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.

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—