Here is more from the lost sermon on marriage, The Commitment.

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Some time ago we came across an argument between Jesus and the teachers of the law. I mentioned that the way theological arguments happened in those days was through a successive appeal to authority. The ultimate authority, for those first-century Jewish teachers of the law, was Moses, the man who wrote the first five books of the Old Testament.

So in the course of your argument, if you’re able to prove that your position can be traced back to Moses’ words, then you win. Jesus knew that the Pharisees held Moses in the highest regard, and he probably didn’t feel like arguing that day, so he just conceded the point: What did Moses command you? Jesus is like, “Okay, I’m more interested in teaching than arguing, so just give me your best argument right off the bat.” Let’s just cut to the chase.

And the Pharisees presented Moses’ position: “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” Before we move on, we should probably ask the question: Where did Moses say that? Great question! It’s actually in Deuteronomy 24. I bet you didn’t even know there was a Deuteronomy 24! Let me read it to you.

1 If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, 2 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 3 and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, 4 then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.

Interesting. Did Moses ever say a man can divorce his wife? He didn’t, did he? The law here is not, “Here are acceptable grounds for divorce”; instead, the law is, “When one of you gives your wife a certificate of divorce…”. Moses never permitted divorce; he just conceded that divorce was a reality when human beings marry one another.

But Jesus isn’t ready to concede that point. Look at how he interprets this passage in Deuteronomy 24.

5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

The fact that laws like this exist, Jesus says, points to the reality that you’re all a bunch of hard-hearted sinners who are too stubborn to humble yourselves, work through your issues together, and persevere through trials in order to keep your commitments. No, Moses wrote you this law because you’re only willing to fight for what you want, you’re too proud to admit it when you’re wrong, and you’re ready to drop your commitment the moment others start impeding upon the realization of your selfish desires. That’s why Moses just conceded the reality of divorce—because he knew people too well.

Jesus knew people really well, too, but he’s not willing to concede the reality of divorce. Jesus has far too divine an imagination to settle for a world in which divorce happens.

The Pharisees have made their appeal to Moses. Now Jesus is going to make his appeal—to creation. And remember, he was there. The New Testament declares that Jesus was present at creation. He remembers how things were originally designed. He knows, firsthand, what God’s intention had always been for marriage.

God did not build divorce into his creation because he did not build sin into his creation. He did, however, build marriage into his creation because he also built self-sacrificing love into his creation by creating human beings as free, moral agents. But God has never been willing to concede the reality of divorce. He says through his prophet Malachi, “I hate divorce.”

So Jesus quotes from Genesis 1 and 2, the only passages in the Bible, until Revelation 21 and 22, that are unstained by the presence of sin. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’” God had a plan, and that plan did not include divorce.

You see, we were not originally created as hard-hearted sinners who are too stubborn to humble ourselves, too proud to admit that we’re wrong, or all too ready to drop our commitments the moment others start impeding upon the realization of our selfish desires. That is not how God made us. That is not found in Genesis 1 and 2.

But we were made as ‘male and female’, the perfect complements to one another. Perfect partners. By design. According to plan.

Moses looked at the world and conceded the reality of human sin. Jesus stepped into our world and refused to accept our reality, then he went about changing it. Here’s the most important thing I or anyone else will ever say about marriage: We’re supposed to be looking at Genesis 1 and 2, not Leviticus 24. Our model is the beginning of creation because Jesus came to make all things new, to restore creation to the way God originally intended it, to undo all the evil that has been wrought upon God’s good creation by sin and death. When it comes to marriage, we claim Jesus as King must look to Genesis 1 and 2. Male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. And we must conclude what Jesus concludes: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Christian marriage is not based on romantic love or sentimental feelings; it is based on the beginning of creation being re-created in our hearts and in our most important relationship. Marriage predates Moses. Marriage predates sin. Marriage was built into creation by the Creator himself.

The Church has a leadership problem. So argues Leonard Sweet in his new book, I Am a Follower. The problem, however, is not that we don’t have enough leaders, or that our leaders have lost their way. The problem is that we have become enamored with leadership culture, obsessed with leading, and supremely focused on raising up the next generation of leaders. The trouble is, Jesus never told us to lead. He told us to follow.

The evangelical church has bought into a brand of leadership that, since the economic crisis of 2008, has gone bankrupt. But the lonely, trailblazing, genius-coming-down-from-the-mountain model of leadership is not what Jesus had in mind for his bride. The picture of leadership in Jesus’ mind was himself, and the rest of us are called to follow him. “What the world defines as leadership is not the way God works through his people in the world. …Christians are called to live by faith in a world that lives by fame.” (28-9)117084166

Christians are not to be leaders, Sweet argues. They are to be followers. First followers. In other words, Christians should find where Jesus is going, discover where he is at work, and then take up their crosses and follow him there. “In posing the paradox of the ox with an easy yoke and a light burden, Jesus is inviting followers to ‘walk alongside me. Just be with me, and the doing will come naturally.’ …Leadership is a functional position of power and authority. Followership is a relational posture of love and trust.” (39-40)

I Am a Follower is a prophetic call to abandon the culture of leadership, with it’s cultic practices of celebrity-worship and the fruitless pursuit of power and fame. Instead, we must take up the position of a sheep, humbling ourselves, and permitting Jesus to be the Good Shepherd of us—yes, even us church “leaders”! Sweet’s call is one to return to a position of relationship to God in Jesus Christ, and to forsake our position of function within the institution of Church. “All too often these days, the church’s stories are about success, leadership, justice, happiness. When ministers become social workers, preachers become motivational speakers, and evangelism becomes marketing, the result is a gimcrack gospel that is tawdry, tacky, and cheap. Asked, ‘What story do you love to tell?’ a first follower’s first answer is, ‘I love to tell the story of…Jesus and his love.’” (144)

I Am a Follower is a necessary, if imperfect, book for our times. Evangelicalism is swimming deeper and deeper into the ocean of celebrity and leadership. But there are sharks here, and there is blood in the water! If our primary aim is to focus on leaders, then who will care for the flock? If the image of the ideal Christian is a leader, then what hope is there for followers? The truth is, we are all followers, and Christ will be more glorified when we learn to accept that reality and let him lead.

A lot of folks at Ember are also involved with Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ), which just had their annual Christmas Conference in Indianapolis. It was, as usual, awesome. I can’t wait to hear about it from more of my friends!

I also attended a lot of conferences and retreats as a college student. These were, what I called, “Mountain Top Experiences”. They are spiritual highs. You come away from these events highly-motivated, deeply-passionate, and just overall on fire for God.

Typically, however, the fire would die down and the passion would fade, and I would return to “normal”, which basically meant I became a shy, timid, cynical person again. I would berate myself for not being able to sustain the spiritual high I got at the conferences and retreats. I thought this was a mark of my being immature and weak. Fortunately, I’ve learned a few things about myself and about life with God since then, so I’d like to share a few of the things I’ve learned here.

First of all, The spiritual high is designed to fade. The mountain top experience is emotionally and spiritually unsustainable. And that’s okay. What’s most important is not what you do or believe on top of the mountain, but what you do and believe in the valleys. You are far more dangerous to the devil in the valleys, if you persist through them with faith, courage, and obedience, than you are on the mountain tops. Anybody can get excited about God for a weekend, but one of the distinguishing marks of a true disciple is that he or she remains faithful to God within their times of spiritual and emotional discouragement.

Secondly, Follow through on whatever commitment you made. Keeping your promises to God is vital to fostering a good relationship with him. You might have been in the heat of passion and fire for Jesus when you committed to him a year of overseas ministry (or whatever), but you still made the promise. Keep it. The devil will do whatever he can to get you to break your promises to God. Remember that when you start rationalize your way out of keeping your commitments.

Lastly, Focus on keeping your trajectory upward. If you could graph your spiritual life, how excited and passionate you are about Jesus, what it would look like? Yes, you will have peaks and valleys. But is it moving in a general, upward (meaning more encouraged and more passionate) trend? To accomplish this, you’re going to have to participate in spiritual disciplines. You have to get the things of God firmly rooted into the soil of your heart. So I say, start a prayer journal. Use youversion.com (or their smart phone app) to start a Bible reading program. Spend 10 minutes today completely disconnected from all media, in total silence. Raise your hands in worship even when you don’t necessarily feel like it. Force yourself to engage with God beyond how you’re feeling in the particular moment. Push yourself. If you do that, you’ll look back on your spiritual high in ten years and think, “Wow. That’s my normal, now.”

I hope this helps. If you have any other tips, leave them in the comments section.

This is a story I’ve been meaning to write for awhile. It’s the story of how God used a blog (not mine) to make Ember Church a reality. Enjoy!

One of the best experiences I had while working at Heritage happened the weekend before Lent, 2010. We usually brought in a big-time guest speaker the weekend before Lent, and this year was no different, because we invited Scot McKnight to come speak to us about Mary. The responsibility fell to me to pick Scot and his wife Kris up from the airport, escort them to the hotel, and to and from church for the weekend. They could not have been nicer, more down-to-earth people; and Breena and I got to share lunch and dinner with them! (Thanks, Heritage!)

Scot has a very popular blog called the Jesus Creed, on which he (and others) makes many thought provoking posts every day. There is usually good, civil discussion in the comment threads. I enjoyed taking part in the discussions for the better part of 2010, and Scot was even gracious enough to post several of my book reviews there.

When I moved into full time church planting in early 2011, I stopped commenting at the Jesus Creed, but was still an active reader. One day, in the Spring if I remember correctly, Scot posted about a book he recommended to me over dinner, Introverts in the Church by Adam McHugh. It is an excellent book and, as an introvert, I resonated with so much of what he wrote. (You can read my review of the book here.) I left a brief comment on Scot’s post about the book, saying something to the effect of, “You recommended this book to me when you were in Columbus, and I really enjoyed it!”

Later that day I got a comment on my own blog from someone going by the handle Pastor Mark. My first thought was, “Is Mark Driscoll commenting on my blog? Does he want to fight me?” As it turns out, it was Mark Farmer, a pastor in Columbus and fellow frequenter of the Jesus Creed blog. He contacted me because he had read my mention of Scot’s trip to Columbus, and thought it would be great to get together to chat. I happily agreed, thinking this was a great chance to meet another pastor in the area. I am, after all, the world’s worst networker, so whenever I get an opportunity to network with other pastors, I jump at it.

This is where things get God-level interesting. Mark and I both live in Westerville. In fact, we live in the same neighborhood. What is more, he pastors the church that is about a 2 minute drive from my house! We met up at Panera and had a wonderful conversation. He was a missionary and church-planter in France for a long time, and I was eager to hear his stories of ministry in what I perceived to be a difficult environment.

Meanwhile, Ember was still in the planning stages, but the summer was fast approaching, and that meant the fall, and our launch, was right around the corner. I had been looking into renting the local elementary school for our Sunday morning services, but the cost, along with the cost of storage, audio/visual equipment, and time to set-up and tear-down seemed prohibitive. We had some money, but not enough to get us off the ground in an elementary gymnasium.

So we turned our attention to renting space at a local church. But who would let us rent part of their building to hold a church service while they were having their own church service? It seemed like we would have to look into the possibility of meeting on Sunday nights.

I had been against that from the beginning because I thought people would then perceive us as Junior Church, or Extra Church. In our culture, you go to church on Sunday morning, and everything else is extra credit. Fighting the culture over Jesus would be hard enough; I didn’t want to have to fight the culture over what time you go to church, too.

But it didn’t seem like we had many options. As we brainstormed the various churches we could contact, Mark popped into my head. I said to the team, “I just met the pastor of a church right down the road. I don’t think they have anything in their building on Sunday nights. I’ll talk to him.” The following Monday I spoke with Mark, and he presented it to his deacons that night, and they approved it! So we drew up a rental agreement, and we found a home! And it’s so much better than an elementary school gymnasium. The building is beautiful. We get to store our stuff on site. They even gave me an office! All for much less than it would have cost us to rent a public school facility.

God is full of surprises. You never know how he’s going to provide for you, or make his mission possible. For Ember Church, it was a popular author, his blog, and a local pastor with a wide vision of the kingdom of God.

 

Scot McKnight’s latest book, The King Jesus Gospel, is a revolution for evangelicalism. It is an incredibly important and timely work, one which calls us to leave behind our “salvation-culture” and take up, once again, the “gospel-culture” set forth by the preaching of Jesus and the apostles.

I’ve worked through a little over half of the book on the blog already. My discussion of the first three chapters, which lays the groundwork by establishing the problem McKnight sets out to address, can be found here. The second post on the book, which dealt exclusively with chapter four, in which he lays out the book’s thesis and defines the apostolic Gospel, can be found here. The last post I wrote on the book covered chapter 5, where Scot discusses how salvation overtook the Gospel.

9780310492986-1Here is a brief sketch of the main points of the book:

We evangelicals have mistaken the Plan of Salvation for the Gospel.
We have traded in a gospel culture for a salvation culture.
Our evangelism focuses exclusively on bringing people to a point of decision.
As a result, we do a poor job of making genuine disciples of Jesus.
The biblical gospel is the Story of Jesus, found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5

In that last post I promised to cover the final two chapters of the book in a future post. So without further ado, I shall keep my promise.

Chapter 9: Gospeling Today

The way that we “gospel”, or evangelize, today is different from the way the early believers, including the apostles, evangelized. (Scot likes to use the word “gospel” as a verb, so I’ll put it that way from now on.) He sees several points of comparison, the first of which is what gospeling seeks to accomplish. “The gospeling of Acts, because it declares the saving significance of Jesus, Messiah and Lord, summons listeners to confess Jesus as Messiah and Lord, while our gospeling seeks to persuade sinners to admit their sin and find Jesus as their Savior.” (133) He goes on to say, “the gospeling of the apostles in the book of Acts is bold declaration that leads to a summons while much of evangelism today is crafty persuasion.” (134) Ouch!

I’ll skip to the fourth point of comparison between the gospeling of the first Christians and our own evangelism–the problem gospeling resolves. What is the problem that the Gospel solves? Without minimizing sin and the need for forgiveness and reconciliation, Scot frames the solution this way: “The fundamental solution in the gospel is that Jesus is Messiah and Lord; this means there was a fundamental need for a ruler, a king, and a lord.” (137) He says much more on this point, and I want to tempt you to get the book and read it for yourself with this quote:

Gospeling declares that Jesus is [the] rightful Lord, gospeling summons people to turn from their idols to worship and live under that Lord who saves, and gospeling actually puts us in the co-mediating and co-ruling tasks under our Lord Jesus. (142)

Chapter 10: Creating a Gospel Culture

So now what? How do we go about creating this gospel culture that we so desperately need? The first thing we must do is become people of the story. “To become a gospel culture we’ve got to begin with becoming people of the Book, but not just as a Book but as the story that shapes us.” (153) Too many of us are functionally biblically illiterate. We are more profoundly shaped by the doctrines and dogmas that we extract from the Scriptures than by the overarching story God is telling within them; and while there are many dogmas, there is only one Story.

We must also become people of the story of Jesus. “We need to immerse ourselves even more into the Story of Jesus. The gospel is that the Story of Israel comes to its definitive completeness in the Story of Jesus, and this means we have to become People of the Story-that-is-complete-in-Jesus.” (153) We must return to the four Gospels!

Thirdly, we must become people of the church’s story. “We need to see how the apostles’ writings take the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus into the next generation and into a different culture, and how this generation led all the way to our generation.” (155) Christianity was not invented in 1865; it has come down to us through nearly 100 generations of believers. There is much we can learn from them. “We have no right to ignore what God has been doing in the community of Jesus since the day he sent the Spirit to empower it, ennoble it, and guide it.” (156)

There is more to say on these points, and Scot presents two other important points to create a gospel culture, but this is a book review, not a book report. Here is my review: Read this book!

Now I want to say one thing that Scot doesn’t about how to create a gospel culture, and I say this to my fellow preachers out there. Preach the Gospel! Stop participating in the damnable story of American Consumerism & Pragmatism. Stop trying to draw a crowd. Stop preaching the no-Gospel of Success & Self-Improvement. That is not your task. That is not your calling. You are a minister of the Gospel, so preach it!

Your sermons shape your congregation and define its culture, and too many of you are creating a culture that is nothing more than a slightly more moral version of the wider American culture. You’re telling the wrong story. You cannot create a gospel-culture unless and until you preach the Gospel. This will most likely take you down a new path, one that you probably won’t like. You will have to say goodbye to the Story of Success and Fame and Power. But you’ll discover that the Gospel is worth it.

May the Church’s preachers become gospelers, that we all might learn to live out the Gospel, boldly proclaiming that Jesus Christ is King-over-All.

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