Shootings, Calloused Hearts and Jesus

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When I saw the news yesterday about the school shooting in northern California, I was not shattered. When 26 people were killed in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas last week, it felt was just another news story.  Not long ago these types of news stories  shattered us. Not any more. After the Las Vegas shootings in October Peggy Noonan commented:

I was not shattered. That shatters me. It was just another terrible story. It is not the new normal; it is the new abnormal and deep down we know it’s not going to stop. There is too much instability in our country, too much rage and lovelessness, too many weapons. (“The Culture of Death — and Disdain,” WSJ [Oct 5, 2017]).

When I found my heart becoming calloused, I knew that something was wrong. What do we do with the instability, rage and lovelessness in our nation? What do we do with our own calloused hearts?

We can blame others for the liberal gun laws in America and renew the debate on gun control. This debate does have a place, but it is not the entire story. We can distract ourselves with cat videos or watching Netflix.  But neither of these deal with the root issue.

Jesus comments on the prohibition on murder that, “Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matt 5:22). The thoughts of the heart are as deadly as the acts of the hand. If so, I am Devin Patrick Kelley. I am Stephen Paddock.

Yet I don’t want to deal with the angry thoughts in my heart and the insulting words from my mouth. I want to blame these thoughts and words on a bad day, on the actions that others have done to instigate those responses. I want to insist, “I’m not like them.” But is that true? What do we do with the ugly junk that comes up inside of me when I am disappointed, when I am cut off in traffic, when I don’t get what I want?

Jesus goes on to say, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt 5:23–24). We need to keep short accounts. We must deal with the broken relationships around us. We must recognize our need for grace, our need for forgiveness.  When the ugly junk rears its ugly heads, we must not deceive ourselves but repent.

Jesus Christ not only died to reconcile us to God. He died to reconcile us to one another. There is power in the cross to transform the Devin Patrick Kelley within me. Jesus transformed the murderer Saul into the missionary Paul. As we see the brokenness of the world in the news, let us also see the brokenness of the world in our own hearts. Let us repent and draw near to God.

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Multiplying in Christ (Colossians 1:3–14)

Multiplying in Christ Title Colossians 1 3-14

The original command, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28) was intended to express and extend God’s rule to the ends of the earth. After sin entered the world, people multiplied and filled the earth with violence and wickedness (Gen 6:1, 11) instead. Nevertheless, God’s intentions at creation are accomplished through Jesus Christ in the new creation. How does God’s purposes for humanity to multiply and fill the earth with image bearers who express God’s rule get fulfilled now in light of Christ?  Colossians 1:3–14 show that we multiply as the gospel bears fruit in and through us by the power of the Son within us.

                We multiply as the gospel bears fruit in us (Col 1:3–8) to renew us as images of God. Just as humanity was to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Gen 1:28), so the gospel is fruitful and increasing and filling the whole earth (Col 1:6). This happens as the gospel comes to the Colossians “as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing” (1:6). Just as Adam was created in the image of God (Gen 1:26–27) to multiply and fill the earth (Gen 1:28), so Christians are re-created and renewed in the image of God (Col 3:10) as the gospel multiplies and fills the earth (Col 1:6). Images of God are not propagated simply by the seed of the father; the seed of the gospel must be planted for images of God to propagate and fill the earth. Therefore we need ministers of the gospel like Epaphras to share this message if we are to multiply more images of God to express God’s rule in the world (Col 1:7–8).

Also, we multiply as the gospel bears fruit through us (Col 1:9–10) to express God’s rule in the world. Paul prays that the Colossians might walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, “bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (1:10). Not only does the seed of the gospel bear fruit in the Colossians, but the seed of the gospel grows fruit through their good work. What fruit will the gospel bear through them? God is at work through Jesus “to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross” (Col 1:20). Not only does God fill the Son with the fullness of himself but also the church (1:18–19; 2:9–10) to express his rule and authority over all things. The cosmic scope of Christ’s reconciling work must not be lost here; Jesus did not come simply to save souls for heaven but to reconcile all things in heaven and on earth. As the gospel bears fruit in us to renew his image within us, so the gospel bears fruit through us to extend his rule throughout the cosmos.

Yet how can we express Christ’s rule over all? We multiply as the gospel bears fruit in us and through us by the power of the Son within us (Col 1:11–14). Paul prays for strength to endure by the power of their inheritance in the kingdom of the Son (1:11–14). Paul draws on language from the Exodus here; just as God delivered Israel from Egypt to transfer them to his kingdom and give them an inheritance in the Promised Land, so God delivers us from darkness to transfer us to the kingdom of his Son and give us an inheritance. Just as Israel journeyed from slavery to Promised Land through the wilderness, so God’s people will journey from darkness to light through a wilderness sustained by the power of God found in the Son. It does not matter what challenge that we face before us, but the power of the Son within us is greater. Therefore, we can overcome.

So what? God’s purpose for creation is accomplished through Jesus in the new creation. As N. T. Wright says, “God is doing through the gospel what he always intended to do. He is sowing good seed in the world, and preparing to reap a harvest of human lives recreated to reflect his glory.”[1] And just as that message came through Epaphras to the Colossians, so this message comes through us to our world. May we share that message and see the gospel bear fruit in and through us by the power of the Son within us.

 

[1] N. T. Wright, Colossians (TOTC; Downers Grove: IVP, 2003), 54.

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God Answers Prayer

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God answers prayer. I have recently been so strengthened to see how God answers prayer, whether in church sanctuaries or hospital rooms. As we pray, God speaks through his Word into the concrete situations of people’s lives to give encouragement and insight. This past Sunday I received two notes of people who felt specific convictions and guidance through God’s Word preached in a difficult situation in their lives. As we pray God releases his healing power into places of sickness. I saw that in a dramatic way yesterday in a hospital room. I had walked into the situation full of resolve to help.  Yet after I did everything that I could, after the doctors had done everything that they could, the situation still seemed impossible. Yet prayer works. Through the prayers of a  home group leader, a good friend and myself we saw a dramatic answer to prayer. I woke up this morning praising God for the way that he dramatically answers prayer.  May we live our lives from our knees and not only on our feet, asking, seeking and knocking to see his purposes realized (Matt 7:7).

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Heads Held High: Promise of Multiplication (Lev. 26:3–13)

Heads Held High Title Leviticus 26 3-13

God has “broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk with heads held high” (Lev 26:13). He speaks this of Israel, rescued from slavery in Egypt, and instead of backs bent by slavery their heads can be held high in victory. Yet so many of God’s people walk with dejected heads and defeated hearts, not knowing the victory that they have received. Yet God invites us to walk with heads held high into the fulfillment of all of his promises and purposes for us. Leviticus 26:3–13 what it looks like when we walk with heads held high into the all of God’s promises for us. Specifically we will focus on Lev 26:9–11 to see how we can walk with heads held high to multiply our children, feast on his provision and walk in his presence. Specifically these verses are a promise to fulfill Gen 1:28, as we will see.

Before we dive into this passage, though, let us deal with a problem — how can we unlock promises for obedience when we struggle to obey?  Leviticus 26:3 begins, “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will…”  The obedience of Israel will be reward with abundant harvest (26:4–5) protection (26:6–8), children (26:9–10), and God’s presence (26:11–12) as a result of their obedience. However, Israel fails to obey, and we also struggle to obey!  If all of God’s promises and purposes are completely dependent on our obedience, then we are in trouble indeed.  Yet these promises are fulfilled;  2 Corinthians 6:16 specifically shows that the promise of God’s presence (Lev 26:11–12) is fulfilled in the church. Yet how are these promises fulfilled?  They key is not our obedience or Israel’s obedience, but the key is Jesus’ obedience. In Jesus all the promises of God are fulfilled (2 Cor 1:20). So what do these promises look like as they are fulfilled because of Jesus?

Because of Jesus, we can walk with heads held high to multiply children (Lev 26:9). We have already seen in Gen 1:28 that the call to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28) was to multiply images and representatives of God to spread God’s reign to the ends of the earth. Genesis 1:28 is clearly quoted in Lev 26:9 as a promise and not a command; he promises to “make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you.” These promises are fulfilled through Jesus; in the early church, the “word of God continued to increase (=be fruitful), and the number of disciples multiplied greatly” (Acts 6:7; cf. 12:24; 19:20). Similarly, because of Jesus, we can walk with heads held high to see God’s Word multiply through us. God’s Word is not only powerful in us, but his Word is powerful through us. And as we follow Jesus, we will see representatives of God multiplied through us.

Also because of Jesus, we can walk with heads held high to feast on his provision (Lev 26:10). God promises that those who obey “shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new” (26:10). This is a picture of so much abundance that they would not know what to do with it! Similarly the abundance of provision is not ultimately based in our obedience but the person of Jesus; “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19).

Finally, because of Jesus, we can walk with heads held high in his presence (Lev 26:11-12). God promises to “make my dwelling among you, and….walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people” (26:11–12). Just as God walked with Adam (Gen 3:8) in his temple/dwelling place in Eden, so God would re-establish his presence with his people since “we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16). We do not abhor sin in order to receive God’s presence, but we abhor sin because we are a temple of God’s presence. And God invites us to walk in intimacy with him — not simply working for him or serving under him but walking with him in personal relationship each day.

So what? Jesus has obeyed so that we can walk with heads held high. Sadly, too many Christians walk with heads dejected and overcome by failure, but God invites us to walk with heads held high. We do not become dejected by our failures to share the gospel with others; we can walk with heads held high to multiply children trusting in the power of God’s Word and promise. We do not get consumed with fear about whether we will have enough; we walk with heads held high to feast on God’s provision. And we do not work for or under God, but we walk with heads held high in his presence, because we have been adopted as children of the King. How high is your head? May we know who we are because of Jesus Christ and always all walk with heads held high.

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A View from My Seat

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I have a great seat to see what God is doing through the church. Today I want to celebrate a few of the stories that I’m hearing. In our youth ministry, a non-Christian student struggled to feel loved.  At our recent youth retreat she felt so tremendously loved that she could not stop singing, “Your love never fails, it never gives up, never gives up on me,” and she wrestled with matters of faith far more deeply. She is not only hearing but also seeing the gospel as students are enveloping her in relationship. Another student had lost a loved one and struggled with anger toward God, but at the retreat realized that God meets us in the valleys and fills the holes in our heart. James Lee continues to pour his heart into developing student leaders who are actively reaching out to their friends so that stories like these can happen more. This past Saturday alone we had around five new students come to church.  The buzz in that ministry is palpable.

Yet the ministry to students does not only happen through the church. YoungLife reaches students through our schools through the leadership of area director of Brady Wright, who makes his church home here. Shari Plueddeman has been working with middle school students at church as well as at Monroe Middle School in Wheaton, and she recently saw thirteen students put their trust in Jesus Christ for the first time!!!

Our Warrenville campus threw up their doors to the community for a Trunk-or-Treat event on a cold Saturday afternoon, and we built relationships with over thirty new families from our area. Families from both our Wheaton and Warrenville campuses worked hard to decorate their trunks and prepare a game for others; Daniella Jia from Wheaton won the prize for best decorated trunk, while Ryan Vanderveen in Wheaton won the prize for best activity. Steve Hands and our Warrenville campus continues to grow their hearts for evangelism.

Newcomers to our church are moving from the foyer and into the living room to make our church their home. Mary Ellen Slefinger has worked with her hospitality team to sponsor monthly Welcome to Wellspring receptions to introduce newcomers to the church and help them to see next step to plug in. Each reception has had 25–40 newcomers gather. As people make the church their home, they are plugging into home groups. Currently we have almost forty home groups meeting on different nights of the week and different locations.  One group had three younger Asian-American couples and two older Anglo couples. As they shared life together, all of the younger couples so felt the love and embrace of Jesus through each other that tears flowed freely.

EQUIP classes are thriving, as people pray, explore identity in multicultural community, the books of Daniel and Genesis and Christ in the Old Testament. These EQUIP classes continue to be another avenue to deepen in community. Cheryl Baird continues to provide excellent leadership, and Stephen Hong is also pouring into leaders for the college group, and the depth of community and heart for ministry continues to deepen through that strategic ministry.

Finally, check out our new website. Reggie Ramos has poured countless hours to provide an attractive front door for people on the web. He is actively developing and mentoring new worship leaders and making plans to upgrade the sound system. As he shepherds us into God’s presence through music and the arts, the presence of God’s Spirit is palpable.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. So much more could be said.  What are you seeing God do around you?  Leave a note or story in the comments below so that we can praise God together!

 

 

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Multiplying from Eden (Gen 1:28 & 4:25–5:5)

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Martin Luther said that the church is not a succession of bishops but of true believers reaching all the way back to Adam, bought not with papal indulgences but by the blood of Jesus Christ. This critical Reformation insight ignited a movement 500 years ago that endures today. The critical question today, just after the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, is how will this succession of true believers continue in our generation?  Will the church in America wither away?  As we go back to the opening chapters of the Bible, we see the call, “Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28) given to Adam and Eve in the image and likeness of God. This call to multiply is the original call to mission in the Bible. And today we will explore how that image will get passed on in the first generation in Gen 4:25-5:8. More specifically we multiply the image of God by grace with prayer to leave a legacy.

We multiply the image of God (Gen 1:28). Out of all creatures, only humans were made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). Before the Fall, like other creatures, we would have naturally reproduced vice-regents carrying the unsullied image of God. After the Fall, though, sinful humanity multiplied (Gen 6:1) to fill the earth with wickedness (Gen 6:5-6). We no longer automatically reproduce vice-regents. Even among God’s people, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Romans 6:6). If simply having kids will no longer automatically fulfill the calling to multiply the image of God, how then can we live out the design and calling God has for us?

We multiply the image of God by grace with prayer (Gen 4:25-26). Of Adam and Eve’s first two kids, only Abel lived out God’s image by bringing acceptable sacrifices to God. Cain became a death-dealer instead of a life-multiplier. Cain was mastered by sin instead of living in the authority and power of God as His image bearer. But despite the brokenness of Cain, and our world, God continued his work in humanity, providing another child as a gift to fill the gap left by Abel’s death and Cain’s failure. Seth was a gift of God’s grace, appointed by God (Gen 4:25), who inaugurated a time where people called on God’s name in prayer (4:26). We too, can only multiply the image of God as we receive God’s grace as a gift through prayer.

We multiply the image of God by grace with prayer to leave a legacy (Gen 5:1-5). There’s a saying that “God has no grandchildren”. And this is certainly true in that our kids are not automatically members of the children of God who live out their calling as God’s image bearers. But our choices have an impact on the next generation. Cain’s murder begot Lamech’s villainy (Gen 4:19-24). Adam passed the image of God to Seth, and it’s through Seth’s descendants that we see Enoch walk with God (Gen 5:21-23), and Noah walk righteously despite the wickedness all around him (Gen 5:28-29, 6:8-9). We seek God’s grace through prayer for our kids and those we share Jesus with, so that we can pass the image of God stamped on us on to them. How we seek God for others can have an impact for generations to come.

So, will the church in America flicker and fade, or will the fire of our faith grow and blaze? It won’t grow automatically. And simply having kids won’t increase the church. But as we seek the grace of God through prayer, intentionally inviting the work of God in the lives of our family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors, we expect to see God continue his work of restoring his image bearers to our original design. Let us not take the growth of the church for granted, but fall to our knees and call on God.

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Gifts from Heaven and Starbucks

Recently, a dear man of God dropped by out of the blue and dropped off a gift from heaven and a gift from Starbucks. From Starbucks came two cookies that could be savored with a cup of strong black coffee. From heaven came a gift like lembas bread in the Lord of the Rings.  I found myself nibbling on this lembas bread for days that followed and found that “it fed the will, and it gave strength to endure.” What was this lembas bread from heaven?

When Sam and Frodo traveled through dangerous enemy territory to Mount Doom, they had nothing to eat but elvish lembas bread:

As for himself, though weary and under a shadow of fear, [Sam] still had some strength left. The lembas had a virtue without which they would long ago have lain down to die. It did not satisfy desire, and at times Sam’s mind was filled with the memories of food, and the longing for simple bread and meats. And yet this waybread of the Elves had a potency that increased as travelers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind.*

For me, an insight from God’s Word was like lembas bread. This man of God had caught me at a raw moment, keenly feeling my own inadequacy and need for patience for a work that takes much time. I did not feel as despairing as Frodo and Sam journeying to Mount Doom, but I could understand their struggles.  As I shared my heart with him, he listened deeply and carefully. Then he slowly recited for me Hebrews 10:23, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope that we confess, for he who promised is faithful.”

From heaven came a simple insight from God’s Word. That verse carefully spoken reverberated deeply in my soul and was lembas bread for my journey. I nibbled on the first challenge, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope that we confess.” I meditated on the promises of God’s Word which fuel our hope and the examples of those who have gone before us holding to that hope– Abraham who lived in tents, “looking forward to the city that has foundations” (Heb 11:10); Sarah who was barren but anticipated a child “even when she was past the age” (Heb 11:11); Moses who “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Heb 11:26). We hold unswervingly to the hope that we confess, because we do not not yet see it fulfilled.

However as I savored this insight, I found that I needed another bite from Heb 10:23. The promises of God without the power of God would lead to despair. Yet God always gives power to fulfill His own promises.  Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope that we confess, for he who promised is faithful.” The basis of our unswerving hope is the faithfulness of the One who promised.  Sarah received power to conceive “since she considered him faithful who had promised” (Heb 11:11). Abraham did not waver in unbelief regarding God’s promise because he was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Rom 4:21). The key to spiritual power is God. He who promises is faithful.

Do you need lembas bread for your journey?  Do you find the need for something that “fed the will, and…gave strength to endure”?  From heaven came an insight for me from Hebrews 10:23, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope that we confess, for he who promised is faithful.” Let us hold unswervingly to that hope. And even as we hold unswervingly to that hope, Starbucks cookies with strong black coffee aren’t that bad either.

* J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1955), 936.

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