray for how we think God is calling our church to move forward in the coming year. Below is an introduction I wrote to our little sprouting church along with a link at the bottom to our actual Strategic Plan. May this be an encouragement to all of my fellow church planters, and to any others who are inspired to mission for Christ through this glimpse into one of Jesus’ churches.

Hello friends,

I wanted to write a response to our Vision Renewal Gathering from last month. As I described that Sunday night, our theme for the vision for 2015 is “Nurtured for Growth.

Growth cannot be our primary focus because without being deeply rooted in the real substance of the gospel, our attempts at growth will be coming out of our own strength and not the Lord’s. We’ll wither. So, serving Christ’s mission requires us to seek Nurture in Christ’s grace.

Nurture alone cannot be our primary focus because we must understand that God grows his church in maturity and in numbers in order to be a blessing to the world. We bear fruit, not for ourselves, but for others. We’re Nurtured by God’s grace for our own maturity, for the sake of others growing to or in Christ, all for God’s glory.

This is the point of Psalm 1— the one who delights in the Law of the Lord…

“He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.”

The tree does not bear fruit for itself. It does not produce shade for itself. The tree’s goal is not to be a consumer, but through its nurture from the stream of God’s grace in the gospel, it becomes a fruit bearer for all that come into proximity with it. This is the church. This is the goal of OUR church.

And, our challenge in all of this is to:

Consume from the right source: the grace of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ applied through the Holy Spirit.
Bear fruit in season for the right goal: bringing the blessing of grace and the renewal of Christ into the lives of others in God’s timing and his ways.

Nurtured for Growth.”

Also, it was wonderful to see so many of you there. Looking for ways to help, interested to hear the path ahead, so quick to celebrate the legacy that the Lord is creating in our midst.

Beth’s own story and the story of her family’s service in church planting for the past 200 years in this area, was so beautiful to hear, and inspiring to think what God does through the lives of humble, non-spectacular, ordinary people who entrust themselves to Jesus and his mission.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to see our children and grandchildren (physical and spiritual) sharing similar stories when they’re adults?

Further, the message from Scott Dean and his points on “Risk or Rust” and “Nurture or Wither” were also timely and will hopefully be used by the Lord to continue to galvanize our community in relationship, worship, and mission.

Also, one of my goals from the evening was for you all to see the areas of ministry of Hope, things that have already been built, and areas where we would like to see development. The intention is for all of this to guide your prayers, your understanding of our church plan, and to provide access points for you to consider in your own desires to serve and grow, for the sake of the gospel of grace growing in and through our congregation.

We have 6 major areas of ministry in our model as a church (see membership packet for more description of each of these): Cultivation, Community, Renewal, Nurture, Service, and Partnerships. And, the plan I passed out last month shows what our plans are in each of these areas for the next 1-2 years.

There are going to be some things in this plan that we never get around to trying, some things that we begin to emphasize more than others in response to needs, God’s leading, and provision of financial/leadership/and serving resources, and some things that we adapt according to changing conditions.

In all of these plans, our desire is to remain rooted in our Identity and Purpose as a church, and see our primary values guide all that we plan. If you’re unfamiliar with all of this please review the “Identity” page of our website.

My next leadership step is to take the big overview I presented, pull out the primary areas as more specific emphases for the coming year, without letting go of the areas we’ve already built, and, provide you all with specific access points to contribute your gifts. This will be an ongoing process as we move to initiate and continue our ministry.

In general these emphases will be our growth in:

  1. Nurture: developing and shepherding leaders, praying together
  2. Community: starting and strengthening Local Communities
  3. Nurture: discipleship of men, women, marriages, & strengthening of HopeKids
  4. Cultivation: training & encouragement in relational evangelism and encouraging us to initiate friendships, host unbelieving or spiritually curious friends for small dinners with friends from Hope, invite friends to Hope events and Sunday worship
  5. Service: Working to see Safe Families for Children established for our community, and developing periodic opportunities to serve our community in mercy

In order to be the church we’re called to be, and see God accomplish our 2015 vision of “Nurtured for Growth,” this handful of primary emphases is what I’d like you all to focus your prayer and consideration on.

Please also review our Strategic Plan document (accessible through our website) in order to see the specific things that have been built in the past 2 years, the areas we would like to initiate, and specific places where you could engage with your gifts and talents.

And, please review our giving needs for the coming year. We are praying that the Lord will provide $55,000 through congregational giving in order to meet all non-personnel giving goals for the 2015 budget. If this budget is something you’d like to review line-by-line, please let me know and I’ll provide you a copy and set aside some time to discuss it with you.

Grace and Peace to you all through our Lord Jesus Christ—

Dan

Want to Grow? Soak in the Story.

This morning, as I prayed for people in the congregation I serve, I ended up writing this short letter of encouragement for people to seek God’s grace through soaking in the Story of the Bible.

To Jesus’ Sheep—

Here’s a wonderful Bible Reading plan for you to commit to for the next 2 years:

http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/two-year-bible-reading-plan

Soaking in the Script of God’s Redemptive Story is one of the ways that his Spirit forms us into the likeness of our Lord Jesus himself, and brings us into deeper relationship with himself- this is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. If you’re not exposing yourself to the Lord through his Word, you’re neglecting one of his “means of grace”— the way he consistently pours his grace into our lives to nourish and help his people to grow.

Having a desire to grow- to mature, to know God more fully, to be refined- is an aspect of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Even in our human relationships, to grow in intimacy with our spouse or friends requires us to pursue them and be responsive to their pursuit of us. This necessitates a disposition of curiosity, eager desire, humility, and a trusting willingness for our prior paradigms and ways of thinking to be challenged. If this is the case in our human relationships, how much more so would this be true of our relationship with the Triune God?

In his letter to the collection of house church plants around Ephesus, Paul writes:

“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, ”uc”>I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might…” (Eph 1:15-19).

One diagnostic question for us today is: “Do I desire to grow, to mature, for my character to be refined by God’s grace? Do I want Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians to be true for ME?”

Because, as our heavenly Father through the grace of Christ, God’s own ambition is to accomplish this prayer in the lives of his people, for “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion to the day of Christ Jesus…” (Phil 1:6). Is this our own ambition today?— to know real hope, the riches of being God’s inheritance, and the depths of the very power that rose Christ from the dead?

How does this even happen?

As D. Martyn Lloyd Jones points out in his sermon series on “Spiritual Depression,” this is not a mere emotional experience, or our hearts being moved- though many of us stake our comfort primarily in emotion. Nor is this an accomplishment of our wills, of doing good stuff- though many of us find security in being good, in control, of being productive. Nor is growth in grace a mere intellectual endeavor, of knowing the right theology, in being right- though many of us think that right doctrine is all that we need.

Growth in grace impacts and expresses itself in all of these areas of our humanity— emotional, volitional, intellectual— the whole person must be engaged by the whole gospel, a gospel which communicates our declaration of innocence and forgiveness for sin through Christ’s blood (justification), and that communicates our new identities as God’s children, as being free from condemnation, as leading us to holiness and deeper relationship with God and the church via grace (sanctification).

And, this grace impacts us in an ordered wayour intellects being exposed to the revealed truth of the gospel, now grasping and believing: “know the hope to which he has called you”; our emotions being moved with grief, gratitude, joy, and desire through this Spirit-given sight and faith: “know the riches of his glorious inheritance”; our volitions being so gripped by the vision of the gospel that we’re moved to obedience, holiness, and good works motivated and empowered by grace: “know the immeasurable greatness of his power”. 

Any pronouncement of the gospel missing either justification or sanctification is not the communication of the whole gospel. Any pronouncement of the gospel not addressing all three facets of our humanity is not addressing the whole person.

So, today draw near to God through his mind, heart, and will revealed in Jesus Christ who is witnessed to in the Scriptures. And, invite God to shape every facet of your humanity through his application of grace, and participate in his tender and mighty work through your own eagerness, commitment in the ordinary, and desire for humility.

May you have eyes to see and faith to comprehend the Savior’s grip on you today—

Ruth and Boaz: Imaging God’s Kindness

I recently sent this message to people involved in the church I pastor– Hope Pres, in Bloomington, IN. My hope is that our body grows in desire for and knowledge of the Scriptures, especially in a culture that exalts personal autonomy as one of its most powerful idols…

“You should be listening to preachers other than me.

Good preachers. People who know the Bible. Who know how to interpret and allow God’s Word to challenge our personal and cultural presuppositions and blind spots. Because, ya’ll, we got ’em. If you deny this, then I would venture that your very denial is a blind spot that needs to be unpacked.

One of my favorite to listen to is Scott Sauls at Christ Presbyterian, Nashville.

I went to listen to a podcast this morning on a title I thought looked interesting: “For the Love of Widows and Orphans.” And, I discovered 2 things: 1) the sermon was on Chapter 2 of the book of Ruth; and, 2) it was given by a man I dearly love and emulate, Prof Jerram Barrs of Covenant Seminary— one of the most gentle and Christ-like people I have ever met.

All of you should listen to this sermon. But, especially you ladies who are engaged in the Women’s Studies on the Book of Ruth with Hope Pres. The sermon helps you grow in knowing how to read and apply the Bible— not as a book of random stories tossed together, or a collection of wisdom sayings to take or leave at your discretion. But, we see the way in which God has revealed himself in history, re-shaping lives, and redeeming past cultures and present lives through grace.

And as Christians, people of the book, our faith is not rooted in ourselves, nor the wisdom of the “spirit of the age”; instead, our faith, our entire worldview is grounded in the authority and power of God’s Word, and how this shows us the very heart and plan of God all fulfilled in the person and ministry of Christ. It’s imperative that we learn how to read, trust, and apply this Word as individuals and as a community of faith.

This desire to grow, willingness to submit to God’s Word, and pursuit of the knowledge of God through the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit in the community of Christ’s church are dynamics that are at the heart of what it means to be a follower of, and truster-in Jesus Christ.

I am constantly praying for all of you that God might give you the spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, with the result that the eyes of your hearts are enlightened so that you would really know in your gut and daily life the hope to which he has called you, the riches you are to him as his glorious inheritance, and the immeasurable vastness of his great and glorious power toward you all as those who trust in him.

Perhaps this sermon will be an encouragement in this grace-refinement process in your lives.”

Promising Sex

A member and friend of the church I pastor– Hope Pres– recently emailed me this question: “What is your take on answering someone (a believer) that pre-marital sex is not specifically prohibited in scripture and therefore is permissible if two people are in love?”

Being someone not known for brevity (I have what Ulysses Everett McGill calls “the gift of gab”), I began thinking and writing. Below is my first shot at answering her question…

I would want to know what they mean by “not specifically prohibited in scripture…” Do they mean that nowhere in the Bible do you see the actual words “premarital sex is prohibited”? Do they mean that Scripture is silent regarding the specific words or idea of “pre-marital sex is permissible if the people are in love…”? I ask that because many people view the Bible as this rules manual and thus strip away context as they go in to look for “proof” which gives them warrant to do what they like. For example, there’s nothing in the Bible regarding timeouts for kids, or math, or toilet paper… however, the Bible does gives us an interpretation of the world or of God’s holy, compassionate, and just character which creates the context by which these good things find purpose and meaning within a Christian framework, even though there are no explicit words “permitting” or “not permitting” their existence. There are commands to raise our kids in the faith and to disciplines, and there are principles that show examples for how these commands are “fleshed” out. The same is true for mathematics as well as toilet paper— bodily care, prevention of disease, and care for the creation are all themes within the Scriptures, most significantly in Leviticus as the Lord constitutes a people who are different from the pagan nations who denied the goodness of human physicality and the “earthyness” of creation in favor of degrading the value of humans and the world as things to be worshiped.

So. How does this person view Scripture? And, do they see their incorrect view and use of it?

Second, they need to doubt their instinctual desires. One of the reasons why they, and others like them, are so insistent upon this view is because it just “feels right” for them. Yet, this perspective disregards the fact that every human capacity is touched/marred/vandalized by sin. Every capacity. This includes our view of money, our views on sex, and our understanding of our very own understanding…

…our own hearts are deceived.

And, so we should, in some degree, be suspicious of our feelings because our initial reactions are so often the product of our distorted views. Read the Proverbs– “All the ways of a man are pure in her own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit… the purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man (person) of understanding will draw it out… every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart…” If this friend is a Christian they automatically ought to be wary of unreflective reactivity to their initial desires, and seek counsel from more mature Christians who can point them to the Scriptures as our only rule for faith and life. The Scriptures are our authority, not our feelings and desires.

Third, they’re just wrong regarding the Bible’s perspective on premarital sex. The pagan nations were the ones who had no notion of marriage. It is only in the Judeo-Christian tradition where a single man and a woman are joined together in a spiritual/emotional/physical union by God himself, called a “covenant”. It is our tradition that affirms the goodness of the created order, and thus the goodness of God’s intent with marriage, a covenantal pattern which points to God’s own fidelity toward his people. Thus, the view of this friend is not Christian at all, it’s actually very pagan. When God inspired the writing of the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the OT), the people were used to the very sort of perspective on sex as your friend, and many in our culture today hold— this was the Egyptian way of life. This is why there are so many specifics regarding sexuality in the book of Leviticus. It isn’t that God didn’t want his people to have any fun. Instead, he is showing them a way of life that is holy— it demonstrates his own character— and thus, is utterly different from that of the pagan nations. This is why Genesis is so subversive— Adam and Eve are joined together as one flesh. And, before this happens, God fully forms them as complete beings— they don’t find their sense of fulfillment/purpose/identity in the other— there is no co-dependent relationship between Adam and Eve because they were already whole people. After this, God joins them together in a covenantal relationship: committed, faithful, public, before God and others. And, always in the covenantal pattern in the OT, as well as in the New, there is a public profession/display/symbol. This public covenanting is the very pattern that circumcision, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper follow. This is the very pattern that Christian marriage today takes. You don’t need all the bells and whistles of a $30k wedding. But, you do need a wedding, a public display of vows to one another and to God, and this needs to be sanctioned by God’s own authority through the church and under his authority delegated to the state. This is called “marriage.”

So, every conception of sexuality in the Bible flows from this initial precedent of covenantal marriage we see between Adam and Eve. Marriage is assumed. It’s a given. This is why one of the most potent images of God’s faithfulness and intention toward the church is that of “bride.” Jesus gives his life for his bride, to wash her and purify her for her beautification and his glory (Eph 5), at the entry of the life of the world to come, the church is as a bride prepared for her bridegroom (Rev 21-22), believers dine with King Jesus at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (Rev 19). Marriage is the pinnacle metaphor for God’s commitment of steadfast love and faithfulness toward his people. And, adultery is a prime metaphor for his people’s lack of faithful commitment toward him (see Hosea).

When we see examples of people engaging in sex outside of marriage in Scripture, it’s not because the Bible is permitting anything else, but because the Bible is honest about human sin. People don’t follow God’s expectations, even his own people don’t adhere to the ethics he commands for his people. So, these aren’t examples of how we should live, but examples of human brokenness and rebellion that are all redeemed by Christ, and which God’s people are called to turn away from.

This is why, throughout the Bible we see words and phrases like “adultery,” and “sexual immorality.” These words are referring to sexual intimacy (this would include intercourse as well as other non-intercourse related acts) outside of marriage. “Adultery” doesn’t just mean cheating on your current spouse, but giving yourself sexually to a person who is not your spouse, and thus breaking the vows of covenantal commitment sealed by your sexuality for the person you will one day be joined to.

We view things so “presently”, while we should be viewing things with a more wholistic temporal view.

This is why, when Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, he made plans to “divorce her quietly.” Wait. But, they weren’t married yet. Exactly. They were engaged to be married, and because Joseph thought that Mary had had sex with some other man (thus, her pregnancy), this was viewed by Joseph, and God’s Law, as infidelity, adultery. But, because the pregnancy was of the Holy Spirit and not from a man, Mary remained faithful to her purity before God for the sake of her future covenant marriage. So, when Joseph joined himself to her in marriage, he was doing an incredibly brave and humble (even humiliating) thing. Everyone else in their community saw Mary as “sexually immoral” even though she wasn’t. The act of premarital sex is adultery. This is why it is so essential in pre-marital counseling for a couple to confess prior sexual relationships— so the other person knows of this infidelity, they can work through it, seek and give forgiveness, and rely on God’s grace for healing.

The power of sexuality is something that God has designed as a very good thing for a married man and woman to enjoy, to seal their covenantal commitment, and to treasure as their own private delight, pointing them even to the commitment God has made with his people. Sex is not an allegory for the church’s relationship with Christ, but it is a sign or symbol of it. Which is why Paul makes use of it as such in Eph 5– “husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church…” The power of sexual intimacy is also something to be guarded and held off until marriage because once it’s unleashed in a person’s life, it is so powerful that it can scew our view of self, others, and even of God and his Word. This is why Paul sees distorted sexuality as the pinnacle of human rebellion to God’s Law in Romans 1, and this is why the writer of the Song of Solomon warns on several occasions: “do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” This entire book is about sexual intimacy between a bride and her husband, it is potent and powerful, and one of the main themes is to treasure our sexuality as a gift for our spouse alone because our sexuality is indeed a treasure that is meant for only one other.

At the same time, I would also be considerate of a few other things:

  1. Sexual fulfillment is not a requirement for a person or a relationship to be “legit” “complete” “actualized.” This is a myth that our culture pushes again and again. Yet, there are many people who live full and complete lives in loving relationships with others without having this dynamic fulfilled. Look at Jesus himself. Or, Paul.
  2. If one is giving themselves sexually to another, or has in the past, the temptation will always be toward self-justification. This is the case with every sin, not just sexual sin. We look for, reason toward, and appeal to cultural ideas in order to justify our behavior and desires. Doing this is a natural part of being “in the flesh,” however this does not mean it is good. Being a Christian means that we see sin as sin, we are broken over our sin, we confess our sin, and we look to God’s grace alone for forgiveness and renewal. And, we do this not only with the particular sins that we commit, but the way our entire dispositions are directed against God in autonomy, rebellion, and resistance to his Word. So, we confess and turn away from all the ways we try and justify ourselves by being really really good, as well as the ways we reject God and try to justify our lives to ourselves and others by self-indulgent and irreligious lifestyles.
  3. If there is a Christian man and woman who are in love, and they desire to express this sexually, they should be married! Of course, this will take a bit of a process, but it ought to so that the people can more fully understand what God’s purposes with marriage are, so they can explore their own and one another’s hearts, including shining the light of the gospel on past sin, and so they can come under Christ’s authority which he has delegated to the church, and to the church alone. Ultimately, it is not the state who marries Christians, but it is God who unites people in marriage, the state merely recognizes what God has done through the ministry of the church. This “waiting” part is another essential theme of the Christian life, and requires one to rely more fully on the Holy Spirit for self-control, patience, and growth in wisdom in the process.

So. Sex. Clear cut, and complex. This is yet another example of how Christian ethics must be approached with a desire to submit to God’s Word as well as a willingness for deep reflection and application of the gospel to the very deepest places of our hearts.

Healing Through the Valley

About a week and a half ago I was invited to a dinner to speak to a group of about 300 or so other pastors and leaders from the Presbyterian Church in America while we gathered for our General Assembly. The theme of the evening was “A Healing Denomination.” And, I was asked to share about the journey Erica and I have been on these past 2 years. I was nervous– this was a room full of other preachers and leaders (people I admired and am seeking to emulate in my own ministry calling). Who was I to share to a group of people like this? Yet, I also had confidence that God wanted to bring glory to himself through our story, and that he would use it in the lives of these colleagues, mentors, and heroes.

I share the transcript of this talk with you all knowing that there are many others out there who need a gospel-oriented vision to make sense of the affliction in life, and in order to experience real hope that is ours by faith in Christ, even in the midst of our times of darkness in the valley of the shadow of death.

 

Healing Through the Valley. Dan & Erica Herron, 2014

Thank you for inviting Erica and I to share tonight. She obviously isn’t with me, otherwise I’d look a lot better—due to some recent health issues with 2 of our kids, we had to cancel her trip—which is a real bummer, she’s really the one y’all really need to meet and hear from.

Now, I don’t have any life lessons for you, nothing that refined or sterile. But, I do offer you some glimpses into the story of healing Jesus is bringing about in our life.

We’re driven and ambitious. Two of our hobbies as a young married couple were triathlon training and home renovation.

We’re finding that as our shepherd, God confronts our driveness, gives us glimpses of our weakness, restores our souls by the rest that comes through receiving and depending on Jesus’ presence.

We moved to Bloomington, Indiana 2 years ago to till the ground for a new church and an RUF at Indiana University. We had a core group of 9 people—me and Erica, RUF campus minister Brad Tubbesing and his wife Caroline, and our combined 5 kids, all under 6. We’re like The Goonies of church planting. We prayed, made friends, shared the gospel, strategized, and saw a little community begin in our dining room.

Then— the shadow of death.

On February 8th, 2013 my beautiful, young wife, and wonderful mother to our 3 children was diagnosed with breast cancer. Erica is a doctoral-program-conquering, marathon-running, child raising, strong church planting partner wife. How could this, this word, “Cancer,” apply to her?

Many of you might really want to know, “How did you handle this?”

Many days, early on especially, it felt like we were in the dark, like we were groping for stability, like we were in a labyrinth of a valley. I had to explain to my children that their mommy was sick; in kid-language we had to prepare them for her surgery, for chemo and the loss of her long curly hair, for radiation and the tiredness and soreness that would come. To help our kids, Erica and one of my boys created and illustrated superheroes named “Chemo” and “Radiator,” and at each treatment she wrote a new chapter in an adventure story where these guys rid the world of Dr. Smalls and his evil minions.

Erica wrote of her experience of this shadow: “Right now I’m at a loss for words. I’m being confronted by so many idols and fears. Yet, at the same time I have some peace in knowing that I can trust my heavenly Father and know that regardless, He can be glorified. How do I enjoy God and glorify Him forever while having cancer? Do I really have cancer? Is this really me? Father, I pray that this terrible time would be used in amazing ways. I pray that you would be glorified. I pray that you would deepen my knowledge and understanding of you. I pray that you would expand my heart. I pray, though it somehow feels wrong to ask, but I pray that you would spare my life. Let me be cured and able to see who you grow my children into and how you use my husband. Use this in my life to use me also, but please let me live.

In pouring out his healing, God leads us into the shadow.

So, how did we handle this? How did we continue the work of a parachute plant—how did we survive as a family?

Jesus asserted himself as our refuge. We were so shell-shocked that we didn’t have the capacity to reach out. We could only receive.

That day that we heard the news, Erica and I were at a meeting for the Central Indiana Presbytery. After receiving the call, all the elders and their wives gathered around us, laying hands upon us, kneeling at our feet, anointing our heads with oil, as she and I wept, hands woven together.

They prayed Psalm 23. In surrounding us with his body, Jesus made his presence known, his rod and his staff they comforted us. And, our little sprout of a church, our Presbytery, and this church were Jesus to us, and walked with us into the Valley.

And, all we could do was receive. There was no ambition, there was no drive, there was no “handling it.” There was only frailty and weakness and need.

In leading us into the shadow, God forms us into receivers of his healing.

And, this is where we encountered rest through dependency on Jesus’ Spirit. John Owen wrote of this, “Affliction is part of the provision God hath made in his house for his children… for in our afflictions we find our need of the consolation of the Holy Ghost.”

Receiving this healing consolation of the Holy Spirit it deepened our repentance and faith. We discovered our drive to enmesh our identities in cancer—I felt an impulse to assert my new status as “wonderful supportive cancer husband” as my claim to righteousness and glory. And, Erica, she felt the pull of others’ expectations, and a compulsion to see even cancer as that thing that grounded her identity.

Being receivers of God’s healing exposes us.

Erica wrote about this too. In November, after her treatments were complete, she reflected through the lens of Psalm 62, writing: “God alone as our refuge applies to everything that comes in life—church planting, Dr. of Physical Therapy, raising children. I do not get to claim a self-righteousness from these things. I also don’t get to claim a glory for how I made it through cancer, how I’ve done chemo and lost my hair…that I endured 7 weeks of radiation… that I worked the whole time… that cancer is now a part of my story. I do not get my righteousness from being a cancer survivor. I want to claim this, but this is not my glory to claim. On God alone rests my salvation and my glory. It is my story, not someone else’s…It shapes who I am but it does not make me better or worse. God alone is my mighty rock, my refuge. In him is my identity.”

Erica was really the one who named our church—Hope. While we were driving to a chemo treatment. She saw this as what our city needed because it’s what she needed, what I needed—Hope. Hope of rest for our souls in Jesus.

God’s healing comes only through the Valley of the shadow of death. It’s in the shadow where the presence of Jesus is most intimately known, where our idols were confronted, where all of our supportive scaffolding of ambition was stripped away, where Erica and I were formed into a receiving and depending people who really know the salvation and glory of God. It’s our faith-clinging to this living hope where we are becoming receivers and ultimately mediators of this healing to our place.

We’re still ambitious. Erica just finished training for a half-marathon, HopePres began weekly services at the end of March. But, this ambition has less and less of a grip on our identity as we find rest in being receivers, and members in a community of need like this one, like this one, is called to be.