Mark’s gospel is notorious for narrating with urgency. Throughout he uses the word “immediately.” In doing so, there is a direct movement (a bee line, if you will) to the cross. He is at pains to show Jesus’ authority in preaching and teaching and healing. This authority is paramount in understanding why Jesus’ crucifixion matters. These happened all the time, but what is it about this particular “criminal’s” actions that merit his death at a different qualitative level than those that were on his right and his left?

There is an inextricable link between the proclamation of the Gospel and the actions of the Gospel. Preaching without the actions of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is merely a fiction. The Gospel is Good News about a reality…the Kingdom of God among us. Yet, action without the interpretation of those action (i.e., preaching) is short-sighted and passing away.

The Hearing of the Gospel

Why such movement in Mark’s gospel? In 1.38, Jesus gives his rationale for moving from town to town: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” It ought not get lost on us the layers of reason Jesus gives:

Let us go on to the next towns
in order that I may preach
for that is why I came out

Of particular note, we see that Jesus came out to do this. Where was he coming from? From within the synagogue (v.29) and from his private communion with his Father (v.35). It is clear that communion with God must give way to communion with people. The place of learning must give way to action.

We can often content ourselves, and fool ourselves, into thinking that cognitive knowing is equal to true knowing. This way is easier, and we see it all the time. Those that are overly careful in parsing the details of their theology, are oftentimes lax in doing what it says. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey me” (John 14.15). Doctrine must always compel us to go into the highways and byways to love and proclaim the Good News that God offers forgiveness to all those who repent and believe. But we mustn’t stay in the places of learning and parsing for knowledge puffs up but love builds up. Christianity has always been a public faith. Not in an “I told you so” sort of way, but in a disposition of service to others. Instead we say, “God has given me forgiveness and life, and he offers the same for all people.”

The Healing of the Gospel

This integral nature of the proclamation of the Gospel and healing of the Gospel can be seen at the juxtaposition of Jesus’ comment in v.38 and what Mark tells us in v.39: Jesus went out and preached and healed.

These healings are both confirmation of Jesus’ authority as well as a demonstration of who Jesus is: God incarnate. In the Lectionary we read from Psalm 147 and Isaiah 40 that reminds us that God is the Creator of all. He calms the storms and he stoops to give strength to the infirm. What does it look like with God arrives? Freedom for the oppressed. Wholeness to the disintegrated. Strength to the weak.

But from Jesus’ very example we see that the healing of the Gospel is the very manifestation of the Kingdom of God. God’s original Creation had been marred ad broken. When he comes to his creatures, he restores. Freedom and justice and health are freely given.

Two Implications

The purpose of the miracles is to show that in Jesus all Creation obeys its Makers and his original intention for Creation. To be a place free from suffering and oppression. To be a place where humans can reflect the image of God and flourish in the cultivation of the earth and others. The miracles point to the good, original intention of God’s good creation. They lift our eyes up to what it looks like for God’s Kingdom come, his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Our Call to Righteousness

As his representatives on earth, who have been freed from sin and death, he calls us to cultivate his Creation. To be the image bearers we are.

Each of us have gifts and passions. Could it be that God has placed these loves in our hearts so that we can be his representatives of compassion and change on earth? Could it be that your love of finance could be used in service for others to help them balance their checkbook? Could it be that your love for dressing wounds could be used to bring wholeness to others? This service is inherent to who God is as the One who slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

 

We oftentimes look like the preacher who came upon a car wreck. The victim is bleeding and in pain. We share the Gospel of salvation by grace and call them to submit their lives to Christ. The ambulance shows up on the scene and the person dies. We celebrate and are thankful for the opportunity to share this Great News with this person before they died. And then the EMT turns to us and said, “This young lady would have lived if you had just applied pressure to the wound.”

Our Call to Pray for Healing

Too often we put a premium on the spiritual over the physical. We denigrate the very bodies God has given us. We forget that we are redeemed people in spirit and in body. The resurrection of the body. We will be flesh and blood for eternity with our souls.

We cannot get around the fact that Jesus healed people. He heals people. Too often faith healers lay emphasis on the faith, or lack of faith, as to why people are not healed. This misses the point. The healing comes from God’s good pleasure and good purposes. And so, God calls us as his ministers to pray for healing and to expect it. Yes, we have doctors and nurses and surgeons and MRIs and medicine. And God uses these means for healing. We also believe that God can heal without these. We pray and we go to the doctor. But…we still pray and ask for healing.

There is no guilt here. This is a plea for us to expand and experience an even greater joy in giving our lives away. In using these gifts and passions in the service of others. To see God at work in the service. By serving others in God’s strength, our hearts are expanded as we are expended. Laying our lives down for others. As Christ has done for us. This does not earn our salvation, but confirms, demonstrates, and is inherent to our being saved. We obey as a natural overflow of love for God.

To Consider

Where can I speak the truths and beauties of the Gospel to others?

What avenues has God given me to serve others as a demonstration of God’s love for others?

What passions and loves do I have that could meet the needs of others?

Who might I pray for right now who needs physical healing?

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What Is Sunday Worship?

I’m gonna keep this simple, but hopefully not simplistic. As you consider your corporate gathering of believers (typically on the first day of the week), there are three ways to think about it. You can think of it as an event, a participation, or a transformation.

The Event Model can take on two modes: emotionally-driven or cognitively-driven. The emotionally-driven mindset, of course, could baldly mean that you show up to hear some great music and hear a message. You go to watch and experience something. The cognitively-driven mindset could mean that you highlight the sermon so much that it becomes the point of your showing up. You hear this a lot in evangelical churches that the sermon is the most important aspect of the worship experience. The problem with such thinking, though, betrays an onlooker mentality. That is, I go to church to observe and consider and think and have my thinking changed.

In this model, there is an I-Thou expectation of the worship service. I go to that. I consider that. I am separate from and participate in that. In other words, this kind of approach to the corporate gathering is apart from who I am. I go to there. I leave from there. Sure, we talk about taking the message home with us…but come on! You and I both know we forget what was said within 10 minutes of leaving the building. When we are confronted with traffic on the way to the buffet. And then, we get bored. Bored with our lives. Bored with our faith. We find greater joy in our team winning the game than in our eternal salvation won at the cost of the Son of God.

The Participation Model is a little bit better than the event model. This puts the onus on the believer to come to the service seeking to be engaged in other people at church. For all the talk about this being a need in churches, and people nodding their heads in agreement…this does not happen in reality. People cognitively ascend to this truth, but they don’t fully grasp this truth.

If they do grasp a hold of this participation model, it often devolves into judgmentalism (others aren’t as serious about their faith as you are) or complacency (I asked someone how their walk with God is going and they gave me the cold shoulder). So what’s the problem with this model? Write simply it remains in the realm of I-Thou. That is, I bring something to you. I come to serve you. I am apart from and wholly different from you. At its root, it is simply another (albeit more spiritual rendition) of the event model. 

The third, and I believe more biblical model (of course!), is the Tranformational Model. This way of approaching the Sunday morning gathering sheds itself of the event. It doesn’t come in judgment of the service–I didn’t like that song. I liked the sermon. I really engaged with God this morning. Wow, what a wonderful time. Instead, it views Sunday morning as another step in my being conformed into the image of Jesus. It does see it as an event you come to. It is something we participate in. But preeminently it embraces the fact that over time we are being changed by the service itself. 

What does this look like? Well, it understands that every time we attend an event or participate in a service, we are slowly changing. You are much more different from the fifth football game you attended, than the first. You understand the language, the traditions, the cheers. 

So it is with a church service…and this is where it gets a bit thorny. With the typical evangelical liturgy (and it is a liturgy) of two fast songs, two slow songs, a sermon, and dismissal, we are slowly becoming consumers. Or better put, our already-ingrained consumer mentality is reinforced as we observe (and maybe participate). We watch the stage. We critique the songs–or what the song leader was wearing. We sit down and hear someone wax eloquently–or not. 

I fear that much of the problems we see in modern evangelicalism stem from us offering goods and services to people and not inviting them into be transformed. This fact is betrayed in much of the assumptions underlying decisions made on how the liturgy ought to roll. For example, since we need to be engaging and winsome in our communication of the Gospel, we need to play this popular radio song and do a Jesus juke to talk about how real love is only found in Jesus. Of course I’m not saying messages and songs ought to be fuddy-duddy and boring! Stop putting baby in the corner. 

What I am saying is that churches ought to be very clear in what they are shaping their people into becoming. We ought to understand that we are in the business of transformation–from one degree of glory to another. Not filling seats. Not being entertaining and relevant at the cost of depth. 

This is why at Christ the Redeemer, we have been intentional in our liturgy. We believe that the primary purpose of the Sunday morning gathering is the transformation of people. We have an explicit order to our service that follows the biblical storyline of Creation>Fall>Redemption>Consummation. Over time, people’s being is changed. It unwittingly becomes easier to say “I’m sorry, please forgive me” because you are trained to confess your sin every week. You more readily accept forgiveness because you are trained to hear God’s Word of Forgiveness to you after confessing. You more readily come to fellowship with God in spite of and because of your sin because you are trained that at the Lord’s Table you find satisfaction and rest for your souls.

Yes, Sunday morning is an event. But not merely so. It is something we participate in. But not merely so. It is preeminently another step in our being transformed into the likeness of Jesus. The primary goal of Sunday morning is our transformation through intentional liturgies.

Sanitized Christianity

Below is a letter I just sent out to our church. I believe it might encourage and enliven your own faith, and share it with you to that end.

Redeemer,

What a gift yesterday was as we celebrated Pentecost Sunday. As I shared in my opening comments, it is a sad state when the Church doesn’t even know about the glorious celebration of the Spirit’s filling of believers. This is not to chastise other churches. Rather, it is a stiff reminder of why we do what we do when it comes to the church calendar and liturgy. It roots us deep in the rich history of the church. While so many believe they are searching for the new and fresh, it is actually the firm and tried forms the church has been practicing for millennia. Surely, there are dead expressions of this beautiful liturgy. Therefore, we want to know what and why we are doing what we do to safeguard from form without substance. We want to have the skeletal work of the liturgy with the breath of life (read “Spirit”) and muscular reflex (read “walking in the light”).
With that said, as I was preaching I was struck by the beauty of considering the utter power and creative work of the Spirit. As I looked out on our fledgling congregation, it was as if I could see the small band of disciples at Pentecost—only eleven. Yet, being filled with the same Spirit who created the world. The same Spirit who filled the Apostles to speak fervently and with full conviction. This same Spirit lives within us! Have you considered the sheer magnitude of that? Your life is not a mere appendix to the story of redemption. It is a continuation of this magnificent work to go and tell other to come and see. Every conversation you have is alive with opportunity and grace. Every glance. Every moment is resplendent with the glory and presence of God. What would our lives and our world look like with a band of disciples whose lives and decisions revolve around Jesus? Not around vacations and job promotions and being thought highly of by those we so diligently seek approval from.
So much of our Christianity in Greenville is sanitized. That is, we put the Spirit’s work in a box or in a moment. We minimize him. We relegate him to private moments. In fact, he is constantly at work. He gives us every breath we have (remember Psalm 104.29-30?). What our city needs is less concern for our preening and being made much of in the eyes of others. What our city. What our world needs is Christians who really believe, and who live in accord with that belief, that Jesus is always enough. He’s enough for our pain and suffering. He’s enough for our excitement and comfort. He’s enough for my job. He’s enough for my neighbors. He’s enough for my family. He’s enough for me.
May God fill our church with his Spirit so that the watching world will indeed say, “See what way they love one another!”
May the Lord open your eyes to the beauty of his work this week,
Matt

Abiding in Christ?

How do you abide in someone you can’t see or touch or audibly listen to? When Jesus told his disciples to abide in him, was it merely for them or is it something we are called to emulate?

To the first question, Jesus most certainly expected his disciples to abide in him despite not being able to touch him and hear him and see him. After all, John 15 (where the speech comes from) is right before his crucifixion. Too often our faith is wedded to too much wooden-ness in understanding. We veer toward, “Yes, but…” Like Thomas who would not believe unless he put his hand in Jesus’ side, so also our faith is not expansive enough. Blessed are those that have not seen and yet believe–which leads to the second question.

Jesus prayed not only for his disciples in the Garden, but for all those who would hear the Good News from his disciples testimony. When he responded to Thomas that those who have not seen and yet believe are makarios (“blessed”), he had you and me in mind. What we see unfold in Scripture after the Resurrection is the kind of effulgent life he wants us to live…and abiding life.

So how do we abide?

I would suggest three ways.

Keeping His Word

Throughout John’s Gospel and his epistles, Jesus tells us that if we love him we will keep his commands. Like a father who loves his child, like an older brother looking out for his younger brother, Jesus tells us how to navigate God’s world. Do we trust him enough to actually follow his steps?

This explicit teaching is what is called the Revealed Will of God. While God is constantly working in his world for his own purposes, part of that working is his condescension to tell us how to understand his world. That is, unlike the gods of the Ancient Near East, Yahweh determined to tell his people how to live. His Law is gracious and kind to reveal his ways to us.

All the Law hangs on Jesus’ admonition to love God and people.

Throughout the New Testament we see what it looks like to abide in Christ when we hear the Apostles telling people to put others before their own whims and preferences. We see this worked out as the Spirit comes at Pentecost and the Church extends to the uttermost parts of the world.

Led By the Spirit

It is no accident that John 16’s (continued) discourse on the preferment of the Spirit’s coming follows on the heels of Jesus’ command to abide in him. While the Law is gracious and good, we botch it up with our self-seeking and short-sightedness. We need the Spirit of God to guide us into all truth.

As I shared in my sermon on Sunday, there are three witnesses: water, blood, and Spirit. The first two speak to the doctrinal clarity and objective reality of who Jesus is. The third is the subjective application of these truths into the life of the believer.

Unfortunately the Spirit is equated with emotionalism and awkward and outlandish activity by those claiming to be Spirit-led. This is an unfortunate state of affairs, indeed. While the Spirit blows where he will, and does things outside our meager understanding, this does not necessarily mean that his working in incomprehensible or outlandish or alien (more on this in the third point).

What are some ways we can be led by the Spirit?

Well, he inspired the text of Scripture and has clearly spoken there. Go there.

In Ephesians 5.18, we are told to be filled with the Spirit. How? The participles that follow this command tell us how: Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. The Spirit is guiding and directing God’s people. Go there.

It would be good to reflect on each of these four participles and consider how you might be filled with the Spirit in ever-increasing measure. Are you speaking God’s songs over people? Are you singing to soothe the angst in your own heart? Are you grateful? Are you putting others’ needs before your own–considering them more significant than yourself?

Being Attune to God’s Working

One of my charges as a pastor is to help us see God’s continual work in the world. It is easy to wax on about God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence but to deny his power and that this means right here right now. He is not all these characteristics merely in heaven. While you may say, “Obviously!” In fact, many of us affirm these aspects of God yet we live life as though he is not at work in the mundane stuff of life. We talk about him and his superintendent work int he world…but we fail to see his work in my making coffee or standing in line or talking to a stranger.

The shift in our lives happens when we see him always at work. Always. In the mundane. In the suffering and pain. In the exciting. That is God working and shaping you.

Every conversation. Every. Conversation. Is opportunity to hear God speak to you. For him to shape you. Every appointment is a “divine appointment.” He graciously guides our footsteps. The person in the checkout line needs to hear of God’s grace. Your co-worker needs to know that God loves him. The annoying neighbor needs to see God’s mercy. Your family needs to experience peace in your words and actions. These are all God’s ever-present work. His beckoning us to abide in his word and his world.