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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rearranging Homes for the Gospel

The Holy Spirit piqued my heart this morning to give thanks for a particular people...(Warning: This is not a Pro-"House Church Movement" post).



As I was finishing Paul's first letter to the Corinthian church this morning, I tried not to breeze past the "Final Greetings" so I might catch my Pop Tart while it was still warm but not yet burnt. So I read:
The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord (I Corinthians 16:19; cf. Romans 16:3-5).
Rearranging Homes: A brief history. I then caught a quick note in some I Corinthians study material that claimed there exists extensive archeological evidence from many different cities demonstrating that some homes were structurally modified to host such churches. My Pop Tart now charred and beyond recovery, I researched a bit deeper: The best piece of archeological evidence is at the edge of the 3rd century Roman world at a garrison town on the banks of the Euphrates River, called Dura-Europos. Around this time the city tried desperately to prevent an attack against the Persians by heaping a bunch of mud and dirt against its Western Wall and, in doing so, preserved the structures buried underneath for archeologists in the 1920s & 30s to uncover in pristine shape. One of the three major structures was a home converted into a church. A wall had been removed in the dining area making more room for congregants, benches were installed around the walls of a courtyard likely as a place for instruction (think Sunday School), and one bedroom had pipes rearranged so it could hold a baptismal font. In fact, homes were so modified for the sake of more people hearing the gospel truth - that eventually, church leaders just received them as donations (no longer lived-in but used exclusively for church ministry purposes), which paved the way for much grander church structures in the 4th century and beyond. In other words, people's gospel-flexibility and gospel-sacrifice with their homes was so immense that it made their home unusable for living and ushered out the era of true house churches. 
The Bedroom with Baptismal Font at Dura-Europos

Rearranging Homes: Today. Our church, Sunrise, meets on Sundays for Corporate instruction in the Word & worship through Song in a Performing Arts Theatre. However, the church really accelerated in unity and growth almost four years ago as we started to hold Bible Studies in homes, which came to be known as Community Groups. Today, we are toward the tail end of Stage 1 of an effort to reach not-yet-Christians through Christianity Explored Dinner Groups - again hosted in ten or so homes. Homes are the real "theatre" in which the bulk of gospel ministry takes place in and through our church.  

Rearranging Homes: Thanksgiving. Katie and I, though we are "people people," are not particularly strong in the area/gifting of hospitality via our home (our children, however, are professional home "rearrangers"...it's like they earned a Masters-level degree in it). So it was good this Am for us to take time to give thanks for those who are and I want to encourage you, dear Reader, to do likewise - for those who have selected homes based on hosting people for worship and fellowship, for those who take time to add scents, sights, and sounds that are pleasing to the senses, for those who have modified permanently or rearrange regularly both their homes and lives to host the saints and anyone searching out the truth of God's good news in Jesus Christ. 

I am so grateful to, You, Abba Father for: Thomas and Lyana Bolas who weekly strain to add furniture and tables to a room that barely accommodates it, for Eduardo and Emilie Del Risco who both work and host while parenting a little girl, for Karl & Janine Nyyssonen who have faithfully hosted for years with the warmest of atmospheres, for Neil & Marida Montgomery whose lives and personalities are buoyant, for the Morgans and Wendles who I know share the love, for Kevin and Maggie McCormac who welcome you warmly as soon as you enter, for JP & Lisa Welman who have permanently modified their very lives to readily host, for Genevieve G and Rose Smith, for Wes Heistand who has stretched himself to weekly have people over, Jeremy & Sheena Strickland who have people plop down on their comfy sofa to "chill-ax," for Avril Ward and Brent & Leslie Novak who have hosted Women's Fellowship Breakfasts, for Jeff and Susy Cummer and Jim and Sherrie Ehman who have hosted events for our teens, for my good friends Gordon and Anna Macrae who've hosted a multitude to their home (including our family quite regularly) and even had an upstairs built exclusively to host those in need. And I'm sure I've left someone out...I give thanks for you too!

Rearranging Homes: You. Perhaps God is calling you to rearrange your Home for the Gospel. Consider the following: 

  • (1) Do you already find joy in having people over at your home - even slightly disappointed when they say they must "retire for the evening"? 
  • (2) If you are unsure, try it on for size to see if this kind of hospitality is a gift/talent that fits your life -- after a few tries, if you walk away tired and grumpy, with a frustrated spouse, and notice little fruit, that's okay. There are plenty of ways to serve God's church!; 
  • (3) Are you part of a local church and have you asked your pastors/leaders if there is something upcoming for which you can make your home available? Perhaps it is better to first try a singular event versus a long-term commitment; 
  • (4) If the pastors/leaders say "not really" or "yes, but it'll be a while," consider being hospitable to a newer someone on a Sunday morning and then inviting them over to your home for lunch after the worship service. New people, especially if new to where you live, are looking for an immediate community-connection -- better to the church of the living God than some place else. 

If the above isn't a long-term fit, consider thanking, encouraging, praying for and asking how you might support (with love, leadership, childcare resources...and of course food!) those who have permanently modified or regularly rearrange their homes for the sake of the gospel.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

"after three days": Was Jesus really crucified on a Wednesday?

Any time this week approaches, someone inevitably poses the question: 
"Was Jesus' resurrection really three days after his death? Friday afternoon to Sunday Morning seems more like a day and a half."
In the past, I've aligned myself with the traditional church calendar usually by following in the footsteps of Martin Luther's defense - "but Jesus was dead at some point on each of those three days - Friday, Saturday, and at least for a little bit on Sunday." 

However, Jesus' words in Matthew 12:39-40 have always troubled me - "three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." In this case, the Lutheran defense, which would require a Sunday (or Thurs) night addition, does not seem to hold up. 

Nothing consequential to the reality of the resurrection is at stake here - except for, of course, the matter of Scriptural inerrancy. Is all of Scripture true as it was originally composed? My worry, accordingly, is keeping to the traditional church calendar. If we are saying history lines up with the Friday-Sun church calendar, are we not in danger of invalidating verses like Matthew 12:40 or Mark 8:31 ("after three days")?

In this linked article Josh Claybourn makes a compelling case for a Wednesday crucifixion. Below is a visual that helps with the Wednesday-theory chronology of events.



To be fair, there are plenty of legitimate dissenting opinions (just check out the comment section in the above article). One problem with the Wed idea is it seems to make for 4 nights in the tomb! Perhaps it was a Thursday, as is argued here

And don't worry, SCCers, our Tenebrae Good Friday service tomorrow night is still a-go. Any time is a good time to reflect upon and be moved by the agonies of the cross endured by Jesus on our behalf.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Another Reason Christ had to die: His Example of Endurance

Sunday Morning presented a glorious opportunity for me to preach Christ Crucified from Mark 8:31-38. At the beginning of my message I mentioned seven reasons (!) as to why Jesus, whom Peter had finally confessed to be the One who can make all things right in God's sight (including us), necessarily had to die. Toward the end of the message I reasoned as to why embracing the cross is worth it. Actually it was Jesus' own reasons for why embracing His cross (and our own) is worth it. "There is a me at the end of every cross." With every cross we are called to take up, there we find at its end the greatest treasure of all - Jesus. And when you look a little more closely at the hardest statements of John 8:31-38, you'll begin to notice the many "me's" at the end of them (rising after three days, follow me , the built-in eternal potential to know me forever - called "a soul", the Son of Man who will return for us in the glory of His Father).

Here's one more reason why Jesus had to go to the cross and why His cross is worth embracing: The Example of Endurance using the Joy set Before us.

Here's the Scripture: 
"Let us fix our eyes our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men that you [likewise] might not grow weary or lose heart" (Hebrews 12:2-3).  
I've underlined above both why Jesus embraced the cross as 'worth it' ("for the joy set before him") and why this was necessary ("that you [likewise]" - the [likewise] being my parenthetical addition to help accentuate the author's point - the example). 

Here's why Jesus' embraced His cross: Jesus endures through every agony of His cross "for the joy set before him" (v.2). What joy is that? That joy is re-uniting with His well-pleased Father. To re-unite with the Father such that the Father would be 'proud' or 'pleased' with the Son. Consider what we hear when the Father speaks audibly in the Gospels: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17; 17:5). The Son lives to please the Father (see John 8:29; John 10:17). All of this parallels our own 'cross to bear' - the end of which is further fellowship with our Savior himself and a well-pleased Savior at that. 

Here is the main obstacle to Jesus' joyfully re-unititing with a well-pleased Father: The shame of the cross. There are many dark and difficult aspects of the cross that Jesus must endure - the physical pain, the forsakenness, nobody near who understood what he was going through. However, shame is the one agony of the cross that the author of Hebrews lists. And he says that Jesus despised it. An interesting word choice. Would you or I have chosen such a strategy to overcome shame? He overcame by despising it. Think: Mock, Scorn, Taunt, Turn up your nose at.

Jesus despised the shame of his closest friends abandoning him, he despised the shame of his reputation being mocked and an object of coarse humor, he despised his appearance being stripped down to nakedness, he despised the torture that tore apart all peace, he despised the demonically-inspired mob chants of "Crucify Him," he despised the vinegar he drank and the spectacle made of his suffering.

How did He endure? He despised His shame in comparison to the joy set before Him of re-uniting with a well-pleased Father. He despised shame, saying to it, in effect:
"Shame, you think you are winning? Ha!! I have a greater crown before me - the joy of being re-united to my Father. You see that?! You can't take that away. Compared to the joy I'm about to encounter, the Father's smile I'm about to feel, the Paternal embrace I'm about to experience, your nakedness, your cruel comments, your abandonment, your reputation-marring - these are nothing. I despise you and you are about to die with my death."
What is the joy set before you?   Shame and humiliation are inevitable for the true Christian (Mark 8:34). Here are five joys set before you as you obediently endure suffering:

1. Greater knowledge and revelation of the Son (John 14:21). 
2. Christlikeness (Romans 5:3-5; Romans 8:38-39).
3. Commendation ("Well done" Matthew 25:21).
4. Multiplication of Encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25)
5. Bathing in the same Future Glory as Jesus Himself (Romans 8:17)

How you might likewise despise the shame of your cross: 
1. "What you might do to my bank account and trimmed-back lifestyle while I give to the cause of Christ is nothing compared to the joy set before me"
2. "The funny looks I get when I talk about my Savior are nothing..."
3. "The cold shoulder returned when I invite someone to church are nothing..." 
4. "How you alter my reputation for standing up for what's right...pssh...who cares compared to the joy set before me."
5. "The lack of invitation because I'm a 'churchgoer' and a 'killjoy', you think that's going to slow me down, shame?!"
6. "All the misunderstandings and unintended hurts because I prioritized my church and now used to shame me by family and friends. You'll have to do better, Sir-Shame, because I have ahead of me my Father's commendation, the glory and the likeness of Jesus, the multiplication of encouragement when I return to fellowship, a deeper knowledge of my Savior! All of this awaits me."

Final Takeaway: Use the joy set before you to despise, scorn, mock whatever shame you must endure for the Cross of Christ. Jesus died to give you this Example of Endurance.