Saying Goodbye to Goodbyes

(Originally written October, 2014 when I flew in to surprise my mom for her birthday!)

I write this the evening prior to catching a flight in morning to head back home to Denver.  The surprise that was so anticipated turned into a wonderful visit with family, which included Concord Mills, Red Lobster, catching up with an area pastor, and the World Series.

But this trip is bookended:  a surprise on the front, goodbyes in the back.

And I detest them.

Sure, I’m grateful for the memories, grateful for the time, and grateful to get back to my crew on the Centennial front.

But those goodbyes…

One day, I’ll say, “Goodbye” to goodbyes.

Then I saw a new heaven  and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and  the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:1-4).

Sin is covered, bringing fellowship with God.

Death is no more, bringing no more separation from each other.

The sea is no more, bring no more enemies that separate us from peace.

The Temple will be no more, for the Lord and the Lamb are our Temple (Rev. 21:22).

We say goodbye to those goodbyes. We will have one constant “Hello” to all that God has provided for us in Christ by the Spirit.

Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!

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Why Every Ordinary Worship Gathering is Extraordinary

Worship at MBEBC

Mt Beulah Evangelical Baptist Church, Point Fortin, Trinidad & Tobago, c. 2007

Whenever God’s people gather together to worship our risen, ascended, and coming-again Christ, it’s an extraordinary day.

I’ve been around people who, though they are Christians (and some even in ministry), who find little hope and joy in church people–and when they do, it’s only when everyone submits to their thinking on things. This is a tragedy of the first order.  If pastors and staff come in to a situation already having no hope and joy in their church and little love for people, no amount of talking, counseling, or anything along this line will help unless there is repentance.

And if church members find little hope and joy in church because it’s not going their way, they risk putting themselves as the mediator of all that’s good and right rather than Christ.

But our worship gatherings (for us, Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m., but others meet at various times over weekends), the ordinariness of worship gatherings is extraordinary.

  1. Even after 2000 years, we gather every week to honor our all-sufficient Christ, make hopeful and joyful disciples of Jesus, and share the gospel to those who have not yet surrendered. We in this generation take the baton and pass it on to the next–joyfully.
  2. We realize that the church may be for us in a sense, but it’s not about us!  Young pastors come out of seminary well-read with theories and ideas, having sat under experts (some with pastoral experience, others with none) and if that church resists, then that church is apostate.  New members may join, but expect their new church to conform to their old church and its ideas. We elevate personal preferences to tests of faith. We can also be right about changes that need to be made, but wrong in how we approach it.  But we go at the speed of God! We want to reach all for Christ–whether it’s reaching the reached, or the unreached–and say, “Jesus is enough!”
  3. We read, sing, pray, give, listen, respond, and are sent all in ordinary ways to our ordinary lives because of the extraordinariness of our Lord Jesus.  With this comes an intentionality! If Jesus is enough (and He is), then we must drink in all He says, we must do all He commands, we must grow in the gospel, love one another, serve our neighbors, and go to the nations! In our ordinary, ‘as-you-go’ lives.  On mission! Where we live.

What an extraordinary joy in our ordinary lives serving an extraordinary Savior.

Another reason that Jesus is enough!

 

 

 

Why Easter is an Ordinary Day at Church

We dress up. We decorate our sanctuaries/auditoriums/worship centers. We preach and center our worship gatherings in song and Word around the specific topic of the resurrection of Christ. Pastors spending time preaching either on the events leading up to and of the resurrection, or spending time looking at the biblical record in defending the resurrection.

Easter is a special day because more people come, usually those who (1) are irregular attenders who recognize the special nature of the day, and (2) are family members of those who are regular members. It’s a special day for family, but also a special day for church family seeing so many who are members but return.

In other words, Easter is a very special day.

But Easter is also an ordinary day.

You see, every single worship gathering in which we engage interacts with the resurrection of Christ. While we may not dress up in our ‘Easter’ outfits (depending on certain traditions),

  • We decorate our auditoriums in a way that seeks to connect all who come in to Christ (either by furniture and crosses, or by more sparseness so nothing distracts).
  • Pastors prepare their sermons in the hope of the resurrection, preaching salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone from the Scriptures alone to the glory of God alone.  Faith in the risen Christ, that is!
  • Time will tell who will return and who will stay, but our prayers are fueled by the understanding that we approach the throne of grace with confidence, a throne occupied by the risen Christ who still intercedes for us.
  • We sing to an exalted Christ or about an exalted Christ because of our knowing that He lives!
  • We stay steadfast, immovable, abounding in the work of the Lord because our work is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58)–why? Because Christ’s work on our behalf was not in vain.  The resurrection lays the foundation.

Yes, Jesus is enough!  His death, His resurrection is enough for our salvation, sanctification, and glorification.

Hmm… maybe every gathering is extraordinary in that light!

Thanks be to God for the gift of Christ!  He is alive!  He is enough!

Will You Respect God’s Son This Good Friday?

On this Good Friday, we come at this holy time in Holy Week to remember.  Some may find the name of this day a bit odd:  Good Friday?  How can a day that’s so bad in the killing of an innocent man on a cross be so good?

While the process was not good in our eyes, the end result was!

Turn with me to Matthew 21:33-46 (take time to read through this now).  This passage is known as the Parable of the Tenants.  Jesus used these parables during his earthly ministry as he spoke with unbelievers to both instruct and to conceal.

This parable begins with a master of the house who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants.  After this was accomplished, he left to another country.  If you read through Isaiah 5:1-2, you will see the parallel.

Let me sing for my beloved
my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes (Isaiah 5:1-2).

Jesus brings this picture into play, showing that His Father is the “master of the house” and the house of Israel is the vineyard.  He provided everything needed for it not only to bless them but to bless every tribe, tongue, people, and nation with its provision.  The fruit it bore was to be sweet to the world, but it yielded the wild grapes, sour to the taste.

God made every provision for His people. “When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit.”  These servants are the prophets that God sent—all throughout history.  And all throughout history, the ‘tenants’ (God’s people) who professed God with their mouths at their religious functions, denied His Word by their actions.  Jesus even said:

Therefore I will send you prophets and wisemen and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar (Matthew 23:34-35).

But notice what the master of the house (Yahweh) did.  Well, first look at what he didn’t do!  He could have sent an army that was at his disposal to bring retribution.  While they deserved that, He loved them enough to send them one more person—His Son.  Now, we must read what he says with the proper inflection.  “They will respect my son!”  He is not saying this in a clueless, pie-in-the-sky type of mentality.  No, He is saying, “They will respect my son.”  And if they didn’t?  Consequences will ensue.

Did they respect him?  No!  In fact, they existed as if they were the ultimate rulers of the land!  And the implication?  They acted as if God did not exist.  Everytime God sent someone to check on their condition, they beat them, killed them, or stoned them.  But God still let them press on—He loved them enough to discipline, but still maintained His patience and preserved them as a people.

With the Son?  “They took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”  Why is this so important?  Hebrews 13:12-13 says:

12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.

A boy was turning the pages of a book on religious art.  When he came to a picture of the crucifixion, he looked at it for a long time, and there came a sad look on his face.  Then he said, “If God had been there, he wouldn’t have let them do it.”

In this Parable, we must see what Jesus is doing here.  This is the earthly father who would say, “They will respect my son.”  In Isaiah 53:4-6, we read:

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

The Lord laid on him our sin.  In Isaiah 53:10, Scripture tells us that “it was the will of the LORD to crush him.”  While the tenants did do Him in, God used them as an instrument of judgment, mercy, and a sacrifice for sin.

They intended to throw Him out!  But they took him outside the camp where the lambs were sacrificed for the forgiveness of the sins of His people.  He bore their reproach.  He was rejected by His own, but God used that as an instrument of both judgment against those who rejected, but also as an instrument of mercy to those who would receive him.

Remember, Jesus is telling His listeners a parable—and they were certainly caught up in it!  When Jesus asked them, “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” (v. 40).  How did they respond?  At this point, they were not totally tracking with Jesus’ point.  So their response was blunt and forceful:

“He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons” (v. 41).

They just condemned themselves.  They thought they would have the land as an inheritance, but the way they treated God’s messengers indicated they did not want to really be a part of the owner’s territory to begin with.  You cannot have the blessings of the Master and reject the Master.

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;[a]
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

Every person in this place and in this world will react to this “stone” in one of three ways:

  • You will stumble over it
  • You will be crushed by it
  • You will be aligned with it.

At this point, some in his audience believed in aspects of him, but rejected other aspects.  He’s a great teacher, they would say, but is he a political king that will overthrow?  Where’s his army?  Where’s his ambition?  They stumbled.  They had created a Messiah in their own thinking influence by the culture around them—rather than the Word and the Spirit informing and transforming their thinking.

Some will be crushed by it.  Whether they were an atheist who outright rejected, or a faithful church attender who is going not to get to know Christ better but to simply be seen—both will be crushed!  Both are aligning themselves up with their own thoughts, wanting even God’s things for selfish reasons.

But the rejected stone becomes the cornerstone.  We can only see it when the Lord marvelously opens our eyes to receive it.  By this new people, these nations, these Gentiles—they would produce fruit thanks to the Spirit who produces fruit through them.  This can happen if Christ is the cornerstone of your life—with the foundation of the Word of God, and we being the living stones.

The cross of Christ shows us the heinousness of our sin that caused him to writhe in agony!

The cross of Christ shows us the love of God who was patience enough not to leave us in our rebellious, sinful condition.

The cross of Christ is necessary—for without His death, we would die.  Without His death, there would be no resurrection.  Without His resurrection, there would be no resurrection for us!

Stumbling?  Crushed?  Or aligned?  Either way, God’s Word still speaks:  They will respect My Son.  What will you do with the Son today?

The Benefits and Blessings of Blizzards

“For to the snow he says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour, his mighty downpour” (Job 37:6, ESV).

Today was an interesting day on the meteorological front here in Denver, Colorado.

Yesterday, the temperature rose to a high of 73 degrees–complete with a weather warning for the following day for blizzard conditions. This morning? Blizzard conditions! 

Many lament the fact that this blizzard came. I can understand it, for I don’t know too many who like this weather combination.  It’s easy to talk about the negatives:

  • shoveling snow on the driveways and sidewalks;
  • having to drive in such conditions to get to work;
  • scraping ice and brushing snow off the car so you can drive in such conditions to get to work;
  • traffic accidents galore by those unskilled in navigating in such weather;

I’m sure we could all list off a few more negatives.  Yet, I submit this question: are there any benefits to a blizzard?  Yes!

  1. We know that God has a reason for sending this to begin with, so this is always a great place to start (Job 37:6; Romans 8:28).  Plus, blizzards are a reminder of his incredible power and majesty. 
  2. The snow provides much-needed hydration, especially here in Denver.  In Denver, it only rains 12-15” per year, so the residents here do not mind the snow. One of my deacons told me when I moved here that when you look at the mountains, you need to see snow on the peaks for the main range of the Rockies because that water comes down to benefit those of us in the front range and Eastern plains.
  3. School is out (although in Arapahoe County, school was already out for Spring Break, but I digress)!  My children come home from school, eat, do homework, take baths, then we have a little time for stories and prayer then they head to bed.  But with snow days? That means time with the kids, cozy inside, with movies, snacks, and a good time in the backyard playing in this fluffy white stuff.  Kevin DeYoung captured this in his recent blog post from December 1, 2011, “Heaven is Your Snow Day.” 

What are some benefits you see to a blizzard?

Twenty Reasons Why Jesus is Enough

Through Christ, I am dead to sin (Romans 6: 11).

Through Christ, I am spiritually alive (Romans 6:11; 1 Corinthians 15:22).

Through Christ, I am forgiven (Colossians 2: 13; 1 John 2: 12).

Through Christ, I am declared righteous (1 Corinthians 1: 30; 2 Corinthians 5: 21).

Through Christ, I am a child of God (Romans 8:16; Philippians 2:15).

Through Christ, I am God’s possession (Titus 2:14).

Through Christ, I am an heir of God (Romans 8:17).

Through Christ, I am blessed with all spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3).

Through Christ, I am a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20).

Through Christ, I am free from the law (Romans 8:2).

Through Christ, I am crucified with him (Galatians 2:20).

Through Christ, I am free from the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:24).

Through Christ, I am declared blameless and innocent (Philippians 2:15).

Through Christ, I am a light in the world (Matthew 5: 14–15; Philippians 2:15).

Through Christ, I am victorious over Satan (Luke 10:19).

Through Christ, I am cleansed from sin (1 John 1: 7).

Through Christ, I am set free in Christ from the power of sin (Colossians 2:11–15).

Through Christ, I am secure in him (1 Peter 1:3–5).

Through Christ, I am at peace with God (Romans 5:1; Philippians 4:6–9).

Through Christ, I am loved by God (1 John 4:10).

From Gospel Coach: Shepherding Leaders to Glorify God by Scott Thomas and Tom Wood.

Three Ways Your Brain Reacts to Change

BrainChange is difficult! In almost 25 years in ministry and 14 years as a lead pastor in established churches, I have seen how jittery change is for many members. In fact, change is difficult for leaders as well–make no mistake about that. Anytime I as a leader propose change, I have a particular process I go through in my own mind.  While I may enjoy something greatly, I may have to set aside something I enjoy greatly for the benefit of our vision and mission as a body of Christ.

Fast Company recently published an article entitled, How Your Brain Reacts to Change.  Here’s what’s affected and why:

  1. Social Connection: “That drive toward connection is so real that in the presence of social pain or discomfort, our brains have been shown to react similarly to the way they do when we’re in physical pain.”
  2. Enough Information: “Seeking out information in the face of uncertainty is therefore a crucial way in which we can better adjust to change, says Scarlett. ‘It’s these little missing bits of information that are distracting,’ she says. ‘If you give people that information, it settles the brain.'”
  3. Taking Care of Your Body: “‘If you’ve got a big decision to make, sleep is really important for the brain . . . It’s that ability to stop, pause, and respond, rather than just reacting very quickly to things,’ says Scarlett. ‘We forget how much energy making decisions takes out of us. The impact of not having sleep is the equivalent of going to work drunk, yet we don’t see it that way.'”

Every major change I’ve suggested and our various churches have undergone have dealt with at least two of the three areas mentioned above.

Social connection.  One of the ways that this difficulty arises is when we deal with a change in gathering times (small groups, worship services, etc.) or in dealing with adding classes (addressed in a recent blog post on multiplying).  Those social connections among believers are important, and losing those brings about a sense of pain and grief that many do not realize.  Leaders in church need to help people navigate through this.  Many times, the mission of making more disciples who are taking that next step in Christ means providing more environments for this to happen, especially as a church grows.

Enough information.  Remember my comment about our folks becoming jittery?  Information settles that jitteriness.  While some may want things to move more quickly, taking a couple of extra breathes, slowing down your pace a bit and giving more information and allowing people to respond and ask questions will serve you well as a leader down the road, especially if you’re in an established church. Yet, I believe every type of church would benefit. Leaders would benefit from providing plenty of information; church members would benefit from listening and processing same said information.

Taking Care of Your Body.  We all need to watch what we eat, get enough sleep, and exercise–both leader and non-leader alike. It’s amazing how much better we process what’s around us better when we take care of ourselves.

I’m passionate about helping people navigate through change, even as I myself work to navigate through those choppy waters. But changes is necessary.  Change means growth.  No change means stagnation and death.  Let’s help each other move more toward Christ, taking that next step in being hopeful, joyful disciples of Jesus.

Don’t Miss the Point of a Sermon

“The chief means of grace is the preached Word. A sermon is not only an exposition of God’s Word but is itself God’s Word. It is the Son of man preaching life into the valley of dead bones, wielding the two-edged sword that kills and makes alive. It is the Holy Spirit alone who is the effectual cause of the Word’s work, but it is administered through preaching. This is why, according to historical practice, sermons begin with the invocation, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” and end with “Amen,” or its translation, “So be it.” The sermon is the Word of God addressed to God’s people.

Sometimes we see the sermon merely as an opportunity to make the Word effective. For some, it is an opportunity for mere reflection— data processing, to put it indelicately. For others, it is a chance to make a decision. Still others see it as a stimulation to emotional experience. But whether we make our intellect, our will, or our heart sovereign, we are exchanging the glory of God for that of the creature. As Scripture presents it, the Word itself— wielded by the heavenly agent (the Holy Spirit) and the earthly ambassador (the preacher)— does what it threatens in the law and promises in the gospel. The Word itself does this work, not because it provides an occasion for us to do something but simply by its being used by God according to his own sovereign will. It is not just the content of the Word but the preaching of the Word that is central in worship and is, strictly speaking, a means of grace.

To be sure, many other methods in our hi-tech era would appear to be more effective forms of getting us to do something. Drama can entertain and inspire, emotional choruses sung in ascending chords with growing instrumental intensity can alter consciousness and moods, while audiovisual sophistication can persuade people that the Christian message (whatever that may be) is relevant in our age. A booming anthem with a pipe organ and well-trained choir may stir us. But if the primary goal is not to get us to do something that will effect our salvation but for God to plant his Word in our heart, our criteria for effectiveness and success will be rather different. It is important for us to realize that it is not only the message of the Word but the method of preaching that God has promised to use for salvation and growth. It must, therefore, be central in worship.”

A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship by Michael Horton –

Why Do We Do What We Do for Jesus?

20141018_224909Paul says at the beginning of Philippians 3, look including part of the letter, that it is no trouble for him to remind the Philippians of what he’s about to say. And Ilove this part–Paul does not mind reminding them.  Don’t you wish as parents that you didn’t remind your children about the same things over and over again?  Sometimes it’s exhausting, but then we have to remember it’s for their protection!

He said its good for them if no trouble for me, and it’s a safeguard for them. There’s always a danger in thinking that you understand everything that there is to know about the basics of the Bible, and therefore you don’t need to hear it anymore. You may feel that you can take off from church, or the there’s no need for a small group or a Bible study. What Paul says here is a theme they goes all through scripture. Nothing is simply this, we must not forget the things that God has taught us. We need continual reminders about the faithfulness of God, the Covenant that he is establish with his people, and how he intends to work through his church. All you need to do is go back to Deuteronomy 8:11-20. Over and over, as they go into the promised land, Moses reminds them not to forget.  Never let your joy in Christ slide.  So he begins with the outside.

He brings us reminders in the form of three “look outs.”  Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh” (Philippians 3:2).  These dogs are not like Fido by the fireplace, but rather wild animals and scavengers.  In fact, the Jews often called the Gentiles ‘dogs,’ now Paul a former a Jew called these Judaizers ‘dogs.’  These ‘evildoers,’ or evil workers (polar opposite of what Paul referred to Epaphroditus as) and leading people away from the grace of God into works in order to find his approval.  No!

The “mutilators” helps clarify who these folks are:  co-opting Christ with the law of Moses, saying you’re saved by doing law of Moses along with faith in Christ, mainly by having to undergo circumcision.  It was through this covenant given to Abraham that the Jews displayed on the outside that they were part of the faith.  This was not simply a sanctified surgery.  Nick Batzig clarifies this:  “It was in a very real sense a Divine tattoo.  There was a permanency about it that would serve as a constant reminder of the covenantal promises of God.  But, it was a sign.  It pointed away from itself to something else.”[1]  Paul saw these folks trying to enslave and take backwards believers or soon-to-be believers backwards to something that intended to point to Christ—not as an end in itself.

So when Paul says, “We are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ and put no confidence in the flesh,” he means that the reminder comes from the permanency not of what happens in the flesh, but of what Christ has done in cutting the influence of the ‘flesh’ away.  Paul wrote to the Roman church:

28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

Here we get to motives: why do we do what we do for Christ and His church?  The two things that these Judaizers bragged about here, as Matthew Harmon writes, pedigree and performance.   And so Paul tells them, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more.”  Is Paul bragging here?  No, as we will see soon.  Paul is making a point about what he has that’s more than any of them—but soon we will see how unhelpful and even detrimental this is to being right before God.

  • Circumcised on the eighth day: a covenant from Genesis 17 to Abraham.  An outward sign of an inward covenant.  Didn’t come later like it did to many of them—shows them that he had parents who were faithful.  Pedigree.
  • Of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin:  Benjamin, along with Joseph, was a favored son of Jacob due to both of those boys coming from the wife he truly loved, Rachel.  From Benjamin also came their first king, Saul.
  • Hebrew of Hebrews:  both parents were Hebrews.
  • Law, a Pharisee: part of the spiritual elite.  Careful study and practice of the law.  Conservatives of the day.  Distinguishing Jew from Gentile.
  • Zeal, persecutor of the church:  Paul (known by his Jewish name Saul) held the coats of those who stoned righteous Stephen at the end of Acts 7, and in Acts 8 he began his spree of jailing and killing Christians.
  • Righteousness to the law, blameless:  that is, no one could ever accuse him from what they saw that he ever disobeyed the law.

These Judaizers  wished they could have any one of these traits.  Paul had it all.  Pedigree. Performance. And with that, prestige.  But for what?  What was his motive?  More to point, what is our motive?  Why do you do what you do for Christ and His church?

[1]Nicolas Batzig, The Circumcision of Christ.  Available: http://feedingonchrist.com/the-circumcision-of-christ/.

The Athenian Balance of Evangelism

The apostle Paul preaching in the Areopagus in Athens, Greece (Acts 17:16-34)”God is pushing us as His people outside the walls of our building.” Have you heard preachers say that?  I bet if you were to go back to the sermon recording of most of your pastors (myself included), say this.  But let’s be clear–we spend the majority of our time outside the walls of this building.  It’s not that God’s pushing us out, He’s pulling us forward to make a difference in the place we spend the most time.

Generations ago, when new settlers built towns, they built them in a way that resembled a square.  They would have a square that is an open public space that’s used for gatherings of various sorts.  This square is surrounded by small shops, with a fountain in the middle.

It’s with this in mind that I approach this sermon with this particular shape.  The first point is that of Christ, the second of us and our relationship to Christ.  The third point dealt with our connection to Christ and the church.  But there’s more.  Much more.  It’s the intended command of Christ for us to connect with our community and our culture—that’s the fourth point that makes this square—the public square.

Local churches develop cultures in how they interact with the culture.  Reinhold Niebuhr wrote  a book a few decades ago called Christ and Culture.  In this book, he outlines ways that the church views Christ’s influence and interaction with the non-believing culture.

So many conversations about how Christians are to interact with the culture.  Should we turn into a fortress to keep ourselves and the culture completely separate, and nary the twain shall meet?  Should we engage the culture in such a way that we look almost exactly like it (assimilation)?  What should we do?  What’s the balance?

Whether we realize it or not, each of us has made our choice as to how we will interact in the public square of people and ideas.  We must certainly identify where we are in this so we know how to move forward.  The best way to do this is to shine the light on where we are, look at ourselves in the mirror and see reality, then move forward to God’s aim for us.

Before hitting these three, please take time to read Acts 17:16-34 (that’s ok–I’ll wait!).  Paul displays three needed mindsets in evangelism.

Provocation (Acts 17:16-17):  His spirit was provoked by the idols in Athens.  This word used for ‘provoked’ is the same word form used when Paul and Barnabas had a “sharp disagreement” over whether to take John Mark on the second missionary journey (Acts 15:39).  Does the idolatry of our nation and other nations provoke our spirits, that they are trusting in a substitute for the real, living God?

Compassion (Acts 17:18-23):  He acknowledged their spirituality.  Paul did not blast the people of Athens.  He did not say, “You rotten, blasphemous idolaters–you’re going to hell!”  Although this is true for all of us outside of Christ, that doesn’t mean you come in with both barrels locked and loaded.  You take Ephesians 4:15 out of the garage and take it on the highway: “… speaking the truth in love.”  You interact with aspects of the culture in order to connect them to the truth of that which transcends every culture.  Do we truly have a compassion for people, or are we ready to fire away because we’re right and their sinners?  Do we realize that, as Christians, God’s grace in rescuing us from the law cleanses us from sin?  

Conviction (Acts 17:24-31):  He still addressed their need for an exclusive gospel of our crucified and resurrected Christ. God was patient with our ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  Why?  A day of reckoning is approaching.  No, that may not sound politically correct, but it is biblically and historically correct–that is, Paul tells the people what will happen in history.  Does our compassion for people give us a reason to pull back on our convictions in order to please people?  Our compassion for people should propel us to share the truth with people in a winsome way that’s firm in the faith.

May God increase each of these in us!