A Problem…and two solutions

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We have a problem. In Wheaton for our 11 AM worship service, we don’t have enough seats. Experts say that when a sanctuary is 80% full, then people will stop coming because it is too full. At 11 AM our sanctuary is about 95% full. Yet our 9 AM service in Wheaton is identical, and it is only about 60% full. If you worship at 11 AM in Wheaton and can attend the 9 AM, might you consider doing so? It would leave more hours open to do many other things on Sunday. And you will be giving a seat for another. But there is something even more important that we all need to do in light of this problem, no matter which campus or service you attend. What is that?

We must make disciples. Even if growth tapers off, what remains is the strength of real disciples of Jesus Christ. And disciples are made not born. After planting a thriving church in post-Christian England, Mike Breen concluded, “If you build disciples, you will always get a church; if you build a church, you may or may not get disciples.” Struggles in outreach for a church can usually be traced to failures in discipleship. Getting an immature Christian to reach others is like asking a child to have a baby. And if we are only growing spiritual children (AKA consumers) in the church but not raising spiritually mature adults (AKA disciple makers), then the mission of the church will fail. We must work hard to “present everyone mature in Christ” (Col 1:28).

Attention to discipleship will alleviate the perpetual struggle to find leaders in our church. A leadership vacuum typically reflects a discipleship vacuum. As our Governing Board identified key opportunities before us a year or two ago, the need to develop a leadership pipeline was repeatedly articulated since we struggle to find qualified leaders to serve in our ministries. When discipleship is strong, then leaders eventually become plentiful. As a result, we must engage in the time consuming work of making disciples. It is messy. Yet unless we keep our fingernails dirty in the messy process of making disciples, we will never have enough leaders.

Discipleship will also ignite a deeper men’s ministry in our church. While we have a strong women’s ministry with Women’s INC, Tapestry Living Stones, and Precepts, our men’s ministry is comparatively weak. In discussing this issue with the elders last year, we contemplated beginning a big new program for men. But we didn’t. Instead a few men have begun small discipleship groups. Last January I began a small men’s group with a few people. We have established a foundation of vulnerability, listening to God and one another, accountability, and challenging one another to step into God’s purposes. We are currently reading Mike Breen’s Building a Discipling Culture. Yet most importantly we are growing to trust one another and see God’s work done in our lives. Similarly Ron M. has launched a men’s group with 5–6 men, and Stosh W. did as well. Instead of launching a programmatic weekly meeting for people to gather, we have begun an organic process of multiplication.

More could be said. Yet I have one invitation for you. When Jesus ascended to heaven, he told his followers to make disciples. This is work that any Christian can engage in. None of us can reach everyone, but all of us can reach and help someone. As we take one step in following Jesus Christ, then we look back and help someone else take that same step. And on and on it goes. May we focus not on building the church but on making disciples. 

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Cultivating our Eden (Gen 2:5–17)

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Where are we going in this sermon series? As Genesis 1–3 provide an overture to the symphony of Scripture, these chapters lay a strong foundation to reading the entire Bible. In Genesis 1:1–2:3, the God who orders chaos commissions us as God’s representatives to express His rule over every square inch of creation. Building on this foundation in Genesis 1, we will explore in the coming year how key themes like mission, community, work and rest in Genesis 1–2 are developed throughout the Bible and culminate in the book of Revelation. This week we will begin by looking at cultivating Eden; how does the theme of humanity’s focused responsibility to care for a limited amount of space get traced throughout the entire Bible? The story of the heavens and the earth is told by a particular people in a particular place (Gen 2:4–17). Similarly, our particular work in our particular place connects critically to the wider story that God is writing of the heavens and the earth. How so? We are formed in a barren wasteland to flourish by God’s presence and called to work a particular place.

First, we are formed in a barren wasteland (Gen 2:5–7). Verses 5–6 stress how the earth is not yet cultivated, without “bush of the field…and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up” (Gen 2:5). Yet in this uncultivated land, the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life(2:7). Clearly, God has formed this man and fills him with life in this wilderness. Similarly throughout Scripture God forms and gives life to people in the wilderness so that they be his agents. We do not resent the wilderness but breathe in the life that God gives to us in that place.

Also, we are formed to flourish by God’s presence (Gen 2:8–14). The LORD God himself plants this garden, and he makes “to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen 2:9). Not only that, but rivers flow out of Eden and bringing abundance of gold, bdellium and onyx (2:10–14). Similarly even when God places us in an uncultivated wilderness, God provides resources to abound and flourish in that wilderness.

Finally, we are formed in a barren wasteland to flourish by God’s presnece called to work a specific place (Gen 2:15–17). The LORD God placed man in the garden “to work it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). This a particular responsibility in that particular place. Just as priests served and guarded in the temple, so Adam serves as a priest in the temple of Eden. This particular responsibility is to be fulfilled as he obeys God’s commandment (Gen 2:16–17). Similarly, God has placed us in a particular place and provided us with resources to accomplish a very particular purpose. Serving as a priest involves keeping God’s law in the place that he puts us, relying on his provision. Yet to do that we must be faithful with the responsibilities that He has entrusted to us.

The musical Hamilton concludes with a question, “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” The story of the heavens and earth begins to be told by a particular person in a particular place. And God’s story in the world will be told by the fruit of our lives, a particular people in a particular place at a particular time for a particular purpose. May we be faithful to cultivate and bloom where God has planted us.

 

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Going Far Together

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If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. When I am running, I usually start out too fast and cannot finish at that pace. When I run with my wife, we start slow but finish strong. As a church, we have started fast. Currently our growth is exciting; our 11 AM service in Wheaton is beyond capacity, our home groups are growing, and we have newcomers of all ages and backgrounds coming each week. However let us not focus on starting fast; let us go far together. Our growth can easily be like a balloon full of hot air— expanding quickly before it deflates. For growth to stick, then we must grow together. God’s Word preached must become God’s Word lived in and through us, and we can only do that together. How can we like the Fellowship of the Ring? How can we grow stronger to go farther together?

First, together begins with a name. The hobbit Frodo began with his friends Sam, Merry and Pippin. Then he met a wizard Gandalf who joined him to a bigger story. That story led him to a ranger Aragorn, the dwarf Gimli, the elf Legolas and the man, Boromir. That long, exciting journey began with a name. Similarly, what seems to us like a sea of new faces on a Sunday morning is a gathering of distinct, unique individuals and names to our God. God has brought us together for a reason. And the journey to discovering that reason begins with a name— putting one name to one face. Then we know their story. And we share our story, and we see how our stories intersect with God’s story. As many new people come to our church, may each of us get to know a name and story. This is the first step.

Also, together continues on a journey. The goal of together is not to look at one another but to look with one another at something bigger than ourselves. Frodo, Gandalf, and the fellowship of the ring would not stay together were it not for their shared commitment to a much larger story. And in our diversity, we will find unity only with a shared commitment to a much larger story. We must see Jesus. We must see what Jesus is doing in the world. And we must join him. Currently our home groups are the primary vehicle to grow together on mission; if you would like to engage in one, email cheryl@wellspringalliance.net to get involved. EQUIP classes and opportunities to serve in our church, our community or around the world are other avenues to grow together. But let us figure out how to journey together.

So what? I hope and pray that we journey far together at Wellspring. Sometimes we have to slow down from going so fast if we are going to go far together. And I want us to go far together. So let us slow down. Get to know somebody new. Get to know their name. And pray for them that we might embark on a new chapter of our journey. Together.

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Rest of Creation (Gen 2:1–3)

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Did God create the world for us? The six days of creation pinnacle with the creation of humanity and more space is dedicated in Genesis 1 to the creation of humanity than anything else. So can we conclude that God created all of this for us? No. God did not create the world for humanity, but God created the world for Himself (cf. Isa 43:7). Humanity is a priest-king in the temple of creation, a creation that is created as a temple and dwelling place of God. In Genesis 2:1–3 we see that God sanctifies place and time; all the heavens and earth are sanctified as God’s temple where he sits on the throne (Gen 2:1–2), and the seventh day is blessed and made holy as God rests from his work (Gen 2:3). Since God creates the cosmos for himself, we should see every square inch of creation under his lordship and surrender every moment of the day to his purposes.

First, God sanctifies place, as the cosmos is his temple where he sits to reign (Gen 2:1–2). The creation of the world and construction of the tabernacle are concluded with similar language (compare Gen 1:31–2:2 with Exod 39:43, 42: 40:33; 39:43),[1] since “He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever” (Ps 78:69). When God rests on the seventh day and finishes his work, he sanctifies that place for his own glory. He is seated on his throne, and every square inch of all of creation comes under his lordship, rule and reign (Psalm 110:1). In Jesus, we find that all of creation comes under his sovereign rule and reign (Heb 1:13; Eph 1:20), and we are seated with Christ in the heavenlies to reign with him (Eph 2:6).

Also, God sanctifies time as he blesses the seventh day to make it holy and rests on that day (Gen 2:3). Ancient Near Eastern temple inauguration ceremonies would have the deity descend to indwell the temple and rule from that place on the seventh day. Similarly the seventh day is blessed and sanctified by God to show that God rules not only every place but over every moment. As a result, we can confidently surrender every moment to the Lord, and this surrender is expressed through human rest on the Sabbath (Exod 20:11). Our Sabbath rest is a recognition of God’s Sabbath rest, where God does not withdraw from the world and wish us luck but takes his place at the helm of the world. We can rest because God is in control.

Jon Levenson says, “The Temple is to space what the Sabbath is to time, a recollection of the protological dimension bounded by mundane reality.”[2] Just as God dwells in a local place, the Temple, as a representation of his goal to dwell in all of the cosmos with his glory, so God sanctifies a certain time, the Sabbath, to demonstrate that all time is to be sanctified toward him.

[1] Michael Fishbane, Text and Texture (New York: Schocken, 1979), 12; cf. also John Walton, Genesis (NIVAC; Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Mich.: 2001), 147–148.

[2] Jon Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), 298.

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Living from Joy not Anger

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Do you live from anger or joy? Recently I felt angry.  I was disappointed in the absence of desired results.  Yet I was reminded me that “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). My anger grew out of my desire to control, and my desire to control grew out of my reluctance to trust that God is in control. And a question grew in my heart, “Will I live from anger or joy?” How can I live from joy and not anger?

First, we must diagnose our anger. Anger is a second order emotion, and often beneath my anger lies other emotions: disappointment, grief, anxiety, fear, etc. In this case, anger simply was the external form of my internal feeling of disappointment. I had to take time to acknowledge that disappointment.

Then, we must displace our anger with joy. For me, the source of my anger was disappointment over situations that I could not control. As I yielded that need to control before God, I began to cast my cares upon him. As I cast those cares upon him, joy displaced disappointment and anger. Joy comes from God’s presence; as I cast my cares to the Lord, his joy floods our heart effectively displaces what was there previously.

Finally, we must live for that which gives greatest joy.  John says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4). The greatest joy in life is to see your children blossom and walk in the truth of the gospel. This is true of physical and spiritual children. My responsibility is NOT to build the church. Jesus already promised to do that. But I am responsible to make disciples. The strength of a church is found in the quality of its disciples. After a recent meeting with Greg W. and Dale S., I was so grateful to serve with such godly, competent and wise brothers in Christ. But then the question arose in my heart, “How are we raising up the Greg W’s and Dale S’s of the future?”  And I realized again the importance of personal discipleship, the hard, messy, long work of raising up disciples who can make other disciples. The greatest legacy is not only found in our policies and processes. Our legacy is found in people. Policies and processes must be implemented by great people, and great people are made not born. Let us continue in the messy, arduous work of making disciples, and let us consider how the programs of our church might help and not hinder this end. Just as Jesus glorified the Father by finishing the work of focusing on the few that God had entrusted him in the world (John 17:4–6), may we also glorify our Father by finishing the work of making disciples. As disciples make disciples, may joy abound.

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Responding to Harvey and the Joys of a Denomination

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Watching the news about Hurricane Harvey can be numbing. As we see picture after picture of devastation and destruction, we easily turn away and dismiss these pictures out of hand.  James 2:15–16 warns us that if a brother or sister is “poorly clothed and lacking in daily food” and we wish them well “without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”  But what can we do?  How can we give? Usually disasters  demand an immediate response, and those who are most qualified to respond are local people who know the area and culture well. While large organizations like Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse do wonderful work by bringing in external people and resources into these situations, what if there were a local organization with local networks and understanding that we could give to that could provide spiritual and physical assistance to those in need? There is. What is it?

The church. Not just our church, Wellspring, but we are a part of a family of churches called the Alliance (our middle name!). And when catastrophes like Harvey or Katrina or tsunamis or earthquakes strike, the Alliance works with local churches that can respond quickly and contextually to these issues. We have an international relief and development arm, CAMA, that responds quickly to disasters like this to bring relief. More information about how how they are responding to Hurricane Harvey and how you can engage can be seen here.  This highlights the beauty of not only being a part of a local church but also a family of churches.

That is one reason why I’m excited about being a part of this family of churches called the Alliance. Yes, I know it is a “denomination” and the word “denomination” sounds about as exciting as “bureaucracy.” And hearing from a denomination president sounds about as compelling as hearing the head of the I.R.S. talk about tax law. Yet in times of disaster we can know that we are partnering with a group with extensive international relief experience who are working with local churches with their local networks and cultural savvy. This is important.

There are many other reasons why I am excited about the Alliance. And that is why I want to encourage you to listen to John Stumbo, our Alliance president, talk about “Moving Forward” on Saturday, September 16. He will spend some time talking about his priorities for our family of churches, and you will be able to hear how those priorities are being worked out in local contexts in our own area. You can register here (and get a good lunch also).  A summary of his priorities can be read here or you can watch him share his thoughts and get a feel for his heartbeat here. And I think that he is little bit more interesting than the head of the I.R.S. He will share with us at Wellspring on Sunday morning, September 17.

Just as our individual gifts are used far more effectively together in the body of Christ, so our individual church can be used far more effectively together with other churches in the body of Christ. By no means do we limit our partnership to churches within the Alliance; we should partner with people from many different churches and backgrounds to fulfill God’s work around the world. Yet this does not negate the opportunity to be connected tightly to our own family, the Alliance. So join us on the weekend of September 16–17 to catch the heartbeat of our family.  Register here by Thursday, August 31 for our Saturday gathering, and join us on Sunday, Sept 17.

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Creation Ruled (Gen 1:26–31)

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                  A screwdriver can be used as a hammer but only very poorly. When something is used for its created purpose, then it is used most effectively. What are we here for? The climax of creation in Genesis 1 is the creation of humanity, and this chapter spells out what we are here for. What is it? Genesis 1:26–31 shows us that when we rule together and fill the earth, we are sustained by God’s provision.

First, we rule (Gen 1:26). While the nature of the image of God has been debated for centuries, its function is clear: “And let them have dominion” (Gen 1:26). Together we were to exercise dominion over the physical and spiritual world. Adam and Eve fail in this role; instead of subduing the serpent, they are subdued by the serpent in Genesis 3. Daniel 7 paints a picture of the Son of Man (=Adam) fulfilling this role in subduing destructive forces in the world. We are created to rule over the physical and spiritual world and bring them into the fullness of God’s purposes.

Yet we subdue together (Gen 1:27). Notice that in verse 26 we reflect the image of God together; God creates humanity “in our image” (1:26). Verse 27 interprets the singular “in the image of God he created him” as a plural, “male and female he created them.” Only together do we reflect the image of God, with the manifold diversity of gender and differences between different individuals. Being created in the image of God is not expressed simply individually but together, in the beauty of our unity in diversity. Our differences are facets of the goodness of God, and only together can we serve and subdue the earth as we are created to do.

We are not only to subdue the earth together but also fill the earth (Gen 1:28). God’s blessing is not to remain with us, but it ignites and propels us to expand the boundaries of the Garden of Eden to fill the earth. This is especially important when we recognize that the Garden of Eden is designed to be a temple, a dwelling place of God. As God’s royal and priestly images, Adam and Eve were to multiply images of God who would fill the earth. This reminds us that our role is not only to rule but also to multiply.

Yet we do this, sustained by God’s provision (Gen 1:29–31). God provides every plant yielding seed and food for humanity, and God also provides every green plant for food for the beasts of the earth and birds of the heaven. Even as the heavens and earth are filled with priestly and royal images of God, they are sustained for that work by God’s provision. Similarly, we step out in obedience to God’s purposes not sustained by our own provision and hand, but by God’s own provision and hand. We can find great confidence and strength because we know that His provision is sufficient for us.

So what? Let us step boldly into our role in the world. God has not called us to hold on until we get to heaven, but we are created to rule together and fill the earth, sustained by God’s provision. May we step into those purposes together faithfully.

 

 

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