Give Over Get – In Serving

The following post is a guest post/sermon from Jon Grabhorn, Engagement Pastor at Generations Church.

These past few weeks we have been in this teaching series of “Give Over Get.” And during this time we have been challenged to reflect Jesus’ characteristics and priorities, and then last week were challenged in living our generosity through our relationships. This week we are going to focus on living our generosity through serving.

In our teaching time today, we are going to look at three consecutive short stories that make up one story. While our primary teaching text is Matthew 20:1-16 the story starts in Matthew 19:16.

As Jesus is walking along his journey to Jerusalem he is asked a question by a man labeled as the Rich Young Ruler. He is asked a question that many of us may have asked ourselves at some point, “Jesus, what good things must I do to get this eternal inheritance you talk about?” 

Jesus redirects the young man and points him to God as the source of all that is good. He simply tells him that if he wants to enter into this eternal life that he needs to keep the commandments. Which the young man quickly responds, “Which ones?” Jesus interestingly enough responds with the second half of the ten commandments and the second greatest commandment: do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.

The young man has an interesting response that I think often gets overlooked. There is a quick shift from confidence to insecurity. He states, “I have kept them all,” but, “what do I still lack?” The man seems to have this incomplete feeling within him that something is lacking.

Jesus bluntly tells him, “To be perfect, give up all your possessions and then come follow me.” This can seem a little harsh, and I think too often can be used in an improper way. Jesus isn’t calling us to never own anything, he is rather hitting on the young man’s insecurity. The young man is struggling with the external comfort he receives from his possessions, and they have become a godly idol. Jesus is calling the man to exchange the reliance upon worldly wealth in exchange for the wealth of eternal life.

The young man hearing this from Jesus turns and walks away sorrowful. There is a clear internal struggle within this man, and we don’t know what he would go on to do. But the story does not end here.

Following this interaction, Jesus turns to his disciples and tells them, “It is hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” I don’t know about you, but I struggle enough to get a little piece of thread through the eye of a needle.

The disciples hearing this ask Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” And Jesus gives a profound statement, “With man, it is impossible to enter into the kingdom of heaven, but with God all things are possible.” It is because of God alone that we can be saved. Our possessions, our good deeds, our lifestyle does not save us, it is only God. Recognize that when we talk about eternal life it is a gift that is inherited, it is not a reward to be earned.

Peter being Peter, asks Jesus a question that seems a little self-centered and self-seeking. He basically asks, “Jesus, look at all that we have done for you. We have left everything, possessions, friends, family, everything; just to follow you. So because we have done this what do we receive?” Peter here is assessing how he has lived his life in comparison to others, as though it warrants him to have a better standing or higher status in the kingdom of God.

Jesus acknowledges that his disciples receive rewards in heaven for their faithfulness. Verse 30 sets up our text for today. Jesus tells them, “Many of those who are first will be last, and the last first.” The parable Kyle read earlier acts as a subtle rebuke and reorientation for Peter’s line of thinking.

For the Kingdom of Heaven is like… when you see this into you know that Jesus is about to give an earthly illustration that has heavenly meaning. So he begins by talking about this vineyard, which is often used as a location of activities for the kingdom in our world. A vineyard was Israel’s most important crop, so the nation of Israel was often referred to a vineyard because of its importance to God.

So we have a landowner who goes out early in the morning to find some workers for his vineyard. After finding some workers he invites them to work in his vineyard for one denarius (basically equivalent to a day’s wage for labor). A little later in the day, around 9:00 am, the landowner saw others standing around in the marketplace, and he gave them a similar offer. He invited them to come work in his vineyard and that they would be paid whatever is right. A little later in the day, around noon, he went out and did the same thing. Again, later in the day, around five, he found some people standing around in the marketplace and asked them why they were standing there. They told him that no-one had hired them, the workday ended around 6:00 pm. So he invited them to go work in his vineyard.

When the end of the day arrived, the landowner went around to the workers in his vineyard to pay them. He started with those who started last and ended with those who started first. Starting with those who started around 5:00 pm came, they each received one denarius. You can imagine the confusion and excitement that came across the other workers. Those who started the first shift in the morning must have been crazy exciting because they thought that is what they were going to receive for working all day. If those guys worked that long and received that, could you imagine what they were about to receive.

To their surprise they too received a denarius each. When they received this they began to complain, “Those men only worked one hour, and yet they made equal to us who have bore the burden of a full days work in the burning heat!”

The landowner has an interesting response to these claims, “Friend, I’m doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me on a denarius? Take what is yours and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what is mine? Are you jealous because I am generous?” The laborers are blinded by their self-interest and their assessment of others that they aren’t thankful for what they have received. 

Jesus caps off this parable the same way he began it: “The last will be first, and the first last.”

When we look at this passage, there are two points Jesus is making. Remember the vineyard is used to illustrate God’s kingdom on earth. God is the landowner of this vineyard, his kingdom on earth, and we are the workers that he has called into the field. First point, God is calling people to join in his kingdom work. And second, God is calling those who are already working in the field to not assess the new workers, rather to welcome them in and to be grateful for their inheritance.

We emphasize being apart of God’s family here at Generations. We are all a part of God’s kingdom work that he is doing here in Vancouver, WA, but we are also a part of the kingdom that is happening all across our world. It is all one vineyard, one kingdom, one family. And God is inviting people from all walks of life into this family, yes it may even be that person you avoid or struggle to be around. We talked about this some last week, rather than asking “who is our neighbor,” we are to ask “how can I be a neighbor?” God is active in expanding his family. He does so by inviting people into what he is doing, and he is working to redeem the world, all the people in it.

So for those of us who have committed ourselves to God. We have answered his call, we have entered into the vineyard, into the kingdom, into the family. All of us who have entered, we have entered into the same work. The work of expanding God’s vineyard, his kingdom, his family to those who are not in. We are all striving to the same goal. So we don’t compare or assess oneself with another. We all will receive the same inheritance, eternal life with God. Whether you have been in for 30 years or 30 seconds, we are all one family. No amount of time in the vineyard will get you a better seat, closer to God, or higher status in the new heavens and new earth.

Out of this passage, there are three types of people that come to mind:

  1. There is the person standing in the marketplace, who has been invited into the vineyard but is unsure whether they will go and what their role will be.
  2. There is the lost believer, the one who has been roaming around the vineyard not able to find the type of work that best fits them.
  3. The experienced believer, who has been working away for a while now in the right spot.

Maybe you are able to find yourself in one of these three examples.

If you find yourself to be the first type of person, who is new to Christianity and God, my encouragement for you is to try out something that interests you. Accept the invitation into the vineyard, the kingdom, the family and plugin somewhere. Maybe you have a friend that is serving, try going alongside them and see if it is a fit for you. Maybe you enjoy working with kids, playing an instrument, talking with people, social media, and the list could go on. Share that interest with us and we will connect you with one of our teams. Now I do want emphasize, you may try something and it just doesn’t fit you. That is okay! Try something and shift to another team until you find your place.

If you find yourself to be the second type of person, who is someone who has been in the family for a while serving in some different roles but has yet to find the right place or maybe is dealing with some hard times. My encouragement to you is to share that struggle. Something you will find out quickly if you haven’t already is that just because you are a Christian and following God doesn’t mean life is going to be peachy. But that is why for the last three weeks in our flow of teaching we started by encouraging the growth of our inner resolve. That we find our hope, strength, and endurance in Jesus and not our own abilities.

Also, as we talked about last week that we want to develop a family mentality where we are a neighbor to each other. That we are a supportive community who truly cares and goes over and beyond for one another. There is a danger in being in this stage, I’ve heard it as beware of the 3 B’s: Busyness, Burnout, and Bitterness. That you may be serving away and away, but you aren’t seeing the change you thought you might get. Or you are just exhausted because you keep pouring out. Or you begin to develop a resentfulness towards what you are doing because things aren’t going the way you thought they would. If you find yourself here, your issue isn’t your serving. You may just be in the wrong place, maybe you’re just working the wrong part of the vineyard. Please reach out and share that frustration or struggle. Let’s have the conversation and identify where God might be calling you to work. God is calling you to work, but it may just in a different way than you currently are.

If you find yourself to be the third type of person, the one who has found their role in the vineyard and is thriving. My encouragement to you is to look around the vineyard (those in the family) or the marketplace (those who aren’t in the family) and be willing to invite them to come to serve alongside you. There is plenty of inheritance to go around, just because someone else comes in doesn’t mean your place in eternal life is hindered. Rather there will be so much joy when you see others thriving in the vineyard. Are you open and willing to receive new workers in the kingdom? God is going to continue to invite and bring people in, are we being receptive and helping them find their place? We are all co-laborers in the vineyard.

I want to share a quick story of someone in our family who has found their place in the vineyard, and my hope in sharing this is to emphasize that it is okay to not know your place in the kingdom. But if you are open and willing to have that conversation God will work and he will lead you to that place, and you will see the fruit in how the Spirit will work through your willingness to serve.

Some of you may know Charity. She has been around Generations for quite a while now. She was a part of our initial team that was sent from the Branch. She felt God calling her to join Generations, she had no idea what that looked like, but she trusted and followed. She accepted God’s invitation, without a clear direction. She showed up and began feeling her way around Generations looking for her place. In November she made a note on her GenCard that she was interested in joining a ministry team, to serve somewhere, but she was unsure of where that would be.

About a week later Charity and I are talking over coffee. She shared how she has served in many different roles in the church before but has never found her fit. She loved serving and felt like she was doing good work, but there was still this uneasiness as though this might not be the right fit. She resonated that there was a level of burnout in her last role of serving. In hearing that I asked her a question that I was once asked and now use regularly in my ministry, “What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy to do?”

I think she was a little taken back when I first asked that, but it led to a great conversation. She shared how she loved to plan, organize, and execute events. I began to share a few places where she might be able to use that here at Generations and there was almost an instant and fired up response, she wanted to join our events team.

So I got her connected with the team and she went to work rather quickly. Some of you may have attended our Valentine’s Masquerade event this past Friday. It was such a great time! But it only happened because of the work and effort of those on our events team. Charity is one of the people on the team. She found a place where she was passionate and it showed in how she helped the team. She was ecstatic after the event because she found her place in the vineyard. God has gifted her in her ability to plan, coordinate, picture, and execute events. This was obvious in her ministry towards our Valentine’s event. We saw some of our family show up for a good, fun time to interact with one another, and we also saw new people interact with us. We had people there who have never connected with Generations before, and we were blown away by the connections made from this event.

I love stories like this because you see someone who is committed and in the kingdom, but just hadn’t found their right spot yet. Feel free to ask her about why she does what she does and how she has seen God at work in her life. It is incredible when you see people find their ministry fit, there is an unfathomable passion and overflowing of love that comes from it. It isn’t easy, but when your hope is found in Jesus and you have a family around you that wants to see you thrive, it will completely change how you work in the kingdom.

If you have questions or want to have a conversation about your place here at Generations make a note on your GenCard [For those reading this post, text GenCard to 97000 and we will help you get connected to your ministry fit].

Feel free to be open and honest. We want to see everyone find their role in God’s family and to find their right ministry fit. Communicate that on your GenCard, drop it in the response box, and let’s get together for a conversation about your place in the vineyard. Our desire is to equip and empower others. This is why here at Generations we function as a team, and we want you to be a part of that. We want to see you identify the passion and gifts God has given you, and for you to find how you can use that in his vineyard.

We are all one family. A family that is committed to expanding the family of God, we do it because of Jesus. And that expansion goes on to the next generation and all the generations to follow. We do this by identifying where God is calling us to work in the vineyard, caring for our family that is struggling, and inviting others to join us as we seek to advance God’s kingdom.

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.

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.
download

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?

A Value: Story over Sin

We all like a good story. A good story simulates our souls and evokes our emotions. I went and saw The Last Jedi. People have such divided opinions on the movie because of how they are connected to the largest Star Wars metanarrative.

I will indict myself in this next number, but in America 490 billion dollars are spent watching movies and being entertained watching stories.  The average American spends 5 hours and 4 minutes daily watching tv, which increases when you have a streaming service. That kind of money and time into being entertained by stories either that we can relate to or that we can escape from (watch something non-sensical). We have been hard-wired by our Creator to be drawn into stories in a real way—we kind of need them. Think about it: before movies, there were plays, campfires, dinner tables, cave walls. We were created in a story and for a story.

The problem of our consumption of stories is that stories shape us and disciple us. They give us a worldview, a way of seeing the world around us. According to Matt Chandler and Tim Keller, in our American context, there are five false narratives which we consume that conflict with the narrative to which we as Christians submit.

  • Consumerism: the good life means that you have the kind of stuff that people would look to you and see – the meaning of life is getting more stuff. More will make you happy
  • Secularism: all there is what you can see and verify. The happier you will be is once you realize there is no supernaturalism.
  • Nationalism: success and supremacy of our own nation from political purity would make our world a better place.
  • Progressivism: just keep making forward progress that we will move our way toward utopia.
  • Cynicism: nothing can be trusted, everyone is in it for their own gain, nothing is beautiful, doubt anything good or beautiful. The only trusted source is self.

Trying to live life under one of these false narratives is like continuously picking up rocks. You have to keep picking up rocks. Eventually, the rocks you pick up crush you. In the world, real people, your neighbor, your co-workers are being crushed by these narratives.

We are drinking these narratives in with every movie, idea. Because we all consume something, we will stumble back into one of these narratives. When we act on and adopt these narratives we are lead to sin. Ultimately, each of these narratives entices us to believe the lie that we are at the center of the story.

Christians are not immune to the pervasiveness of these lies. When we reflect on our life we can often see God as one of the characters in our story. We look for him when we need him and expect him to be grateful when we serve him. He is a lovely piece of our story, but we still think of it as our story. But it is not our story. It is God’s story as creator and rescuer. We exist to expand the goodness of His story throughout the world.

The story God as told in the Bible is the only true narrative. Our disbelief in who God is and how he acts leads us into sin–defining right and wrong according to our perspective instead of God’s. God’s story shapes everything.

Christians have one true story really well so that we can spot the false narratives. This involves the ones we believe first, those that the culture spews second, and those others believe third. Before we can move past this point, we have to know how God’s story intersects our individual stories.

There is a murderer turned missionary named Paul in the Bible who started a church in the ancient city of Ephesus. While in prison, He writes back to the church as he awaits trial in Rome for sharing the story of Jesus and it’s implications.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously lived according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air,the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus,so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do. – Ephesians 2:1-10

For believers, you and I have this story in common. We have a shared story. I do not know about you, but the first time I was made alive was in the second row of a youth conference where God took me from death to life. It is the place where my self-created identity failed and God said, “Mine.”

“Dead in trespasses and sins” and the consequences of destructive actions explain where we come from and what’s wrong with the world. Into the brokenness, God sends the Son to save.

The sending of Jesus did not happen because God was putting together a team of super people. We were not saved because our parents were good disciple-makers. We were not saved because God looked at our unique skill-set and said: “Oh I could use some of that in my kingdom.” We were not saved because we used to do bad things and now we don’t. We were saved because God is gracious and kind and in His mercy he saved us.

This common story transcends all of our differences Which is why the church can come together being politically, socio- economically, racially different. So you have where we come from, what went wrong, how God has fixed it, and our purpose in life all in 10 verses. This is our story and this story is incompatible with the five false narratives. You cannot embrace our story and embrace these other narratives. There is no group hugging these narratives together.

What do you do to help you reorient yourself to the one true story?

Likely, you attend Sunday worship services and at most, you spend 2-3 hours weekly to reorient you to the grand narrative. Now compare that time allotment to the 5 hours and 4 minutes you spend daily consuming false narratives (feel free to lump in social media for you non-tv watchers).

We cannot just reorient ourselves to God story when we gather, but the story has to be evident when we scatter. We have to be so caught up in God’s story that we choose story over sin. When we filter every area of life through the gospel we put God’s story over sin.

The gospel is: God himself has come to rescue and renew all creation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Every area means every area…the good and the bad. We can apply the gospel to all areas of life. Here are a few worldview examples…

Our story compels us to be generous, while consumerism says hoard or get your own. Our story is that everything that has been given to us is by the grace of God and should be held loosely at our fingertips eager to give it away and be generous to others.

Our story drives us to see the beauty and goodness in God’s world, while cynicism says there is no real good. Our story is that God has been kind to us even when we did not deserve it and were even not kind in return. Therefore, we should strive to cultivate beauty, justice, and trust just as our God did for us.

Our story acknowledges that we cannot solve our own problems, while progressivism says we will eventually find a manmade solution. Our story is that God provides the solution to sin and brokenness in Jesus Christ through his selfless love. One day He will bring full restoration and right all wrongs. Therefore, we can serve and love self-sacrificially with no strings attached.

Our story sends us to hear other’s stories and testify about the one true story before we condemn anyone for their sin. Jesus does not expect us to become the saviors and behavior modify people out of sin. We are invited to live in response to the story of the savior. God’s story overcomes our sin.

download-5