Monday, October 24, 2011

South of China

This past week at C2C you could hear a pin drop as Terry Virgo spoke of what God is doing in China. These days there are more Christians who gather to worship on Sundays in China than in all the churches in Europe put together - and those are the official stats. The underground church in China is immense and impossible to measure. There's an impending sense that the Gospel is about to explode in China in spite of severe persecution.

For the next week Rynelle and I will be in a country just South of China. The brutal history of this country has not robbed it of its mystical beauty, nor stripped its people of their hope. It is an innovative nation with an emerging economy. It is also resistant to the Gospel and incredibly suspicious of churches led by foreigners. We will be with one such church there who have asked to remain anonymous because they are being monitored carefully by police. Please join us in prayer for protection, and for the Holy Spirit to empower us to encourage and equip this church to grow in Christ and advance His kingdom.

After that we go further South to Singapore to be with Redemption Hill Church. Simon and Tarryn who planted the church three years ago are close friends of ours, and this will be the second time we visit them. This is the church we partnered with on our last mission trip to Cambodia. It's a remarkable church which has grown very rapidly and is poised to become one of the most influential churches in the nation, and a springboard for the Gospel into Asia. Pray that our time with them would be strategic please, and that God would do a quick work in them so that the Gospel would be able to be preached in regions beyond them.
Perhaps even as far North as China.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sacrament or Ritual? part 2

In my last post, I submitted to you that living sacramentally rather than ritualistically, was central to growing in grace and discipline.

The word 'Sacrament' was first used by the early Church father Tertullian, which was the Latin translation of the Greek word 'mystery.'It is defined as a. an outward sign of an inward reality, and b. a means of grace. The Protestant Church recognizes only two sacraments - that of baptism and breaking of bread. The Catholic Church recognizes seven; confirmation, penance, ordination, marriage, last rites, baptism and the Eucharist. I do believe that the only two Sacraments which are foundational to the church are those of communion and baptism, but do not wish to enter a debate which has not been resolved in almost 20 centuries!

I simply want to submit to you, that living sacramentally is vital in growing in grace and discipline. What do I mean? Let me use the example of the sacrament of marriage.When a new husband and wife have sexual intimacy after they have made their vows and exchanged rings, we understand that they are 'consummating' their marriage. Their union is not attained in sexual union. Sexual union is an outward sign of an inward reality that 'the two have become one.'It is not 'in order to be one,' but 'because they are already one.'It is not a ritual(hopefully!) as much as it is a sacrament. And it is a means of grace to them too.

I believe we can pray, meditate on scripture and fast, either sacramentally or ritualistically. The latter approach is spiritual discipline in order to get right, or get close to God. The former is spiritual discipline because we have been made right and been united with Christ.

Spiritual discipline as an overflow of the believer's justification by and reconciliation with God, is not really discipline at all. Do we think Jesus went off
to solitary places to pray because he thought that His Father would be displeased with Him if he didn't? Not at all! He knew that He and the Father were one, and He simply needed an appropriate place to express that union and a fresh means of grace
to be resourced by his Source.

I believe we can also give and serve either sacramentally or ritualistically. The former will be a grateful response to an inward reality, the latter an outward activity in the hope that we will be blessed and served ourselves.

So how do you and I live more sacramentally and less ritualistically, growing in both discipline and grace? Would love your thoughts.

Sacrament or Ritual? A re-look at spiritual discipline

To be a disciple of Jesus infers discipline. It's the root of the word.
There have been many classics written about the spiritual disciplines of a disciple, probably the best known being Thomas A' Kempis's "Imitation of Christ." More recently Roger Foster's book, "Celebration of Discipline" has challenged many believers to walk in the ways of Jesus in areas like prayer, meditation and fasting.

Discipline is a good word. But it's a word which needs careful navigation, because it can so easily turn into legalistic ritual. That's the dance we have with discipleship. How do we call people, and respond ourselves, to Jesus call to imitate Him, without losing sight of Gospel of Grace? If Jesus' first call is to repent and believe the Gospel, how do we keep the Gospel central as we follow Him, rather than our own efforts? How do we walk in the finished work of the cross, when we are clearly still on a journey?

A wise man recently framed it like this for me. "Discipleship is learning to live up to who we already are because of the Gospel. It is not trying to attain to something.It is living up to what we have already obtained in Christ."
Subtle difference, you say? I say, significant difference. It's not trying to 'raise our game' as much as it is living up to the fact that Jesus has already 'raised our game'.

With that in mind, I want to introduce a helpful word. It is a controversial word, because it has 'high church' connotations, but it is a word worth redeeming. It is the word Sacrament. Meriam Webster's theological dictionary defines 'Sacrament' as a. "an outward sign of an inward reality", and b. a means of grace. The two recognized sacraments that make a church a church, are the Lord's Supper and Baptism.

We break bread not because we think a piece of cracker bread and a little sip of grape juice will save us, but because we are remembering and celebrating the
inner saving work of the body and blood of Jesus. It is an outward sacred sign of an inward reality. And through taking the sacraments, we somehow mysteriously are able to enjoy and experience that inward reality again and again. It is a means of grace.

It is the same with the sacrament of Baptism. We do not get baptized because we think it will cleanse us. But it is a sacred sign of the cleansing that has already taken place on the inside through the substitutionary death of Jesus. Plus, through the sacrament of Baptism, we celebrate Jesus' resurrection power over sin, and gain access to new life through His life.

My question though is this."Are these the only two sacraments that God gives us?"
I want to suggest that though they are more foundational to the church, the key to growing in discipline while staying in grace, is to live more sacramentally and less ritualistically.
More on this in my next blog.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Crisis and the Crowd

I'm fascinated by Jesus' relationship with the crowd. He taught the crowd, healed the crowd, fed the crowd, was moved with compassion by the crowd. The crowd loved his miracles and would not leave him alone, so much so that he did not have time to eat, and his mother thought he was losing his mind.

But Jesus wasn't enamored with the crowd. He didn't play to the crowd. Sometimes he hid from the crowd. From time to time he even said things that made the crowd scatter.

After the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand he took the bread that had just been multiplied and said, "Unless you eat of my flesh and drink of my blood you can have no part of me." It is a probing statement that touches a raw nerve. Essentially, "If you are only here for my miracles but aren't interested in me, then rather leave."It is a crisis for the crowd. The crowd is fickle. The crowd is purged from 5000 to 12.
12 disciples.

This piece of the Gospels is deeply challenging for any pastor or preacher. Who doesn't want a crowd? Who doesn't want their church to grow? Who doesn't preach with the question in the back of their minds, "Will preaching this truth empty the church?"

From time to time, it is important to bring the crowd to a crisis. Even if that means the crowd shrinks a little. I believe there is a way to bring tough truth skilfully. Better a scalpel than a blunt butter knife! I believe we are to preach the blessings of the Gospel more than we preach its demands.I believe we are to preach and pastor with patient respect for people in process.

However, if we do not bring the crowd to a crisis from time to time, the crowd may grow, but it will not be growing with disciples.