Give Over Get – A Shift

Generations Church is a community of everyday people committed to expanding God’s family together because of Jesus for generations to come.

We have five values that help us accomplish our vision.

  • Spirit over Self
  • Give over Get
  • Story over Sin
  • Progress over Perfection
  • Send over Stay

Our values are structured as a choice.  Too often we have been conditioned to choose the latter of the options (in our values) because we follow faulty maps. We need a shift in our thinking, more than that, we need a shift in our living.

We are going to take a closer look at our value Give over Get – Looking to make a difference in the lives of others and our community through generous living rather than always wanting to receive more.

Before I tell you what this series is, let me tell you what it’s not about. This series isn’t about getting more out of you. In some ways, this series will help provide a common language to give a reason for why this church community differs from other communities in the world.

We pick up the story of Jesus on his way to Jerusalem for the Passover. He has been explaining and demonstrating that his way is upside-down. It’s a re-orientation of all our common social values. In this section of Luke, following Jesus is like a journey where you learn as you go. If you are following Jesus, you common assumptions and actions will be challenged. Jesus is being openly opposed.

Our desires must reflect our destination. Jesus’s destination is Jerusalem. 

  1. What Is Life (12:13-14)

The person is looking for an authority to help this man get what’s his rather than deal with the loss of life(Jesus’ disciples went out ahead of him announcing “good news to the poor that the Kingdom of God is here—Jesus is going to usher in this new way that renews God’s commitment to Israel that his blessing will go through them to all nations while also portraying Jesus as the wise and good King)

Jesus had just taught on our great value to God and on the importance of standing for Him. In the midst of this teaching, a man interrupted Jesus to ask that He take his side in a financial dispute.

According to the law of the day, the elder brother received two-thirds of the inheritance and the younger brother received one-third (Barclay). This man did not ask Jesus to listen to both sides and make a righteous judgment; he asked Jesus to take sides with him against his brother (“Tell my brother to divide the inheritance”). Obviously, Jesus’ previous words about the need for full commitment and God’s care for us didn’t penetrate this man’s heart. He felt he needed to fight for what was his. “If each of them learned the real meaning of life, and sought as its chief endeavor to be ‘rich toward God,’ the question of possessions would settle itself. The one would be eager to share, while the other would be careless about receiving.”  We often mask our covetousness by claiming we are on a righteous crusade.

  1. Life Is Not Defined by a Lot of Stuff (12:15-21)

Greed means wanting what doesn’t belong to you. “He then told them, ‘Watch out and be on guard against all greed, because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.'” Storage businesses appear to be one of the fastest-growing businesses in the country because we covet and hoard, then we buy more space so we can continue coveting and hoarding.

As we move ahead to verse 19, the parable illustrates that some people think a good life is relaxing, eating, drinking, and being merry. The man was a fool – not because he was rich, but because he lived without any awareness of and preparation for eternity. The people who define life by what they possessed and enjoyed will be called fools. This can manifest itself in the search for the perfect vacation or perfect dream house. We have been conditioned to pursue the upgrade.

The man’s problem was not in that he had some treasure on earth; but that he was not rich toward God. This isn’t an attack on having possessions. It’s an affront on being rich towards ourselves and being rich toward God. When we live for the upgrade the upgrade will consume us.

  1. Life Is More Than Food and Clothes (12:22-24)

In this next section, Jesus turns to the disciples — they are in relationship to Him. He challenges them not to worry. This statement on worry is referring to the consumption of stuff; it is not dealing with anxiety. Research clearly shows that worry deteriorates our immune systems; people under constant worry show lower T cell counts, essential for immune response. Prolonged worry has been shown to affect the brain, making a person less able to respond to future stress. And stress also is related to sudden heart failure. When we worry in relation to our stuff, it communicates a connection to our identity. An identity based on material items can be taken away because these material items can be taken away.

Jesus is reminding His disciples. Your life is more than those things. Life is not defined by the things we have; life is worth more than all our things.

I read of a man who stood to speak at a funeral of a friend.  He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears but said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own, the cars…the house…the cash.  What matters is how we lived and loved and how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change?  For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.

To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile…remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?

by Linda Ellis

  1. Life Is Wasted by Worry (12:25-28)

We are tempted to think that worrying is the same thing as thinking or planning or even protecting ourselves. Yet take careful note: the birds don’t worry, but they do work. Birds don’t just sit with open mouths, expecting God to fill them. God provides. The worry many people have over the material things of life is rooted in a low understanding of their value before God. They don’t comprehend how much He loves and cares for them. God cares for the flowers, but that means that every day for the flowers is not sun and sweetness. If every day was sunny, and there were never clouds and rain, the flowers would die quickly.

One of the ways God provides is through people. We have seen God provide through people right here in Generations Church. In order to see God provide, we must be willing to express our needs. We also must be willing to GIVE OVER GET to help those in need.

  1. Life Is for Seeking God and His Kingdom (12:29-31)

The purpose of life is to seek God and his kingdom, not things and our needs. The mystery of life is that when we seek God and his kingdom he provides our needs. We receive a kingdom in exchange for worry. Jesus contrasted the life of those who do not know God and are separated from Him with those who do know God and receive His loving care. Those who know God should seek after other things. This is why we use the value GIVE OVER GET. Throughout your day you will face choices, will I be like everyone else, or will I make the choice that communicates something different?

  1. Life Follows Treasure (12:32-34)

The kingdom is not like an Easter Egg Hunt. When we realize this, then the world’s possession and our needs lose their grip on us. Jesus didn’t just tell them to stop worrying; He told them to replace worry with a concern for the kingdom of God. A habit or passion can only be given up for a greater habit or passion.

What is Jesus really saying? The command to give away what we have is a test of discipleship, and it is also a tool to train us as disciples. It points to giving as an antidote or cure to covetousness. “Readiness to respond to the call of renunciation is a sign of genuine conversion, a sign of undivided loyalty to Jesus, a sign of unwavering faith in Him.”

We can use this life’s possessions to bless the needy because we know the Father gives us a kingdom and a treasure that cannot be taken away, stolen, or decay.

We all have areas of our lives where we feel the pressure of this truth. Give over get isn’t simply an amen to affirm your generosity when you have the means. It’s a choice to make when it challenges your circumstances.

Our desires must reflect our destination. People will come into contact with this and ask “well aren’t you concerned about ___.” We must be able to give an answer that says, “I GIVE OVER GET because of Jesus.”

In the coming weeks, we will get very practical as we apply this to every area of our life. Your connection with God and connection with others will enable you to choose to GIVE OVER GET when you would rather opt-out. In a repeat of a similar challenge from last week, develop a deeper connection this week.

Wait…There’s More

Generations Church is a community of everyday people committed to expanding God’s family because of Jesus for generations to come.

We (our teaching team) has been teaching through Colossians 1 as Generations Church began weekly services.

Let me give you the “previously on…”

We live in a world with faulty maps. These maps don’t just guide us they shape us. God sent Jesus into the world. Jesus is a map that shows us what God is like and what humanity looks like in proper relation to God. In this midst of this world, we are called to embody the mystery of Jesus made known. We must begin following the map and then inviting others to journey with us. Both our destination and the map is Jesus. Paul is sent into the world to share this message with people (Gentiles) who are included in God’s family because of Jesus.

We have been using Colossians as help to communicate some essentials to a new church. Paul has not met these Christians in Colossae. A coworker Epaphras started the church. He is concerned about the false teaching influencing other Christians in the region.

One theologian puts it, “The epistle is a vaccination against heresy, not an antibiotic for those already afflicted.” So, the false teaching has not taken hold but Pauls’ words are used as preparation against the heresy.

For I want you to know how greatly I am struggling for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me in person. I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of complete understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery—Christ. In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

I am saying this so that no one will deceive you with arguments that sound reasonable. For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ. – Colossians 2:1-5

You may be wondering why I just listed Colossians 2 as the teaching text when the series is from chapter one. 

If you look at your Bible, how do they divide it up. Prior to us adding chapters and verses to help in dissecting and understanding and translation, the contents were a single letter. The contents are still a single letter but appear less so due to these additions.

You may recognize Laodicea. For those of you who don’t no fear, Laodicea is mentioned in the very last book of the Bible for being lukewarm (see Revelation 3). They have drifted into apathy about their faith.

While we don’t know exactly what has happened to the Colossians community. It’s important to see that between Paul’s letter and John’s letter something happened within the region. 

Paul has commended the Colossians for their faithfulness and impact on the world. It’s worth noting what an inability to discern false truths and apply the wisdom of Jesus produces—a muddy version of Christianity. Paul has told these Christians that the mystery has been made known—thus clear to them—but their inability to keep growing and applying and discerning has resulted in paralysis.

Paul has used himself as an example of what struggling and suffering looks like He has followed Jesus. We do not know what happened with the other believers. However, as Paul leads into direct countering of false teachers, we see a description of what Paul is ultimately working for in their midst. Paul almost goes, “Wait…there’s more…” I’ve told you how the access the knowledge of God and even given you some application. We see Paul go from observation to the specific application. Identify the solution. It’s like going from the observation “dude your broke”…to “let me help you budget and figure out where you are spending unnecessary money.”

Here we get a pastoral capstone of Paul’s goal from his opening words that the mystery of how God would rescue and renew his creation is made known in the person and work of Jesus:

  1. Encouragement of the Church
    1. This is more than “atta boy” this is a sense of putting strength, or courage, into them.
    2. It’s reiterated in a different way in verse 5 with the word “strength”
    3. Paul uses the word heart-basically at the core of the person. Just as suffering has afflicted his body and worn it down, Paul knows that the inner resolve must be able to cope and have resilience when the social pressures and likely physical ones come when they apply the way of Jesus to every aspect of their lives.
  1. Being United In Love
    1. “This describes a person’s rugged commitment to another person in three ways: in presence, in advocacy, and in the mutual direction of development toward Christlikeness.”
      1. Presence
      2. Advocacy
      3. Development toward Christlikeness
    2. Let me reiterate the point in an inverse way – what Paul is describing is not simply tolerating someone else but a commitment to one another. as a team.
    3. When you know someone’s story and they know your story, and there are differences, but you choose to connect relationally and appreciate the difference rather than stay on opposite sides of the room.
    4. To be knit together in love does not mean they will all be committed to becoming loving people so much as committed to one another.
  1. Having the Full Riches of Complete Understanding
    1. Paul’s aim is knowledge, and what he wants for them is to be complete, full, or certain in their understanding of this knowledge, and this kind of completeness is the riches for which he is laboring.”
    2. Paul here puts a pastoral capstone on this idea of “known”
    3. “Riches” can refer to the gospel response in generosity to others.
      1. This is why for the next several weeks we will look at one of our values give over get.
      2. & to the mystery of God’s redemption expanding to the Gentiles. So, the focus for Paul, as is the case in his mystery of uniting Jews to Gentiles and Gentiles to Jews, is a fellowship that exhibits a supernaturally based union through the Spirit. 
      3. Love and knowledge for Paul manifest themselves within the church. It’s not merely a “rah! rah!” they show up in practice when people interact with each other.
        1. Reduces the distance that sin, emotional vandalism, creates.
      4. Teams have gone through training camp, practice, refinement.
      5. The church isn’t always known for that. We will fall back into old patterns if we do not have some different community habits.
      6. End to gossip.
      7. Using your gifts (Jenene)
  1. Having the knowledge of the mystery of God
    1. That the hidden plan of God to expand his family to all people has been made manifest in Jesus (see Isaiah 33:5-6).
    2. The mystery of God, the one formerly hidden by now disclosed, is Christ the final treasure, and in that treasure is both wisdom and knowledge. If the mystery was hidden in the deep recesses of God’s plan, the wisdom and knowledge expressing the truth of that mystery are in Christ himself.
    3. Paul contests any view that revelation about God’s truth and the gospel can be found in any other location than Christ.

As we look at these last two verses, we sense a switch in Paul. Everything he has said to this point is made abundantly clear—he doesn’t want these believers to be deceived—it’s not even foolish arguments—these are arguments that sound reasonable.

On the other side of our Give Over Get series, we will see how Paul counters these “reasonable” arguments. Here’s what may surprise you, and at the same time may not be all that shocking…these “reasonable” arguments are still put into effect today. They show up in the books you read, in the news you watch, in the social media you follow, in the cultural sayings regurgitated in everyday conversation.

Here’s what happens..like I briefly mentioned earlier. The gospel accomplishments in our culture aren’t always dashed away by false teaching, they are slowly eroded by teaching that that sounds right but has no connection to the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.

Paul is rejoicing because of what he has seen in the Colossians thus far.

If I may assume the first-person stance in this pastoral moment by Paul.

Just like Paul, I can’t physically be with you always. Here’s the beauty. You don’t need me to be physically present with you always.

I am able to hear the vision and values in your conversation.

While we have seen great growth and promise thus far, we still have blind spots. We still have areas of our life untouched by Jesus. We have areas of our church that don’t function as well as they should.

If we do not re-engage with what the vision for the church, then we may just drift into luke-warmness like the Laodiceans.

Here’s is how we will combat that…call or message someone in our church this week. If you need a name or a number, Jon and I will help you. It may lead to you grabbing a meal with each other.

You take the initiative. Don’t wait to see who reaches out to you.

”The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Knowing the Direction We Face

We have been building to this moment in our sermon series “Known.” Colossians 1:26-29 shaped the scope of the series. Where in a world of faulty maps we see what Paul says about the map that can be known and followed—in Jesus.

In the first sermon of the series, I began explaining about Captain George De Long’s expedition to the North Pole. Captain George De Long set a course for the North Pole and crashed because he hoped that there would be a warm North Polar Sea. Instead, he ran into the rocks of reality. The North Pole is surrounded by ice. Trevin’s Wax’s book, This is Our Time, uses Captain De Long’s journey to set-up the longer illustration that we live in a world full of faulty maps. I carry on the same illustration to communicate the truths in Colossians 1.


Every day we are surrounded by people who are in search of the meaning of life, community, purpose and the map they are using cannot adequately guide them. 

Right out of this section Paul has used himself as an example and he continues to describe his role within the world. The reason Paul uses the example of himself as he makes this point to the Colossians is to how God uses us to expand God’s family.

Here’s an example of what I mean…I was in Starbucks…I’m sitting there and right beside me a two people are talking about religion. As they discuss religion the second person describes the religious relics within his house while railing against Christianity and religion. While the first person it attempting to follow Jesus, they have no rebuttal for the second. Having been in the first person’s shoes, the easiest question to ask, “Have you ever tried getting to know Jesus?”

The second person has left Jesus on the walls. When you leave Jesus on the walls you can make-up whatever Jesus you want to follow. When we leave Jesus on the walls and uninvited to our life we will be unable to identify the faulty maps that attempt to guide us off course. It’s a Jesus that you make look more like what you want rather than Jesus providing the map that leads you to the very thing you are searching for—himself.

God has been working plan to rescue and redeem through history chronicled in the stories in the Old Testament. The question remains: How would God fulfill his promise of rescue and renewal?

Paul describes this “how” as the profound “mystery.” The mystery is made known in Jesus. The mystery was something previously unknown, but is revealed by God in Christ in the power of the Spirit—and open to all.

Christ enables the Gentiles to be part of God’s family through faith. This mystery used to describe the newness of the age that creates Paul’s mission: what was once given to Abraham as intended to be a blessing to the nations is finally fully underway in Paul’s mission to the Gentiles (non-Jews). The presence of God no longer needs to be mediated in a temple. Paul is willing to suffer so that all people know of their access to God through Jesus. Not only that, but that they begin to apply the way of Jesus in every area of their life.

The presence of Christ among the Colossians, then, is ground for their hope of life in the age to come. Having explained that the term “mystery” is the plan of God to expand the people of God to include everyone. Re-read Colossians 1:15-20.

Here’s the difficulty: Even though it has been disclosed, it remains partially grasped.

My kids were watching Scooby-doo the other day. It’s so funny because time and time again the group of Fred, Vilma, Daphne, Shaggy, and Scooby know that behind every monster is an explanation. It’s just that they have to go on a journey to figure out who it is.

The journey begins with God’s people. They are identified with their representative, Christ, and how that new identity gives hope for the future. Christ dwells in the new people of God, the church (corporates), through the Spirit, he truly also indwells the believer (individual).

As individuals, we have to apply the good news of Jesus to our life. However, we do not do this alone. We follow Jesus as the church.

In the Gospels, Jesus called the would-be disciples to follow him. But the actual relationship between Christ and his follows is greater, deeper, and higher than that: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). The church is spiritually united to Jesus Christ.

No other religion speaks of the relationship between its leader and followers that way. But this is the spiritual union between Christ and the church. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us.  The indwelling presence of the Life-Giver King resides within each us and has made us one in Christ.

It is still a mystery to others. God “wanted to make known to the Gentiles” and he chooses us to make it known.

Paul’s work was empowered by God’s mighty strength. This is true for everyone: Part of the deception of the false teachers is that the way of salvation to be so involved that it could only be understood by a select few.

When you have a relationship with Jesus and relationships with people who are pointing you over and over again to the character and priorities of Jesus—you don’t need me in that coffee shop with you.

You will be able to discern the longing and the lies and live according to the map that leads to peace and purpose.

James K.A. Smith sums it up this way: “To be human is to be for something. To be human is to be directed toward something, oriented toward something. To be human is to be on the move, purposing something, after something…We are not just static containers for ideas; we are dynamic creatures direct toward some end.”

When we follow Jesus together as the church we will be able to identify the gravitational pull of false hope. Together we will be able to present what it looks like to be directed toward Jesus especially when we reflect a community of people that come from all walks of life.

Trevin Wax presents sums up his illustration and main point this way:

The first people to reach the North Pole were Frederick Cook and two Inuit men. On April 21, 1908. Unlike George De Long, they didn’t try to sail there. They were well aware that there was no “Open Polar Sea.” Instead, after an arduous journey across the ice, they arrived on foot, stocked with the provisions they needed to achieve their goal.

When you compare De Long’s expedition to Cook’s, you find that all of these men exhibited similar character traits. They were brave and courageous, ready to persevere through the worse circumstances. Why, then, did Cook make it to the North Pole while De Long did not? It wasn’t because Cook was braver then De Long but because Cook had a better understanding of the terrain he world encounter. Therefore, Cook had the provisions he needed for the long trek across the ice. De Long did not. No matter how strong these men were, one crew made plans that took into account what was really there while the other made plans based on what they hoped to find.

There is an important lesson for us here. You can be courageous yet still be wrong about the world. You can be brave yet perish. You can be a strong and determined person on a path to destruction. Sincerity, as a good quality as that may be, cannot ultimately save you.

So what does faithfulness look like in a world where everyone has a different map—a different idea about what life is all about and the best route to take toward your destination? A world in which people seem to think sincerity is all that matters? That is doesn’t matter what map you have a long as you think you’re right? Even more, how can we be faithful when so many Christians have faulty maps too?

Here, we join with Paul in being prepared for the journey. Recognizing it is Christ in us. It’s not us knowing or us proclaiming. It is resisting and re-applying the message that we are included in God’s family because of Jesus. We didn’t deserve it. We didn’t earn it. 

Living as if we know that behind every monster is a man.

We repeat some version of the rhetoric that the point of life is to “enjoy God forever and glorify him.” But our actions often reveal that another map has captured our imaginations. We give the right answer but sail the wrong way. Even worse, sometimes we hoist the Christian sail over a boat that’s being directed by mythical map. We use Christianity in order to go where we want to go.

What is our North Pole? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

You want to show the world a different map? Then focus not on being true to yourself but on loving and being true to God and neighbor. See your life as a journey in which you were rescued from your fallenness, not affirmed in it. See your life as a journey in which you recognize the great mystery of Christ in you—embracing a vision of who God is making you to be—the hope of glory.

Making Christ Known Through Suffering

Sunday I preached one of the most difficult sermons to date at Generations Church. Not only did my teaching text have a difficult verse, but it also had a difficult meaning an application. I have written out a portion of my sermon that covers suffering for the sake of others.

The letter of Colossians is written to a church by the apostle Paul. He wants this church to know that they have been following the real Jesus. The feeling that they are missing out on a fuller spiritual experience has been evoked by false teachers through a cheap trick.

Paul can’t counter these false teachers in person because Paul is in prison. For those who may not know the backstory for Colossians, Paul didn’t plant the church. But, Paul introduced Jesus to a guy named Epaphras who then started this church. This church is filled with people from different backgrounds and ethnicities.

So far in this letter to the Colossians: he has praised this church for their impact on the world. He has reminded them that they aren’t missing something. It’s not Jesus+. After this long build-up, Paul as he often does gives them an example of sorts. This example comes from his life.

Paul is a guy who had power. He had comfort. He was in control. He had the approval of others. He gives that up when he encounters Jesus. Here’s how he describes what he is doing to the followers of Jesus…

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for his body, that is, the church. 25 I have become its servant, according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.

– Colossians 1:24-26

This first verse is difficult. Is something missing in Christ’s sacrifice for us? The short answer is no. Nothing is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

Paul’s point is that he is suffering for the sake of others so that Christ is made known and mature believers are grown.

Paul’s claim is steeped in the backstory of God’s chosen people. Israel’s experiences of affliction throughout its history—particularly Egyptian slavery, the Babylonian exile, and subsequent oppression under the Syrians and Romans—is understood as part and parcel of God’s redemptive purposes. The age of suffering was limited, and the age to come would dawn soon and God would judge the measures used.

Paul is not attaching atoning value whatever to his own sufferings for the church. The term ‘afflictions of Christ’ speaks, rather, of those ministerial sufferings which Paul bears because he represents Jesus Christ.

Christ’s sufferings climaxed in the cross are all-sufficient. Peace, reconciliation, and right standing with God are its results. At the same time, Paul is also convinced that this gospel must be proclaimed, received in faith, and implemented in everyday life in order for God’s redemptive purposes to be achieved.

The type of suffering that Paul is speaking to is the result of the verbal proclamation of Jesus as King that’s a direct assault on one’s culture. This is not the general consequences of living in a fractured world.

The reason the Colossian people are suffering and the reason for their prior success in impacting others are their following Jesus. However, there were these teachers who advocated they missed part of the gospel because of their suffering. Let’s get rid of it through intense self-discipline and seeking individual spiritual experiences. They could be described as ascetics or mystics. Here’s where they differ from the core of the gospel.

Ascetics focus on their holiness, on their spiritual growth, and on their perfection. These mystics focus on spirituality removed from community. Paul followed in the footsteps of Jesus and was an others-centered person. Paul found holiness, spiritual growth, and maturity when he pursued these things for others.

Here’s the temptation as you focus on resolutions or goals….If your goals and resolutions are purely for yourself and have no benefit to others, then you’ve missed the “for” aspect of faith. Read those verses again. Suffering “for” the body. I was given a commission “for” you.

A self-focused lifestyle is a Jesus+ lifestyle. A Jesus+ lifestyle doesn’t work when suffering comes because whatever you have added to Jesus will tell you it’s not worth it.

The cost of suffering begs the question: What type of motivation does one have to willingly put themselves out there in the awkward and uncertain?

Paul’s goal is to make God’s message fully known. In part, the message holds a “mystery that’s been hidden for ages and generations.” Paul is referring to the process by which God was going to rescue and redeem his creation. The mystery was “when” and “how.”  The mystery was not the “what.” In Jesus, what was once pixelated is now in 4K.

Paul is now working to advance this message and bring clarity to the mystery by participating in God’s mission. Here’s an example of how these principles are applied because as American Christians we don’t always understand suffering. The following was taken from two separate articles.

“Over 100 members of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China, were arrested beginning Sunday, December 9, 2018. Among those taken away were Pastor Wang Yi, senior pastor of Early Rain, and his wife, Jiang Rong.

On December 26, 2019, Wang Yi was secretly tried at the Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court. On December 30, the court announced that Wang Yi was sentenced to 9 years of criminal detention and fined 50,000 RMB. This is the longest sentence given to a house church pastor in a decade.” You can read Wang Yi’s full statement on Civil Disobedience here. I have quoted the portation I read below.

On the basis of the teachings of the Bible and the mission of the gospel, I respect the authorities God has established in China. For God deposes kings and raises up kings. This is why I submit to the historical and institutional arrangements of God in China.

As a pastor of a Christian church, I have my own understanding and views, based on the Bible, about what righteous order and good government is. At the same time, I am filled with anger and disgust at the persecution of the church by this Communist regime, at the wickedness of their depriving people of the freedoms of religion and of conscience. But changing social and political institutions is not the mission I have been called to, and it is not the goal for which God has given his people the gospel.

For all hideous realities, unrighteous politics, and arbitrary laws manifest the cross of Jesus Christ, the only means by which every Chinese person must be saved. They also manifest the fact that true hope and a perfect society will never be found in the transformation of any earthly institution or culture but only in our sins being freely forgiven by Christ and in the hope of eternal life.

As a pastor, my firm belief in the gospel, my teaching, and my rebuking of all evil proceeds from Christ’s command in the gospel and from the unfathomable love of that glorious King. Every man’s life is extremely short, and God fervently commands the church to lead and call any man to repentance who is willing to repent. Christ is eager and willing to forgive all who turn from their sins. This is the goal of all the efforts of the church in China—to testify to the world about our Christ, to testify to the Middle Kingdom about the Kingdom of Heaven, to testify to earthly, momentary lives about heavenly, eternal life. This is also the pastoral calling that I have received.

For this reason, I accept and respect the fact that this Communist regime has been allowed by God to rule temporarily. As the Lord’s servant John Calvin said, wicked rulers are the judgment of God on a wicked people, the goal being to urge God’s people to repent and turn again toward Him. For this reason, I am joyfully willing to submit myself to their enforcement of the law as though submitting to the discipline and training of the Lord.

At the same time, I believe that this Communist regime’s persecution against the church is a greatly wicked, unlawful action. As a pastor of a Christian church, I must denounce this wickedness openly and severely. The calling that I have received requires me to use non-violent methods to disobey those human laws that disobey the Bible and God. My Savior Christ also requires me to joyfully bear all costs for disobeying wicked laws.

But this does not mean that my personal disobedience and the disobedience of the church is in any sense “fighting for rights” or political activism in the form of civil disobedience, because I do not have the intention of changing any institutions or laws of China. As a pastor, the only thing I care about is the disruption of man’s sinful nature by this faithful disobedience and the testimony it bears for the cross of Christ.

As a pastor, my disobedience is one part of the gospel commission. Christ’s great commission requires of us great disobedience. The goal of disobedience is not to change the world but to testify about another world.

…The Bible teaches us that, in all matters relating to the gospel and human conscience, we must obey God and not men. For this reason, spiritual disobedience and bodily suffering are both ways we testify to another eternal world and to another glorious King.

This is why I am not interested in changing any political or legal institutions in China. I’m not even interested in the question of when the Communist regime’s policies persecuting the church will change. Regardless of which regime I live under now or in the future, as long as the secular government continues to persecute the church, violating human consciences that belong to God alone, I will continue my faithful disobedience. For the entire commission God has given me is to let more Chinese people know through my actions that the hope of humanity and society is only in the redemption of Christ, in the supernatural, gracious sovereignty of God.

If God decides to use the persecution of this Communist regime against the church to help more Chinese people to despair of their futures, to lead them through a wilderness of spiritual disillusionment and through this to make them know Jesus, if through this he continues disciplining and building up his church, then I am joyfully willing to submit to God’s plans, for his plans are always benevolent and good.

Precisely because none of my words and actions are directed toward seeking and hoping for societal and political transformation, I have no fear of any social or political power. For the Bible teaches us that God establishes governmental authorities in order to terrorize evildoers, not to terrorize doers of good. If believers in Jesus do no wrong then they should not be afraid of dark powers. Even though I am often weak, I firmly believe this is the promise of the gospel. It is what I’ve devoted all of my energy to. It is the good news that I am spreading throughout Chinese society.

I believe we need to take a sober look at our lives. We can learn from our brothers and sisters in places like China and the Middle East.

Our priorities as followers of Jesus must be to not live in a space that we can meticulously control or pursue comfort but to live and work for a coming kingdom.

In our country, the type of religious devotion present by both Wang Yi and the Apostle Paul seems so foreign.

Christianity is the only religion in the world the proposes an argument to endure suffering for the sake of others. We serve a suffering Savior. We have a hope of vindication on the other side of suffering. May we live our lives in such a way that it communicates everything we do is “because of Jesus.”

Five Contextual Agreements for 2018

Beginning the year is always an interesting time in the blogging world. Christian leaders make their predictions on the church, changes, and challenges for the coming year. Three of the best lists I have seen thus far are Carey Nieuwhof’s, Thom Ranier’s and Chuck Lawless’s. Rather than create my own, I have decided to list five which directly connect to my context and what I am wrestling with as a church planter. Here they go in no particular order:

One: Carey’s number one disruptive trend is “A move beyond church in the box.” Chuck Lawless predicts, “Life-on-life, genuine community will ground people in a church.”

I combine these two together because I believe they go hand in hand. Especially in the Portland area, people crave authenticity and accessibility. As Nieuwhof articulates, gone are days when “you sat down Thursday night at 8 to watch your favorite show, because you didn’t want to miss it.” Yet, churches still function on a set time and schedule which is not on-demand. I will address this later, but the on-demand culture does not mean the physical space will cease to exist; instead, the culture enhances it.

“Bottom line? Churches who only think Sunday and who only think building will continue to shrink. In 2018, if coming to Christ means coming to your church in a set location and a set hour, you need a new strategy” says Carey.

How will people engage with the local church? A life-on-life genuine community will attract and connect people to a local church. These life-on-life relationships are on demand and can be engaged with a quick text, Facetime, Facebook message, etc. Conversation can happen in an instant, followed by a genuine embodiment of the characteristics of Christ. Hence, spiritual formation and discipleship will become essential for the local church to thrive moving forward.

In fact, one of my current projects is a series of conversation points followed by basic resources for anyone to employ in an on-the-go world.

Two: The Team is Eclipsing the Solo Leader. I am a church planter and my greatest desire is to have 1-2 other spiritually mature couples to move to Vancouver and co-lead with me and my wife. While The Village Church is not the first to function with three lead pastors, they are the church which has the most viable track record and visible presence. These other lead pastors would help oversee and champion mobilization and spiritual formation. These pastors would help expand the good already in the community. These other pastors would help free me up for what I do well, and I, in turn, will enable them to lead out of their strengths. “The leader who can do everything well is being eclipsed by the team that can do everything well.” To reach, teach, equip and send a diverse group of people will require a diverse and well-rounded team.

Three: Thom Ranier notes, “The e-book has not proved to be nearly as popular as we thought it would be. Many blog writers are reporting declines in readership. But audio books are rising in popularity. Listeners are moving to podcasts so they can learn while they jog, drive, and exercise. Outside of preaching podcasts, churches have many other opportunities to reach and disciple people through audio ministries.” The Village Church does this through their ‘Knowing Faith’ podcast which takes complex theological issues and makes them accessible in order to equip the everyday Christian.

In Vancouver, people are increasingly working odd hours and 50 hour-plus weeks via two jobs. Therefore, having a small group on Tuesday evenings is ceasing to be an option (think point #1). Spiritual formation will occur as they walk to work, ride their bike, or on the MAX (public transit). As Lawless notes, while this will increase, the subsequent results will be less evangelism. The life-on-life portion of discipleship is so crucial, evangelism must be modeled so that discipleship leads to evangelism. I have stated before how both are the wings of a disciple-making airplane.
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Four: One of the options to maintain a viable presence in the community is a trend which Ranier highlights: “Churches moving into retail spaces.” Anecdotally I have seen greater success for church plants who have rented a storefront. The brick and mortar can be used throughout the week, can be multi-purpose, and don’t require extensive set-up for services on Sunday. In addition, the presence enables a return to the parish model (see point five). Where we are specifically looking to plant, there is an abundance of affordable retail space. I envision a ministry center which can double as a worship space. I envision a place that is filled with worship and ministry seven days a week. A place of resource for the needy. A place of growth for the spiritually hungry. A place which champions and models unity. A place of worship for the gathered church. A place of sending for the scattering during the week. A hub for life and ministry in the community, in the neighborhood, and in the home.

Five: “The rise of the neighborhood church.” The parish model is on a comeback. Because people like their craft or customized “fill-in-the-blank” (i.e coffee, beer) they will increasingly expect this in their church. Further, pastors will be forced to lead wellness for their whole community. They are not just the pastor of the people who attend the church on a Sunday service. They are also the pastor of a select community. A church will gain credibility in our skeptical world when it seeks the good of the whole community. This can only be done when they understand the narrative of the neighborhood and highlight how the story of God brings wellness. It will be increasingly difficult for pastors to know the narrative of multiple neighborhoods. Therefore, multiplication of churches will happen when a group of people lives in another neighborhood. In order for this to be effective, team leadership must be modeled and championed.

These five create a perfect storm for a revival of old models and methods blended with the technological advancement of the twenty-first century. Regardless of theory and prediction, would you join me in praying for the advancement of God’s kingdom during 2018?