Stretching hearts, shoveling snow and deepening values

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Life is busy. We have appointments, responsibilities, practices, projects, piano lessons and nap times.  So do I.  Especially the nap times. But today is the first day of Missions Week. And in the midst of the busyness of your schedule, I want to invite you to this for three reasons: to stretch your heart, help you shovel snow and deepen our value for mission

Missions Week will stretch your heart. Did you know that we have 31 missionary units from around the world? Tomorrow evening almost every one of them will share their latest prayer requests! You will see their faces, hear their voices and lift up your voices in prayer for and with them. This, of course, follows our Missions Feast which will stretch your stomach as well (which is always good). Missions Feast begins at 6 PM; prayer at 7 PM.

Also, this week will help you shovel snow. Recently I was surprised that I didn’t feel as excited about diversity as some people around me. Why? Diversity can be like snow — those who are most excited about it shovel the least. Those who don’t shovel frolic in the snow with excitement; those who do shovel can also enjoy the snow with satisfaction but not feel as excited. We all need to learn to shovel snow better to engage the diversity before us. Our Restore Missions Conference will stretch your cultural competencies as you engage God in worship on Friday and learn from an all-star lineup of seminars on Saturday. On Friday at 7 PM, bring your children as well for Kids Restore; early childhood will also be ready as well.

Finally, Missions Week will deepen your value for mission. We spend time on what we value, and we value what we spend time on. Those who value physical fitness spend time working out and eating well. Those who value friends or family will spend time eating together and connecting in different ways. As a church, our values are being formed based on the things that we are investing our time toward. Since we value God’s heart for the nations around the world and across the street, let us spend time this year — and each year — celebrating and deepening this value.

So join us — stretch your heart, help us shovel snow and deepen our values.  I am looking forward to being with you this week.

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Valentine, Ashes and Cigars

 

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Today is both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. While the ashes of repentance on Ash Wednesday contrast with the sappy feelings of romance on Valentine’s Day, could there be more than meets the eye? Long before Valentine’s Day was usurped by chocolates and cards, Valentine the man demonstrated gritty and costly love. Defying a ban by the Roman emperor Claudius on marriage, he performed marriages in secret until he was caught and imprisoned. In prison, Valentine tried to convert the emperor, and Claudius sentenced him to death. On Feb 14, around 269 AD, Valentine was beaten with clubs, stoned and beheaded. Instead of a sappy meditation on romantic feelings, Valentine’s Day reminds us of gritty and costly love. So today let us think of ashes and cigars.

First, ashes. Our gritty and costly love ultimately reflects Jesus’ love on the cross, which shines through marriage (Eph 5:25) as well as every Christian who takes up their cross to follow him (Luke 9:23). Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a season when we focus on taking up our cross to follow Jesus. This year I invite you to consider Others over Self. Let us say “No” that we might say “Yes” to more of Jesus and express that in love for others. Just as Valentine responded to Jesus’ love by showing gritty and costly love, may we grow to show that love during this season. This is only possible as we turn from ourselves to Jesus; ashes on Ash Wednesday represent repentance from our self-love to trust in his great love for us.

Second, cigars. This past Advent we placed Others over Self as we sacrificially gave to support a pastors in a church planting movement in Cuba and work for refugee women through Re:new in Glen Ellyn. God’s work through your giving can be seen here in a video post by our C&MA president, John Stumbo. Watch this to get a glimpse of God’s work there through your giving, and you will even get glimpses of our International Workers Tim and Melanie Wendel. Last Wednesday, Tim shared an update from his time there, and at its conclusion he gave me a Cuban cigar! It remains in my office as a reminder of our journey to put Others over Self.

Okay. I tried to weave together Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday and Cuban cigars in one post. I’m not sure how well they fit together. Nonetheless, I do invite you to join us tonight for a special Ash Wednesday service. Our Warrenville pastor Steve Hands will guide us through God’s Word to see Jesus Christ and his work in the world. I hope to see you tonight at 7 PM.

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Unity in Diversity (Genesis 2:18–25)

Community Of Eden 1 - Unity in Diversity

Sometimes we think that the universe would be easier if people were more like us. But God has designed the universe to flourish with diversity, and we cannot fulfill God’s purpose for our lives by ourselves. This week we begin a new series on the symphony of community, exploring the unity of diversity in community. In a symphony different parts contribute to a richly textured whole, and in God’s community different genders and backgrounds work together for a far richer whole. Genesis 2:18–25 shows that since we can’t do it alone, God provides an other to do it together.

Genesis 2:18–20 shows that we can’t do it alone. Humanity has been placed in the garden to work it and keep it, but this work cannot be done alone. God will make a helper fit for him. “Helper” in no way connotes inferior status, for this word primarily refers to God as a strong helper in battle. God’s work is too big to be done alone. Indeed, Gen 1:27 says, “in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” The image of God, expressed in dominion over the earth, can only be accomplished in community as male and female together. So what do we do about this?

Since we can’t do it alone, God provides an other (Gen 2:21–23). Adam neither earns nor deserves Eve; the emphasis in these verses is on God who provides; God causes a deep sleep, takes one of the ribs, closes up its place with flesh, and makes a woman. All Adam does is wax eloquent God’s provision. Gender differences are given by God and good, and only together can we accomplish the purposes that God has designed for us.

But why? God provides an other to do it [his purposes] together (Gen 2:24–25). God has called us to fulfill his calling together, and together demands a cost, commitment, and intimacy. The cost is seen as a man shall leave his father and his mother. Commitment is also critical for community, as a man must hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh  (Gen 2:24). While this primarily refers to the marriage relationship, it also extends to our relationships within the church as well. Together also brings intimacy, as the man and woman were together without shame.

These verses bring with them an avalanche of pressing issues. Some debate gender roles in ministry and marriage. Other wonder whether biology ought always to dictate gender. Yet God’s intention is clear that his purposes are accomplished through our differences together. Since we can’t accomplish those purposes alone, God provides an other to do it together. May we lean into these purposes together.

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Others Over Self

 

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Christ calls us to a cross not a couch. Yet often we want Christ to do for us, believing that Jesus came to make us comfortable. Yet God did not send his one and only Son to a cross to make us comfortable on the couch and listen to good messages on a podcast. Christ calls us to take up our cross and follow him. Yet we take up our cross not as a way of sadistic self-punishment but a way to life; Paul knew that the path to the life of Christ is through the cross (2 Cor 4:8–12; Phil 3:9–11). We need to be reminded of this, and next Wednesday we will begin to focus on our journey through carrying our cross to experience the power of the resurrection.

This year I want to invite us to a simple formula during Lent:

Others
————
Self

This is at the heart of taking up our cross to follow Jesus. As we begin Lent next week, let us in humility count others more significant than ourselves (Phil 2:3). As our church grows with generational, ethnic and economic diversity, then it is increasingly important that we place others over ourselves. When others express their hurt, we respond by listening, understanding and empathy not argumentative defensiveness. When we see the struggles of others, we lend a hand to serve instead of waiting to be served.  What if each day throughout this season of Lent we found ways to place others over ourselves?

The path toward experiencing the power of the resurrection is a path of carrying our own cross. What will you give up this season? Some ideas and more information about the why and how of Lent can be found here. I invite you, though, to begin this season with us next Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, February 14 at 7 PM in Wheaton to place others over ourselves. We will have a time of song, a brief message, space to pray and a chance to receive ashes on our forehead, a physical reminder of the cross that we are called to bear. Childcare through kindergarten is provided; older ages are invited into the sanctuary for this journey togeth

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Ruling on Earth (Rev 5:1–10)

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Imagine an Eskimo trying to describe a pineapple to those in his village after a trip to Hawaii. “Sweet yet juicy blubber” may be his best description.[1] Similarly, the glories of heaven can only be haltingly described by those who have only experienced earth. Books like Revelation (and Daniel) are not literalistic extensions of earthly realities to heaven but portray heavenly realities to a persecuted and beleaguered church on earth. We have been exploring our invitation to express our authority and rule on earth in Psalm 8, Daniel 7, and Matthew 28. How will God establish his people as kings who rule on earth? Revelation 5 shows that despite our failure to accomplish God’s purposes, we see the Lion-Lamb who was slain to make kings and priests who rule on earth through worship and prayer.

First, we see a failure to accomplish God’s purposes (Rev 5:1–4). Despite the failures of the church (Revelation 2–3), God is seated on a throne and holds a scroll with his purposes on earth. Yet this scroll cannot be opened and purposes cannot be accomplished because “no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or look into it” (5:3). Nobody had the power to accomplish God’s plan. As a result, John weeps loudly (5:4).  Similarly, we sometimes see God’s glorious purposes in His Word but are disappointed by our failures to achieve them or disillusioned by the failures of those we trust. What can we do with this failure?

We must see the Lion-Lamb who was slain (Rev 5:5–7). While John wept, one of the elders shows him the Lion of the tribe of Judah who has conquered and is able to open the scroll (5:5). The glorious purposes of God will take great power to accomplish, and this power is possible through the power of the Lion of Judah. While John hears about a powerful Lion, though, he turns to see the weakness of a Lamb that was slain. Why? The Lion conquers through the weakness of a Lamb that was slain. Similarly, when we fail to accomplish God’s purposes, we must capture a vision of the Lion who conquers through the sacrifice of the Lamb that is slain; we must see Jesus. We fix our eyes upon him because He is able to triumph no matter our disappointment or disillusionment. But, what purposes does this Lion-Lamb accomplish?

The Lion-Lamb is slain to make kings and priests who rule on earth (Rev 5:8–10). Twenty-four elders worship the One who is worthy to open the seals of the scroll and had “made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Rev 5:10).  How will they reign on earth? Through worship and prayer. The twenty-four elders before the throne, representing the people of God throughout the ages (twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles), are each “holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (5:8). Harps represent worship, and as we worship we gain strength to follow the Lamb wherever he goes to conquer through sacrifice (Rev 14:2–5). Bowls represent prayer, which unleash the purposes of God (Rev 10:3–5) to destroy his enemies. It is prayer power, not military power that helps a persecuted church overcome its enemies.

So what?  We must lift up our eyes when we feel disappointed at our failure or disillusioned by the failures of leaders that we trust. We must see the Lion who conquers in power as a Lamb that is slain. He has power to accomplish what we cannot do. And we follow this Lamb wherever he goes with a heart of worship and life of prayer. We conquer not through domination but sacrificial love.

 

[1] Joseph Bayly, A Voice in the Wilderness (Colorado Springs, Co.: David C. Cook, 2000), 261.

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How do you become a Jedi when you cannot find a Yoda?

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When I was younger, I looked for a Yoda to train me and become a Jedi in life. I wanted to be a great leader, Christian, man, pastor and even lift rocks by looking at them. Yet everybody that I wanted to be a Yoda never seemed to have the full package. Some were great leaders but poor fathers, others wrote inspiring books but prayed little, others prayed much but led poorly, and so on. Those who looked most like Yoda were usually so famous or popular or well known that they didn’t have the time to even know my name. So how do we become a Jedi when you cannot find a Yoda?

Yet as I look back, I see that God provided the right mentor for the right area at the right time. When I was wrestling with making disciples who are established on the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:28), Greg Beale’s work on the use of the Old Testament in the New gave a framework to understand how the whole Bible fit together. When I was wondering how to navigate the nuances of culture in an immigrant church, Peter Cha lent his sociological insight and training to provide models to walk me through that. I gained the guts to ask a girl out and learned the patience to be a husband from Gaius. Jin challenged me to love people. I was inspired toward rigorous thinking by Arthur Holmes and trained to read carefully by Mark Talbot. Dave Lee taught me how to organize a church and navigate difficult transitions. Min Chung modeled heart piercing insight from prayerful study. I could go on and on. So instead of Yoda, I found Greg, Peter, Gaius, Jin, Arthur, Mark, Dave, and Min. Those are only the living ones; I could also mention many more who mentored me through their writing.

You don’t need a Yoda to become a spiritual Jedi.  Jesus Christ is our Yoda who trains us through the circumstances of life (Heb 12:7–12) and provides a way out in the face of our temptation (1 Cor 10:13). Jesus Christ works through his body, the church; even the apostle Paul is trained by Barnabus and Peter and the apostles in Jerusalem at different seasons. We don’t need a single Yoda. God will provide what we need when we need it.

Also you don’t need to be a Yoda to mentor others. Your unique experiences and journey can help a person in a unique manner. You don’t have to be perfect. But Jesus Christ can and will use you in a particular way.

On another note, I am encouraged that a man who has mentored me and helped me understand the multiethnic church more than anybody else will be joining us during our Restore Missions Conference. Dr. Peter Cha, a Professor of Church and Culture at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School will give a seminar on “11 AM Sunday Morning: Moving from a Church Divided to a Church United by Faith.” He has served on the Board of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship and has led in this area for seminaries and Christian colleges for decades. This is in addition to a wonderful slate of seminars for Saturday evening; more information at www.refuelrestore.com.

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Ruling as the Church (Ephesians 1:15–23)

Ruling 02.04.18

What’s your greatest hope or dream?  Consider your future, your children, the nation, our church. Jesus is able to far more abundantly than all that we ask or think (Eph 3:20). Your greatest hopes are far too small. Sometimes we feel our hope crashing with the state of our children, the state of our future, or the state of our nation. Yet in Ephesians 1 we see that Jesus offers hope (15-18) and power for change (19-21) in every facet of our lives (22-23). The authority of Jesus is not relegated to the four walls of church on Sunday morning, but unite ALL things in him, even our homes, workplaces, and nation.

Jesus offers hope (Eph 1:15–18) to unite heaven and earth. This short video best describes this hope: https://thebibleproject.com/explore/heaven-earth/. As the Holy Spirit brings into our possession the inheritance that we have received (1:13–14), Paul prays that the Spirit would open their eyes to hope: 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 (1:18). This hope fulfills God’s plan to unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth (1:10). God’s plan is bigger than my personal well-being, than whisking my soul to heaven, than the four walls of the church. God’s plan encompasses every square inch of all of creation to bring the glory of heaven into the brokenness of every square inch on earth.  Therefore our hope is more than the salvation of our souls but the healing of every square inch of creation.

Yet hope without power brings despair; Jesus offers hope and power for change (Eph 1:19-21). This power is so great that it raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion (1:20-21). No matter how impossible it may seem to fulfill the hope that we see, the power that raised Jesus from the dead is enough to fulfill this hope. God’s power has not only raised Jesus from the dead but also seats us with Christ in the heavenly places (2:6). No matter how great the power that seems to rise against us, Jesus has power to bring about change.

So what difference does this make? Jesus offers hope and power for change in every facet of our lives (1:22–23). All things have been placed under Jesus’ feet, fulfilling Psalm 8:6 (which amplifies Gen 1:28), and this authority is expressed through the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (1:23). The authority of the church is not only expressed in the four walls of the church, but it spreads to the four corners of all of creation. Jesus Christ has ascended into the heavens to fill all things with his glory (Eph 4:10), uniting the heavens and earth torn asunder by sin. Therefore we can have confidence for change. Jesus changes our hope and gives us power for change in every facet of our lives.

So what? We must not lose hope. The dominion given to Adam in Eden (Gen 1:28) is expressed through Christ exalted in the church. And we must not shrink back from what sin and satan have destroyed. We rise up in hope through the power that seated Christ in the heavenlies to overcome in every facet of our lives. Indeed, all of creation is groaning and waiting for the revealing of the children of God to exercise their authority (Rom 8:19) because the God of peace will soon crush Satan under [our] feet (Rom 16:20).

 

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