Category Archives: Meditations

The Gospel According to God the Father

For a visual presentation, click here.

What is the Gospel? Even many Christians who’ve grown up in church their whole lives don’t understand what it is about the death of Jesus that rescues us from sin and hell. In order to understand the Gospel better, we ought to examine three pictures that come from the three times that God the Father spoke from Heaven during the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Water: The Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3.17)

  • Baptism is for sinners (3.5-6)
  • Jesus came to be baptized (3.13-15)
  • God the Father declares Jesus as the Righteous One (3.16-17)
    • “this” – A specific person we must pay attention to.
    • “beloved” – A unique affection that the Father has for Jesus. Implication: the Chosen One.
    • “Son” – A special relation between the Father and Jesus. Implication: Davidic heir (Ps. 2.7).
    • “well pleased” – A righteous condition before God. See Isa. 42.1; Hebrews 10:5-10.
  • Water=Jesus Identified as the Righteous Chosen One+Jesus Identifies with Sinners.

Message: The Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17.5)

  • Jesus identifies as the divine message (i.e., logos) to mankind (17.2).
  • Jesus identifies with the great messengers of Israel’s past (17.3).
  • The Father calls us to hear and obey the Gospel message of Jesus (17.5).
  • Word=Hearing the Gospel Message+Obeying the Gospel Message

Cross: Jesus Ministers in the Temple (John 12.28-29)

  • Glory among the Gentiles (12.20-22)
  • Glory in death (12.23-24; 30-33)
  • Glory to the Father in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus (12.28-29).
  • Cross=Death of Jesus+Glory to the Father

Conclusion: God’s Silence in the Death of Jesus (Matthew 27.46)

  • Water: Jesus is left without vindication by himself and the Father so that he could identify with sinners (1 Pet. 3.18; Rom. 3.24-27; 2 Cor. 5.21).
  • Cross: Jesus brings glory to the Father by absorbing his wrath against sinners so that they might be reconciled to God (Col. 2.14).
  • Message: This Gospel of Jesus Christ must be heard and obeyed (2 Pet. 1.19, cf. vv. 16-18).
    • All people must hear and respond to this Good News in faith — that Jesus identifies with them and has paid their just penalty.
    • Christians must respond in meditation coupled with rejoicing, lifting up the Gospel in order to glorify God, and by identifying daily with the reality of the Gospel.

When I Got Mugged

July 18, 2004 — Prospect Avenue, Brooklyn, New York.

My summer internship at a Baptist church in Brooklyn was nearing its end. This particular Sunday evening, I picked up the metro from the Park Slope area and rode down to Bath Beach to play piano for a small Spanish church. After the service wrapped up for the evening, I proceeded into Manhattan for a walk around the city.

Although I knew the city well and had spent a number of years working in urban areas, I was still an immature 17 year-old freshly-minted high school graduate. So for some odd reason, I thought that exploring the city late at night was a prudent idea.

Around 3am, I exited the metro station at Prospect Avenue and walked West towards Prospect Park and my quarters for the summer. About a quarter of my way up the block I passed a guy and I saw another man about halfway up the block. I distinctly remember feeling that something wasn’t right, but I just kept walking. As I neared the second man, he jumped out and grabbed me by the shoulders; I shoved him back. He was back on me in a split-second and balled-up the front of my shirt in his fist. The man shouted that he had a knife and I saw the glint of a utility knife from the streetlights. I reached for my knife, but realizing that it wasn’t on me, I continued to push him back. Thankfully, I took a quick glance around and saw the man I first passed coming up behind me with a knife as well. Knowing that it was unlikely that I’d be able to handle two guys with knives on both sides of m, I threw my hands up and told him to relax and that I’d give him what he wanted.

As soon as I gave up, I was shoved backwards into a headlock by the man bringing up the rear. He held his knife to my throat as the guy who’d initially confronted me rifled through my pockets. I pulled out my wallet and extracted the cash. Covering my credit card with some papers, he moved past that. They took $40, my old watch, and my metro card, all the while complaining that I didn’t have what they considered the requisite cash or technology of a teenager of my ethnicity. Throughout the confrontation I distinctly remember the stench of body odor from the armpit that squashed against my cheek and the cold steel of the jittery knife against my jugular. But just seconds later, I was pushed away and told to keep moving. The two men continued toward the Prospect Avenue metro station and I went on my way. I saw two other men, probably lookouts, at the west end of the block scatter as well.

When I got to my room that night, I still felt like it was all a blur, or maybe my imagination. But my empty wallet (with the exception of my papers and credit card) and my missing watch spoke for themselves.

The next morning I awoke and proceeded with my Monday morning schedule. I showered and dressed to go move some furniture for an elderly woman in the church. As I was getting ready, a call came through on the land line. It was a friend of the pastor who called with a couple questions. As we were getting off the line, she mentioned that her brother had left his watch and wondered if I might need one. Stunned by this miraculous provision, I left for the furniture-moving appointment. On my way, I was about to hop the metro when I realized that I no longer had a metro card or cash to pay for one. I resolved to purchase a new one with my credit card. But when I got to the station, I fumbled with my wallet and out fell a metro card. I checked the total on this one and, to my surprise, realized that it was still loaded and that I had given the thieves my dead metro card by accident! Finally, I boarded the metro and arrived at the house where I had volunteered to assist with the furniture. Once there, a light day’s work was rewarded with an envelope. As I made my way back to the metro station at the end of the day, I opened the envelope. I could clearly see a $20 bill. Elated with the provision, I pulled the bill out of the envelope only to discover that there were two $20 bills in the envelope.

As I’ve reflected on this bizarre experience through the years, I’ve arrived at a number of conclusions:

  1. Life is short. A slip of a blade could have made a big difference in the intense situation that transpired. But how many times have I been spared from a driver’s misjudgment or a bird-strike on takeoff? Every day is a gift from God. I need to thank him and use each day for his glory.
  2. God is my Protector. Almost every day that summer, I carried a knife because most of my internship involved some sort of manual labor. Because of my ministry in the Spanish church that morning, I had left my knife behind. This little forgotten element probably saved my life. And I thank God for protecting me in this way.
  3. Wisdom is essential. A little bit of prudence goes a long way in keeping me from making similar mistakes again. Today I practice wisdom by avoiding dangerous places and times of night, listening to gut instincts, and learning how to protect myself and my family. I hope to pass these lessons along to the next generation when the time comes. I also aim to grow in wisdom. With 10 years behind me in the rearview mirror, I still see plenty of growth in this area ahead of me.
  4. God is my Provider. Even after I most of my resources due to a foolish mistake, God came through in a remarkable way. All of my losses were restored and my faith was increased.

Matterhorn: Pointing to God

May 19, 2013 — Zermatt, Switzerland.

On the vehicle train and headed toward the mountain tunnel.
On the vehicle train and headed toward the mountain tunnel.

Yesterday I drove into the Alps. The climbing road in required that the car be driven onto a train which, serpentine-like, carried the vehicles like a mechanical monster under the mountain, belching them out above a verdant expanse of some of the most beautiful countryside

The stark contrastive beauty of the Alps
The stark contrastive beauty of the Alps

I’ve ever seen. The switchbacks on the descent pushed the limits of the BMW rental. Occasionally I’d stop at one of the many pull-offs in order to take pictures of the scenery. The stark snow-covered mountain peaks contrasted sharply with the lush greenery in the valley below, brought to life by melting snow and incoming storm.

Beautiful countryside in the alpine valleys
Beautiful countryside in the alpine valleys

The nail-biting road ended in the sleepy town of Tasch, which is where my hotel was for the night. The trip into Zermatt would have to wait until the next morning, requiring a trip on an electric rail or vehicle. My room was nice, but a little warm (in Switzerland it is common for hotels to only have heat and no cooling). So I opened the window and went to sleep.

Shuttle to Zermatt
Shuttle to Zermatt

This morning I awoke to find snow drifting against my window and powdered across the floor beneath it. Mountain-blown snow was descending on the warm valley and left the ground covered with the beautiful steamy dust. The feeling was surreal. I had some tennis shoes for hiking, but I wasn’t prepared for the higher-elevation snow. So I geared up with what I had, ate a light European breakfast, and grabbed the first train into Zermatt.

Fresh snowfall outside my hotel
Fresh snowfall outside my hotel
IMG_0724
City of Zermatt. I took this picture looking down from one of the hiking trails.

This touristy and expensive Swiss town was bustling, even during the off-season. Families with children, adventure sports types, and the elderly crowded the streets. First thing on my list was to find some hiking boots. I needed something comfortable that could withstand the snowy ascent into the mountains. One fitting and 120 Swiss Francs later, I had my hiking boots and was off to the trails. Even before heading up into the mountains, it became immediately evident that an adverse effect from the morning snow was taking place. Clouds had moved in from the mountains and combined with the melting snow. The end result was a thick blanket of fog that only allowed me to see about 100 feet at a time. But that was sufficient to start.

Thick mountain fog
Thick mountain fog

Winding up the mountain, I stopped a couple miles up the trail in order to wait for the fog to clear. Not wanting to bite off more than I could chew, I took an ascent break and rode a cable car through the dense fog up to an overlook. At the overlook, I was surrounded by delighted skiers and hit by a blistering snow-driving mountain wind. It sliced through my clothes and chilled me to the bone. I had hoped to be able to see the Matterhorn from here and was largely disappointed. I still couldn’t see a thing! But before I

Clouds across the alps
Clouds across the alps

headed back to the cable car, I glanced behind me and saw that the wind had just moved out some of the thick white cover. And there it stood! The scimitar-curved finger pointing to the heavens. I stood and stared, took pictures, and stared some more.

The Matterhorn appears through the clouds!
The Matterhorn appears through the clouds!

When I finally turned to head down into the valley and resume my hike I was already stunned by the majesty of the massive mountain. But on the descent, the most amazing thing happened. The fog I had been fighting below had broken while I was at the overlook, but a thin layer of cloud lay between the mountain overlook and the valley below. As the cable car descended, we broke through the cloud and a jaw-dropping awe-inspiring expanse lay glittering below. The craggy mountains on my left and right stood out against

The cable car descending from the overlook.
The cable car descending from the overlook.

the fresh snow and grassy slopes below. There was something gut-wrenching about that moment. Something bigger and more meaningful than so many of the petty goals and achievements that I’ve vested with ultimate significance in over the years.

“Men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.” (St. Augustine)

One view from the cable car
One view from the cable car

Holding back tears, the immensity of what I’d seen moved me emotionally. It seemed like God had placed a mighty finger pointing to him on the mountaintop, and a rolling parchment below that told the story of his greatness. How could someone walk away from this beauty and wonder if there was a God? How could all this happen by accident — mere chance? Why is it that every person I know who looks out at a wonder of nature such as this and feels in their

Breaking through the clouds in the cable car
Breaking through the clouds in the cable car

heart a sense of gasping awe and yearning desire and inexpressible joy because of the beauty they see? But it isn’t like we can eat it or drink it — that it actually meets a material need of a purely physical body as it stands. It doesn’t do anything for us, but yet it meets a need of our souls — the immaterial part of our being. Perhaps the astounding beauty of the Alps is a crack in the wall of our materialistic dwelling, pointing us to something greater outward and upward. Simply stated: if I find in myself a craving for something unexplainable and immaterial, I must conclude that this is an echo of something even greater and more unexplainable that alone can fill that deep desire of my heart.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

(Psalm 121:1-2)

God's creative beauty on display throughout my hike.
God’s creative beauty on display throughout my hike.
This thought was one that I couldn’t shake throughout the remainder of my 10 mile meander through the Alps that afternoon. I dedicated this day as a visual reminder of the grandeur of God and my inborn desire to find revel in his unimaginable and unfathomable greatness.
By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness,
O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas;
the one who by his strength established the mountains,
being girded with might;
who stills the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples,
so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.
You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy.
(Psalm 65:5-8)

Meaningful Discipleship in the Local Church: 6 Correctives

Discipleship is the call of the Church (Matt. 28.19), but is the Church really doing this job well? Can we honestly say that at least the majority of those who claim the name of Christ and darken the doors of our churches are intentionally in discipleship relationships that are moving them toward greater and greater Christlikeness? Yesterday I read Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen, and I was impacted by a number of insights on how churches could be doing a better at this all-important task.

  1. We must commit to relationships of challenge and invitation. Relationships that are all about challenge and lack invitation will spiral towards legalism and burnout. Relationships that are all about invitation without any challenge will lead to warm and fuzzy friendships without any meaningful accountability. Many churches today lack both challenge and invitation; they’ve become little more than a social event. Meaningful discipleship requires direct confrontation over sin, and loving invitation into real-life Gospel living.
  2. We must vary our approach to discipleship. Churches I’ve served in are usually very strong in their lecture-oriented, fact-based instruction, but usually offer little in terms of apprenticeship or immersion learning structures (e.g., Matt. 5.1). But these methods of discipleship are proven and effective tools! If we’re going to up our game in this area, we’re going to have to be willing to dust off some of these tools that have been sitting in the back of our garage. Discipleship includes distribution of facts (what we’re good at), but it also includes connecting truth to life in apprenticeship and immersion scenarios (what we’re not good at). Several additional thoughts:
    • A Caveat: Assuming that showing up at church or in a small group will count as “immersion” is assuming that the majority of the people in the church or small group have been discipled themselves. I think this assumption is unwarranted. I know a number of adult believers who have never been engaged in a discipleship relationship.
    • An Expectation: Apprenticeship is a substantial investment for both parties. But in this process, the rewards are always greater than the buy-in.
    • A Warning: Apprenticeship and immersion aren’t synonymous with cloning. We’re not trying to make a bunch of people like ourselves, we’re trying to make disciples of Jesus Christ!
  3. We must admit that the current structures that we’re relying on for discipleship are fundamentally broken. Most churches I’ve served in have relied on a Sunday School or small group structure for engaging people in the discipleship process. But there are a number of reasons why this structure (as typically implemented) may not be the best method for discipling believers.
    • Small groups are (and should be) open to visitors. This limits the intimacy and openness of dialogue amongst the members. Baring our souls is often a very difficult task. This only becomes more difficult with a number of strangers in the room.
    • Small groups grow in a linear fashion. As months go by, people come and go based on their church attendance. They lack a stability in membership and can grow too large. They also lack a natural step for members to go and make disciples on their own. This inhibition is due to their linear nature.
    • Small groups require facilitators or teachers. This kind of relationship lacks the authoritative and intimate “follow me as I follow Christ” kind of call of discipleship.
    • Small groups are primarily easy to join and easy to leave. They aren’t effective accountability structures. Attendance isn’t often an expectation to which people are held.
    • Small groups often rely on administrated content. In other words, they’re going to cover what someone on the church staff thinks the groups need to be studying. This sometimes misses the challenges and hurdles that the members of the group may be experiencing.
  4. We have to adopt a sound structure for doing discipleship. One such structure is what Breen calls “The Huddle” (oddly, the same name of the odd band of misfits being discipled that I was a part of in junior high). This group is made up of 4-10 people who have committed to a mentoring relationship under one individual. This group commits for roughly a year, at which point they should be prepared to start “Huddles” of their own. More people aren’t discipled by making the groups bigger, but by individuals preparing to replicate the groups in turn.  First-time leaders can start with groups of 4 in order to make the challenge less daunting. This vehicle for discipleship is powerful because it combines a two critical components of biblical discipleship.
    • First, it is an admission that discipleship happens best in a group scenario. Many churches do discipleship whenever a new believer comes along or one-on-one with people in a counseling environment. But this avoids the power of group learning that is evident in the ministry of Jesus with his disciples.
    • Second, it is admission that the plausible scope of discipleship is limited. While Jesus ministered to crowds, significant portions of his ministry were invested in his band of 12.
  5. We must call our people to allow greater access for their brothers and sisters into their lives. Only by allowing people into our lives in a more intimate way will we be able to achieve the kind of discipleship that God has called us to. Leaders tend to sit back and complain that church members aren’t rising to meet the challenge, but this kind of critique is unhealthy for the body. Rather, servant-leaders must begin by modeling the kind of discipleship that they want to instill in others. Leaders who get out of the air-conditioned office and into the dirtiness of a handful of peoples’ lives and then call on them them to do the same.
  6. We need to develop a language of discipleship that lends purpose and clarity to what we do. Breen offers a suggested series of terms with associated images and applications that serve as a quasi-curriculum for their discipleship “Huddles.” While I don’t see the writer’s structure here as incredibly helpful, it did give me some ideas for engaging others in the process of discipleship. My takeaways:
    • First, discipleship language needs to be memorable. Using word pictures (or pictures in general) can communicate biblical truth in a discipleship context far better than a massive and detailed curriculum.
    • Second, discipleship language needs to be fully-orbed. In other words, many churches are really good at teaching doctrines or Bible study, but few do a great job at discipling others in a holistic Christian life (which includes doctrine and Bible study, but so much more as well).
    • Third, discipleship language needs to promote discussion and engagement. However you do discipleship, it needs to be more than you just sitting back and talking. It needs to be something that others can relate to and engage with applications and questions.

Hunting for a Cathedral: The Good and the Best

May 17, 2013 — Antwerp, Belgium.

The night before, I had made a drive from Denmark down to Belgium. We arrived after dark and I was exhausted. So I crashed and set my alarm so I could see the one major attraction of the city — The Our Lady Cathedral. This impressive building started construction in the 14th century and stands as the tallest cathedral in the Low Countries of Europe. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait. But I only had about an hour to find the cathedral because I had a client meeting scheduled in the morning. I didn’t have a good map,  but I had a general idea of where I needed to go. After all, how hard could it be to find a massive cathedral?

Upon leaving my hotel, I headed into the old city. The odd confluence of old buildings (some with scarring from World War II still visible) and new high-end fashion stores and American businesses seemed jarring. But where was the cathedral? It was supposed to be around here somewhere; however, the heights of the buildings made it difficult to see the skyline, and the non-linear streets made it impossible for me to keep my bearings.

I was about to abandon my search due to the time when a glance down a side street made my morning. I saw the tower of a cathedral! The street was rather small and only a few passersby gave it any momentary thought. I stood for a moment and captured a few pictures. The discovery complete, I knew that I’d have to make good time on the return to the hotel. As I rounded the corner, I felt that my trip had been successful.

Out on the main road and heading back to my hotel with barely enough time to shower and leave for my meeting, I thought to glance behind me. And just 4 blocks behind me, a towering spire broke above the skyline. This building seemed to be 4 times bigger than the little church I’d just photographed. And to think that I almost missed seeing this awe-inspiring architectural wonder because I got distracted by a little structure along the way. As an American, my expectations as to what I would find made me willing and able to accept the lesser substitute for the impressive monument. This reminds me of the many times in my life where I’ve taken a good road, but have missed the best course of action. Philippians 1:9-10 also points to this concept:

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ”

Don’t miss the wonders that God has for you because you’ve become distracted by the commonplace.

Does the Bible Belt Need the Gospel?

Wailing Wall in Jerusalem
Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

I have deep roots in the south. Although I was born in Baltimore, my family is all over the south. I graduated from high school, college, and seminary in the south. I know the south for better and for worse. And right now there’s all kinds of pressure for ministry-minded folks to move anywhere else besides the Bible Belt in order to do “real” ministry. While I’m not saying that I’ll never leave the south (or the USA), I’d like to take a moment to give a shout-out to fellow-ministers of the Gospel in the Bible Belt. Here are some reasons why I think ministering in my state of South Carolina is important, and why other southerners shouldn’t feel like less of Christians for advancing the kingdom in this spiritual “Jerusalem.”

The Bible Belt is largely a cultural phenomenon

The Bible Belt has a culture of tradition-based church attendance without strong accountability or appreciation for what the Church really is. Much of Christianity in the southern states of America is really a self-centered consumer social activity. If a church steps on toes or doesn’t fit someone’s preferences, they’ll move on in a skinny minute. Huge crowds that pack out the massive auditoriums across the south are often seen as indicators of a lack of need in this region, but the truth is that many churches are packed with good people who need the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Many of these people remain blinded to their need of Jesus because of their good lives, church attendance, Republican votes, etc. It’s a mission field of a different variety from other regions of the United States, but a mission field nonetheless.

The Bible Belt has a culture of biblical literacy without strong application of Scripture. It’s a culture of Sunday School teenagers who will walk away from the faith when they leave home.  It’s a society of “God bless you” friendships who need little reason stab their friends in the back and tear them down to others. It’s a culture of Bible verses and fish symbols on business signs, but where the shoddy ethics of Christians in business is often worse than their secular counterparts. There’s plenty of Jesus on the outside, but very little Jesus on the inside.

The Bible Belt is a culture where politics and Christianity are one and the same. Many southerners believe that the hope for culture can be found in politicians, laws, and court decisions. They’ve placed their faith in quasi-Christian political parties, in guns, in precious metals, and not so much in Jesus. While our politics sound so biblical, the fact is that our southern politics have become something of an idol instead.

The Bible Belt is rapidly changing and desperately needs Jesus

The southern states have been inundated over the past decade with manufacturing, distribution, and call centers. Cheap skilled labor has drawn thousands of global companies and employees from all over the planet. People from other nations and regions of the United States are traveling to the Bible Belt for jobs and for quality of life.

Immigration challenges on the southern border of the US have brought an influx of low-wage workers from the global south. Many counties in the Bible Belt speak more Spanish than English. Unfortunately, this has led to xenophobic politics rather than welcome and mission in the churches of the Bible Belt. The spiritual and social needs of the Hispanic communities is a high calling for the churches of the south.

Legal immigrants and national refugees have settled in large pockets due to low cost of living and strong job market. While we often think of New York City as the gathering-place of the nations, the truth is that tens of thousands of immigrants have settled in your southern state. The end result is that the second largest religion in most of the Bible Belt states is either Islam or Buddhism. What are we doing to develop relationships with these communities?

The overriding reason why we should take other people’s cultures seriously is because God has taken ours seriously. – John R.W. Stott

Local attitudes are shifting away from the strongly-held traditions. About 7 out of 10 kids raised in church are abandoning Christianity or church. There are plenty of reasons for this kind of departure, but it is primarily happening among a major Bible Belt demographic – white teens. Postmodernism is taking root rapidly. The assumption that southern culture and Christianity are permanently one and the same should never be a given. I’m not saying that we should fear these shifts, but I’m saying that we need to realize that the secularization of American culture has come to the south. Who will equip the church to understand and reach the secular postmodern millennials?

The Bible Belt Christians need to be called to kingdom work

Millions of Christians don’t have the option of moving out of the Bible Belt. At a time where jobs are hard to come by, we can’t simply live under the delusion that all the Christians in the south must just pick up and move to more needy areas in order to do Great Commission work.

The Christians in the Bible Belt need to be equipped for mission in their communities. As we’ve already seen, the Bible Belt communities are changing and cannot be seen as havens of the heavenly, but as neighborhoods of the needy (in many senses of the term). Bible Belt churches have a great opportunity to equip Christians to serve their changing culture. Churches in the Bible Belt are in dire need of evangelistic accountability and fervor in order to carry out mission. Reticence in the pew and bureaucracy from the pulpit has led to the Great Commission becoming the Great Omission in southern culture. It’s time to think about how to step out of the way and empower and urge all Christians to engage their communities.

Expect great things from God.  Attempt great things for God. – William Carey

Millions of Christians in the Bible Belt need to be equipped for mission around the globe. Think of the untapped resource for global impact which is bottled up in the communities of southern USA. And I’m talking about more than doing week-long mission trips or swiping your Visa to send others as traditional missionaries; I’m talking about preparation for and actualization in meaningful worldwide impact in innovative and direct ways.

The Bible Belt was important to the Apostles

The Apostles stayed in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). In spite of a call to evangelize outside of Jerusalem and in spite of an urgent need to do so, for some reason, the Apostles remained. A church of perhaps thousands of non-Hellenized believers needed to be discipled and equipped. While there was a need and a command given by Jesus to go on at some point, the Apostles saw the importance of working in the heavily reached and overwhelmingly religious city of Jerusalem first.

Paul stayed in Ephesus (Acts 19:8-10). Ephesus and the local environs rapidly became the Bible Belt of the first century, and Paul didn’t appear to see this as a negative thing. He spent over two years in the city, training and equipping this missional church to spread the Gospel to the neighboring cities. He would later send his colleagues to minister there, and John the Apostle also spent much time in ministry in this city. Instead of viewing the city as an “already reached” location and moving on, the leaders of the first century church viewed the city as an evangelistic hub for ministry and mission. At the same time, this didn’t keep these leaders from being realistic about the growing challenges of religiosity and traditionalism in the church there either (Revelation 2).

Concluding Explanation:

I’m not writing to the millions of believers who live outside the Bible Belt. I’ve seen many families move to the Bible Belt hoping that the Christian schools and good churches and godly society will rub off on their kids. But that’s the exception and not the rule around here. Don’t be enamored with this region of the country. As I’ve said, we’ve got a ton of problems down here. It’s no utopia.

I’m also not writing to those who have been called by God to minister elsewhere. Some of my good friends have had doors for ministry or vocation open outside the Bible Belt and have moved on to minister there. They’re doing some awesome kingdom work in these locations. I’ve always adopted a posture of “looking to leave, but willing to stay.” And if God’s will moves you to leave to other areas of the globe, you need to see this as an opportunity for a different sort of mission.

I am writing to the millions of Christians in the Bible Belt of the US. As long as God has you and me here, we shouldn’t feel discouraged about the sort of ministry that God has given us here. We shouldn’t see it as a utopia. We shouldn’t stop doing mission because we think our work here is done. We shouldn’t ignore the mission in our backyard, assuming that real mission only happens elsewhere. The Bible Belt needs the Gospel. And you and I must take the time that God has given us here to make a difference.

Easter: Invitation to Something Greater than this Life!

When I think about what the resurrection means to me, I guess there’s a lot that comes to mind.  There’s the historical aspect of the resurrection which marked out Jesus to be the Son of God and ignited the Christian faith around two-thousand years ago.  Without the historical fact of the resurrection, every deed of charity or sacrifice or martyrdom is worthless.  This resurrection event was no claim that was added to the doctrine of the Church some centuries after Jesus died (giving them time to fabricate a myth about him).  No, this was a central claim that was made from the earliest claims of Jesus’ followers and was able to be verified by those who lived contemporaneously with Jesus of Nazareth (see 1 Corinthians 15).

But the resurrection is so much more than just a historical fact.  The resurrection is God’s declaration that He has won.  It is something of an invitation too.  Easter is the audacious claim that God not only defeated sin and death and Satan, but that He invites us to win with Him too!  We are offered the chance to identify with Jesus in His resurrection and victory.  Maybe there is something in this suggestion that gives me hope of something greater and better.  Everything I see around me passes from life to death with no hope of change for the better.  But in the resurrection I see death rise into life and hope suddenly restored again.  It is a hope that I’m not resigned to staying the way I am because I was “born this way,” but that I might be re-born and re-made.  It is hope that the death-cycle is broken.  It is hope that something greater than my greatest imaginings is in store.