Hearing the Music

Engaging God's World

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Last week we began a look back at some of my previous posts capturing the Gospel ethos that we are striving after at Christ Church. This week we focus on engaging the world around us.

One of my favorite hymns growing up was This is My Father’s World. For some reason, as a boy I connected with the truths expressed in that hymn, both the beauty of of creation that declares the glory of God, as well as the absolute sovereignty of the Lord over his world. For today I want to think about our Father’s world as the arena in which we begin our response to the Gospel, picking up from last week in our attempt to articulate who we are as a church.

Enlivened by the Gospel, we will Engage God’s world with winsomeness ...

Last week we started with Enlivened be the Gospel with regards to who we are and in turn how that informs how we live. And of course where we live is our Father’s world, this wonderfully created cosmos that shows forth his splendor day by day. As humans we are are the crowning point of his creation, a status that we as Christians share with every other human walking the face of this earth. It is this shared status within our Father’s world that gives shape to the service of the redeemed. First, we are to love the world that he has made. The birds with their carols, the morning light, the lily white, they all declare their maker’s praise. How can we turn our backs on that which God has endowed with such beauty? This comprehensive care for the world is not limited to creation, but also extends to the social systems developed by his image bearers. The care for creation and the development of creation result from the cultural mandate to tend the garden and keep it (Gen. 2:15) and fill the earth and subdue it (Gen.1:26-28). Second, we are to love the crowning point of his creation, namely his image bearers that inhabit his world. There exists within humanity an incredible equality. We all, regardless of our ethnic background, social status, or religious convictions are made in his image. There is no room in our Father’s world for looking down our noses at those who are different than us, either ideologically or ethnically.

If the world is a theatre of our living out the Gospel, what is the manner in which we do so? Two things stand out. First we engage. To engage someone one is to attract their attention or establish a meaningful connection with them. As those ravished by the Gospel, our great desire is to share the good news with those who are not living with the benefit of Gospel resources. Or as others have put it, as beggars who have found bread, we want to share the good news of where to find bread with other beggars. This is the church scattered. At home, at work, in our neighborhoods, community centers, grocery stores, school systems, retirement homes, or wherever God had planted us in his world. We look to engage. We engage informally on our own time and in our own ways. We engage more formally as a church community, inviting, advocating, sharing, always with the Gospel at the center. Secondly, because it is the Gospel that we are engaging the world with, we can always do it with winsomeness. The Gospel is a heart-achingly beautiful story. It is a warm sunrise after a cold night. The Gospel overflows with grace and truth. It is accurate that to some the Gospel preached will be the odor of death (2 Cor. 2:15,16) and that is the message of the Gospel falling on hearts dead set against it, but it is not the manner of our messaging that offends. When it comes to engaging God’s world we must be very careful of being "angry Christians”. A careful reading of scripture reveals that God’s anger is most often reserved for His people who should know better, while a gracious hand is extended to those who are outside of his grace.

And so we build an ethos, one that starts with the Gospel, and then looks to live that Gospel in our Father’s world.

Our journey through Philippians brings us to Chapter 2:1-11 this Sunday. It is the preeminent winsome engagement of the world as Jesus left heaven to take on human form and become obedient to death on a cross. The glory of this Gospel on display.

May God grant us his grace.



Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

Enlivened by the Gospel (2)

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This past weekend we spent some time on retreat and in our worship services reminding ourselves of who we are in Christ and what makes our faith community tick. Several years ago the session sought to capture these core values through the statement: "Enlivened by the Gospel, Christ Church will Enjoy God with worship, Embrace God's family with welcome, and Engage God's world with winsomeness". Over the next four weeks, I want to bring back some reflections I wrote in 2016 on each of these values. Today's installment is "Enlivened by the Gospel"...

Being back in GR and being relatively new I often get asked about our church. Where is it? What is the PCA all about, etc.. ? So after I explain that the church is located on Breton, north of 28th street — and then to clear up their confusion say, “behind the drive-in church” — I endeavor to explain what makes us tick. Articulating what makes us tick is actually a conversation that we have been having on the Session level. How do we best capture who we are in a way that honors the past, reflects the present and points us to the future? I want to take the next couple of weeks to share with you some of the fruits of those labors. For those that have been at Christ Church for some time you will recognize a lot of continuity. Ideas like “where we see the world through the cross of Christ” will resonate, as will "reach up, reach in, reach out”. But as we move forward into the next phase of the journey that God has us as Christ Church on, it is our belief that a fresh articulation of these old themes would be helpful in uniting old and new alike and galvanizing us in the service of the Kingdom.

So where do we start? Where else but with the Gospel. The starting place we have chosen for describing who we are as a community is this "Enlivened by the Gospel..." Let’s take this statement apart for a minute, starting with the term Gospel. The Gospel is the good news (for all who will humble themselves in repentance) that though we are more broken and sinful than we can imagine, through faith in the atoning work of Christ we are more forgiven, loved and accepted than we ever dared hope. As you can see the Gospel is good news for individuals. As Jesus said to Nicodemus many years ago, “you must be born again”. The promise of the Gospel is that through faith in the finished work of Christ we are reborn, converted as it were from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light (Col. 1:13). This is great news, and it is even better in that the Gospel is not only good news for individuals but it is also for communities, cities, indeed all of creation! We will look more into this in coming weeks.

But it is important to note that the Gospel is more than just the starting point for entry into the kingdom; it is actually the prism through which we see and evaluate every aspect of our lives, returning again and again to the truths of the Gospel for guidance. Why did Peter, a mature believer, get off track in his treatment of the Gentiles? Because he was not walking in accordance with the truths of the Gospel (Galatians 2:11-14). We start in the Gospel and we stay in the Gospel. We don’t ever graduate beyond the Gospel. I hope you recognize this as foundational to who we are as a church. Preaching, teaching, counseling, worship, fellowship, service; everything is informed by the good news of God’s truth and grace, the Gospel.

Also note the term Enlivened. This is a passive term, i.e something that is done to us. All of us by nature are conceived and born in sin (Ps. 51:5). The apostle elaborates on that by saying we are dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1, Col. 2:13). I trust that all of you know you don’t walk into a morgue and cry for the dead to rise. If the dead are to be brought to life, an outside force has to be brought to bear, they cannot do it on their own. And God through his Holy Spirit has brought about this miracle in his people, where there was death there now is life. But “passive" does not mean powerless, for where that life has begun it is continually enlivened by the ongoing work of the Spirit. This Gospel life does not only convert us and make us God’s, but it empowers us to live as brightly shining stars (cf. Philippians 2:15).

So what is special about Christ Church? Nothing in and of itself, but we are a community infused and enthused with the Gospel and that is something worth shouting about. It is this Gospel wonder that we want to share with as many as we can!

While that is 5 years old, it still excites me! There is nothing better than a life transformed by the Gospel. This is what we are currently being reminded of in Philippians. We are partners in the Gospel, partakers of grace, called to live a life worthy of that Gospel. This week, Lord willing, we will see how Paul captures this singular, Gospel focus -- to live is Christ, to die is gain.


Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

Flourishing in the Land

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What does a community that knows the mercy and grace of the Lord look like?  We find a great picture of just this type of community in the book of Hosea:

I will be like the dew to Israel;
he shall blossom like the lily;
he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon;
his shoots shall spread out;
his beauty shall be like the olive,
and his fragrance like Lebanon.
They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow;
they shall flourish like the grain;
they shall blossom like the vine;
their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.          (Hosea 14:5-7)

This is really a remarkable picture buried in the midst of the minor profits.  Here we see a community that is fresh, stable, and vital, growing and spreading out for all to enjoy.  Throughout the ages the church of Christ has been this to the world, through local parish ministry, starting of hospitals, school, orphanages, etc... God's people have provided respite and shade to a weary world, filled the world with beauty through art and music,  and been a place of nourishment for engaging daily life. 

This weekend we will pause with our first all church retreat to dig a little deeper into this picture of the flourishing church.  As a community we want to remember our "first love".  We want to remind ourselves of the promises that are "yes and amen" in Christ.  We want to reconnect as it were to this Gospel-infused power source as God's mission for us as a local church is renewed and refreshed.  So both on the retreat and for those that gather at Breton on Sunday, pray that God would unite our hearts and equip us to be the people he has made us to be.


Photo by jose alfonso sierra on Unsplash

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