Rising Up Against the Disorder of the World

How do we respond to the brokenness of our world? Theologian Karl Barth says, “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”  This past week I’ve been grieved by the evident disorder of our world. The threat of fire and fury because of provocations by North Korea remind me of the inhumane and harrowing devastation that I witnessed as a child in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by an atomic bomb. The events in Charlottesville tear off the scabs of deep wounds from a long history of racial oppression and division in our nation.  How do we pray in the face of such disorder in our world?

First, we pray honestly. Prayer does not plaster bandaids of Christian slogans over bleeding wounds, but prayer honestly brings grief to Jesus. In Wheaton this Sunday and in Warrenville the previous Sunday, Steve Hands shared vulnerably and honestly his own wrestling with the difficult birth of his daughter Mary Grace. Through his honesty expressed through poetry and Scripture in prayer, he found strength and hope to move forward one difficult step at a time through his valley. Honest prayer is critical for grief, whether we are grieving the frustrating reality of ongoing illness, racial division, the possibility of nuclear war, loss of a job, or a broken relationship, or something else. Let us pray honestly over the brokenness of our world.

Also, we pray specifically. Prayer unites the resources of heaven with the brokenness of earth, so the places of our grief can catalyze our pray. And as we pray, our hearts grow to embrace God’s heart. While answers to big  prayers like healing racism and saving the world are difficult to see, we more easily see answers to specific which encourages us to persevere in prayer. As I prepared for my time with our campus in Warrenville, I prayed, remembering specific faces, names and need, and my heart grew with God’s love for those needs. That is why I pray for specific family members, friends, church members and neighbors by name. Specific prayers grows our heart in specific ways,

Let us rise up against the disorder of our world by clasping our hands in prayer. When we are troubled by the disorder of Charlottesville, let us clasp our hands in prayer to God’s kingdom in that brokenness. When we are troubled by the words of our president about these events, let us pray for God-given wisdom and compassion to replace strident and divisive rhetoric (1 Tim  2:1–2). Prayer may not be the sum total of our response to these events, but prayer must be the fount and fuel of our response. Wellspring, may we be a church that prays in the resources of heaven for the brokenness of earth.

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Creation Formed (Genesis 1:1–13)

Even a secular world is haunted by God’s presence. A secular world explains everything in terms of natural, historical causes,demythologizing the miracles of the Bible, reducing revivals to the expression of historical forces and ministry success to marketing principles.[1] Yet in excising magic from the world, all signs of God’s presence can be inadvertently eliminated from the world.[2] Yet this age feels haunted by God’s presence, as people grope for meaning in a secular age.[3] What are we here for? Genesis 1 forms a bedrock to understand why we are here. While the earth was without form and void (Gen 1:2), it is formed (1:1–13) and filled (1:14–31) for God’s purposes. From the primeval waters of chaos, God brings order to the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1) and the chaotic primordial waters (1:2). Dr. John Walton helps us see that the purpose of the account of creation assigns purpose and meaning to God’s creation.[4] This week we will look at Genesis 1:1–13 to see how God formed time, weather and food for His own purposes. As a result we should see the passing of each day, the provision of life and resources all as gifts for himself.

First, God creates time; on the first day, God orders light and darkness into day and night to ordain the passing of time (Gen 1:1–5). God has formed the earth for his own purposes. Even such basic realities such as light and darkness are named by God; “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night” (1:4). Naming is a process of assigning function. The purpose here is not to deliberate the material origins of light in the world but to demonstrate the function of the passing of light and darkness in the passing of time. God creates here time. Time is in God’s hands. This is demonstrated in the passing of festivals in seasons as well as the passing of each day. Time is not ultimately determined by the passing of each day, but time is given its purpose by God.

Second, God creates weather; on the second day, God separates the waters under the expanse from the waters above the expanse (Gen 1:6–8). Since weather was seen to be regulated by this expanse, then the circumstances for all of work and life are thereby regulated and ordered by God himself. For a society dependent upon the irregularity of rainfall, the One who controls the weather is the One that controls everything. As a result, the creation of the expanse above and below show that God is sovereign over the flourishing and growing of the circumstances in our lives. He assigns it its function.

Finally, God creates food; on the third day, God calls forth vegetation and fruit from the vegetation, plants and trees on the earth. And God saw that it was good. All that we depend on for food are created on that first day.

Every moment we depend on time, on weather and food, and the creation account re-enchants our view of time, weather and food as coming from God’s hand. We do not live in a deist’s universe where everything depends upon ourselves while God watches from a distance, but we live in a God-enchanted universe where time, weather and food all come from God’s hand. Every square inch of God’ creation comes from God’s hand!

[1] For the demythologizing of the miracles, see the early work by Rudolf Bultmann who said, “We cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the event of illness, avail ourselves of modern medical and clinical means and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the New Testament (New Testament and Mythology [Fortress, 1984], 4). Nathan Hatch explores the natural historical forces at work in revivals in The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991). Much of the literature on the contemporary megachurch’s embrace of business and marketing principles reduces ministry success to these principles.

[2] Brad S. Gregory, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press, 2012).

[3] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Boston: Harvard University Press, 2007).

[4] John Walton has written a number of books on this subject. Perhaps the best place to start is The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 2009). This builds on his more foundational work in Genesis (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), and it is elaborated more fully in Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2011). Much of the exegetical insight here builds on his important work.

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Trellis and Vine

trailing-vines-landscape-traditional-with-covered-walkway-pergolas

The organic growth of a vine must happen along with the structural development of a trellis; too much trellis hampers the growth of a vine, inadequate trellis prevents the flourishing of that vine. Similarly the organic growth of the church (vine-like growth) must happen along programmatic (trellis-like) lines.*

Vision must be implemented among structural and programmatic lines. In this coming year we want to connect Sunday mornings more clearly and organically to the home groups. We want to drive the energy of Sunday mornings into the real community that is cultivated in home groups, and we want to strengthen the community of our home groups by stepping together into missional opportunities around us.

Currently, our small home group structure is growing, but our medium group structure in Wheaton is weak. People need to feel connected to something larger than a home group without getting lost on Sunday mornings. Groups of around 150 make it small enough to feel known and responsible while large enough to make a difference in some limited ways.

Warrenville

In many ways, Wellspring Warrenville already functions like a healthy medium sized group. Its organic and abiding ministry to its geographical community can be seen through Trunk-N-Treat, Christmas Sharing, Block Party and VBS. Relationships built with the community over years through softball and intentional outreach through home groups have driven recent growth in the church. A very high percentage of people are engaged actively in serving and community in Warrenville. The Showalter home group spends one meeting a month ministering to the community through the food pantry, one meeting a month having a potluck to invite friends from the community, and two meetings to study and pray for one another. This home group has been a platform for people to capitalize on the relationships built through softball and invite them to the church, and a number of those people are now actively involved in Warrenville.

Wheaton

How do we multiply this dynamic amidst our growth in Wheaton? How can we partner home groups together to embrace the needs of our area together? How do we maximize relationship as we work side by side on a cause greater than ourselves? As we grow larger, we must also grow smaller. We must grow smaller as we own the vision that God has given to us, even as we navigate the unique challenges of diversity.  Relationships from diverse backgrounds blossom and flourish when we partner together on something bigger than ourselves. Kids Camp in Wheaton demonstrated the power as different generations and backgrounds gathered to serve the children of our community together. Let us consider how we might step into the needs of our community together with our home groups and explore how we can partner with other home groups in order to see the beauty of Christ shine brightly in our area.

Returning to our trellis illustration, we want to strengthen the trellis of our home groups to see people anchored in home groups. And in the coming year we want to explore how we might begin to develop trellis for medium sized groups, how different home groups might partner together for the kingdom.

* See further Colin Marshall, Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mindset that Changes Everything (Kingsford, Australia: Matthias Media, 2013).

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We are Refined (Aug 13 sermon summary)

by Pastor Steve Hands

There’s a strange tendency in the church to plaster over our hurts and wounds, and pretend that everything is ok. Part of us fears what people would think of us if we gave voice to our doubts and pain. Part of us fears the wounds that can come from unhelpful helpers and unwise counselors. But our calling as a church related to suffering is clear. We follow Jesus, the suffering servant, who called us to carry our crosses. We are to lose our lives so we can find them. For the world, suffering is pointless. But as the church, we offer to each other and the world the good news that while during suffering God may seem distant, God redeems all (Job 23:3, 8-10). Suffering for us is not pointless. Our suffering is refinement.

First, in the valley of the shadow of death, God may seem distant (Job 23:3, 8-9). It’s a mistake to think the Christian way to handle suffering is to put on a smile and pretend everything is ok. The Bible is replete with examples of heartfelt cries to God for rescue and desperate pleas for the experience of God’s presence when he seems distant.[1] At this stage, if we are going through the suffering, it is better for us to be as honest as we can with God and others. And if we are close to someone who is at this early stage of suffering, it is best for us to weep with those who weep and acknowledge and accept the deep pain. Just as the Son of God became incarnate and entered into our suffering and brokenness, our first step is to suffer alongside each other and care for each other’s needs as best we can.

Second, God’s apparent distance doesn’t last forever. In the end, he wastes no experience, but redeems all (Job 23:10). The great hope of the church in suffering is in the power of God’s compassionate, sovereign hand to redeem any situation for our good (2 Cor 1:8-9), or other’s good (2 Cor 1:3-6). We may never see how God accomplishes this for us, or perhaps only in hindsight. But if God redeemed even the death of his Son, then he can perfect his power through our sufferings as well (2 Cor 12:9-10).

Every Sunday is the middle of someone’s dark night of the soul. We are called as a church to honestly bring our suffering to the Lord, crying out with the psalmists, prophets, and apostles for his rescue, holding fast through the storms to the promise that God can and will redeem all. As God strips out our dross through the refining fires of suffering, we can helpfully comfort those who are in the middle of their own fires. We are called as a church to follow the suffering servant in his suffering to bring hope to our

[1] See Job, Israel in Egypt, David in the Psalms, Elijah in the wilderness, Jeremiah in the pit, Jonah in the sea, Jesus in the Garden and on the cross, Paul in 2 Cor 1 & 12, etc.

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Challenges of Community and Growth

2017.07.23 We Are Servants - P Mitch Kim.key

Our Issue 

As I listened to Phil Vischer’s message on community from Ephesians, I wondered, “So must the church return to his grandfather’s day in Muscatine, Iowa? Is that the answer?” He insightfully connected the struggles of the church to the decline of community in America in general. Yet I wondered what might be the practical implications of this diagnosis for Wellspring today.  As Americans increasingly bowl alone, social capital in communities is eroding. Diversity further erodes that social capital, as more diverse neighborhoods tend to have people who hunker down away from community  and huddle in front of a television. With diversity, we don’t even go bowling but watch TV at home.

At Wellspring, diversity and growth have both decreased our social capital. Growth and increased size easily creates a consumer mentality where people don’t feel the need to contribute. Diversity creates an “us and them” mentality that further erodes trust. Relationships with people who are different is more exhausting. Decreased social capital is seen in our struggle to find volunteers, put together a softball team and make budget last year. People from both the legacy Blanchard and Living Water congregations, even those in home groups, have expressed frustration in finding community in Wellspring. People are hunkering down, like a turtle withdrawing into its shell.

Our Potential 

While diversity and growth may erode social capital in the short-term, diversity and growth indisputably can strengthen us over time. Already we are seeing the benefits of diverse generations and ethnicities gathered at Wellspring (see discussion in our Annual Report for other examples). Yet our work is cut out for us. Robert Putnam reminds us:

Nevertheless, my hunch is that at the end we shall see that the challenge is best met not by making ‘them’ like ‘us’, but rather by creating a new, more capacious sense of ‘we’, a reconstruction of diversity that does not bleach out ethnic specificities, but creates overarching identities that ensure that those specificities do not trigger the allergic, ‘hunker down’ reaction.*

We do not want to make ‘them’ like ‘us.’  This was reflected as we struggled with our name, whether we should keep Living Water or Blanchard. We concluded that our new identity as “Wellspring” needed to have this “more capacious sense of ‘we’” that “does not bleach out ethnic specificities” but helps to create something greater that we identify with.

So where how do we navigate this challenge?  We must embrace our identity as servants not consumers and take ownership of our growth. However I’d love to hear your thoughts below.  Next week I will share a couple of thoughts to help answer this question as we enter into a new school year.

* R. Putnam, “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-First Century,” Scandinavian Political Studies 30 (2007): 152.

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We are Praying (Eph 3:14–21). (Wheaton, August 6, 2017; Warrenville, Aug 13 sermon summary)

blog-praying-man

We want to do good. We really do! Our problem is usually not absence of desire but strength to do the good that we want. We want to love our neighbors, serve others, help the hurting, but we struggle simply to vacuum, mow the lawn and cook dinner before we collapse on the couch to watch the highlights of the Cubs game. How do we find strength to do all that God has called us to do? While we see God’s cosmic purposes for his people (Eph 3:10–11), we struggle with impotence to achieve those purposes. How do we gain the strength to do the good that we need to do?   When we kneel for inner strength, we grasp the extent of Christ’s love so that we are surprised by his surpassing power (Eph 3:

First in prayer we kneel for inner strength. Physics reminds us that Force = Mass x Acceleration. When things don’t change, we simply accelerate activity in our lives. But things can also change through greater mass, as more of the weighty presence of God is manifest in our lives. As Paul sees the magnificent scope of God’s purposes for the world (Eph 3:10), he kneels before the Father, that Christ might dwell in hearts by faith (Eph 3:14–17). He recognizes that our problems are not solved by more activity, but more of God’s presence.

As we kneel for inner strength, we grasp the extent of Christ’s love (Eph 3:18–19), “the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” We easily underestimate how far Christ’s love extends, and we limit his love to the small boundaries that we place around him. However, we must embrace the full extent of Christ’s love.

As we grasp the full extent of that love, then we are surprised by his surpassing power, “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Eph 3:20). Christ’s love flows far more abundantly and extends far more lavishly than we could ever imagine. As we pray, we begin to comprehend that love so that we see that love flow through us, as it works “according to the power at work within us” (3:20).

Our greatest imagination only captures a drop of the fullness of God’s purposes through us. We get easily overwhelmed with the scope of the challenges before us and the inadequacy of the resources within us, but as we kneel for inner strength, we begin to grasp the full extent of Christ’s love so that we might be surprised by his surprising power at work in us. Wellspring, let us kneel.

 

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We are Growing (Acts 6:1-7): Sermon Summary for 7/30 at Warrenville

By Steve Hands

Who are we, and who are we called to be as a church? We are welcoming, connected, united, and servants. As we live out this reality, God will draw more and more people to trust in his Son Jesus and join us in the body of Christ. Our community was never designed to be static, and with change comes difficulty and opportunity. As the love of God draws people to himself, we will grow. This growth necessitates structural change (Acts 6:1-2), requires everyone’s gifts (Acts 6:3-6), and enables further growth (Acts 6:7).

First, a growing church necessitates structural change (Acts 6:1-2). The first church in Jerusalem skyrocketed from a tiny huddle in an upper room to a massive multi-thousand person movement that crowded the temple. Where everyone’s needs used to be met, now some were being overlooked. The structures hadn’t kept up with the change in size. As we look at Wellspring Warrenville, we love our intimate family feel, yet God is calling us to reach out into our neighborhoods and workplaces, and invite our friends to experience the love of God in our community. Are we ready to go through the growing pains needed to accommodate our friends coming to Christ? What structural changes should we prepare for as we grow in size?

Second, a growing church requires everyone’s gifts (Acts 6:3-6). The church in Jerusalem brought their complaint to the apostles, expecting them to fix everything themselves. But the apostles knew their gifts, calling, and role. The problem was real, but so was their calling from God. The solution was for God to raise up new leaders to meet the real needs of the congregation. In the same way, as we grow it will not be time to hang up the towel and rest, having done the hard work of a small church. Everyone’s gifts are required no matter how large the church grows, and we’ll need to empower our new members to use their gifts as well in service of God’s kingdom.

Finally, if we navigate this growth well, we will enable further growth (Acts 6:7). Having made it through one hurdle, the church was not done growing. In response to the love of God poured out in this Jerusalem community, yet more people joined in. The church is not done growing in a community until every woman, man, and child knows the love of God for -them. And the way we navigate growth can itself bring more people into God’s family.

God designed his church as a growing living organism, as a temple that continues to be built with Christ as the cornerstone. May we be prepared for the growing pains, excited at who the Lord may add to his community, ready to continue using the gifts he’s given us for the kingdom.

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