Healing what is broken

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We live in a politically fractured nation. We increasingly listen to news and opinions that confirm our biases but fail to challenge our assumptions. We demonize those who disagree and embrace those who agree. How can we heal the fractures that are around and among us a church?  A church must be united around prayer, worship and dirty fingernails.

I prayed for our president this morning. I do not agree with everything that he says and does, but I know to a very small degree the pressures of being in the public eye. Just as I need the prayers of God’s people as a pastor, so our president and our elected leaders need the prayers of God’s people. In Daniel 7 destructive powers were unleashed in the world that were both systemic and demonic. Political leaders are under a great degree of pressure and need our prayer. And we are commanded “that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim 2:1-2). No matter your political affiliation, we are called to pray for those in high positions.

Second we unite around worship. Worship centers our hope. Our hopes are not set on the seats of elephants or donkeys in Congress but on the seat of a throne in heaven and the Lion of Judah (Rev 5:5–7). While we engage constructively in the political process, our ultimate hope does not rest on the success or failure of such efforts. Our hope rests on the power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead. The early church in the Roman Empire faced deadly policies for Christians, but its worship was fixed on the One on the throne. Without worship, our imaginations are stunted, and we become devastated at losses or too elated at success. Worship expands our imaginations and perspective so that we can persevere in the face of setbacks and remain humble in the face of success. Worship properly centers our hopes and tempers expectations of our own abilities.

With prayer and worship, let us get our fingernails dirty. Paul concludes a very other-worldly and theological chapter on resurrection with, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58). The hope of the resurrection provokes us to work in concrete ways because we know that, regardless of the visible outcome, it is not in vain. We should get our fingernails dirty in the work of the kingdom in all spheres, engaging in the work of restoring what sin has destroyed (Isa 61:4). Sin has destroyed both our relationship with God and our world. The hope of resurrection provokes us to engage our homes, our neighborhoods, our schools, our political system, our justice system and our businesses.  In all spheres, we seek to restore what sin has destroyed and know that our labor is not in vain.

May we be known for what we construct more than what we criticize. We will not prevail because of how stridently we oppose racism or bigotry or homosexuality or abortion. The church will prevail because of its love. Christianity prevailed over the powerful Roman Empire because of its sacrificial love in the face of diseases like the Black Plague.* May our prayer and worship fuel our engagement in the little acts of love that demonstrate the presence of God’s kingdom.

 

* See further in Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (San Francisco: Harper, 1997) .

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Ruling with Jesus’ Authority (Matt 28:16–20)

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The world needs leadership. Not the leadership of people using others and things for selfish gain, but selfless, sacrificial service that causes people and places to blossom. Such leadership was entrusted to Adam in Eden (Gen 1:28) and expanded in Psalm 8. In Daniel 7, this theme is further expressed through the Son of Man who receives and expresses God’s rule over his enemies. Jesus came as the Son of Man to lead through selfless sacrifice. How do God’s people begin to express Jesus’ leadership on earth? As we see Jesus through our doubts as the Son of Man, we make disciples who lead with Jesus.

                First, we must see Jesus through our doubts as the Son of Man (Matt 28:16–18). When the eleven disciples gathered at the mountain, they worshipped. A common title for Jesus in the gospels is “son of man”, often in connection with his authority, authority to heal (Matt 9:6), over the Sabbath (12:8), to send his angels (13:41), to come in glory (16:27; 24:27, 30; 25:31) and to sit on a  throne in judgment (26:34).  Yet “son of man” was a veiled self-reference that could either be self-deprecating or a title of great authority. The veil is taken off after the resurrection, and as the disciples recognize the Son of Man in power, “they worshipped” (28:17). But some doubt, so Jesus makes it explicit, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (28:18). Similarly, we must see Jesus clearly through our doubts as the Son of Man from Daniel 7 who reigns in power. His kingdom and authority have come.  But what difference does this make?

As we see Jesus through our doubts as the Son of Man, we must make disciples (Matt 28:19), which is uncomfortable. Recognizing authority demands a shift of allegiance. We must go, leaving our comfort zones. We must make disciples, meddling in people’s lives and calling for change. We must baptize them, asking them to be dunked in a public bath to show their death and new life. We must baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them and including them in a God who is three in one. As we do so, they are included with “the saints of the Most High [who] receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever” (Dan 7:18). When we truly see Jesus in his great authority, change is demanded. Yet why is this change demanded?

As we see Jesus through our doubts as the Son of Man, we must make disciples who lead with Jesus (Matt 29:20). Disciples are learners, and they are taught “to observe all that [He has] commanded [us].” Jesus teaches his disciples extensively about the kingdom, which is upside down to the values of the world. While Daniel 7 shows that the enemies of God would think to change the times and the law, the Son of Man would rise up with great authority to establish an everlasting kingdom so that all dominions shall serve and obey him (Dan 7:27). Instead of trying to change the times and the law, the saints would be careful to obey all that the Son of Man had commanded him and call others to do the same. As a result, the nations would be brought under the rule of the Son of Man.

So what?  When we see that Jesus is in charge, everything changes. We cannot keep going on with life as we had been. We must make disciples who lead with Jesus.

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Salvation: Horizontal AND Vertical

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Salvation is not only vertical. It’s also horizontal. God has saved us from sin for himself to spend eternity with Him, but God has also saved us to serve one another and break down the walls that divide. A church united was Jesus’ prayer (John 17:20–21), the New Testament pattern (Acts 13:1–3) and the mystery Paul proclaimed (Eph 3:6–10).  Last week I spoke about the importance of being a church united in a nation divided, but today I want to invite you to take three steps towards becoming a church united. How?

First, say hello. Sometimes we are looking for elaborate ways to get to know people from another background, but it starts with saying hello. Get to know others. How many people from other backgrounds can you call your friend? How many people from other backgrounds would call you their friend? Go out for coffee. Grab a bite to eat. This past week on the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., I went with a friend to hear Dr. Ruth Lewis Bentley, a contemporary of Dr. King and a longtime trustee of Wheaton College. She shared about a black friend at a Christian college in the bathroom, being circled by a fascinated white girl looking for her tail! All her life this college student had heard that black people had tails, but they ended up building a wonderful friendship that lasted for decades afterwards. Similarly we have an opportunity to build friendships. Tonight we have Collide; on Sunday, Jan 28, we are having a lunch at church. Take these opportunities to get to know people that you wouldn’t know otherwise. Build friendships. Step into the lives of others.

Second, let’s grow together. Learn the stories of people that are different than yours. Our missions conference this year will provide ample opportunity for that. Rev. Dan Hyun from Village Church in Baltimore will share from his journey in planting a multiethnic church in an area that has been characterized by stark division. Dr. Theon Hill from Wheaton College will help to unpack the historical roots behind events like Charlottesville and Charleston.  Our own Dr. Scott Moreau will use art to help us see Jesus from other cultures, and Dr. Christin Fort will provide principles for navigating conflict across cultures. Mark your calendars for Feb 23–24 where we will explore these topics together.

Finally, read. I’ve been reading a lot on this topic. Michelle Alexander’s Beyond Jim Crow has traced the troubling history of this issue in America; Mark DeYmaz’s Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church provides helpful practical advice; in The Christian Imagination, Willie James Jennings approaches the topic theologically and calls for a radical reshaping of our imagination; Soong Chan Rah calls a church of Many Colors to increase its cultural intelligence; Brenda Salter McNeil provides a helpful Roadmap to Reconciliation; Sarah Shin invites us to move Beyond Colorblind. These are some books that have been helpful to me; I’m sure others may be helpful to you; if you have other suggestions, feel free to add them below in the comments.

Jesus prayed for unity in the church. He died for that unity in the church. Let us be a force for healing what is divided.  Say hello. Grow together. Read. And let that drive us to pray as we see what Jesus will do in our midst.

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Ruling as the Son of Man (Daniel 7:1-18)

Ruling 01.21.18“I can’t do this.” Sometimes we feel powerless in the face of the challenge. Your family erupts in open conflict or seethes with passive aggression, and we feel unable to address this. The divisions in our nation run deeper and deeper, and our best efforts seem to exacerbate, not alleviate, the problem. This is how the people of God feel in Daniel 7. They are living in exile in Babylon, forced from their homeland by an enemy army and subdued by their power and, apparently, their gods as well. These enemy armies are represented by beasts in Dan 7:1–8 that overcome the people of God. Weren’t we called to have dominion over the beasts (Gen 1:28)? How do we exercise authority when we seem to have so little power? In the face of our powerlessness, Daniel 7:9–18 shows how God rules from his throne and gives the kingdom to the son of man so that God’s people receive and possess that kingdom forever. 

First God rules from his throne (Dan 7:9–12). While the beasts wreaked havoc, the Ancient of Days takes his place with purity and power. His purity is seen in his white clothes and hair like pure wool, while his power is demonstrated in the stream of fire coming forth with multitudes serving him. We can trust God because of his purity and power; his purity assures us that his purposes are good, while his power reminds us that things can really change. God rules from his throne. The remaining authority of the beasts is completely under the authority of God; “their lives were prolonged for a season and a time” (Dan 7:12).

Surprisingly, God gives the kingdom to the son of man (Dan 7:13–14). The remarkable authority of the Ancient of Days is given to “one like a son of man.” This phrase in Aramaic is often used for humble self reference; in no way does it suggest power or authority. Yet God’s extensive authority is given to the son of man so that “all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him” (7:14). Remarkable authority is placed in a surprisingly insignificant package. This promise is fulfilled in Jesus, the Son of Man who came in power yet was born as a baby in a manger and crucified as a criminal on a cross.

As a result, God’s people receive and possess that kingdom forever (Dan 7:15–18). Intriguingly the vision interprets the son of man as the saints of the Most High who receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever (7:18). The kingdom is given to God’s people who must possess it. We receive and possess that kingdom forever. Therefore, no matter what destructive forces rise up against us, we stand confident as the people of God. We receive the kingdom and step forward to receive that kingdom.

So what? No matter how powerless you feel, no matter how powerful the forces arrayed against you may seem, we can stand confident. God still rules from his throne. God has given his kingdom to the son of man, Jesus. And through Jesus, we receive and possess that kingdom forever. Therefore, we do not shrink back in fear at the forces before us, but we rise up with faith to see his kingdom come and will done on earth as it is in heaven.

 

 

 

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A Church United Healing a Nation Divided

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How can a church united be a force of healing in a nation divided? Two years ago when our churches merged, we felt called to reach the diversity of our area. Events in Charlottesville, Baltimore, Charleston, Chicago, Ferguson and other places in the past two years have starkly underlined the division of our nation. Yet Jesus prayed for the church, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). What does this mean for us?

First we must pray as Jesus prayed. The world in Jesus’ day was also divided — the tax collectors who supported Rome were diametrically opposed to the zealots who opposed Rome. The Jews saw Gentiles as dogs. Division was prevalent. Yet both Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector were disciples of Jesus. And the issue of reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles figures prominently in Romans, Ephesians, and Galatians. Yet these issues demand not only doctrinal clarity and relational savvy but spiritual power. Jesus came to break the dividing wall of hostility down. So we must pray to see those walls come down. The issues are not merely human but also spiritual.

Second we must understand the issues well. Growing up as a Korean in Japan, issues of ethnicity figured prominently. I sometimes felt walls of coldness rise up when people heard my Korean name.  Similarly, the anger, hurt and disappointment in the #blacklivesmatter movement should not be dismissed by a church that weeps with those who weep (Rom 12:15). When an African-American friend is broken because of a run-in with the police, we should know why. Mark Noll, a renowned Wheaton professor before going to Notre Dame, writes, “Together, race and religion make up, not only the nation’s deepest and most enduring moral problem, but also its broadest and most enduring political influence” (God and Race in American Politics: A Short History [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008], 1).

This problem of race and religion in politics is then highlighted by a deeply troubling book that suggests that our current war on drugs is actually driving a new Jim Crow segregation (Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Era of Colorblindness [New York: New Press, 2012]). Alexander chronicles how each step forward for African Americans in America has led to a step backward, from the abolition of slavery with the Civil War to vagrancy laws and Jim Crow, from the embrace of the Civil Rights Movement to the disproportionate and disastrous effect on urban black communities (though they neither use nor deal drugs at rates higher than whites) by the war on drugs. This book made me sick to the stomach as I digested some of these claims.

Third, grab lunch. We have to understand stories of people around us who are different than us. The fears and concerns of an African American in Wheaton may be radically different than the fears and concerns of an Asian American or an Anglo American. We are all American, but we have different experiences that are best understood over coffee in homes in the safety of relationship. How did the election of Donald Trump make Mexicans and immigrants feel? We should ask them and listen without defensiveness. How did the events of Ferguson, MO, make our African American brothers and sisters feel? We should listen before we criticize. The church should be marked by compassion and love and understanding if we are to bring healing.

In Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, Michael Emerson and Christian Smith argue that the segregation of the evangelical church contributes to the racial division of our nation. How can this be? How can the church of Jesus Christ bought by his blood strengthen and not break down walls of division? This should not be.

I am raising more questions than I am answering. That is intentional because the journey to our growth begins with questions. During our missions conference this year we will engage these questions more deeply. This year our missions conference is on Feb 21–25. Please mark your calendars. On Friday, Feb 23 and Sat, Feb 24, there will be an opportunity to dig more deeply into these issues. I believe that God has called Wellspring together to be a church united to bring healing in a nation divided. Why?  “that the world may believe” (John 17:21). Mission is only possible when we love. And love grows out of understanding. May we understand and love that we might bring healing as a church to a nation that is divided.

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God Rules Through Us (Psalm 8)

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God rules the world through us. He could have chosen to do it many other ways, but this is what He chose. Psalm 8 spells out how God’s rule is expressed through us.

First, God rules over his enemies as we praise (Psalm 8:1–2). While His glory and name are set above the heavens, “out of the mouth of babies and infants, [he has] established strength because of [his] foes, to still the enemy and the avenger” (8:2). What does it mean that God has established strength from the mouths of babies and infants? While enemies and foes represent human strength, babies and infants represent human weakness. Yet in our weakness, God establishes a stronghold as we praise God with our mouths. Matthew 21:16 quotes this verse when Jesus enters Jerusalem and the crowds sing Jesus’ praises, silencing Jesus’ foes. They can do nothing in the face of that praise. Similarly when we praise in the face of our enemies, God’s reign breaks through over those enemies.

Also, God rules in us as we repent (Psalm 8:3–5). In comparison to the glory of the moon and stars, man is so small. The closest star to earth besides the Sun would take the space shuttle 150,000 years to get there. And there are 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone and over a hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe!  In light of that, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (8:4). We are so small.  Yet God has nonetheless made man “a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor” (8:5). We do not deserve this. We have no reason for pride. All that we have comes because God has crowned us with it. Therefore we repent.

Finally, God rules over all things as we rule (Psalm 8:6–9). God gave man “dominion over the works of your hands; [he has] put all things under his feet” (8:6). All the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea are all placed under our dominion. This develops the call to have dominion in Gen 1:28; instead of subduing the animals, Adam and Eve were subdued by a deceptive serpent by their failure to obey God’s Word. Ultimately this dominion is expressed through Jesus Christ, under whose feet God has placed everything (1 Cor 15:27; Heb 2:6–8; Eph 1:21–22) as well as us who believe in Christ (Eph 2:6; cf. Rom 16:20).

So what? God could rule directly over the world, but He has chosen to rule through us. He rules over his enemies as we praise. He rules in us as we repent. And he rules over all things as we rule. Let us praise, since from the mouths of babes he has ordained praise. Let us repent, since we are so small yet falsely assume that we are big.  And let us rule, expressing his authority in the brokenness of our world.

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Korean New Years, Cultures Collide and the Church

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In Korean culture, New Year’s is a big deal. On New Year’s Day, families gather to eat dduk-gook (rice cake soup) and play games of yutt-nori together. But the climax of the gathering is when the children sebae (bow) to their parents and grandparents, bowing very low with their heads to the ground. In return the parents and grandparents will typically share words of blessing and give gifts. These practices reflect values — family, togetherness, respect for elders, and responsibility for the younger generation. And these values are passed on through practices. Last year we ate dduk-gook and did sebae since my mother was here from Korea. This year we did eat dduck-gook but, I must confess, we did not sebae. It was not a conscious decision to not sebae but the simple reality that nobody around us expected this. Yet I wonder if we should have been more intentional here. As Korean culture collides with Western culture in our family, we find ourselves constantly negotiating the competing demands of both cultures as we try to cultivate our children as both Korean and American. These small decisions compound over time to inculcate values.

Similarly as a church we have cultures colliding. As Wellspring we brought together the church cultures of Blanchard and Living Water. And as a church we are in a season of adolescence. We have seen rapid growth, but sometimes our voice still squeaks, our clothes (sanctuary) feels tight, and we stumble forward in figuring out who we are supposed to be. Like an adolescent discerning colleges, majors and eventually vocation, so a church must discern its vocation in the world. This is the season that we are now in. And we need your prayerful input. This Sunday we will kick off a series of gatherings that will solicit input on this important question.

Culture is a way of thinking, behaving, or working in a place, group, or organization. Culture articulates what we really care about.  We want to describe our culture as a church, seeing what is uniquely important to us and articulate what God is calling us to be as a church.  Three years ago as Living Water and Blanchard were discerning whether we should merge, we assembled a merger task force to help us discern what it might look like structurally and organizationally for us to come together. Today we are taking another step in that discernment process as we explore what God is calling us together.

This Sunday at 9 AM and 11 AM in the Living Water Room, Linda Oury, one of our Governing Board members, will facilitate a discussion on this topic.  In coming weeks we will also have discussions in Warrenville, at Collide and in home groups. For this meeting, I invite you to reflect on these questions:

  • If you were describing Wellspring to a friend over coffee, what would you say about how we act and what we value as a church?
  • What excites you about this body and the unique opportunities we have to serve God as Wellspring?
  • Sometimes it is helpful to look at the opposite of what we want to be.  In other words, who do we NOT want to be as Wellspring?

This discussion will be part of a process to help us understand our combined core values and incorporate them into our life as a church. Please be asking God who He is calling us to be now that He has brought us together; leaders want to hear from you.

You may be judging me for not having my children sebae this New Years. I’m actually feeling a bit guilty as well. But that’s okay. January 1 is Western New Year’s; Korean/Chinese New Year’s is the lunar new year which is coming up in February. So maybe we can do something then.

 

 

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