The God Anthology: A Modern Day Cathedral

The first cathedrals were built as instruments of worship.  They were intended to honor God through their excellence—as He deserves the best we can offer—and to inspire awe through their grandeur—reminding visitors of the greatness of God.*

Today we often view things like cathedrals as frivolous. It seems almost obscene to spend so much time, money, and effort on a building when there is such great need in the world. Shouldn't we rather care for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and advocate for the voiceless?

Yes, we must do these.  If there's one thing that my generation of Christ followers has done better than my parents' generation, it's just that.

But in Scripture we read the story of a woman who takes a bottle of perfume worth a year's wages and pours it over Jesus' head. When those around object that the money should rather have been used to help the poor, Jesus tells them to "Leave her alone" and asks "Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me."

"She has done a beautiful thing to me."

She met no tangible need, served no practical purpose.

And yet Scripture says:

She did a beautiful thing... to Jesus... the Son of God... Creator of all that exists.

God: big, mysterious, powerful, holy, faithful, wrathful, sovereign, merciful, beautiful, jealous, love...

...and because of all of those things, worthy. He is worthy of a jar of ointment worth a year's wages. He is worthy of grand monuments. He is worthy of being worshiped with extravagance and seeming frivolity.

I fear this may be something that my generation has forgotten. We've elevated our acts of service and unrooted them from a profound understanding of the magnitude of our Creator and our primary purpose in life: to glorify the Almighty.

We've made our God small enough that small acts of worship are sufficient.

NCC spent last summer exploring nine attributes of God's character. We preached sermons on them. We discussed them in our small groups. We sang original music about them.

When the summer was over we held a church-wide event (no small feat when you're one church with seven locations) where we worshiped in song with the pieces that our musicians had written, and we recorded the event in order to produce a live album.

It was a huge undertaking. The amount of staff time that went in to writing the songs and orchestrating the event was incredible. The amount of money that was spent renting facilities and equipment, hiring production staff, and paying music producers was significant.

There have been times when I've asked myself, "Was it really worth it? Was it really worth all of the time and money and headache to record some songs?"

But what I've come to realize is that these aren't just "some songs." This album is a modern day cathedral. It is an alabaster jar of ointment.

These songs were written by our worship leaders—people who are committed to excellence in their craft—assisted by our discipleship staff—people who are concerned that we speak truthfully and accurately about God. They were performed by our mostly volunteer musicians who gave up a great deal of their summer to practice. They were sung by our congregation who spent their summer learning about and reflecting on the attributes of God in light of the studies led by our small group leaders and the sermons delivered by our teachers.

People gave their best to create their best music, their best art, to glorify God as best as they could.

It was an extravagant act of worship, undertaken because God is worthy of extravagance.

The album releases next week. I'd encourage you to visit this modern day cathedral.

*I recognize that many cathedrals were built with mixed, if not outright wrong, motives.  However, I believe that many cathedrals were built with the intention of bringing God glory.,_basilicas_and_abbey_churches#cite_ref-Wim_4-1

Dr. Eric Mason – Advance the Church – How the Gospel Changes Our City and Community

Titus 3

There has been a resurgence in cities of a desire to cities be transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It’s not a new idea, but it’s been on fire.  So in an effort to get to that, many of us get to service projects to try to do that without understanding the centrality of the Gospel as the means to transformation.

Titus is great because it’s basically Paul telling his disciple how to do it.

Titus was a disciple of Paul.  Something happened where Paul had to leave.

Their church plant process was to preach the Gospel, disciple them for a couple of years, the you begin appointing elders.  So Paul tells Titus that he left him in Crete to appoint elders.  So Titus is about how to develop a community in Gospel stability so that once the apostles leave the community is able to carry on the glorious legacy of the Gospel.

So chapter 1 talks about how leadership should be humble.  Chapter 2 he begins to tell Titus to teach in accordance with sound doctrine.  Sound is where we get our hygiene from, to inspect someone and give them a clean bill of health.  He wants them to teach sound doctrine that brings health into community. Then he tells Titus to teach the older women to teach the younger women.  He doesn’t want Titus teaching the younger women.  Then he tells Titus to teach the young bucks.

So in chapter 3 he starts in on mission.  So we’ve got qualified leadership, a discipleship culture, and finally a missiological theology centered on the Gospel.  The gospel motivates us to serve our cities.

He reminds them to be obedient to the rulers and authorities of the city, the civic authorities.  He’s saying I want you to begin by God’s grace to serve the city that you’re in.  But he uses the word hupataso.  I want you to be subject or submissive to these leaders.  What’s interesting is that htese leaders were not the best leaders on the planet. You think we’ve got problems?  Verse 2 says to speak evil of no one.  For some of you to shut your mouth would be missional.  There’s two types of people in the church: Republicans and Democrats.

We need to posture ourselves as servants rather than having unrealistic expectations of leadership.

We also see next a beautiful, beautiful thing.  He tells him to be gentle and show courtesy towards all people.  The Gospel motivates us to be missionally empathetic.  Many of us act like we saw sin in our leadership for the first time.  We forget the state we were in when Jesus found us.  We were walking with the prince and power of the air.  But I’m so glad that God sent Jesus in the incarnation.  Don’t forget the work that God did to save us.

We like to make Christian bubbles.  I worked at a church that had a bowling alley, movie theater, and arcade.  We like to be in our Christian culture where we don’t have to be around the world. In other words, let’s slap Christian on everything so we can feel good about it.  I’m not saying go out and watch a porn movie so that you can contextualize the Gospel to porn culture.  But let’s stop escapism.

You’ve got to nuture in your community a love for the people who are broken.  That means you have to love them first.  They can’t just be pew warmers to satisfy your ego.  You must love them.

Around my church there are drug dealers, brothels, middle class, upper class, blue collar, white collar.  God had to ask me, “Do you really love these people?  Or do you just want things to look nice on the website?  Do you want to transform your city?”  We know how to market impact, but we don’t know how to create impact.  Do you love lost and broken people?

Paul usually gives you the theology of something first and then gives you the way it’s fleshed out.  He usually gives you orthodoxy and then orthopraxis.  But in this passage he flips that.  What he’s going to begin to do is show you that the Gospel is not social but it has sociological implications that flows from and results in the Gospel.

What Paul begins to do is point to the work of God, according to God’s loving-kindness. God is an eternal philanthropist.  God called us to salvation based on his desire to execute his ministry and mission through human beings who are redeemed by him.

The Gospel demands the removal or correction of those who distract the Church from Gospel mission.  Titus 3:9: avoid foolish controversies, dissensions…  If you’re doing the work of God, you’re going to go through warfare, and it’s often going to come through those who look like Christians.  It’s telling us to spiritually clock those who are insubordinate.  What they do is try to cause theology to distract missiology.  That doesn’t mean we don’t like theology, we just don’t let the things that are non-central distract from what was essential.  They try to supersede the ecclesiological authority that God set up.

Next he says, but let our people learn to devote themselves to good works so as to help cases of urgent need and not to be unfruitful.

We need to have a theology of prayer, a theology of presence, and a theology of peace.

Prayer is praying for your city for it’s benefit, but which also benefits the prayer.  If you want to reach your city, you need to pray for your city.  I don’t care how manly you think you are.  You need to pray for you city.

You must have a theology of presence.  You have to actually be there in the city.  You have to be able to interact incarnationally with the realities of what’s happening in the city.  Jesus had to be made like his brothers in every sense.

You have to have a theology of peace, seek the shalom of the city.  Shalom is the restitching of things back to God’s original design and redemptive design in Jesus.  How can our ministry to this city by God’s grace create trailers of a movie that’s coming.  A trailer drums me up and makes me excited.  But I’m seeing a preview without seeing the reality.  God calls you to do something that shows the city the Gospel.

We’re building a playground in our very rough neighborhood to provide a safe place for children.  It has a dual function.  It has a civic function, but it also has a missiological function.  It’s a third place where people can experience the Church.

We do organized outreach:

  • We are here outreach.  Jesus is on the scene, doing work.
  • We want to know you outreach.  We just spend time with people.  This is what Jesus does when he’s hanging in Matthew’s crib.
  • We want to see your Kingdom come outreach.  This is investment in the community.  And connecting all of those things to the Gospel.  We can relate it to the story of redemption history.  Things weren’t created like this.  They fell, but they’re being restored.

The first thing God wants to change is not the city but the souls of human beings.

Church Shopping

The phrase “church shopping” is used derogatorily to describe the typical process of trying to find a church. People go from one church to another to find the one that “feels right,” “meets my needs,” or provides “solid Biblical teaching and good music.”

I was sitting in a class seven years ago when a professor told me that it’s not about a church meeting your needs but about being where God calls you, and I still firmly believe this.

However, I don’t think God always e-mails us a Google map with the address of the church we’re supposed to attend. So, how do we pick a church when we don’t know where God is calling us? I’m not even convinced that He always has a particular place in mind. He may not care if you go to First Baptist or First Methodist.

Perhaps we’re supposed to be in the place where we can best serve. Maybe instead of asking if a church meets our needs, we should ask if the church is a place where we can radically advance the Kingdom of God. That may be a church that is growing, dynamic, and has a lot of resources, a place where we can come alongside and support a great ministry. It may be a church that is struggling and needs a particular gift, talent, or resource that God has given us.

I’m reading Unstoppable Force by Erwin McManus, and a line from that book inspired this post. “Our motto degenerated from ‘We are the church, here to serve a lost and broken world’ to ‘What does the church have to offer me?'”

Chasing Daylight

A few weeks ago I finished reading Chasing Daylight by Erwin McManus with a group of guys from my church. The premise of the book is that we need to seize our divine moments, to grab hold of the opportunities that God puts in our path and to make opportunities when they are not readily apparent. The primary illustration in the book comes from 1 Samuel 14. In this chapter Samuel explains how Jonathan, the son of the king of Israel, and his armor bearer climbed up a cliff (or mountain, hill, etc.) to reach a Philistine army outpost. Jonathan and his armor bearer killed twenty Philistines and started a chain of events in which the Israelite army routed the Philistines.

What makes this story so interesting are the circumstances under which Jonathan decided to act. So often we want God to speak in a booming voice, giving us explicit instructions about what we are supposed to do next, but God doesn’t always work that way. In 1 Samuel 14:6, Jonathan says to his armor bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.” He didn’t have an assurance from God that everything would be okay. God didn’t give him a 10 point battle plan. Jonathan did what he believed was right, and God honored his faith and his action.

We see a similar story in Judges 6 and 7. God told Gideon that Gideon would save Israel from the Midianites, and so Gideon went to fight the Midianites with an army of 32,000 men. But God said that Gideon had too many and sent 22,000 of them home. God said that there were still too many and left Gideon with a mere 300 men…

…and no plan.

While had God very clearly told Gideon that he would conquer the Midianites, God didn’t spell it out. He simply told Gideon to go fight and then took away 99% his fighting force. Gideon had only 300 men left, and we have no record of God telling him how to defeat the Midianites with such a small complement. Gideon had to forge ahead into battle, trusting that God would fulfill his word. While the Israelite army surrounded the Midianite camp and blew trumpets and broke jars, God caused the men in the Midianite army to turn on one another, delivering the army into Gideon’s hands.

What has God told you to do? Is there something that He’s laid on your heart? Has God given you a passion for AIDS victims, for underprivileged children living in the ghetto, for the homeless, for prisoners, for victims of war, for battered women, for the fatherless? Are you waiting for God to tell you exactly what to do next before doing anything at all? Have you been sitting on this passion for years without taking any action? Perhaps God isn’t going to tell you what the next step is. He might not spell it all out for you.

Even if you don’t feel like there’s any one particular thing that God wants from you, there are plenty of things that He has already told us to do: feed the hungry, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, care for widows and orphans, preach the Gospel. I don’t think God is going to get mad at us for doing the things that He has already commanded. If you start a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen or a prison ministry that changes the lives of many, I have a hard time picturing God coming down on your head because you missed His “true calling” for your life.

Perhaps the opportunities that you need to seize are not (on the surface, anyway) so lofty as these. If God has given you a passion for art or music or writing or whatever else, don’t let that passion go to waste. Glorify God by being a good steward of the skills and talents he has given you, don’t simply let them rot away in the ground.

Chasing daylight is risky. You run the risk of failure. We’re not going to succeed (by our definition of the term anyway) every time we step out in faith. Even when God specifically asks something of us, there’s no guarantee that we will achieve our goals. God may have other plans for our work. Perhaps your undertaking will serve only to teach you a lesson that God wants you to learn. Perhaps God wanted you to do it for the benefit of one person, and in this life you may never know what a success your “failure” was in God’s economy.

Perhaps one of the greatest examples of a “failure” is the ministry of Jim Elliot. Jim Elliot, along with several others, was a missionary to a tribe in Ecuador that had previously had very little contact with the outside world. Jim and several of the men with him were killed by members of the tribe, and if you stop the story there, it seems as if Jim’s life was wasted. But the fact is, the story does not end there. Jim’s wife and daughter later went back to work with that same tribe and led many of them to a relationship with Jesus. Jim Elliot looked like a failure, but he died chasing daylight. And his work laid the foundation for Elisabeth and Valerie Elliot to carry out the dream that God had placed in him.

In fact, the redemption of mankind looked to be a failure when Jesus was crucified. The hope of all the world was dead. Because we know the end of the story we easily forget the desperate situation that the disciples faced when Jesus died. They couldn’t just read ahead three paragraphs to find out that everything turned out all right. The very Son of God seemed to have failed, but three days later, Jesus rose from the grave, having conquered sin and death.

I don’t have enough minutes left in my life to let them go to waste. Many of you know that God called me into ministry years ago when I was in high school, and you may also know that when I graduated from college I didn’t have many opportunities to fulfill that calling. But on Good Friday of this year, God renewed that call on my life. After months of trying to figure out how what to do next, I was presented with the opportunity to do a one-year internship program at my church. It was a hard decision. God didn’t come down and tell me to take it, and as excited as I am about the program now, initially there was part of me that really didn’t want it.

This will be my fifth internship in a church or ministry, and I had to swallow a lot of pride to become an intern again. At a point when I likely would have been advancing to a mid-level position I made a decision to go back to the bottom. However, I believe that pride is one of the reasons that God put me on a three year detour after college. He has been teaching me the hard lesson of humility. It doesn’t matter if I’m in charge or at the bottom of the ladder. It doesn’t matter if my name is in lights or no one ever knows who I am. What is important is that God is glorified and that the work of His kingdom is done.

Those of you who are reading this and who aren’t followers of Jesus may think that all of this is a crock of crap. In fact, I would bet that you’ve already stopped reading, but perhaps there is something you can take from all of this as well. I can only imagine that most of you, if not all of you, want more out of life. If you’re like me you are tempted at times to just sit back and watch the world go by, to come home from work, flip on the boob tube, and waste the night away, but isn’t there more than that? Help a child learn to read. Clean up a state park. Serve the families of soldiers who are serving overseas. I believe that total fulfillment can only be found in Christ, but you can experience the joy that comes from serving others. I think that we all know that there’s more to life than our simple lives behind our white picket fences.

So in other words, chase daylight. Seize your divine moments. Take risks. Grab opportunities. “Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.” You might not always succeed, but as Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”