The Gap: Seek the Welfare of the City (Part 2)

Yesterday’s post looked at the parallel between the church and the people of God in the Old Testament, specifically as it relates to Jeremiah 29 and the call of God to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile.” Timothy Keller’s work in Center Church is the best I could find on applying this text in context to God’s people then and now.

“From Genesis 11 all the way through Revelation, Babylon is represented as the epitome of a civilization built on selfishness, pride, and violence–the ultimate city of man. The values of the city contrast absolutely with those of the city of God; yet here the citizens of the city of God are called to be the very best residents of this particular city of man. God commands the Jewish exiles not to attack, despise, or flee the city–but to seek its peace, to love the city as they grow in numbers.”[1]

One thing I love about Keller’s work is that he leaves no stone unturned. It would be easy to bring out the parallels between the OT context and the NT people of God without also recognizing the subtle differences between the two. Keller doesn’t turn a blind eye to those differences, but brings out 3 ways that the church and OT Israel differ as it relates to Jeremiah 29. I think these are important to keep in mind.

1) How God’s people increase in the city where they are exiles.

The Jews in the OT were told to “have babies” to increase in Babylon. The NT church increases through new birth as well, but that new birth primary happens through evangelism and discipleship. Obviously, some of this discipleship includes leading the children we have to Christ, but the NT church is no longer a nationalistic entity, as the OT people of God were.

2) How God’s people reveal God to the nations around them.

Keller brings up the point that in the OT, God’s people were commanded to build a nation that served God and was obedient to God, and as a result the nations would “come in” and worship God. In the NT church this reality shifted. In following Jesus, God’s people are now “sent out”[2] to spread the gospel. At LifePoint we emphasize it this way: “It’s not ‘if we build it they will come,’ but ‘as God builds us we will go’.”

3) The practical separation of God’s people from the culture.

In the original Jeremiah 29 context the Jews would have remained separate from the culture of Babylon in certain distinct ways. The Mosaic code, ceremonial cleanliness laws, and food laws all would have necessitated a certain level of distance between the Jews and the Babylonians. When Jesus comes on the scene we begin to see a shift in redemptive history. Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners, and doesn’t maintain the stark separation from culture (to the ire of the religious elite of his day). I’m not implying that Jesus broke the OT law, but that in the way he lived we see the fulfillment of the law incarnate. Obviously, as we see the rest of the NT unfold, we learn that in his death and resurrection a number of the OT laws were fulfilled and no longer apply to God’s people post-Jesus in the way they did pre-Jesus. As Keller says in Generous Justice:

The coming of Christ fulfilled many of the Old Testament laws in such a way that they no longer bear on believers directly…the numerous ‘clean laws’ of Israel touching on diet, dress, and other forms of ceremonial purity, as well as the entire sacrificial system and temple worship ordinances, are no longer considered binding on Christians, because Christ came and fulfilled them.[3]

This new reality changes the way the NT church interacts with the culture. We don’t follow some religious code that demands we remain separate in dress, ceremony, or food. Obviously, the danger in this is that the church can compromise or blindly assimilate into culture, losing our distinct identity as God’s people. This is certainly not the design, and it is why we remain accountable to one another and submitted to God’s word.

[1] Timothy Keller, Center Church, 142.

[2] Matthew 28, Acts 1-2.

[3] Timothy Keller, Generous Justice, 20.

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Seek the Welfare of the City

“For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord…”

Can you complete that verse from memory? Many Christians can. Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the most referenced verses from the Old Testament. If you’re not as familiar with this weekly Christian radio “verse of the day,” it ends like this:

“…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”[1]

On Sunday we looked at the original biblical context of this famous verse. It is quoted by Jeremiah in the middle of a letter that he sent to the people of God who were exiled in Babylon. In the initial context this verse is a part of God’s promise to guide, provide for, and not abandon his people, though they feel far from him in the city where they find themselves outsiders. This verse ultimately looks forward to Jesus, who will provide the access to God who promised two verses later: “if you seek me, you will find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

Why did God’s people need this promise?

The thrust of Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Babylon is an attempt to correct the lies coming from false prophets who were telling them to get ready to leave Babylon and return to Jerusalem. They were advocating a number of mentalities that were not God-ordained. They were telling God’s people to remain antagonistic toward Babylon, because God was about to “break the yoke of Babylon from their neck.”

Jeremiah said just the opposite. This was his instruction to God’s people in exile:

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
Jeremiah 29:7

Timothy Keller, in his book Center Church, brings out the parallels between the people of Israel in Babylon and the people of God in the church, called by NT authors “exiles and sojourners.”

“During the exile, Israel no longer existed in the form of a nation-state with a government and laws. Instead, it existed as a countercultural fellowship contained within other nation-states. In many ways, this is also the form of the NT church…Their primary allegiance was to another country, and that country’s culture was formative for their beliefs and practices. Yet they lived in their country of residence as full participants in its life. In other words, “resident aliens” lived neither as natives nor as tourists. Though they were not permanently rooted, neither were they merely travelers who were just passing through.”[2]

In order to “seek the welfare (peace, prosperity, and wholeness) of the city,” God’s people must avoid at least 4 wrong mentalities that can easily creep in.

  • Escapism: The church is a place to escape from the city/culture.
  • Isolationism: The church is to be an isolated self-sustaining entity walled off from the city/culture.
  • Combative posture: The church builds an isolated community within the city/culture that is hostile toward the culture.
  • Assimilation: For the sake of “seeking the welfare” of the city, the church loses its identity as the people of God (for instance, by redefining out the gospel or neglecting Scripture).

The promise of God’s protection and provision realized in Jesus Christ sustains God’s people in exile. We can seek the peace and prosperity of a city and/or culture that remains hostile toward us because the gospel has made us whole.

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 2:11-12

[1] NIV

[2] Timothy Keller, Center Church, 146.

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From Doing Church to Being The Church

We had a great day on Sunday at LifePoint. We kicked a new series called To Be The Church, where we’re focusing on the shift that occurs (as we follow Jesus) from “doing church” or “talking church” to “being the church.” We began the series in Acts 2:42-47 where we learned that we have to come together to be the church. Our response was focused on the challenge to cross the bridge from passive consumption to active engagement as a part of the local church. One of the major goals was for each person that calls LPC home to move from affiliating or attending LifePoint to serving as LifePoint Church. At the close of both gatherings, we had our pastors, ministry team leaders, and over 1,000 cupcakes situated strategically in the lobby (the cupcakes were in the center), and we had a little family chaos as people milled around, connected, and jumped on board.

It was a really awesome day. We had 136 people respond, many of them for the first time, by signing up to serve as LifePoint Church. In the coming weeks people will be trained, equipped, and connected to opportunities to serve as the church, using their gifts and passions to engage the mission.

This weekend we’re focusing on our role as a local church in the city God has placed us in. Our text is Jeremiah 29:1-10, and we’re going to examine The People of God in the City of Men. I’m hoping to answer the question, “What difference does it make for Clark County and the Portland Metro Area that LifePoint Church exists?” We have four of our leading local community ministries that will have a presence in the lobby, as people will be able to network and engage with some of the diverse ways we work for justice in our city.

The final weekend of To Be The Church is November 30th. We’ll be looking at the global mission of the church, and God’s heart for the world. Psalm 96 is our text for that day, and our lobby will be organized around the themes know, give, pray, go relating to our involvement in global missions. We’ll be rolling out some exciting news about 2015 missions trips, and providing info on the 50+ missionaries we support monthly around the world.

On December 7th, we’ll be receiving a To Be The Church offering, where we’re looking to raise dollars and commitments for our 2015 local/global missions initiatives (including the ministries and missionaries we support each month). We’re asking everyone who calls LifePoint home to pray about giving one time on December 7, or making a monthly commitment to give throughout 2015. Every dollar given toward To Be The Church will be given away by LifePoint to further the mission of Jesus locally and globally. Our goal is $75,000 ($6250 a month). Pray with us about this, and if you’d like to give now toward To Be The Church, you can access our secure online giving page here.

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New Song from LifePoint

Here is the video from the new song we debuted this morning at LifePoint. You can purchase it on Amazon. iTunes coming soon.

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The Treasure Principle

I mentor a group of 8 guys each year. The group meets once a month. We memorize Scripture together, read books together, and challenge and sharpen one another. We cover topics (in our reading and memorization) like parenting, casting vision, identity in Christ, finances, sexuality, manhood, etc. My 2014 group just concluded our year together this week, and the final book we went through was called The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn. Each guy is required to write a brief summary of the books we read, and I asked Tyler if he’d be cool with me posting his review here at 2thesource.

The Treasure Principle
TYLER CLARENSAU

My first thought when finishing The Treasure Principle was: “Dear God, I have so far to go in becoming like You.”

Now, I know that the words in this book are not news to us. If we’ve been around the church for any length of time, we’ve heard these scriptures and these nuggets of wisdom; but all of this is so incredibly counter-cultural that it felt like the first time all over again.

Honestly, I do not live the way that this book would have me live. I put so much of my trust in my ability to store and maintain resources. When I succeed, I feel like I am in control. When I fail, I question whether I’m good enough and live in a constant state of discomfort.

What this book did for me was confirm in me that I truly am not enough… I wasn’t made to be enough. I was created in the image of the Owner, but I am not the owner. I am a manager. I have a responsibility, but not the responsibility of the owner. This was yet another area of my life where the Gospel says, Christ is enough!

One thing that really stuck out to me in the book was the following sentence:

As I’ve written elsewhere, heaven will be a place of rest and relief from the burdens of sin and suffering; but it will also be a place of great learning, activity, artistic expression, exploration, discovery, camaraderie, and service.[1]

While the back half of this sentence excites the creative side of me, it’s the first part that really hit me. I have the opportunity to invite people into an eternity of life as God intended it. I’m not sure why this opened my eyes and made me see clearly, but it did. The fog of my Western brain and ideas of heaven and eternal life were lifted, and the goodness of God in eternity was made real to me.

This will transform the way I view my money:

A.W. Tozer said:

As base a thing as money often is, it yet can be transmuted into everlasting treasure. It can be converted into food for the hungry and clothing for the poor; it can keep a missionary actively winning lost men to the light of the gospel and thus transmute itself into heavenly values. Any temporal possession can be turned into everlasting wealth. Whatever is given to Christ is immediately touched with immortality.[2]

This realization makes the constant pursuit of accrual seem extremely petty. When John D. Rockefeller’s accountant was asked about the amount of money that was left after Rockefeller’s death, the reply was: “He left… all of it.”[3] Wow.

If I were asked at any point in my adult life, I would definitely agree that money, wealth, and recognition are not the answers to my problems, but do I really live that way? I feel convicted about this. I was reminded of the quote from famous actor Jim Carrey:

I hope everybody could get rich and famous and will have everything they ever dreamed of, so they will know that it’s not the answer.[4]

I think we all know this in our heads, but we still strive for this in our hearts. At least I do.

This book was a very eye-opening account of God’s plan for me and my finances. And I’m grateful for it. I hope that I look back on this book at the end of my life, and smile because the following is true of me:

The fact that you’re reading these words is likely part of God’s plan to change your life- and in turn to change history and eternity.[5]

[1] 30% on my Kindle
[2] 45%, originally from “The Transmutation of Wealth”
[3] 15%
[4] from his speech at the Global Alliance for Transformational Entertainment Inaugural Event, June 4, 2009
[5] 69%

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The Infamous MEET AND GREET TIME at a Church Near You

Imagine this super awkward scenario:

I’m sitting in a movie theater with my wife, about to take in Spielberg’s most recent thriller. It’s date night, a time we set aside each week to get out of the house and have a good time. The extraordinarily long movie previews end with that eye-popping Regal Cinemas ad that tells me to silence my cell phone and reminds me of the butter-drenched popcorn I can smell from the movie theater lobby. The moment has arrived. The Dolby surround sound reverberates through the room and the production company lion roars loudly. Here comes the feature presentation we have paid to see.

Then it happens. Without notice or explanation the lights in the theater come on…those lights. Not the lights from the screen–the side lights that in a life of movie theater visiting you and I have only seen come on once or twice. Something must be wrong with the projector.

A chubby guy in a company-issued purple suit and white gloves quickly shuffles down the side aisle toward the stage. As he walks in front of the giant screen it looks a little silly, and we realize that there is actually a stage in front of the screen that we didn’t notice before. He isn’t holding a microphone, so he will have to speak loudly. Whatever is happening, at least we’ll get an explanation, and then hopefully the show will go on.

“Before we begin the movie, we’d just like to take a second and have you stand up to your feet. That’s right, stand up. Now take just a minute and greet those around you, then we’ll get on with the show.”

Are you kidding me?
Greet the people around me?
Is this a joke?

That kind of an experience may very well convince my wife and I not to wander back into that particular theater any time soon. Why? Because that’s not why we bought our tickets at the door. I don’t mean to be insensitive or rude, but we don’t normally pay to get into the theater on date night in order to meet random strangers who happen to share our taste in action movies.

I doubt anyone reading this has ever had that kind of an experience in a Regal. But how about in a church?

Thom Rainer recently wrote a blog that went viral called “The Top Ten Ways to Drive Away First Time Guests.” In non-scientific (Twitter) surveys he conducted, the #1 response that people cited for why they chose not to return to a church they visited is “the stand up and greet those around you” time. Rainer followed up with a post called “Should Your Church Stop Having a Stand and Greet Time?” where he cited 7 reasons why he believes church guests are uncomfortable with this activity. At the conclusion he asked for opinions and comments from churchgoers, and the blogosphere more than obliged, as nearly 200 people have commented in the 48 hours since his post. I saw a friend who shared this article on his Facebook page, and he had 3 dozen responses within a few hours.

Apparently the “Greet one another” time in your church is a bigger deal to people than you may realize.

We have this time at LifePoint every week. We call it “connection time.” It’s usually very early in the gathering, sometime in the first 5 or 10 minutes. Most weeks, the song-leader begins this time after an opening song (as people are already standing), by saying “take a couple minutes and greet those around you.” What follows is 2-4 minutes of “connection time” where people greet those sitting near them, or walk around the room shaking hands and giving hugs.

So why do we do this?

At pastor school they had a class on this where they said that this 2-3 minute time is necessary in order for everyone in your church to go to heaven. That’s why we do it.

Not really.

I can’t speak for other churches, or for the sometimes-too-sovereign “church guest,” but at LifePoint we engage in this time week after week because our purpose for gathering is different than our local Regal Cinema. We gather to worship together. When I go to a movie with my wife, I’m not there for anyone else but Carissa and myself. I’m sorry if you happen to be sitting in front of me at that theater; but I’m not there to learn your name, ask your opinion about the movie, or exchange germs during flu season through a handshake with a perfect stranger. Insensitive? Maybe. Reality? Yes.

Here’s the issue: in stereotypical American church culture we often blindly enter our church buildings with a Regal-like attitude. We get the idea that worship is something we consume, rather than something we participate in. We think that we go to worship in order to feel better, get blessed, and take something useful away. True worship is not about getting, it’s about giving. Gathering in worship isn’t about staying in my comfort zone, it’s about sharing in something with those around me to the glory of God. As comfortable as anonymity may be, it’s not a right context for gathered worship.

I get the introvert argument on this subject. Personally, those closest to me would tell you that I’m more of an introvert than those who know me from a distance would suppose. Yet when I gather for worship with the church, I have to realize that it’s not about me, it’s about the glory of God and the edification of one another. Though I may learn, grow, and transform as an individual in those moments, it is not happening in an individualistic context, it’s happening (by God’s design) in a community context.

The Bible teaches us that true worship is a one another type reality. We’re told to “speak to one another,”[1] “greet one another,”[2] and to “show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”[3] As I said in my previous post on this subject, worship is not about selfishly consuming, it’s about selflessly participating.

One of the major complaints about the “meet and greet” time at churches is that it’s inauthentic or superficial. Is this really the case? Or is this more a matter of the perception of someone who would just rather be left alone? Sure, connection time can be superficial and inauthentic, but that’s a matter of what each of us individually chooses to bring to the table. Personally, I don’t take out my plastic smile kit heading into this time each weekend. Are there weeks that I don’t feel like walking around shaking hands with other people? Admittedly, sure there are. But that’s OK, because when I gather with Jesus’ church to worship Him, it’s not about me.

[1] Ephesians 5:19

[2] 1 Peter 5:14, 3 John 15, Titus 3:15, Hebrews 13:24, 1 Thess 5:16, Phil 4:21

[3] 1 Peter 4:9.

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Why Do You Go To Church?

[A Note: As I began to write this blog my intent was to address the issue of the “meet and greet time” that most churches participate in during their Sunday gatherings. For the sake of reasonable blog length, I’ll have to wait to address that subject in part 2. As an introduction to this subject, I think it’s important to first address the “why” of gathered worship.]

Generally speaking, the vast majority of Christians share the idea that attending church is an important thing. For some, it’s a periodically important thing, for others it is a consistently important thing. While there is a group out there that is advocating and embracing a “post-church-attendance” type of ‘Christianity,’ most seem to carry church attendance somewhat firmly in their conscience.

I think this is a good thing, because Biblical Christianity is marked by consistent gathering of the faithful together. Here are a couple of well-worn texts that speak to this reality.

Hebrews 10:24-25
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Acts 2:46
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,

Christianity, from its beginnings, has been a faith that gathers and scatters. The gathering is consistent, and the scattering is intentional. The church gathers to worship together and scatters on mission together (which is also a part of worship).

The question I want to approach here is “Why do we gather?”

We gather to worship together.

I know that what follows will be a massive over-simplification of what it means to “worship together,” but bear with me.

Generally speaking, gathered worship has two primary purposes. First, we worship in order glorify God together. Second, we worship in order to edify one another.

If worship is about glorifying God this means that worship is about God and not about me.
If worship holds the purpose of edifying one another, this means we gather to selflessly participate, not to selfishly consume.

On edification:

As Hebrews 10 says above, we “stir up one another to love and good works” and we “encourage one another.” Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 also speak to the edification side of Christian community. We “teach and admonish one another in all wisdom” and we “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in our hearts to God.”

When we study the subject of “why the church gathers in worship” what we do not find in Scripture is any semblance of a self-focused, preference-driven, individualistic, consumer-centered experience. These factors, native to stereotypical American Christianity, are foreign to Biblical Christianity.

Worship is not something I consume, it’s something I am called to participate in. Worship is not about my preferences, it is chiefly about God’s glory, and further about the edification of the body of Christ.

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