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Meditation on Transition: What Jesus’ Teaches Us About Being Sent

“…and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” Matthew 6:33

My wife and I love the mission of God. In hindsight, it has fueled so many of our life choices and endeavors: where we will live, what jobs we will take, the friends we will make; you name it. It is so much the bedrock of who we are that, before we could ever even articulate it, we were drawn to it in the form of a community called New City Church in Lexington, Kentucky, a church whose vocabulary simply oozes mission and purpose. I mean, their core values, the lenses through which they primarily make decisions about what stays, goes, and gets created, are love, rest, risk, and send. Send, meaning that we are committed to the commissioning of the people of God for the purposes of God both near and far in our communities. It was a no brainer. People who knew us well might have seen it coming a mile away.

What we didn’t see coming is that we would be the ones who would be sent far. Far, as in 3 hours away from the community that was sending us. Far, as in, no longer close enough to visit and encourage our friends on a daily basis. Far, as in, leaving our jobs, ministry entrustments, favorite restaurants, known roads, neighbors, and everything else in Lexington, Kentucky for the unfamiliar in Delaware, Ohio. In short, my wife and I are in transition. What makes this transition hard is not necessarily the amount of time we have spent here (it’s the shortest amount of time we have lived anywhere), but the intensity of the life we have lived here. It’s led to what feels like an equally intense transition process.

If you have uprooted yourself before, you know a lot of stuff comes up in transition: insecurities, fears, second-guesses, questions, vulnerabilities, lies, and the like. My wife and I went all in in our relationships. We invested heavily in our community. We sacrificed, in the moment, what felt like a lot in almost every area of our lives, and had been experiencing the good and tangible spiritual fruit of those decisions. Yet now we are committed to leaving much of it behind, being vulnerable, and venturing out into the unknown.

In this season, perhaps a great source of peace has been looking at the most intense time of transition for Jesus, his temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4). Jesus has just finished a 30 year stint as a physical laborer in relative obscurity. Aside from his training in the scriptures, which all Jews received in some form, he has no degrees, assessments, strengths conditioning, strategic plans, demographics, or denominational support to make his ministry a “success.” Regardless, he has just been commissioned by his Father and his community through the baptism of John and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In the overall narrative of Jesus, we know that he is about to step into an intense life of spiritual warfare, teaching, healing, and multiplication that will literally change the face of the world – but there must first come transition and temptation in the wilderness, and his responses have encouraged me.

His first temptation is to turn stones into bread (v. 4). Jesus has been fasting (as in, no food) and is hungry, his physical needs surely pressing in on his faith and conscious as he thinks about and prepares for what is to come. I’ve found the question of physical need always sneaks up on me in dark times. I get so excited about the call to a new opportunity that reality strikes when people ask questions like, “Where will you work? How will you live? Who is your support? How will you put food on the table?” When these questions come, Satan stokes the flames of my scarcity mindset. I quickly become terrified of running out of money. I begin to guard my resources and am tempted to become bitter about the call. I lash out at my wife for what seems like “frivolous spending.” This was not Jesus’ response. Instead he says, “’Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (NIV, v.4). I wonder if this is where Jesus learned the lesson he taught his disciples in Matthew 6:

“But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (vv. 30-33).

Jesus’ second temptation is to throw himself from the top of the temple, so that the Father can prove his loyalty and faithfulness to him by saving his life. It’s a question of trust. So much of my transition has been long periods of excitement and planning, punctuated by a few intense days of emotional doubt and frustration. I begin to doubt and ask questions, “Am I really cut out for this? Did God really call us? Am I hearing God correctly?” or “Did I hear him at all?” The confidence disappears and saps every ounce of momentum and energy from me. However, Jesus replies to Satan in this moment: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (v. 7). This is not blind acceptance or masochist-looking obedience. This is Jesus, a mature son of God, likely looking back at the faithfulness of God throughout his life and asking the question, “Has the Father failed me yet?” I’m certain the answer for him is, “no.” It is for me too.

Finally, Jesus is taken to a high point and shown all of the nations of the world, his for the taking, if he would simply compromise his mission and heart to worship Satan. It’s a question of glory and priority. My internal pride and willingness to compromise on what I know is right can at times be overwhelming. As a person gifted with vision who often looks to the future, at times I can become overwhelmed with thoughts of personal glory and influence. I’m confronted with  the very real question, “In my leadership, is my desire for people to worship me or worship Jesus?” Sometimes the answer is obvious; other times it is less clear. However, Jesus’ words ring clearly into my confusion, “’Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’” (v. 10). I pray for the strength to make this the truth of my heart.

It’s possible this might seem like a bleak picture of transition. It is true that you lose a lot when you uproot yourself. But remember, you also gain a lot: courage, patience, faith, a desperation for God’s still, small voice. I have not been perfect in this season or any other. Sometimes all I can talk about is what the Lord will do with our new opportunities, while other times I am overwhelmed with anger or sadness at the thought of leaving. I don’t know how a perfectly humble man like Jesus felt in this moment of transition, but I am inspired by his example of faithfulness. May we also look to him in whatever season we are in and present our hopes, fears, emotions, and desires to him, the one who withstood all temptation.

Blessings all!

 

Jordan McCain, New City Stories Contributor

 

Featured Image: The Temptation in the Wilderness, by Briton Rivière (1898); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Risk: The Faithful Response to Our Rescue

At New City we talk a lot about being thankful for our rescue. Even outside of a Christian context, the word “rescue” has implications of risking, preventing, saving, or going out of one’s way for someone else. To rescue is “to free from confinement, danger, or evil” as defined by Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. The Israelites experienced this rescue physically and spiritually when God freed them from slavery in Egypt and then gave them the Ten Commandments. In this rescue, God brought his people out of bondage and then began creating them into a new people. He led His grumbling people the long way, with a reluctant leader, but God knew the risk would pay off.

When we think about our personal rescue stories, it can be easy to forget that our rescue came with a cost.

And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.” (Matt 27:30, 31).

No matter if your rescue story comes from growing up in church, or coming to faith in a desperate place, this was the cost for all believers.  God risked to rescue us and continues to risk by pursuing His children. This is why risk is a core value at New City–it is a core part of our story.

Not only did God risk to rescue us, but we are called to risk for others. We read in scripture that, “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Risk stems from love. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that those who believe might have life, life everlasting.” (John 3:16). Risking is not about making your schedule more full to check the “love your neighbors box.” Risk involves seeing God’s heart for your neighbors, for people in need, for people who do not look like you, and taking on that heart of love yourself. When you start to see people how God sees them, your schedule, reputation, and comfortability dwindle and finding a way to help others becomes more important.

In Acts 10 Peter has the vision of a sheet with unclean animals coming down and repeatedly hears, “do not call what is clean unclean.” Peter’s first reaction was confusion and rejection because his understanding of what he could eat had been set for years. However, God uses this vision to lead Peter into a risky call; namely, to invite outsiders into God’s story. Through visions and the Spirit’s leading, God gives Peter not only an image of the coming risk, but a person.

The Spirit led Cornelius, a God-fearing Roman soldier, to call for Peter to hear about this vision. This is bold for Cornelius to do because of his position in the Roman army and because of the fact that Peter was a Jew. After a vision warning Peter that Cornelius will call for him to come, Peter cannot help but notice the Spirit’s working. When Peter sees God undoubtedly at work, the risk becomes less of a fearful experience, and more of a faithful call. “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean” (Acts 10:28). After this encounter between Peter and Cornelius, Peter preached the Good News to Gentiles and they received the Holy Spirit. Peter and Cornelius both listened to God, stepped out in faith and took risks, which in turn resulted in the salvation of many.

The Gentiles were not Jewish, which means they were not considered in the family of God’s people. For most of us, this means Peter and Cornelius are a part of our rescue story. This week reflect on your rescue story or on seasons when you ran from God. What did God bring into your life to bring you back to Him? How can you be that person for others this week? Pray for the person after you in line, start up a conversation with someone who doesn’t look like you, be the first to apologize in an argument, pray for opportunities to risk for God. Risking is what Jesus calls us to when he says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24). Risk is not just a core value of a church; it is the call of following Christ.

Reflection Questions:

  • What resource(s) to you have excess of (food, money, time, clothes, etc.) and how can you give it away to people in need?
  • What keeps you from stepping out of your comfort zone to help, to encourage, or to share your faith with others?
  • Read Luke 18:18-30 and reflect on where you see risk in this passage.

 

Mary Katherine Wildeman,  New City Stories Contributor 

Diving into the Easter Story: Good Friday

Good Friday

Although it is called “good,” Good Friday is a solemn day for the Church. It commemorates the betrayal, unjust trial, and brutal crucifixion of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  As Christians in the 21st century, we know the rest of the story and understand that a huge celebration is coming; however, we encourage you to enter into this time of grief, uncertainty, and deep sadness so that you may experience what the earliest followers of Jesus went through.

John 18:28-37 NRSV

Christ in front of Pilate by Mihali Munkacsy

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 

 

 

Psalm 22:1-2, 12-19 NRSV

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
    and by night, but find no rest…

But I am a worm, and not human;
    scorned by others, and despised by the people.

All who see me mock at me;
    they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
    let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”…

14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs are all around me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled;
17 I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my clothes among themselves,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
    O my help, come quickly to my aid!   

Artwork by Josefa de Ayala

John 19:38-42 NRSV

38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.  

  • Questions: 
    • Have you ever felt distant from God, especially in times of deep stress and anguish?  Do you know of others who have had this experience? How does Jesus’ experience, all the way from his agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane to his crucifixion at Calvary, comfort and sustain us during these moments?
    • Why do Joseph and Nicodemus, who are experiencing both fear and grief, spend so much energy, time, and precious resources to properly bury Christ’s body?  What does this burial teach us about faith and worship in times of grief and anxiety?
  • Challenge: 
    • If you are experiencing distance or isolation from God’s presence or know of someone who is, we encourage you to pray through these passages and reflect on the reality that even Jesus Himself, the only begotten Son of God, experienced deep pain and that he is with you in your suffering.
    • Even when we enter into seasons of grief, fear, and waiting, the example of Joseph and Nicodemus shows us that we are still called to tend to our relationship with Jesus and lavish him with our worship.

New City Writing Team

 

Theology of the Workplace

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might…” Ecclesiastes 9:10a NRSV

Is our work just for money and are we living from clock in to clock out? Does everything we do from day to day mean anything? Are pastors the only ones out there that do ministry for a living? These questions have been discussed repeatedly and will always be discussed on this side of eternity. When we think about these big questions about our work, it is important to remember that the Lord is inviting us into even the remedial tasks.

Ecclesiastes 9:10a says “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…” God is inviting us to work, and to work well. If we read on, the verse says, “there is no work, knowledge, planning or wisdom in the grave.”  This means that we have work to do on this earth that is fulfilling and full of purpose.

But how is this work to be done? Are supposed to just put our head down and forget the others we work with or are we to work with one another towards common goals?

I believe God created us to work in community with others. Think about it, our jobs are all about connections. I used to have a ritualistic response to my mom when she would ask me about studying.  As quick as I could, I would respond, “It’s not about what you know mom, it’s about who you know.” Even though I was using this as an excuse to run from my responsibilities, there are elements in this statement that are true. For us as Christians, there is more to the phrase “it’s about who you know” than just collaborating, it’s about an opportunity for the gospel.

In our work we develop networks, networks that the gospel can be shared through. A good example of this is “The Poverty Cure Project”, which pursues different solutions to help the world’s economic issues as a Church body. To explain their approach to doing collaborative work, they use the illustration of a table and how so many people’s hands have assisted in helping create the table: from the farmer, to the man at the lumberyard, to the man who makes the saw blades that cut the wood. “Every product is a result of collaboration” and we get the opportunity to engage in those collaborations.  As Christians, God is inviting us to combine the skill of our bodies with the fruit of our labor and as we do this with others, our work has meaning both practically and spiritually. We can share the gospel through our work.

Networking is another term for these collaborations. Networking, when done often, creates a community and we as humans are made for community. Dr. Steve Seamands says, “A reflection of the Trinitarian imprint is that we were made for community.”  In other words, we are made to be in network with others.  When we live and work in community, we are reflecting the image of God in us and are fulfilling God’s design for our lives.  Community is how we survive and how we work and arguably how we spread the Good News of Christ.

So, don’t just look at work as something you do to survive. Work is something that gives us purpose and defines our lives, by allowing us to fulfill our callings and meet the needs of others. Work is an opportunity to enter into networks and community so that the Gospel can be spread into all the world. In that exchange the value of work is created.

Here are some questions to reflect on this week as you work:

  • What part of our work have we neglected because we see it as meaningless?
  • What can we do to change our mindset and find purpose in the small things?
  • How has a working community given you the opportunity to share the Gospel?
  • With “fresh eyes” how can you now see how those doors have been open all along and how can you now actively step into those situations to fulfill your call to spread the gospel in your work?

Kendall McKee, New City Stories Contributor 

Sticks and Stones

John 8 begins with Jesus teaching in the local temple, as he often did. The gospel helpfully tells us in verse 2 that “all the people” were present. We do not know how many people were there, but we do know that Jesus was teaching in Jerusalem, on a popular Jewish holiday, at the height of his ministry. Safe to say there were a good number present.

The Pharisees bring a woman in front of the crowd, and make three claims: 1) this woman has committed adultery, 2) we (the Pharisees) follow the Law of Moses, and 3) according to the Law of Moses, this woman should be stoned. They then ask Jesus, “What do you say?”

The Pharisees’ attention, and even the attention of the author of John, is on Jesus at this point. The woman isn’t even addressed until the end of the whole ordeal! However, as I read this story recently I was struck by the position of the woman. She had been kidnapped, put in front of a massive crowd of people, and had her deepest and darkest secrets announced for all to hear. As I was praying about what this story meant for the church today, the Lord pointed out is how we consistently do this when speaking about others.

I am not a subtle person. Sometimes I can use that as an excuse to be a little edgy in what I bring up for conversation. It can be fun to bring up controversial topics about celebrities, politicians, acquaintances, or, in the right situations, people I call friends. We can use the excuse of being concerned, or having an “intelligent conversation” about the state of our country, or that it can be a lesson for ourselves or others.

Unfortunately, what I am really doing is stripping people made in the image of God of their dignity.

Much like the Pharisees, I have made a value-based decision that a person’s worth, reputation, and image in my own eyes as worth less than the joke I am about to make or the story I am about to tell. I have taken a person, dragged them before the crowd, and sentenced them as guilty. In the process I’ve even goaded others, innocent bystanders, into the stoning of the other person.

Now, obviously, we are not actually stoning anyone. And there is no reality where we could never talk about another person ever again.

Jesus teaching the crowds in his Sermon on the Mount

However, I wonder if the same spiritual principle Jesus speaks of in Matthew 5:21-22, where the hatred of another person is equated with murder, is not applicable here. When we throw another person under the bus, even people who we don’t know, are we condemning them as irredeemable or less than human, much like the Pharisees did to this woman?

I think Jesus’ response offers two redeeming options. The first option is to not engage. In verse 6, Jesus’ first response is to make himself busy. He simply does not acknowledge their charge. Sometimes this has to be your response, especially with people you don’t know well or with folks who are not Christians. Refuse to pollute your mind with the lack of dignity given to another person.

The second option is confrontation. In John 8:7, when ignoring the Pharisees wasn’t good enough, Jesus responds with a charge of his own. Now, I am not suggesting we throw our sins in each other’s faces, but I am suggesting that the way we treat and talk about one another matters enough to get personal.

If you have a brother or sister in Christ who cannot stop talking about other people, whether they are talking about someone in culture, your family, your friends, or your church, be willing to confront them on this issue. Paul deals with gossip extensively in his letters, naming it along with other horrific things which cause division amongst Christians. Proverbs addresses those who gossip and slander twelve times, calling those do so a “fool.” It even say that someone who does gossip sets snare for their own downfall (Proverbs 18:6-7).

At the end of this story, Jesus and the woman are alone. He’s face to face with the one who has been accused. But, instead of condemning her, he gives her grace and dignity. He acknowledges her humanity and sets her free, not just from her situation, but from sin itself! What opportunities are we missing out on to love one another? What does it mean for us to be people who spread grace instead of hatred? Can we lift one another up instead of tearing one another down? Can we make it so that our words “build others up according to their needs?” (Ephesians 4:29). Lord, make it so.

 

By Jordan McCain, New City Stories Contributor

 

(Featured Image Artwork by Gustave Adore)

Faithful To

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.  Matthew 21:43

The renters are given everything they needed to produce wine, including a press and a wall (v. Mt. 21:33).  They weren’t given just one vine of grapes but an entire production and probably a vast amount of land full of fruit-producing plants (Is. 16:8).  The grape farmers were deeply faithful to the vineyard – they produced good grapes.  In fact, the owner was very satisfied and sent servants to go get his portion – presumably the rent he was owed – from the tenants (Mt. 21:34, 38).

Of course, the owner had the rights to everything in that farm since he’d built it and owned it outright.  All he’d asked for was payment from the ones renting the property. More than that, the owner didn’t even demand a finished product of wine, he only wanted the grapes as they were being harvested (v.34).  So, the renters would have been left with many bunches of grapes, a wine press, and the safety in which to make and then sell a lucrative product.

In return for rent in the form of grapes, the farmers could produce wine.  The renters were unrestricted beyond that – they were not considered slaves or even servants of the vineyard’s owner (v. 34).  In other words, in return for only rent, the tenants were given a vast supply of produce to sell, freedom to use it as they wanted, and land on which to live.  It wasn’t just a fair agreement, it was a fully gracious agreement.  The owner planned to make them wealthy.

And, the renters had been very faithful in growing and producing grapes.  They were good at their craft.  In fact, they were fiercely loyal to the vineyard.  As it turned out, they would eventually murder to keep it and its produce.

When he doesn’t receive what he is rightfully owed, the landlord sent one servant and then another to the vineyard to collect.  When they ferociously kill both servants, in an act of unprecedented and lavish grace, the owner sends his son to gather the payment.  He did not send his son with an army to imprison, enslave, or execute the renters who had access to his land and an income from his produce (vv. 37-38).  He sent his son to represent himself, thinking that maybe the renters didn’t respect the servants he’d sent.  But, in fierce defense of grapes, the renters slaughter the son too.  Instead of being content with their huge portion of wealth, the renters were also greedy enough to obtain the portion belonging to the owner’s son – his inheritance (v. 38).

In either case, in this scenario, the grapes or wine were going to be produced.  It would either be done in faithfulness to the owner or in faithfulness to the vineyard and its renters.  Of course, the owner had the right to take everything, but he was generous.  In return, while attempting to tend the owner’s vineyard, the renters became so infatuated with the grapes that they began to think of them as their own bunches of tiny fruit.  Instead of remaining faithful to the owner in their gardening and sending, they were intensely faithful to their grapes.  Instead of sending to the Father, they were going to send and sell the grapes elsewhere.  Instead of being faithful to the one who had the power to create and gift vineyards, they were faithful to the yield of the vineyard.

In using our talents, we must be faithful to the one to whom we are sending.  When someone becomes more attached to the people in whom they are invested or the gifts the Spirit has given, the heart attaches to those things or people instead of the Father.  This action chisels the soul away from the rightful, lavishly gracious, and loving Owner.  It causes us to become vicious in defending the product. It causes what we produce to become more valuable to us than God. We are left holding onto something that will die instead of onto the indulgent and infinite Life Creator.

The question isn’t “what have we produced,” but to whom will we be faithful with what we’ve been given?  To whom will we send the fruit?  Our fruit may be used for others, but it is ultimately given to God.

In the end, faithfulness to fruit rather than faithfulness to the Owner – the Father – took the tenants outside of his grace.  It may seem as if the owner instigated this by finally “bringing those wretches to a wretched end” (v. 41, NAS).  However, by rejecting the grace of the Generous One, the farmers took themselves out of his favor.  They were attempting to disconnect the vineyard from the Owner.  They brought their own destruction because they were cutting themselves off from the Creator – the builder of the vineyard.

Of course, it was the Pharisees, not Jesus, who came to the violent conclusion of a “wretched end” for the renters.  The Jewish leaders decided that judgement in some form of painful and dignity defying death would be best.  Jesus, in his grace, only said the vineyard would be given away to those who would be faithful to the Father, producing for and sending the grapes to him (v. 43).  Jesus — who is exemplified by the murdered son in the parable — does not choose to repay death with death.  Instead, he moves leadership away from the Pharisees — exemplified by the tenants — allowing them another chance at restoration.  Whether we are faithful or not, restoration lives in the heartbeat of Jesus.

 

Jessica Fleck, New City Stories Contributor