Loving Jesus In the Most Godless City in America

The Wall Street Journal released an article today on the “most godless city in America,” and we got it. The Portland Metro area, over 2.3 million strong, which includes the county that LifePoint Church calls home, is at the top of the list. North of 42% of our area claims “no religious affiliation” whatsoever. Seattle and San Francisco tied for second, but it really wasn’t close, as Portland Metro outpaced both cities by nearly 10%.

How should we read news like this?

With our Bibles open.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 1 Peter 2:9-12

I have witnessed some Christians who receive news like this with disgust. “Uggghhh…why would I want to live in such a godless place? I should move to a place more accepting of my beliefs, affirming of my perspective, and comfortable for my faith.”

I see it wholly different. I can’t think of a place I’d rather live. I can’t imagine a better location for a church called to be the church.

By all means, if our mission is to be comfortable, then let’s retreat. Let’s get out of harm’s way. Let’s build the walls around our homogeneous compound higher than anyone can scale. When we do need to venture into the darkness, let’s keep our fists tight, our brows furrowed, and our scowls affixed.

Let’s just thank God that Jesus didn’t have that mindset.

He left the Father’s side to enter enemy territory and love it to death. When Jesus heals us, He births in His church a heart to do the same.

Come on LifePoint. Be the church. Get about the Father’s business. If He gives you one more day or 10,000- love Jesus well in the most Godless city in America.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
1 Peter 2:21-24

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Middle School Camp Report: Hope and Burden (by Drew Saccenti)

One of my college professors gave me the best advice on youth ministry I have ever received. He told me “anytime you have a cabin full of middle schoolers make sure you bring a 20 pack of deodorant, it will be the best 40 dollars you ever spend.” This past weekend we brought 51 people to middle school camp. That piece of advice haunted me all weekend.

Deodorant aside, this was the first time we split up our middle and high school students for camp. It brought out a unique camp dynamic. This camp truly birthed a hope and burden amongst myself and our youth staff. Middle schoolers are great because they exude a hope and optimism for the future. They haven’t quite been tainted by the world, in the way that many high schoolers have been. Their hope and passion for the future is contagious. However, for anyone attempting to disciple this unique age range, there is an immense burden that accompanies this hope. There is a burden for them to know and experience Jesus before the ugliness of the world comes into full view. There is a burden to take advantage of these three short years where they are pliable to respond to the Gospel. There is a burden to build a strong foundation before the building blocks of life are stacked higher and higher. My prayer after this middle school camp is that our students would walk away with hope, and our leaders would walk away with a burden. A burden to see middle schoolers know Jesus.

The biggest win from this camp is that we are baptizing seven middle schoolers on Easter Sunday. A few of them have a Christian background. A few of them have never stepped into a church before 2015. Below are a few pictures from the camp. We had a blast! However all the fun and games had a very specific goal in mind: to create space in the hearts of middle schoolers for the gospel.

camp 1 camp 2 camp 3 camp 4

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“You Mad Bro?”

As we were growing up as kids, there were plenty of experiences that we had to wait to encounter.  Whether it was walking, talking, crossing the street on our own, growth spurts, WHATEVER! – at any given stage or age there was inevitably something you and I were waiting to experience.  Well, except one thing… There was something that none of us have ever needed to wait for.  Actually, it came upon us before we even knew what hit us.  Before permits, puberty, and even before potty training, you and I have both have experienced it: offense.

Though it began in childhood, it didn’t stop there.  The reality is that you and I still run the risk of this painful experience every time we venture to talk to another human being.  Whether you decide to share a cup of coffee with a person, or the rest of your life with a person, with your interaction comes the potential for you to be hurt or irritated – it’s life.

As a child experiencing offense, I was taught the “Matthew 18 Routine.”  Matthew 18:15-20 is the classic text on dealing with offense and I’ve read it many times. To summarize, if someone offends you, your first step needs to be having a conversation “between you and him alone,”  not with everyone else, including your 257 Facebook friends.  This is pretty basic. However, during my latest reading the following phrase stood out to me: “If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”  This is the purpose of the initial conversation: to gain your brother.

To have gained something implies that something was lost. Offense causes something to be lost between two brothers. With it comes the potential for animosity to replace affection, or for alienation to replace closeness; this is a big loss – especially between Christians brothers and sisters who have both experienced the exchange of alienation for adoption through Jesus Christ.  So, the point of having a Matthew 18 conversation with someone is not “to get it off of your chest,” or to vent your anger. While it may initially feel cathartic, approaching such a conversation with these motives will actually self-destruct the ultimate purpose: to regain that which was lost.

This is an unfortunate result and one that too many of us are probably familiar with. Perhaps the offending brother doesn’t know his offense.  Perhaps he does, and simply needs to be confronted and made aware of the results of his actions.  Whatever the situation, we should follow the heart of Matthew 18 here and make our primary purpose reconciliation.  Let’s approach our conversations prayerfully, with grace and self-control, and fully aware of what Christ has done to unite us in Him.  Then let’s keep our eyes on the goal: reconciliation.

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Learning From Affliction (by Brent Kimball)

We are preaching through 1 Thessalonians at LifePoint Church. It is a great book study and I believe the entire church family is being enriched by it. Recently the text was the 3rd chapter. At the same time that we were working through this text I was reading through Psalm 119. There are some strong parallels between the two passages concerning afflictions.

In 1 Thessalonians we read how Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica in order to “establish and exhort” the believers in their faith[1]. He did this because they were experiencing severe trials and he didn’t want them to be “moved by these afflictions.”[2] This carries the idea of being shaken so as to be unsettled.

Have you ever been shaken by afflictions so that your faith was unsettled? I have and it wasn’t fun. I know why Paul was concerned about this for these believers. Afflictions can be defined in diverse ways. In the Bible the term is used of the calamities of war, of want, distress of childbirth, depression, and persecution. It includes anything that causes pressure, misery, anguish, burden, persecution, tribulation, or trouble.[3] Are you experiencing any of these?

Clearly, based on the Apostle’s intent in sending Timothy, people can remain unshaken by their afflictions. God uses many means by which he establishes and exhorts his people so that they remain unmoved in their trust of him. His primary means of keeping his people solid during affliction is his WORD, to which Psalm 119 bears witness. Seven times the author references an affliction that he went through and how God’s Word stabilized him.[4]

The Psalmist, David, knew that God, in his faithfulness, had afflicted him. The affliction was severe, to the extent that he felt like he could have perished. He wanted deliverance from the affliction yet he knew that it was good for him. He confessed that prior to the affliction he strayed but that by the affliction he had learned to keep the Word of God in obedience. Through the affliction he delighted in God’s Word and it had been his source of comfort, strength, and perspective. The Word of God had given him life.

Delight in the Word of God, and whatever afflictions you are encountering in your life, may you not be moved!

Pastor Brent Kimball

__________________________

[1] 1 Thess. 3:1-2
[2] 1 Thess. 3:3
[3] Vines Expository Dictionary & Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance.
[4] Psalm 119:49, 67, 71, 75, 92, 107, 153

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Paul’s Message on Mars Hill

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens…
Acts 17:22

Paul’s message to the wondering crowd of the Areopagus (the NIV calls this place “Mars Hill,” recorded in Acts 17:22-31) is one of the great treasures handed down to us in the biblical text. It’s not only a great example of a gospel message; it’s also a lesson on how to deliver the gospel to a culture that is far from God.

Even the fact that Paul responded to the invitation to share the gospel in this context reveals that Paul believed that the gospel message is for everyone, everywhere, by all means necessary.

Here are my observations of Paul’s method and message:

1) Paul starts with their context, not his. (vv. 22-23, 28-29)

He begins by noting that the “altar to an unknown God” was evidence of their spiritual hunger. Later in his message he quotes pagan poets from their culture, which would be like quoting lyrics to a popular song in our day. He doesn’t demand that they come to him to hear the message of the gospel, instead he begins right where they are.

As for his message, it breaks down like this:

2) God is the sovereign, giving creator. (vv. 24-25)
3) God is mankind’s ultimate purpose, and we can feel it. (vv. 26-27a)
4) The God we search for actually reaches out for us. (vv. 27b-28)
5) God sent Jesus to reveal himself and to call all people to him. (vv. 29-31)

As John Stott notes:

“The Areopagus address reveals the comprehensiveness of Paul’s message. He proclaimed God in his fullness as Creator, Sustainer, Ruler, Father and Judge. He took in the whole of nature and of history. He passed the whole of time in review, from the creation to the consummation. He emphasized the greatness of God, not only as the beginning and the end of all things, but as the One to whom we owe our being and to whom we must give account. He argued that human beings already know these things by natural or general revelation, and that their ignorance and idolatry are therefore inexcusable. So he called on them with great solemnity, before it was too late, to repent.”[1]

This text is a great place to find out the elements of a solid gospel message, and to be challenged by the motive of love for the lost that animated Paul’s life.

[1] John Stott, The Message of Acts.

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New Podcast from LifePoint Church

For a number of months Tyler Clarensau (our music/arts pastor) and I have been discussing the possibility of beginning a new creative venture. Earlier this week we took the plunge. Our idea has developed into what we are calling the To Be The Church Podcast, a weekly podcast show that will air every Friday. Episode 1 is up, and you can subscribe in Itunes to get the new content every week.

As you listen to Episode 1, you’ll get the background on this developing idea. We have already recorded Episode 2, which will be released February 27. Expect new content every Friday, and give us feedback on what you think.

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Provoked or Desensitized?

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.
Acts 17:16

A little over a week ago I wrote a post about what it means to “weep for the lost.” This past Sunday we again visited a text that deals with the issue of gospel-witness. What I want to posit here is simply this: when confronted with godlessness in the culture around us, the Christian is either provoked to gospel-witness or desensitized by the mess.

Ancient Athens was a city swimming in idolatry. One Roman satirist of the period joked: “It is easier to find a god in Athens than it is to find a man.”[1] As Paul was left alone to stay in the city while he awaited his travelling companions, kicking back by the hotel pool didn’t seem to interest him. Apparently, he went sight-seeing. What he saw motivated him to take action.

The text says “his spirit was provoked.” This word “provoked” is in the passive tense in this text (meaning something happened to Paul, as in “something came over him”). He found himself provoked, irritated, urged on, motivated to action. Being provoked in his spirit when confronted by idolatry was certainly evidence of God’s Spirit within him. Remember, Paul would later state:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.[2]

And

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,[3]

There was something within Paul (God’s Spirit?) that provoked him to take action when he saw the people of Athens, hungry though they were for knowledge and spirituality, lost and confused and drowning in the worship of idols.

I know many Christians who live this way, and who are engaged in leading others to the gospel as a result. But growing up as a Christian, I know the other side of the coin as well. Too often in the Christian world we can get into the discussions and debates focused on issues like “How worldly is too worldly for the Christian?” or “What should we or shouldn’t we watch/listen to/expose ourselves to?” or “How separate should we be from culture?” or “How can we form Christian versions of cool things we see in culture so that we can stay a safe distance away but still have a good time?”

I think we may be missing the point. If we’re provoked by the lostness around us, we’ll be motivated to engage our culture with the gospel. If we’re desensitized to it, we’ll either abandon and isolate, or assimilate and compromise. If we’re walking by the Spirit of God, I think we can expect to live a life that is constantly provoked and moved to gospel-proclamation. Warning: you can’t lead others to the gospel from a safe distance across a barbwire fence. Spirit of God, help us.

[1] John Stott, The Message of Acts, p. 277.

[2] Romans 8:5

[3] Romans 8:14-16

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