A Letter from the Pastor: Answering What’s Next?

Friends & Family,

Last night the latest recommendations of the CDC were published on my newsfeed, which strongly suggested no public gathering with more than 50 people for the next 8 weeks. Governor of Washington Jay Inslee followed suit and levied a similar ban, and then subsequently instituted the same internal requirements for all bars and restaurants. Our team had been anticipating at least two weeks without the ability to gather, but now this number has grown. We still anticipate reevaluating where we are at the end of March. Regardless, this is no longer a blip on the radar.
As a church community, we’ve strived to maintain a healthy perspective on our gatherings: that the Church is not an hour-long service on Sunday, but rather a people… a family. If you’ve been around Generations for any period of time, you’ve probably heard this or seen it stated with joy repeatedly. We have chosen to emphasize the everyday adjective. We have intentionally chosen both liturgical and Spirit-led practices in regard to our gatherings, wishing these to form how we live in response to what Jesus has done throughout our weeks.
Yet this doesn’t make the news last night any less jarring. As a pastor, I love gathering to worship with our Generations family! I love how Charles and the team lead us in worship through song. I love the casual environment where anyone can feel welcome. I (and I never thought I’d say this) even love the hard work of pulling all of our equipment out of the trailer setting it up, tearing it down, and putting it up again because it is a beautiful picture of what family united by Jesus does when they come together. Gatherings never have been our everything, but they’ve been a significant part of our practice of loving God and neighbor. They have marked us as a young church.

 

The circumstances have forced us to learn how to navigate a world without a Sunday Gathering at the American Legion. On one hand, I grieve the time we are losing together. Yet on the other, I see these days ahead as an opportunity to step more fully into our calling to (here I go again) be everyday people who expand the family of God because of Jesus for generations to come. What a time to hold our methods of doing church open-handed and allow God to shape us. As I’ve repeated, our gatherings may be moved or canceled, but Church is not.

 

So where do we go from here? Because the Church is family, maintaining and growing both spiritually and in community throughout these coming months must be an intentional focus. For most of us, we’ll likely not be in a room with more than our family or a few other folks. We are committed to two important steps in the coming days:

  1. to invest and equip our people through online resources and connection points (like social media or video conferencing), and
  2. meeting the tangible needs that will inevitably rise moving forward, both inside and outside our walls.

This week, I will be launching online community opportunities via Zoom Video and/or Google Meets. These are video platforms that will hopefully be accessible to the majority of our people and provide interaction and encouragement through the days ahead. For those who won’t have access to these tools, we’re committed to finding ways of equipping them with resources and connections as well. We will be experimenting, see what works, and keep our focus on Jesus.

 

On top of this, we’re aware of the financial strain that many of our own may be facing in the days ahead. We have maintained that the best way to make known both needs and resources for people inside and outside the walls of the Church is through texting 360.295.4141.  As these changes continue, we anticipate these needs to grow exponentially, and we want to be the kind of Church where “God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them (Acts 4:33b-34).” The church is family, right? Together, we can be that family through caring for the needs that arise. So in the coming days, if you find yourself in need, please – do not hesitate to contact us.

 

Finally, I want to encourage us as individuals moving forward in following Jesus. In the days ahead, it will never be more important to care for our souls through practices of both loving God and loving neighbor. As I’ve sought to navigate what is ahead, here are some of the practices I’d encourage:

 

  • Engage with God. We must remember who we are and whose we are in these troubled days ahead. This doesn’t happen by accident. In the weeks ahead, renew your commitment to abiding in the presence of God through Scripture and prayer. We will continue to equip you with resources, but it won’t happen by accident. Allow the Story of God in Scripture to be the lens through which you see the world around us – not the other way around.

  • Disengaging from the news. It’s important that we are informed and follow the guidelines that our authorities give us for our protection. Yet it’s one thing to be informed… and another to be engrossed. Spending our days in the constant stream of information and opinion will only further our anxiety and drive us further into scarcity and fear. As a discipline, learn what you need to know, then love your neighbor and yourself where you are. It’s ok to turn it off for some time.

  • Embody care for your physical needs. I don’t know about you, but this change has thrown any family rhythms that I had completely off. On my own, I’ll spend too much time sitting around, distracting myself with entertainment and not taking good care of myself. It’s important in the weeks ahead to care for our physical needs through exercise, eating as healthy as we can, and rest (there is a difference between rest and escape).

  • Reach out. I have heard is said that “our greatest poverty is loneliness.” We already live in one of the most isolated and lonely cultures in history, and this difficult season will surely accelerate the problem. In the days ahead, make it a habit of reaching out to 2-4 people every week. Check-in emotionally. Pray for one another. Learn of needs that may need to be met… in short, be family. Whether by phone, text, social media or another way make it a discipline to grow relationally with others in the days ahead.

  • Love your actual neighbor. You have neighbors. Physical neighbors. And in these times, they’re probably battling the same cycle of emotions that we are facing as well. In the coming weeks, reach out to your neighbors. If they need groceries, a yard mowed, or just a conversation, don’t hesitate to be the hands and feet of Jesus right where you are by loving your literal neighbors!

  • Pray. Intercession (a type of prayer) is simply asking God on behalf of other people, places or situations. In moments like these, the Church needs to mobilize in prayer for the healing and wholeness of our world. May we be quickened to prayer for God to break the power of this sickness over our world and bring healing! Resources for how and what to pray will be shared shortly.

In the days ahead, take courage. In an anxious world, let your faith steady you and embolden you beyond your own interests towards a love that looks like Jesus. Have the courage to love well. In the words of Paul, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).”

 

Friends and family of Generations Church, I love you. I am thankful for you. This challenge is an opportunity. God is present and at work among us, and I can’t wait for the stories of his faithfulness to rise and move us forward into a bright future.

 

In Christ,
Kyle Davies

Substance – Colossians 2:8-10

The following post is the manuscript from the talk by Kyle Davies delivered Sunday, March 8, 2020, at Generations Church.

We are going to start off by having a little fun today. We are going to begin with a little exercise. I am going to throw nines dots up on the screen. I want you to draw nine dots on your teaching time notes. Maybe you’ve seen this before, your goal is to draw a line through all nine dots without picking up your pencil and in less than 4 total straight lines.Nine dot

As you begin, I want to recap our series Substance to this point. If you are new you can always go back and listen to last weeks on the podcast. Kaleb gave us a good start – get connected to Jesus. “Paul apparently being convinced that true gratitude for God’s grace is an important offensive measure against the false teaching.

Paul develops a powerful positive theological argument against false teaching by rehearsing the completeness of the spiritual victory we share in Christ.

Christ is substantive. Specifically in Colossians 2:17, the substance is the Messiah. This is important because Paul, who writes most of the back section of your Bible, is writing to a group of people who are being pressured to believe and live out that Christ is not enough.

Paul knows what they have been initially taught because he led Epaphras to follow Jesus and Epaphras started this new church community.

What has happened is teachers have come in after the fact and attempted to influence this church in another direction.

Here’s their basic message: We have some additional practices that will add to your life and help you be fulfilled.

Let me elaborate on that a moment: We know following Jesus is hard. It’s difficult. And you might not always feel like you are fulfilled when you are following Jesus. The reason you might feel this way is because some others, us specifically, have these incredible experiences that move us closer to God. You don’t have to feel insecure about missing out on these experiences. We can help you experience these same incredible moments. So, just let us give you some practices and you’ll be able to have these great experiences and minimize any suffering. We will make sure that you measure up, that you are satisfied, and that when others ask you about following Jesus you can point to these experiences through the practices that we will give you.

These false teachers are attempting to give these Colossians believers additional practices or additional rules that are not dependent on Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and return. This is an attempt to coerce the Colossians believers into believing that true spiritual fulfillment is not found in Christ alone.

Now, you may be wondering “why” well our Scriptures don’t give us the clear “why.” Let’s revisit our activity for a moment.

Did anyone get frustrated and look up the answer? In our culture and our time, we have a propensity for wanting to get things right.

When we open our Bible and begin to walk with Jesus sometimes there is clarity about what right is. Sometimes there is a mystery that makes it hard to apply the principled way of Jesus to different situations throughout our week. No two situations are exactly identical. To avoid true dependency on Jesus, we opt for some rules. Even if it’s simply to rebel against them. We like to know the boundaries of play.

Many times we say in safe comfortable predictable patterns because it’s easier to play by a set of rules that we make up and that we establish rather than take a step dependence upon God each and every day. Even if this set of rules says that we cannot know for sure.

It’s easier to live by a set of rules we make up because we can establish the mark for success, eliminate failure, and know the standard. Change is difficult. It’s messy and often unclear.

Let’s go ahead and look at the solution to the nine dots. What you see here is that you actually have to think outside the box to accomplish the task. My guess is your brain made some assumptions about the process.

Paul’s words here in Colossians 2 begin to address these additional rules that we put in place in our own lives because of our propensity for achievement, approval, control, or satisfaction.

While the desire may be different for each of us

Paul addresses these additional rules. These rules can be both assumed or articulated.

These rules…….Take you captive. They hold you prisoner. The philosophy is the product of mere speculation and does not put adherents in touch with divine truth. Ambrosiaster commenting on Paul in the 300s: “Paul calls this tradition of philosophy fallacious and inept, because it is not worked out according to the power of God but according to the weaknesses of the human mind, which restricts the power of God to the limits of its own knowledge so that no one will ever know that is is possible to do anything other than what the carnal reason suggests.”

Common to both Jews and pagans was the basic idea of cause and effect and in a sense it rules nature and the minds of men. We live under the idea that we get what we deserve; when we are good, we deserve to receive good; when we are bad, we deserve to receive bad. Paul warned the Colossians to not subject themselves to this grace-eliminating kind of thinking, and to consider themselves dead to it.

….Tell lies. They are deceitful. They give you a false sense of success. They misrepresent what it means to follow Jesus for yourself and for others. They seem to be arguing that certain practices must be added in order to achieve true spiritual fulfillment. One cannot add to Jesus without, in effect, subtracting  from his exclusive place in creation and in salvation history. The phrase “based elements of the world” conjures up the idea of spiritual attunement to air, earth, fire, and water. They may have felt they needed to appease these spirits or Gods in these natural sources.

Paul is not actually attempting to deny their reality, however, their preoccupation with rules about material things, was like the pagans, and were thus in need of pleasing. Thus, putting them in the place of Christ. The false teachers are proclaiming and demanding a doctrine and demanding practices that do not depend on Christ.

….Give you less authority We have authority in Christ: Christians need not fear these powers, therefore, because they are firmly under the control of their own head, the one in whom all the fullness of deity had come to reside. The Colossians believers will have no interest in listening to the false teachers once the realize that they are already filled. Paul says that this is a fact to be enjoyed, not a status to be achieved.

Sandwiched in the middle of these reasons, Paul writes a statement that proves why these are true.

Read verse 9. “FULLNESS” Jesus claimed to be God, received worship as God, and was crucified because of his claims to be God. We will touch on this more next week. God has taken up residence in and therefore revealed himself in a body. Meaning, there was never a time in Jesus’ earthly existence where he ceased to be God.

Picture this: You go to the Pacific Ocean with a  friend—two finite dots alongside a seemingly infinite expanse. As you stand there, you take a pint jar and allow the ocean to rush into it, in an instant the jar would be filled with the fullness of the Pacific. But you could never put the fullness of the Pacific Ocean into the jar. Thinking of Christ, we realize that because he is infinite, he can hold all the fullness of Deity. And whenever one of us finite creatures dips the tiny vessel of our life into him, we instantly become full of his fullness.

From the perspective of our humanity, the capacity of our containers is of great importance. Our souls are elastic, so to speak, and there are no limits to possible capacity. We can always open to hold more and more of his fullness. The walls can always stretch further; the roof can always rise higher; the floor can always hold more. The more we receive of his fullness, the more we can receive.

Paul is not advocating the view, so common in his day, that true spirituality was to be found by abandoning or by strictly subduing the body. Rather, god has chosen precisely a body in which to take residence and through that body, sacrificed on the cross and raised from the dead to win ultimate victory  over the powers of darkness.

When we fail to understand Jesus, we succeed in limiting ourselves.

So what: We underestimate what God wants to do through us. When we don’t know how to cope with that reality we begin to draw lines, boundaries, and form rules.

We underestimate what God wants to do through us.

  • —By limiting ourselves to our own rules
  • —By misunderstanding the person of Jesus
  • —By playing by manmade rules

The substance of life is Christ. This is why at GenChurch we have a value Spirit over Self. Daily depending of Christ is very different than depending on the rules you establish.

For example, Damien Lillard on playing outside the Three Point Line because of size. He can’t drive inside. He can’t play defense. It’s limiting.

This is what we do to ourselves when we depend on other rules of life. Fulfillment isn’t found in a formula. Christ’s fullness in you provides fulfillment.

Now what: How do I begin to depend more on Jesus?

  • Identify your influences (TikTok, Facebook, Fav news channel)
    • You will hear a certain perspective and rhetoric about their way of thinking. The greatest challenge here is distinguishing between what sounds right and is actually Christ-like.
    • I mentioned GaryVee – His line “don’t you just want to be happy” is easy to pick on.
    • Because in the pursuit of your happiness you may actually treat others poorly. You may make unethical decisions and sacrifice morality for the sake of personal satisfaction.
  • Connect w/ Jesus because he brings freedom and we will get it wrong

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?