As I was thinking over the past year, several topics kept coming up again and again. As I wrote the list down, I realized it’s very much what is in my heart as I think about where we are going this next year. I offer this to you so there is no question about where our priorities are as a church, and so that you can hold us accountable. Also, there is a recommended resource list on the back table of books, websites and podcasts that would be worthwhile supplemental resources for you continuing spiritual growth.
The Preeminence of Christ
“He is the exact image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation, the eternal. It was by Him that everything was created: the heavens, the earth, all things within and upon them, all things seen and unseen, thrones and dominions, spiritual powers and authorities. Every detail was crafted through His design, by His own hands, and for His purposes. He has always been! It is His hand that holds everything together. He is the head of this body, the church. He is the beginning, the first of those to be reborn from the dead, so that in every aspect, at every view, in everything—He is first. God was pleased that all His fullness should forever dwell in the Son who, as predetermined by God, bled peace into the world by His death on the cross as God’s means of reconciling to Himself the whole creation—all things in heaven and all things on earth.” (Colossians 1:15-21)
It’s not about us. It’s never about us. Jesus must increase, and we must decrease. There is only one true hope for the world. There is only one true solution for terrorism, and racism, the exploitation of women and children, our struggling friendships, our families, this hard and beautiful enterprise we call church. It’s Jesus. Scott, Ted and I will never preach well enough to save you. Our worship leaders will never lead songs well enough to lead you into genuine worship. Your church community will never be capable and present enough to heal the things only Christ can heal. We can point people toward the hope of the world, but we are not the hope of the world. It's Christ in us – that’s “the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
The Importance of Scripture
- “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
- “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)
- “You have been reborn—not from seed that eventually dies but from seed that is eternal—through the word of God that lives and endures forever. For as Isaiah said…‘the word of the Lord will endure forever.’ This is the word that has been preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:23-25)
The Bible is foundational, reliable Truth. It’s where we start and end our perspective in every area of life. Granted, there are a lot of other ways to learn truth about God’s world (science, psychology, economics, sociology, etc), but we must view the big questions of life – morality, meaning, purpose, sin, salvation, identity, etc - through the lenses of the truth of Scripture.
All truth is God’s truth, so genuine Scriptural and natural revelation will not be contradictory. When we feel like life and Scripture clash, we have to do the hard work of making sure we are seeing both of them honestly. The more we understand both clearly, the more we see the beauty, purpose and hope in God’s design of the world.
The Tension of Discipleship
- “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.“ (2 Timothy 2:15)
- “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.” (2 Corinthians 3:5)
The Bible presents a picture of discipleship that simultaneously requires nothing of us and requires everything. We rest in Christ - and we work, ‘fighting the good fight’ and ‘running the race.' We strive to better ourselves - in the midst of a grace that we know will cover us when we will fail, and we always do. We reap what we sow - yet we are lavishly and inexplicably forgiven. We train for righteousness - but we will only be right with God when Christ imputes righteousness to us.
There are two distortions that can creep in. The first is to think we must sacrifice nothing of our desires, priorities, money, time, etc. The second is to think that sacrifice is what justifies or saves us. Our desire is to present a well-rounded view of discipleship.
The Power of Identity
- “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” (John 1:12)
- “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
- “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God… Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:1-2)
As a follower of Christ, I am a child of God. I am a disciple of Christ. Every other identity I have must fall under the lordship of that reality. I am a pastor, a father, a husband, a Crossfitter, a Weber, a married man, a teacher, a coach… I could label myself based on my self-esteem, my money, my position in life, my citizenship, my vocation, my sexuality, my gender, my family history – but they all go on the altar. They all bow to one to whom I give the power to define me.
The Necessity of Humility and Gentleness
- “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
- “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
- “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)
- “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” (James 3:13)
We are called to discernment and accountability because we are people of Truth, but none of us are in a position to be arrogant or judgmental because we are a people in desperate need of grace.
“This is the tension of discipleship. Peter understands, and then he doesn't understand at all. One moment he is walking on water, the next, he is sinking, the moment after that, he is saying with the other disciples to Jesus, “You are the Son of God.” At the end, the disciples all promise to stand by Jesus, and Peter pledges that even if he must die with Jesus, he will not deny him; within an hour or two, the disciples are all gone except for Peter, who stays in proximity to Jesus long enough to claim with all the persuasiveness that his sailor's vocabulary will offer, “I do not know the man!” A rooster brings him back to himself and he weeps bitterly. Peter is rock and stumbling block at almost the same moment, and he is blessed with just enough self-awareness to know both things are true of him.
He is, in this respect, representative of those who follow Jesus. If you have not known yourself to be both brilliant and clueless as you follow Jesus, fierce and craven, faithful and running for your life at almost exactly at the same time, you are not paying attention. Jesus does not say he will build his church on a rock such as Peter because the man's insight is so great or his faithfulness so remarkable... “Blessed are you, Simon, son of John, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father in heaven.”
- “The Tension of Discipleship,” http://www.pilgrimpreaching.org/2005/08/the_tension_of_.html
We have to get over ourselves and our agendas. This is why we stress honesty and transparency. Know who you are with and without Christ, and share your story with others without shame. We are all in this journey of discipleship together. We all kneel, broken, at the foot of the Cross, and when we stand it is only because a resurrected Christ has reached down a hand in love and helped us up.
The Promise of True Community
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. And now these three things remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)
I am more and more convinced that to be fully known and fully loved is one of the core longings in the human heart.
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” – Tim Keller, in The Meaning of Marriage
In Christ, we are fully known and fully loved. We, as ambassadors of Christ, are called to embody this in two ways: we seek to be fully known (to some, not all), and we seek to fully love those we know.
- We speak truth about ourselves and to others.
- We always point people to Christ as the source of their true, spiritual identity.
- We seek the Scriptures together to better understand God and His World.
- We live together in full knowledge that we spiritually sick people in desperate need of a doctor, lying on gurneys at the foot of the Cross until Jesus Christ raises us to new life.
So we are never proud, never cruel, never speaking as if we have it all together and others don’t. We simply say, with Paul, “I am the chief of sinners, “ and “God’s grace is sufficient, and His strength will be seen gloriously in my weakness.” When this happens, we begin to experience life in Kingdom of Heaven, what an old hymn called “a foretaste of glory divine.” We begin to understand what Jesus meant by the offer of abundant life. We will have a community of broken but mending people, repentant and forgiven, speaking and living truth in love, knowing and known without shame, and challenging each other to be strong in our walk with a God who is stronger than we can ever imagine. This is what we have been striving to do, and this is what you can expect in 2015:
We will stress the preeminence of Christ, the trustworthiness of Scripture, and the beauty of salvation by living with honest transparency, offering biblical truth and generous grace, striving to embrace our new identity in Christ as we respond to and rest in the love of Christ and His people.
Tim Keller, The Reason for God; The Prodigal God; Encounters With Jesus
J. Warner Wallace, Cold Case Christianity
Phillip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew
Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods
Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus
Tim Keller, Galatians for You; Romans for You
N.T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon (N.T. Wright for Everyone series)
John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One; Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament
Paul Copan, Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God.
Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien, Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes
Sarah Ruden, Paul Among the People
Kenneth Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes
Phillip Yancey, The Bible Jesus Read
Tim Hegg, The Letter Writer: Paul’s Background and Torah Perspective
Mike Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality
John Burke, No Perfect People Allowed
Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
David Platt, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream
Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel
Rich Nathan, Who Is My Enemy?
Andy Stanley, Principles of the Path
Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality
APOPLOGETICS (Defense of the Faith)
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Paul Copan, When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics
J. Warner Wallace, Cold Case Christianity
Greg Koukl, Tactics
Tim Keller, The Reason For God
Ravi Zacharias, Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend.
PODCASTS and WEBSITES
Stand To Reason (str.org. There are three different podcasts and multiple short videos/articles)
The Poached Egg (thepoachedegg.net)
The Christian Apologetics Alliance (thechristianapologeticsalliance.com)
Tactical Faith (tacticalfaith.com. Lots of video. Our own Scott Smith is involved with this)
TC Apologetics (the meetings as well as the website, tcapologetics.org)
Pastors Matt Chandler (Village Church) and Tim Keller’s (Redeemer Presbyterian) sermons