Monday, October 25, 2010

The Gospel is...

There is much undeniable beauty in this world seen both in the physical world and in the people and animals that fill it. Unfortunately, however, this not the fullness of human experience. There are breathtaking natural landscapes yet there are those ravaged by environmental degradation and disaster. There are nations at peace and there are nations at war. There are communities living in comfort and there are those living in extreme poverty. There are children loved by their parents and there are those sold into slavery. There are the well-fed and the hungry. There are healthy marriages and there are broken homes, divorces, and abuse. There is cross cultural community and there is hateful bigotry. There are those being saved by medical advancement and there are those dying of incurable disease. Our world is broken and in need of saving. It is sick and the Gospel is the remedy.

What if this is how the world is meant to be? What if there is no creator and ultimate reality is just the physical, observable universe? What if a survival of the fittest model is how the world should work? What if societal and physical entropy is our doom? What if there is no God? If there is no God then this experience of brokenness is simply a reality we need to live with. Is there hope in such a world? Human experience would tell us that generation after generation will continue to rise up against one another, that disease and disaster will continue to afflict mankind, and that the lowly and downcast will continue to remain with us and be exploited by those in power. But what if instead we were created by a loving God who desires to be in relationship with us - a God who grieves over the world’s suffering and desires to bring healing to all broken places? In contrast to the bleak god-less vision, the Gospel offers hope through the person Jesus.

Our world is broken and so are we. Who of us has not taken part in giving or receiving this sickness of a broken world? What is this sickness? The bible calls it “sin”. Sin is a word to encapsulate all the facets of brokenness seen in our world, whether it is disease and disaster, injustice and intolerance, or broken communities and broken hearts. We all have this “sin disease.” Man has recognized this and throughout history has sought salvation. Traditional “religions” offer means of seeking solace in this broken world through ritual and good works. Secular “religions” such as the pursuit of wealth, career, and power also seek these same ends. But all means of our own doing fall short and leave us unsatisfied and empty. The Gospel offends us by saying that it is not our striving for God or comfort that will save us, it is the work of Jesus, who came to us, that will cure the sin disease.

...Bad News
If God wants the best for the world He created, then why does this brokenness exist? The truth is, God loved us enough to give us choices that matter, including the choice to obey Him or not. When man chose the latter, sin infected the world. Because God is perfect, He cannot exist with imperfection, an idea the bible calls being “holy”. This may sound harsh but just like a glass of pure water into which the tiniest drop of poison is placed renders the water undrinkable, so God cannot be sullied by any amount of sin, lest He cease to be all good. And so we are separated from God because of our disease of sin. Thus, here is the “bad news” of the “good news”: if we continue in this state of brokenness with God, we will not only miss out on fullness of life now, but in death we will be separated from Him forever, never to experience that which is good in this world and ever to experience that which is evil. This is “spiritual death.” Worse, as just shown, there is nothing we can do of ourselves to heal this wound.

The “bad news” of the “good news” does not reflect a God who takes pleasure in our misery, in fact God is grieved by His children who remain outside relationship with Him and wants for all to be restored. It is because of His justice that He does not mix with sin. Our conscience bears witness to our sense of a need for justice: when we hear of tyrants who oppress, of fathers who beat their families, of criminals who cheat the system, even of close friends who mistreat us, we desire to see justice brought about. If God did not carry out divine justice it would, again, sully His image as a pure and perfect being. And the payment for such sin, which we all carry to some degree, is death.

But the amazing truth of the gospel is that God, the perfect creator, in great love devised a plan to rescue His children from this punishment. The problem was that the punishment must be paid lest God’s justice be offended. And so in love He sent His only son, Jesus, to live a sinless life and to bear our punishment, unto death, the historically documented execution on a Roman cross two millennia ago. But the pinnacle of the good news is in another historical event: three days after his execution, Jesus, the remedy for salvation, conquered death and appeared resurrected before hundreds. Because he won this fight with death, we have hope to be restored to God, our creator and father.

When Jesus rose He didn’t begin another religion, rather He came to inaugurate His spiritual kingdom, a kingdom through which comes access to relationship with God and all its benefits. These benefits bless all mankind, however, access to God comes only through Jesus. And how is this access granted? It is not of our own work. Jesus has paid the penalty of death. There is no ritual and no striving that can bring about salvation from the sin disease...only an acknowledgment of our sinful state, and a trust in Jesus that He indeed paid the penalty, a trust we call “faith.” This is a radical idea, that we do not have to strive to get right with God and put on our best show of worthiness...only in the story of Jesus does God come down to us and meet us in our brokenness and mess, offering healing, not by our works but by his amazing grace.

...Good News for All
Before Jesus left Earth to dwell with God He commanded all those who follow Him to tell the world of this good news. It is God’s desire that the world be saved from eternal separation from Him, something we call hell, and to be restored to fullness of relationship with him eternally, something we call paradise. And all mankind means young and old, rich and poor, men and women, slave and free, and those from every cultural group the world over. This is the good news...will you receive it?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Kinship Design

A sample of how I prepare for leading homegroup...

Hebrews 13:2 ~ Entertain Strangers
"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it."

The Learner Will...
KNOW: We are commanded to practice hospitality.
REALIZE: ~ This is something we easily forget.
~ The Bible provides numerous examples.
RESPOND: ~ Thinking intentionally about hosting Sunday morning.
~ Thinking intentionally about being hospitable with neighbors.

Learning Plan...
HOOK: Question: When is a time you were shown great hospitality? Poor? From or toward strangers?

BOOK: Context: A persecuted Jewish-believer minority.
Two Points:
~ we easily forget to "entertain strangers"
~ Scripture illustrates...

Activity: In groups look up Genesis 18:1-8; 2 Kings 4:8-10; Mark 10:13-16. Mark down all observations and insights related to hospitality. Choose a leader and recorder. Each group will teach the kinship about what they found, with other groups being allowed to respond as they have also looked at the passages. Each insight should begin with, "entertaining strangers is..." and presentation can include other scriptures. As a large group, we will record observation on a large paper.

Connection: Discuss hosting and how this relates...
~ being "on duty"
~ seek out; leave old friends
~ pray during service for outsiders, for Jeff, for one another
~ walk people to Kid's church
~ invite people to join in a meal
~ be knowledgeable about other kinships. Bring people to kinship wall.

Action: Identify with one insight and pray for one another as it pertains to hosting...

TOOK: Challenge - pray for the service throughout the week. Practice hospitality at home!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

One Year Ago...

It's amazing to think that one year ago it was just the two of us going to bed, wondering when Hannah would come. That night we did all we could to encourage Hannah to come on her due date including two laps around the neighborhood complete with Virginia hopping up and down on the curb, all right right before bed!

We had no idea that we were hours from beginning the labor process...and we had no idea how much our lives would change! There have been challenges for sure but so far we are thankful that we can honestly say our experience has been more defined by joy and wonder in God's work of creation. Happy birthday our love!

Hannah waves hello to the world...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Kinship Job Description: Hosting

This job is for the whole group! Too often we take a passive stance toward hosting. Really this is an opportunity for our group to be especially "on duty" in creating a welcoming environment. Whether performing an individual duty or not, all group members should be encouraged to participate as active hosts...

1Pet. 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

On Duty: Hosting is an awesome responsibility! When we host we are both representatives of VCC and of Christ. Aside from individual responsibilities, all have the chance to participate in the following...
⁃ Finding and greeting newcomers
⁃ praying for those in leadership (sermon/music/ kid's chruch)
⁃ praying during the service for God's working
⁃ helping newcomers find kid's church
⁃ being aware of other homegroups to direct newcomers accordingly

Individual Responsibilities
⁃ Snack (2-3 people. The majority of snacks should be healthy...we do not want to support gluttony!)
⁃ Coffee
⁃ Cleaning windows and doors
⁃ Communion (elements under table in foyer)
⁃ Candles
⁃ Greeting
⁃ Trash (after the service)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Finally Fall!

Highs in the low 70's in Augusta and we get to play outside! that means walking lessons for Miss Hannah. She's almost got some full words too...clearly she's saying da-da, right?

The Awesome Sovereign Mystery

A forum post from my Theology class. Below is the prompt. Thanks Alasdair for playing!

Interview the "other side". Interview a convinced Calvinist (if you lean towards Arminianism) or an ardent Arminian (if you lean towards Calvinism).

First I want to qualify this response by suggesting there there need not be "sides"; or at best there need not be only two views. Much like politically we are led to believe one is either republican or democrat, so it seems we can be led to similar theological conclusions regarding soteriology. While helpful for jump starting discussion, seeing only two possibilities, possibilities derived by Western minds nonetheless, could ultimately lead to arrested spiritual and church community development. Anyway...

I suppose if I were to place myself on a continuum, historically I've leaned Arminian. And so I called up my friend, Alasdair, who just graduated from Westminster Seminary in Philly to learn more about the reformed position...

Me: "How did you come to be be reformed? What does it mean to you"

Alasdair: "The one minute answer is...I truly believe with all my heart the God is in control of everything."

The scriptures he went to here were Job 1 when Satan asks God for permission to test Job, demonstrating God's ultimate authority over evil. Further, he went to the story of Joseph in Genesis and the "you meant it for evil, God meant it for good" declaration to show God's sovereignty in all things.

Me: "What's the biggest challenge to the reformed position?"

I expected him to address the problem of evil but instead...

Alasdair: "How to explain human choice and responsibility"

Not what I expected but certainly related to soteriology. Essentially he does not agree with the "middle knowledge" position held by traditional Arminianism. Instead, we came to the conclusion that there is a level of mystery that we must come to accept: God is omniscient and works all things for good, yet our choices still are meaningful. Of course behind this is accepting a strong "Sovereignty of God" position. In the face of mystery all we can do is bow before God and ask for humble and joyful acceptance as a child would accept a parent's explanation for that which they cannot understand.

The big takeaway for me in this discussion is the idea of mystery. We CAN'T know it all, at least not now! Salvation, election, predestination...mystery. Does God want all to come to repentance? Yes. Are there both wheat and tares, some bound for heaven and some for hell? Yes. Do our choices matter? Yes. And so we have a divine mystery... a mystery that I believe can be for our benefit...that none should boast. Lord, what can we do but praise you?

Is. 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
Is. 55:9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

New Backpack

Pictures from our recent family hike at Mistletoe state park near Augusta - Hannah's first in the hiking back pack! We picked it up at a baby consignment sale...originally $200 - we got it for $25. I mean Dang.

Notice the designer boots she's got! (Those are indeed Pedipeds for those who care)

Even getting carried around deserves a snack break...

And a water stop...don't forget to hydrate...and to use sun protection

We had an awesome time...

Soon you're gonna have to earn those boots, Hannah, and carry some of the weight around here. Good thing you're cute! I love my girls and look forward to more family hikes with our new pack...God thanks for a beautiful day in Your creation, and for an awesome family...(Psalm 19)
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