Worthy Walking

As I steamroll down the track toward the half century mark in my life I am discovering that even now I am constantly having my belief system (worldview) overhauled. So much of what I believe to be true about God, life, salvation and heaven are as much the result of cultural songs and casual cliches more so than faithful, diligent study of God’s Word. I am teaching through the Book of Ephesians to our church on each Lord’s Day, and I must confess that I am being challenged and transformed more through preparing to teach than I expect anyone to ever be from hearing me teach.

This morning as I looked at Ephesians 4:1 I was struck once again by how the Bible never presents our Christian faith and identity as being about a future, heavenly existence as I have been taught growing up in a church culture. The Christian message has been “the world is a bad place and God will destroy it. Also you are a sinner who will die and go to hell unless you invite Jesus into your heart in order that you might go to heaven when you die!” This is not the biblical message of what it means to belong to the family of God.

The message which is predominately being shared in many modern church settings has become a message about death rather than the good news about life! Yes, of course I understand that death must be dealt with, but it has been dealt with through Christ’s death on the cross. Now what? As unintentional as it may be, from the very first evangelistic encounter with a potential convert we communicate that salvation is all about what happens when a person dies. How many times have we used this gem of a phrase, “If you were to die today, do you know that you would go to heaven?” We should be asking, “What happens if you live another 50 years? Will you continue to live as an enemy of God who lives for your own glory or will you repent and believe Christ to bring your life under His eternal rule?”

Modern salvation theology focuses on death and the life that follows (even this teaching is less than biblically sound). Biblical theology focuses on the story of the Giver of life and how our daily lives can be transformed by His power as we are adopted into His family to participate with Him in his eternal work of causing creation to flourish for His own glory.

In Ephesians, Paul certainly affirms the believer’s hope of a glorious eternal inheritance but NEVER at the expense of discarding our present call to walk as though eternity had already begun. Paul in Ephesians presents salvation as a present vocation deeply embedded in a creational purpose. Ephesians is about here and now, not there and then!

We have divorced the Christian message from the present and we wonder why teenagers graduate high school and leave the church in droves? We scratch our heads over the decline of the traditional church, which many of us cut our teeth in and we fail to understand why so many people who once professed faith in Christ seemingly live now with no regard for Christ or His church. Our church culture is simply reaping the rotten fruit of decades of poor theology. When we make salvation all about life after death we should not be surprised when people live as though God is only important in the life after death.

As Paul exhorted the Ephesians so I “implore you to walk in a manner (TODAY) worthy of the calling through which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1). If that is to happen “the eyes of your heart must be enlightened” so that you understand the great mission to which you have been called to participate. Apart from such knowledge you will drift through life with a dead hope based on unbiblical presuppositions about eternity which will inevitably lead you to believe that this life is all about you and you will live accordingly. Instead, I remind you that “God has made us what we are. God has created us in King Jesus for good works that he prepared ahead of time as the road we must travel” (Eph. 2:10, The Kingdom New Testament).

 

Election Day

This day eerily has the same kind of feel as a day in which you are waiting for a sick friend to breathe he’s last breathe. Our beloved republic which was born on blood drenched fields and framed by men of conimagesviction and service now hangs in the balance. The naive might charge me with being melodramatic but the nation of me
n like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr. and Ronald Reagan is even now only a faint memory and if the truth be known in the minds of most not even the memory exist anymore. We’ve become a nation that stands and cheers repugnant, vulgar entertainers but sits when our national anthem is played. Babies are murdered each day and legislators and justices make and redefine laws to protect those who participate in the slaughter. We are a nation that calls good evil and evil good. Those who have a mind to work are oppressively taxed while those who refuse to work enjoy government supplied cell phones and free lunches.

Even as I write this people are lining up in polling places around the country preparing to cast their lot for a person who will become the leader of the United States of America. I also will vote today because men for generations have shed their blood in order that I might cast a vote today.  But I must admit I have never been less optimistic than I am in this moment that there is any life remaining in our once great nation. Regardless of the outcome of this election today the very options before us are indicative of a society that has lost its way and like Israel we demand a king like us rather than submit to the authority of the God who gave us life.

Today my children will say the pledge of allegiance and then they will accompany me to a voting booth where I will vote for a person who I have no confidence in to lead a nation I deeply love. But don’t mistake my pessimism for hopelessness. I am a patriot who would give my life for my country but the Bible offers perspective that must be heeded by every follower of Christ. I am a resident of the United States of America and my red, white and blue roots run deep. But I am citizen of a “better country.” I am living as an “alien” in a “foreign land” that becomes more foreign to me by the day. And like Abraham I am “looking for the city whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:9-10). The same city which Abraham saw by faith, I still long for today. He desired “a better country” and so do I. Not just any country but “a heavenly one” which speaks to the quality of the land not to its location. The Apostle John caught a glimpse of this city as he peered into the future and “saw the holy city coming down out of heaven” (Revelation 21:2). Neither of the candidates on the ballet today will create anything more or less than a man-centered regime in which they become the power brokers for a brief moment in history.

The only election in my true country was held before the world was made and the only ballet cast was submitted by the Maker of the world when He chose a people to represent Him in His creation. Presently, He is “making all things new” and one day He will come to dwell among His chosen people in the world He created for His own glory and in that day Obama, Clinton, Trump and all of humanity will bow down before Him. And finally it will come to pass that “His glory will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14). I will cast a vote today but the one that matters most has already been cast. Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus.

First Annual Electric City Cup

On October 29, 2016 we will host a men’s soccer tournament at the Anderson Civic Center in Anderson, SC. This will be a 7 on 7 tournament playing double elimination to determine winner. The winning team will take home $1000 in cash prize. There will be a $250 entry fee per team and the deadline for registering is October 26 by 5pm. This tournament is limited to the first 8 teams to register so please don’t delay.

Entry fee checks should be made out to New City and can be dropped off to Phil at Dillard’s Sporting Goods or contact Nathanael Kirby at 803.524.5495 to make arrangements.

In addition to the tournament there will be bouncy houses for the kids, live Spanish music and food for purchase between 11-2pm. This will be a fun time for the whole family so make your plans to attend today.

 

A Mobile People

For months now our church family has been looking together at what it means to be the church based on the biblical model rather than the mandates of our culture. Sadly, what the church has become in many places around the globe, not only the Western culture, does not resemble the church in the New Testament. But in order to get a thorough understanding of what it means to be the people of God, one must look at more than just the New Testament. In Exodus 19:4-6 we have a very important image of God’s purpose for His people.  [4] ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. [5] Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; [6] and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:4-6 ESV)

This reference to God’s people as “my treasured possession among all peoples” is very important and key to understanding God’s purpose for His church on earth in our generation. If you had been alive in the day of Moses and Hebrew was your language, you would have had a choice of words to use when referring to a personal possession. If you were to speak of a possession which was “movable” (donkey, plow, chair, etc.) you would use one Hebrew word. But if you were to speak of  an “immovable” possession (land) you would use another word. Here in Ex. 19:4 Moses uses the word to describe God’s people as a “movable” possession “among all peoples.” God’s people were to represent their Creator to all the other nations and as “priests” their lives were to serve a mediatory purpose as they lived and spoke in such a way to point other nations to God.

Tragically, the church in our culture has become little more than an immovable building filled with programs and events. We might use the right language, but our actions clearly indicate that many churches have little understanding of the gospel, God’s mission or the responsibility of God’s people to be a light piercing the darkness to all nations. We hunker down in our state of the art, million dollar music halls and we invite the lost and wayward to come. We call this “going to church.” The problem is this does not reflect the biblical movement of God’s people. The people of God are the ones moving and going to where the people are. We are the ones who must engage our communities and impact our culture by participating in it as God instructed the exiles to do in Babylon (Jeremiah 29).

For too long Christians have sought to create exclusive Christian societies where we don’t have to come in contact with the bad, sinful people around us. We create “Christian” clubs, “Christian” coffee shops, “Christian” sports leagues because we desire to surround ourselves with those who believe, think and live as we do. The nations will be drawn to God only as they see His glory in our marriages, homes, and communities, but they will never see and know if we do not truly move into the communities where we’ve already resided for years in order that the nations might know our God.

Where will God move you today? Do you see yourself and your family as missionary ambassadors who live, speak and act on behalf of your God? We are citizens of another country, but for now we, ourselves, are exiles in a land that desperately needs to be impacted by the people of God. This will only happen as God daily “moves” us deeply into a dying world to rescue those who will never be drawn to our Sunday performances.

Our Greater Possession

Prison_MinistryIt seems like all the talk these days is about how the church is in decline and some say, dying, and if that is an overstatement then at the very least the church seems to be quickly losing its influence in our culture. Things are certainly changing at an alarming rate and though I won’t take the time and space required to flesh out this opinion, I want to say that I believe neither of these things are true. May I remind you that the church is the very body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27) and by virtue of who he is, the resurrected, reigning King of Glory who has defeated death, his body can neither decline nor weaken. If this is true, and of course, I believe it is, then it begs the question, “Why does there seem to be such a vast gulf between the impact of the early church on its culture and the impact of the 21st century church on our post-Christian culture?”  I will offer two possibilities but will develop and support only one of these suggestions.

The church seems to be on the receiving end of the world’s influence rather than being “salt and light” in our culture, and one of the reasons is because many churc
h members have no apparent relationship with Jesus Christ. Don’t get excited. I’m moving on from this one soon. Remember the “wheat and the tares” thing in Matthew 13:24-30. There you go. This may be one of the few examples in which the “walk like a duck, quack like a duck” principle doesn’t apply. Daily I encounter church members who cannot articulate the gospel even in the most basic form and who have no evidence of a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. On the authority of the Word of God, this person is not a follower of Christ, no matter how many gallons of water have been used to baptize him and no righteous fruit will ever hang from the limbs of this tree until it is engrafted into Christ, the true vine. Our society has been deceived into believing that gathering goats and making disciples are the same thing, but of course that’s not the case. The church has opted for worldly success rather than gospel advancement, and we employ whatever method that enables the church to effectively compete with other markets. What we end up with is a religious entertainment product that we disguise as church. Much more needs to be said about this but this is not the focus of this post..

The masquerading of unbelievers as children of God is nothing new, but there is a more significant reason why there is such a divergent quality between the contemporary church and its pioneer counterpart. We suffer from spiritual near-sightedness. The future is a blur to those who are truly born again, and because our vision of our glorious future is dim, it neither drives us nor shapes our present perspectives.

If you knew that by simply associating with a particular group of people you would risk the certain plunder and seizure of your homes and property, what would you do? What if that group of people were in prison and they depended on you for food and care, would you risk your livelihood and ability to care for your children to serve them? What if this group of people happened to be brothers and sisters in Christ who were imprisoned merely because of their faith in Jesus Christ? Would you go to them to care for them if you knew that to do so would mean deep loss and possibly greater suffering for you? The first recipients of this Hebrew sermon which is The Book of Hebrews faced such a quandary and they did not hesitate. The Bible says they “endured great conflict of sufferings” and “became sharers with those who were prisoners…” and “joyfully accepted the seizure of their property” because of their care for the imprisoned believers. Can you imagine having everything you’ve worked so hard for seized by the government just because you lived out your Christian faith in a radically public manner? What would cause a person to hold so loosely to the material possessions of this world and place such little value on the very things so many people treasure. The answer is very simple. Those who live this way possess something which they value more than the tangible things they hold in their hands. Listen closely to this. “You accepted joyfully the seizure of your property KNOWING that you have a BETTER POSSESSION and a LASTING one” (Heb.10:34). It appears that many people who fill our church buildings week after week are not convinced that there is a better possession and a greater reward than the one they seek to create on their own. And for those who claim to possess the same “better possession” as the Hebrew believers, I would challenge them to describe that possession and hope. How can my love, joy and passion be shaped by something that I know so little about?

The Bible explicitly shows us that the early followers of Christ and even the Old Testament patriarchs were driven by a reality that is foreign in our advanced society. Abraham was willing to live “as a alien in the land of promise dwelling in tents…for he was looking for a city (see Rev. 21:2) which has foundations (physical, not mythical city) whose architect and builder is God” (11:10). Also, Moses is said to have “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ GREATER RICHES than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward” (11:25-26). Hebrews 11 concludes with the pronouncement that many followers of Christ experienced mocking, scourging, chains, prison, stoning, some were sawn in two, etc. And we are left asking, “What would cause such radical, reckless abandonment of health, safety, family and possessions?” There can be only one explanation. They had laid up their treasures in heaven.  Their hearts cherished the promise and reality of a renewed heaven and earth where death would be abolished and Christ our Savior would reign and rule over all creation and his glory would illumine the entire cosmos. This is our better possession.

In a culture that values size over substance, performance over power and technique over truth, the church must reorient its vision to the “living hope” of our inheritance which is “imperishable, and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven” (1 Peter 1:4). Don’t misunderstand Peter and the other biblical authors. The reward is not heaven. The great reward is Christ Himself and the creation-wide redemption that He as secured by His own blood. When this becomes the target in our sights, our lives will be radically different and they must be different. The world does not salivate for what we have because what the church holds up as its great reward looks suspiciously like the American dream, and our Western culture has obtained that already. Where are the people transformed by the power of the gospel and who are daily being shaped by its truth who will live lives of sacrifice and humility, driven daily by a crystal clear vision of a redeemed world no longer ruled by the curse of sin?

With the Apostle Paul, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints…” (Ephesians 1:18).

 

 

 

The Church as God’s Family

If you’re like me (and let’s hope you’re not), you might find that sometimes you say things without giving thoughtful consideration to what you’re saying. As I have sought to communicate the vision for developing disciples in the context of community, I have said more than one time, “This is not about planting a church.” Now having heard myself repeat that phrase several times I want to seek to clarify, which is something I find myself undertaking quite too often.

The phrase “missional community” was coined back in the 80’s to articulate what was believed to be a more authentic expression of a Christian community of faith rather than the institutional model which is most prevalently recognized in the Western world. Simply put, when the pioneers of missional communities looked at the modern church, in their biblically informed opinions, it did not resemble the church of 2000 years ago. Now, I know what you’re thinking, much has changed in 2000 years. However, what has not changed is how and why God gathers and sends His people.

The church is a family. It is the family of God. God is our Father. This is not an accidental distinction. God is continuing to this day the work He begin in the garden with our original parents. He is building a family through adoption made possible by the sinless life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sadly, we have reduced Christianity to a “decision” which we make in order to secure a spot in heaven when we die. You and I must redeem a biblical understanding of what it means to be part of the family of God TODAY!! Sure, the thought of eternity in a renewed heaven and earth is glorious but what about today? “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called the children of God and such WE ARE” (1 John 3:1). John does not say, “we will be.” He says we are presently, children of God and members of His family. But what does it look like to live in our present culture and context as part of the family? Here in lies the problem. It’s difficult to look at what the church has become and see a healthy reflection of what God’s family is. I believe that needs to change and the only way that we can recapture a biblical model of church is by immersing ourselves in the scriptures.

God invites his children to join in the family mission of enlarging the family (or another picture …expanding the borders of the kingdom) and being the instruments through which other children are brought into the clan. We accomplish this mission through discipleship but all the while the mission is carried out as a family which always seeks to honor our Father. This family is called the church. The Father ordained the church. The Son lived and died for the church. The Spirit fills, convicts, protects and empowers the church. And we should love the church as well. In my repeated comments about “this not being about church planting” I have attempted to emphasis the priority of discipleship and community. The order is essential. Discipleship comes first. This must be our focus. I desire and believe God desires to birth New City Church in Anderson and NCC will worship, teach, fellowship, pray, baptize and share communion as a body as we participate in our Father’s mission. This is the church! But I believe this happens as a RESULT of discipleship, which is what we were called to do by Christ in Matthew 28:19. Discipleship is a community endeavor and the seeds of discipleship which are planted in community will produce new children and churches all over the world beginning with us.

We are praying that God births a healthy church (family) which we all are a part of. But we plead with God that by his grace, New City Church becomes and continues to be a healthy reflection of his eternal family and not a man centered institution which lacks power and has no impact in our world.

Work and Mission

Work as Gospel Opportunity

Regardless of your vocation or location, our mission is to be the sent people of God who display his presence, words, and actions to the world. There is beauty and brokenness in our various industries, and you can be used to spread blessing in your field. When you seek the kingdom and his righteousness, people benefit and humanity flourishes. And most of all, he is glorified.

I want to create space for this conversation at my chuch. I want to help business people create networks that strive to demonstrate the kingdom in their vocational domains. And I want to help disciple them for their public and professional lives.

A few years ago, when I pastored in New York City, we had a special service where we talked about neighborhoods, networks, and nations. I asked Jamie, one of our church members who’s an educator in the public school system, to share how he’s trying to put the kingdom of God on display. Here’s what he said:

My vocation in education becomes not about teaching kids to pass tests, but promoting their flourishing as persons by seeking to shape their characters as well as their minds. It means creating classrooms of community and peace; restoring a vocabulary that includes words like mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and justice. Tilling the soil of their hearts in hopes that the Spirit would plant faith.

The gospel makes office politics become less about advancing my status and guarding my reputation and more about seeking the good of my co-workers, even the ones I don’t like. We stay late, not in hopes of a promotion but to help someone struggling to finish their work.

As people of peace, we foster reconciliation between co-workers, offer counsel and comfort because Christ brought us counsel and comfort in abundance. We willingly labor, often in obscurity, so our actions and words might reintroduce the language of the gospel into our workplace. We would be people of mercy, forgiveness, humility, and wisdom.

What you are doing in your vocation matters. Leverage it for worship and witness. That is how we will advance the mission.

This excerpt is adapted from Work as Worship: How the CEOs of Interstate Batteries, Hobby Lobby, PepsiCo, Tyson Foods, and more Bring Meaning to Their Work. Copyright © 2012. Used by permission of Mark L. Russell Media.

Editors’ note: TBT (Throwback Thursday) with Every Square Inch: Reading the Classics is a regular column that publishes some of the best writings on vocation from the past. Our hope is to introduce you to thoughtful literature that you may not have discovered yet and, as always, to encourage you to know and love Christ more in all spheres of your life.

J. R. Vassar serves as the lead pastor of Church at the Cross in Grapevine, Texas. From 2005 to 2013, he served as the founding and lead pastor of Apostles Church in New York City. He is a graduate of Dallas Seminary, is married to Ginger, has three children, and is the author of Glory Hunger: God, the Gospel and Our Quest for MoreYou can follow him on Twitter.