Worship in the City

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Where do I even begin? I suppose this is the problem with taking such a massive break between posts.

As you can see from my last post, I have been spending my summer vigorously getting to know my city better. Truth be told, I already knew it pretty well, but getting to know it better certainly couldn’t hurt. While all of this has been going on, I have been reading Deuteronomy, a book filled with laws and regulations given to Israel before they entered into the promise land, as well as several books concerning cities. Between Timothy Keller’s “Why God Made Cities” and “Centre Church”, Matt Carter’s and Darrin Patrick’s “For the City”, Jon M. Dennis’ “Christ+City” and Darrin Patrick’s “Church Planter”, I’ve been a pretty busy fella. The workload has been intense, but the insights have been profound, and my time in Deuteronomy has been more than a little exciting.

One doesn’t always find a book of things to do and things not to do overly exciting, but from my time reading, it has been so much more than that. It’s been a book on Worship.

Deuteronomy is more than just a book of regulations and laws. It isn’t kidding about prospering in your land by following the commandments given inside of the book. The problem begins when we take these things at face value and we fail to see what is at the core of them. Almost every single chapter of Deuteronomy is filled with the same phrase, telling you not to forget what God has done for you. It is a constant reminder of just who God is, and what he has done. In chapter six, you get what is probably one of the most beautiful pieces of scripture. It is the call to holistic worship. It says that we do not worship Jesus in one area of our lives, and then ignore him in others. And yes, I do say Jesus, because Jesus quotes this very same scripture when asked what the greatest commandment is, placing himself at the core of it. “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” The following verses ask that they be written on your hands, on your head, on the gates of your cities, the door to your house and that they should be a part of your daily routine. These words were meant to permeate all facets of life. Jesus is Lord and no part of our life is separate from our worship of him. It is with this in mind that Deuteronomy goes on to tell us how that worship takes place. Things like communal responsibilities, honesty, integrity, how we treat the poor/marginalised, how we treat strangers. These things are all well and good, but in themselves are not enough. We don’t do these things to earn grace, and we don’t do them for God. We do these things because we have received grace, and we do them because of Jesus. 

You see, Deuteronomy isn’t about cities thriving under the work of our own hands. In fact, the cities in Deuteronomy were taken away from wicked men because they worshipped the works of their own hands. Deuteronomy is about the thriving of cities under the revelation of God by people worshipping in all areas of their lives. The great miracle of Jesus’ day wasn’t just his healing the sick, it was the transformation that took place in the hearts and the minds of the people who would go so far as to tear the roof of a house open to get people who needed Jesus to Jesus. People who were willing to go above and beyond for the sake of others because of Jesus and his grace. The Gospel is the power to change the lives of all men. Deuteronomy 12 can be summarised as, “Revel not in what you have done to impress God, but remember what God has done for you.” God literally says that he detests those willing to trample over and use others in an attempt to impress him; that he is far more honoured and glorified by those who sacrifice of themselves for the sake of others because they remember what God has done for them. It’s the picture of grace. There is nothing you can do to earn it because earning is completely the antithesis to grace. Grace does not know the word earn, they don’t exist in the same realm. Grace is unwarranted favour and when you receive it, you work hard to give it, not because you are trying to earn it, but because it is something to freely give, something to freely pass on.

When we stop remembering what God has done for us, when we turn from his word that reminds us over and over again as to who he is and what he has done, cities suffer for it. Israel neglected to make God the Lord over all areas of their life and their people suffered for it, and their cities, like the cities of those before them, were taken away from them by Babylon (Amos and Jeremiah). Seventy years later, they get their city back, they rededicate themselves to God and his word and a mere 12 years later they neglect it again, refusing to teach it to their children and once more, people (cities) suffer for it (Nehemiah). Even in Jesus’ day the same things happen. In Mark 11-13, people become more concerned with impressing God with power and wealth that they completely neglect their worship. God does not become the Lord of all areas of life, and the people suffer for it. Jesus’ disciples try to placate him by reminding him how amazing a building the temple is. “Hey, Jesus, I know your visit didn’t go the way you planned, but check out the temple. You gotta admit, it’s pretty boss.” Jesus tells them that he has no interest in the temporary work of the hands. That he has no interest in the works of the hands of men designed to impress God with their own ego, that it is the things built in the Spirit and in Truth that will last forever while all other things fade away. Jesus uses verses from Daniel, a book written during the Babylonian occupation, to emphasise his point. Babylon, a once proud nation, that revelled in their own power, lost to the ages. He speaks of Rome sacking the Temple, a mighty nation and the house of God, worshipped for being a grand house, both torn down and no more.

Spirit and truth last forever. Our cities will thrive not by the works of our hands, natural disasters and any number of things can undo that. But a people dedicated to the revelation of Jesus Christ in everything they do is a boon.

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The Story of Mission, Pt. 2

I wanted to leave my last post up for a bit so people could get a chance to read it, think about it, comment on it, disregard it, whatever. But I think it’s time for part two.

I am going to try and keep this short. I have a bad habit when it comes to writing blogs, and that is writing a wall of text for people to read. I love to write, I can write a lot if I wish, but I don’t want to intimidate anyone with a giant wall of words. I want people to read my thoughts and offer up their own.

Last post I discussed the missional story of God as something written on the pages of our lives and the importance of being in proximity with people so they can read it. I offered up a couple stories of my own to boot. Today, I want to discuss the missional calling of God and the promise that comes with it. I want to discuss just what it is that is so exciting about mission. I want to discuss just what story is God writing on our lives.

Genesis 12:1-3 has got to be one of the more exciting passages I have read in the bible. That isn’t to say that all other passages suck. There are a bunch more that I really enjoy and will no doubt highlight over the course of my writing in this blog. But I can’t help but feel like Genesis 12:1-3 is a whopper of a passage:

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.

I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others.

I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”

Promising, get it!? HA!

Promising, get it!? HA!

This is the story. This is the story that God is writing on the lives of each of us, and honestly, I could not be more stoked about this. This is the story written in the lives of every single person we read about in the bible, and it is the story written on the lives of every single one of us for whom Jesus is Lord. Paul even says as much in Galatians 3:14 where he says that it is through Christ Jesus that we inherit the same promise given to Abraham and his descendants.  This is the promise and the call that every person we read about in the Old Testament is being faithful (or not being) to. Even Abraham, who received this call and promise, was tested in it a few chapters later with his son. This promise is repeated, over and over and over again, not just in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament as well. So what am I getting at? Let’s look at these three verses in another way.

I work with university students, so they might look at it like this; I will leave home for the first time, I will head into the uncertainty of University. I will go knowing that not only is God going with me, but he has gone ahead of me and prepared the way. God will bless others as I develop relationships on campus, and will watch over me.

What about those of us not in university? I will enter into a new work field. I will be a blessing to my place of employment because I will represent Jesus in that place. I will work hard, develop relationships, and in so doing, honour Jesus.

There are numerous ways that we can write out this story, but I can’t encourage you enough to look at it more in depth. We find our sense of identity, our sense of purpose and security in those three verses! It’s absolutely incredible, and really, I hope motivating! I hope you find it as inspiring and encouraging as I do. I hope it lights a fire under your ass like it did mine. When I realised that I was actually living out the same story as Joshua, or Moses, or Esther, or David, or Peter, or Paul, or Jesus, I got super pumped. God promises Abraham a nation as vast as the stars, and through Jesus Christ, we have become not just a nation, but a nation of Missionary Priests(1 Peter 2)! This means that we are sent into all areas of the world, more importantly, your area of influence, and introduce people to Jesus. Let me be clear though, we do this through proximity, and openness and integrity. We do this at the leading and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Abandon whatever agenda for conversion you might have because we are not called to convert, we are called to bless, to introduce, to be ambassadors. God’s work is in the areas of the heart and part of that is showing the transformation of our own hearts. When someone asks you to help them to know Jesus better, you are not converting them, Jesus is awakening their hearts to the reality of his Gospel.

Coffee Cup Fellowship

Coffee Cup Fellowship

So go out. Get to know people. Be involved with them. Introduce them to Jesus in your life. Surrender your agendas. Surrender your relationships to prayer. Watch God work. Encourage others to do likewise.

Reach. Restore. Reproduce.