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Nothing But the Blood of Jesus

As Christians in our modern context, it is difficult for us to envision a time when the gravity of our sins and their subsequent atoning took place by the literal sacrificing of animals on an altar. Although that visceral picture might make us uncomfortable to think about, it was the reality of those who lived in the Old Testament under the Former Covenant. As with many things in the Christian faith, we must know where we have come from to be truly grateful for where we are today. Let us remember the inadequacy of the Former Covenant, in order to embrace the beauty of the New Covenant that Jesus established for for us by His blood.

The book of Hebrews is a New Testament letter that is rich with insight into the meaning of the Cross of Christ. Today, I would like to look at Hebrews 9:12-15, which states:

“He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore, He is the mediator of a New Covenant.”

While much of this language may be foreign to you, I believe this passage, and the broader text surrounding it, argues four main reasons why the sacrifice of Jesus is superior to the sacrifice of goats and calves:

  1.  Firstly, while under the previous covenant, the high priest had to first offer a sacrifice for his own sin before making atonement for the sins of others, whereas Jesus, who was in fact sinless, did not have to do so. His flawless obedience to the Father made him the only man in history with the ability to offer sacrifices for all those other than himself. How humbling, that the one man who was innocent, gave of Himself for the guilty. The blood of Jesus is PURE!
  2. Secondly, because of the utterly sinful nature of humanity (including the high priests of old), under the previous covenant these sacrifices would have to be made repeatedly in order to establish continual purification for the people. Jesus, however, being without sin, is able to offer a “once for all” sacrifice that is eternal and lasting. This gives us an entire new perspective on the moment that Jesus declares “it is finished” on the cross right before He gives up His spirit and submits to death. The blood of Jesus is FINAL!
  3. Thirdly, the high priests of old used the blood of animals. Conversely, Jesus gave of His own blood as an act of willingly laying down His own life. While animals are unable to consciously sacrifice themselves (and were simply the chosen vessel) Jesus IS able to sacrifice Himself. The end of Hebrews tells us that “for the joy set before Him, (He) endured the cross”. The blood of Jesus is PURPOSEFUL!
  4. Finally, while the old purification system had to do mostly with an outward purification of the external, Jesus offers an inward purification of the “conscience.” He is not only able to make us righteous in the way that we relate to those around us, but indeed provides a way to cleanse our innermost being, heart, soul, body, and mind. As the book of Hebrews states, “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to Him.” The blood of Jesus is REDEEMING!

In closing, let us never forget the kind of redemption that Jesus has provided for His bride.

The purity, finality,  purposefulness, and redeemable quality of the blood of Jesus makes His blood of utmost superiority to all other blood sacrifices, particularly the blood of goats and bulls, in terms of forgiveness, atonement, and purification. When we realize that the sacrifice – that is, the crucifixion – of Jesus was a purposeful and decisive sacrifice, it will cause us to respond in overwhelming worship. The more we understand the inadequacies of the Former Covenant and our own inability produce a clear conscience, the more precious and valued the sacrifice of Jesus and the New Covenant will be in our own lives. I pray this passage causes you to ponder the beauty of Jesus this week and to worship with a clear conscience and a full heart.

Oh precious is the flow

That makes me white as snow

No other fount I know

Nothing but the blood of Jesus

 

Melody Hickey, New City Stories Contributor

Dignity, John 8, and Christian Love

“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” John 8:11b

At New City, we are currently going through a series on our core values of Love, Rest, Risk, and Send. This past Sunday, we covered our core value of “Love” and Zach shared that one of the essential features of Christ-like love is a focus on restoring dignity, both in others and in ourselves.

To put it succinctly, our dignity ultimately finds roots in our identity.  If our identity is based in fleeting and superficial realities, then we will find ourselves constantly searching for worth and dignity in all the wrong places.  To illustrate this point further, Zach gave us the biblical example of Adam and Eve before and after they rebelled against God in Genesis 3.  Before their turning away, Adam and Eve were living in “Shalom,” a kind of perfect peace and harmony where there was no fracturing of their identity in God.  Because of this, they experienced a fully dignified life harmonized with the One who gave them life.  What happened, however, after both Adam and Eve removed themselves from identity in God is that their understanding of their own worth and dignity began to fall apart.  They were now flooded with shame (v 7) and fear (v 8-10).  This is precisely why they hide from God in the Garden (v 8), it is why Adam immediately blames Eve for what happened (v 12), and Eve immediately blames the serpent for her sin (v 13).  When our identities fail to be rooted in the Creator, our relationships, both with God and each other, unravel.  In other words, there is a kind of outward ripple effect that takes place when our identities shift from God to something lesser and the first causality of this ripple effect is our own inherent dignity and worth.

Humanity’s rejection of God and His perfect love in Genesis 3 began a bleak trajectory where the loss of identity is followed by the disintegration of dignity and relationships. However, this “bleak trajectory” also set up the stage for the most beautiful restoration that could ever take place. The Fall of humanity establishes the impetus and context for the mission of God to reunite Himself with His wayward people.  This mission climaxes in the person of Jesus Christ.  The mission of Christ needs to be understood in light of the rebellion and sin of humanity because it demonstrates the steadfast and perfect nature of God’s love for His creation and it gives insight into the nature of Jesus’ ministry.  These will be explored now.

Towards the end of his sermon, Zach shared that wherever Jesus went during his earthly ministry, he was always dignifying others.  In other words, Jesus was (and is!) re-weaving the world back together through providing a way for our identities to be rooted in God once again.  You see, because Jesus’ own identity was and is perfectly aligned and at one with the Father, he is able to ignite the inherent dignity in others all around him.  Zach said that “dignified people dignify people,” and Jesus is our ultimate model of this truth.  If our identities are in Christ, they are in God (John 1:12) and if they are in God, then our dormant dignity is awakened and inflamed by our renewed knowledge of His love for us.  This then pours out of our own life into our spheres of influence, whether that be our homes, workplaces, or other spaces where we spend our time, like the local coffee shop or neighborhood park (Phil 2:17).  Christian identity is contagious because its very nature is to re-ignite a wildfire of dignity in all who come in contact with it.  And when this doesn’t happen amongst God’s people, we know something is amiss. When the life of the Church doesn’t reflect the life of Jesus, when the Body is misaligned with the Head, it means that our identities have strayed from the identity Giver.  This is why Christocentric practices are so important! Another topic for another time.

Now that we see the downward trajectory of sin’s undignifying effects and how this trajectory set the stage for Jesus’s mission to provide identity and, consequently, dignity to all who call upon his name, we can now explore what this looks like in practice.  And, to do so, our gaze will remain fixed on the one who practiced it perfectly.

In John 8, the Pharisees toss a woman in front of Jesus who has been accused of adultery.  Under the Law of Moses, adultery is punishable

Christ and the Pharisees by Earnst Zimmerman

by stoning to death.  The Pharisees knew that to be a faithful Jew one must adhere to the Law and they wanted desperately for Jesus to be unfaithful to the Law, giving them reason to undermine his ministry so that they could hold onto religious and political power. You see, the Pharisees weren’t at all concerned about the state of the woman who they threw down at Jesus’s feet–they weren’t even concerned with the sin she represented! They were only concerned with the woman insofar as she provided a means to their twisted end.  How many times have we called out the sin of political candidate or church leader from another tradition only to validate our own tribes?  I know I have been guilty of this.  In his sermon, Zach called this the problem of “diagnosis.”  It isn’t that diagnosis is wrong in and of itself–it’s that diagnosis isolated from grace and love becomes Pharisaism.  For example, we would never want our doctor to break the news to us that we have a serious illness as if it were mere routine.  This kind of behavior violates the image of God in others. When we aren’t concerned about the state of another’s heart, we neglect God in them. This is precisely what the Pharisees were doing to that woman, who now sat in the dirt, with stones raised above her head, between the religious leaders of the day.

Jesus, on the other hand, understood the law differently.  He understood that the purpose of the Law was to facilitate communion between God and His people.  Its primary aim was to capture hearts so that true relationship could be restored.  This is why in that moment, instead of dismissing the dignity of the woman before him, it becomes his primary concern.  Jesus speaks his famous line in verse 7 when he says, “You without sin cast the first stone,” and in this moment he extends protection and grace.  The heart of the story, in my estimation, is what takes place after the Pharisees leave and Jesus is left alone with the woman.  The text says in verses 10-11: “Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.’”

Jesus knew that to heal her life of sin, this woman did not need to be beaten or harassed or arrested–she needed to be dignified.  This bloodied, dirty woman who is standing with her head down before Jesus, the one many are calling a prophet of God and some are even calling the Messiah, must have been feeling so little in that moment.  Jesus, recognizing this, clothes her with dignity.  He does this in two ways.

  • The first is that he extends grace by protecting her, not condemning her, and setting her free. He could have given her a moralizing lesson about sexual sin.  He could have chewed her out for her sins.  He could have even given his own sentence.  And at times, this approach is appropriate and necessary (e.g. Jesus and Peter!).  But instead, recognizing her hearts deepest needs, Jesus decides to speak freedom and worth and dignity to someone who was starving for it.
  • The second is that he tells her to stop sinning. This is so crucially important for us to hear in the Church today.  In our fear of offending others and in our emphasis on inclusion and tolerance, we must never forget that the Gospel demands holiness.  Jesus dignifies this woman by expecting her to be holy.  Jesus sees this woman as really is, a beautiful daughter of a loving Father.  In this vision for her life, Jesus sees purity and radiance and joy, but she can only ever achieve those things when she chooses beauty over depravity.

Dignity demands both grace and expectation.  We must extend mercy, inclusion, and acceptance of those who need it, but then we must see them as Jesus sees them –we must have a vision for their life beyond what it is in its current state.  This is not judgement, this is hope.  Jesus spoke dignity to this dirty, ashamed woman who was entrapped in a life of sin by extending grace and freedom but also by calling her higher to a life worthy of her identity in God.  When we, in our current 21st century Western context, move out into the world and are presented with the God-given opportunities to dignify others, we must see as Jesus sees. We must extend grace and uphold holiness; we must offer freedom whilst clinging to the truth.  This is the tension of Christian love.  It is a tight-rope walk that can, at times, feel impossible to accomplish.  How can we diagnose and care? How are we to accept and demand?  How can we include the person but not their lifestyle?  We begin with what Jesus did and what He does through His Spirit, and that is by reminding people of their real identity and by dignifying them every step of the way.  This is what love lived out looks like and a dignified world is the fruit of this love.

I will end with these thoughts from C.S. Lewis’s famous sermon “The Weight of Glory”:

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else

a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics…And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

Mike Terry, New City Stories Contributor

My Banner Over You is Love: A Testimony of Forgiveness

“He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.” Song of Solomon 2:4 ESV

In the past when I looked at this flag and my Dad’s picture feelings of anger, resentment, confusion, abandonment, fear, loneliness and most cutting rejection pierced my heart. When I got handed this flag at his funeral the only meaning it had was the reminder of what my father did to me and my mom before I was even born. He left us.

His choice to leave marked me so deep to my core it was unbearable. A flag that was the mark of a soldiers honor to his country was the constant reminder in my heart of the dishonor he had shown for leaving me. Honestly, I hid this flag for the longest time; I couldn’t look at it…until my heart started to forgive him.  It was only until recently that I decided to put it out on display after allowing Jesus to heal the broken places of what was supposed to be one of the most foundational and meaningful relationships of my life.

And slowly that forgiveness allowed for Jesus’ freedom to heal the gap in my heart where I so longed for a relationship with my Dad. Forgiveness opened the door for me to see my father as someone flawed, scared and not ready. I accepted that. One final step of forgiveness was necessary though; I knew it wasn’t finished.  The thoughts and feelings of abandonment and rejection always lingered around me like best friends at a party.

Recently in a freedom prayer session Jesus showed me the picture of my Dad’s flag that I received at his funeral.  I knew that Jesus giving me this picture meant that I had to lay everything down; from the hurt, the rejection, and the indescribable pain lingering in my heart to the anger and hate I had for what he had done so many years ago.  Years of agony, pain, and bitterness had developed in place of a relationship for which I had desperately longed.  I laid it all down in the flag case with the flag and Jesus replaced it with his redemption through the cross.

Immediately after this, Jesus spoke to me and said “My banner over you is Love.”  I caved, it was finally finished. I knew it. I felt the burden of the pain in and around my heart for my Dad lift– a burden that had been there longer than I can remember.  I was free.

This flag is no longer the banner that marks my life and the choices that my dad made or didn’t make no longer define who I am.  Jesus’ banner is the banner that flies over my life and that banner is LOVE.  Even though I wasn’t my dad’s decision I was Jesus’ decision.

So now when I look at that flag and at that man in the picture that honorably served our country, I have nothing but love in my heart for him because I know that banner in that case is Jesus’ banner of love, freedom and redemption for me and him.

Rachel Morris, New City Stories Contributor

Giving is Not Loving: 1 Corinthians 13 and Generosity

The three most important things to have are faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of them is love. Follow the way of love.           1 Corinthians 13:13-14:1a

It is possible to be giving and not loving.  So, giving alone, cannot be love.

“Christ and the Rich Young Ruler” by Heinrich Hofmann

You know how long it takes to feed a baby who’s just learning to eat?  This is the gist of the Greek word used for “give” in 1 Corinthians 13:3.  It alludes to feeding bit by bit and carries a connotation of digestion.  It’s not the same as when Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler to sell everything and give it to the poor-that was an immediate giving over. In fact, 1 Cor. 13:3 refers to continual giving, so it would probably end up being more than the Ruler could have given all at once.

This is the actual taking care of someone, day by day, meal by meal — lifelong giving of everything to those in need.  It’s an even deeper kind of giving than the “shot in the arm” type: it’s a caregiving.  It is longsuffering commitment to provide for those in need during one’s entire life until absolutely all possessions are finally given over.  It’s adopting the needy and naming them in your will.

And this is not love.  According to 1 Corinthians 13:3:

Suppose I give everything I have to poor people. And suppose I give my body to be burned. If I don’t have love, I get nothing at all.

This verse presupposes that it’s possible to give in this lifelong, careful, unlimited way, without love.  In fact, it even yields nothing for the person doing the giving.  Nothing.

Do you find all this as completely dumbfounding as I do?

The surrounding verses tell why, giving two reasons: First of all, anything we do as Christians must be deeply connected to the Church and its edification (1 Cor. 12-13).  Giving, even if it is careful and longsuffering and boldly generous, must be centered within the Body of Christ in order to be loving.  So, it has to be done within a community that actually knows each other and is family that cares for one another (1 Cor. 12:26), not just called family for functionality.  It is family that suffers and rejoices with each other.

The second reason is that giving to people alone, cannot be lasting.  Love always remains because it is patient, kind, generous, humble, polite, unselfish, joyful, protecting, trusting, hoping, unfailing (1 Cor. 13:4-8).  Love always remains because God is love (2 Cor. 13:11 & 1 Jn. 4:8).

Love, not giving, is the greatest gift every Christian can strive for (1 Cor. 13:13).  It’s also the greatest thing we can give.

 

Jessica Fleck, New City Stories Contributor

Diving into the Easter Story: Maundy Thursday

Each of the next four days we will be posting a short devotional to provide a resource to help New City Church dive into the story behind Holy Week. From Maundy Thursday to Resurrection Sunday,  we hope and pray that these selected scriptures, questions, and challenges help our community enter into, and be transformed by, the most important Story that has ever been told.  Through immersing yourself in a slow, patient way in the Holy Week narrative, we will be able to anticipate, grieve, wait, and celebrate in a way that Jesus’ followers experienced in their own time and place.

We encourage you to print these devotionals out, share with others, and use in community!

We, the New City writing team, pray that this resource brings life and glorifies the risen Christ!

 

Maundy Thursday 

“Maundy” comes from the Latin word “mandatum” which means “commandment.”  Therefore, Maundy Thursday commemorates the day during Holy Week where Jesus, during the Last Supper and right after he washed his disciples feet, gave a new commandment to his followers: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

John 13:12-17 NRSV

12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. 

John 13:31-25 NRSV

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

  • Questions:
    • Are you a foot washer? Is your heart postured in such a way that it will allow you to be, as Oswald Chambers says, a “doormat under people’s feet” for the glory of Christ?
    • What does it mean, exactly, to “love one another” just as Christ has loved us?  What does that look like in your life today? Do your neighbors, co-workers, or family members know that you are a disciple of Jesus?
  • Challenge: 
    • This next week, take some time each morning to read and pray through this passage and then ask God to reveal to you the ways in which you can be a footwasher and a disciple that day.

 

New City Writing Team

Being is More Important than Doing

Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  Matthew 6:26 NRSV

For the majority of my adolescence, I thought I had the answer to the meaning of life. I thought it was logical, biblical, and honestly, kind of easy. When someone at youth group or at school would begin to discuss why we were created, I pulled my answer out of my holster of ready-made Sunday School answers, throwing Matthew 28:19-20 at them with a sure smile.

Obviously, I thought, we were created for the Great Commission, to go and make disciples of all nations. We were created for missions. We were created to do things for God. I lived through that paradigm for a long time. I did as many things for God as I could, whether at church, with nonprofits, or even at school. My life became a scrapbook of all the activities I thought were giving me purpose, a resume rapidly lengthening.

I didn’t think anything compared to the importance of doing things for God, even pursuit of relationships. All my works came from a genuine place of loving and wanting to serve God, so I assumed the tiredness that snowballed over time was normal. I thought it was probably just part of the experience of being a Christian. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was striving to give God reasons to love me.

When God called me to seminary, I thought he was giving me the chance to go to a perfect place to do even more things for him. I was surprised to find God’s expectations were a little less stringent than mine. After arriving at seminary, I started to question the paradigm I had trusted for so long. I felt uncomfortable and a little disoriented as I traversed readings about concepts like rest and love. In the short time I had spent attending New City, the preaching and teaching there had simultaneously pressed me and pulled me in, like both sides of a magnet, always giving an appealing yet perplexing perspective on how to live for God through love and rest. I didn’t know what to do with the magnitude of God’s love I was beginning to glimpse.

Then, one Sunday, Zach challenged us to pray a bold prayer for God to wreck us. In my desperation, I did. In his love, God agreed.

God had begun to deconstruct my paradigm of doing to earn love. Piece by piece, realization by realization, He was breaking me down until all that was left was a vague idea of who I was and no real reason for my own existence. However, God used my blank canvas to paint a more comforting and freeing paradigm than I could have imagined. This is what I learned.

When God created the world, it was sinless. At the time, there was no need for missions. He created everything, including humans, and for a while, everything was good. No one needed to be evangelized. This wrecked my Sunday school answer. Without having things to do for God, I had no purpose. I had no way to measure up or earn his love. I had nothing to strive for. I had no reason to exist. In the midst of all my seminarian pondering of the things of the deep, I realized the way I had always framed my purpose had placed undue pressure on my life. It was too self-centered. It was too complicated.

I realized my real purpose belonged not in my doing, but in my being.

Before creation of the earth, people, or even the construct of time, God existed relationally in three persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – who love better and more deeply than we can fathom. God alone defines love. God is love, and love existed before the world was created. Love created the world. Love created us. We were created because of a love so strong it wouldn’t keep to itself, so it overflowed and manifested itself in the creation of you, me, your best friend, my mom, that guy on the bus, and everybody else. To put it simply, God created us to hang out. Seriously, God created us for relationship. He created us out of love and for love, so he could love us and so we could love Him back. He created us, even knowing ahead of time about all the messed up stuff we would do, because even then He thought we were worth it.

Even now, He continues to create. He still thinks we’re worth it. Love existed before mission was even necessary, and love will outlast its necessity. Worship will outlast it. We were made for worship. We were made for love. In the meantime, God does call us to do many things, and we shouldn’t ignore those calls, but our purpose is greater than the fulfillment of a checklist.

As these pieces came together, I realized all the things I did for God over the years seemed meager when overshadowed by the immense amount of love God has for me. I realized that simply being is more important than doing. God wants us to be with him—in love, in kindness, in patience, in joy, and in all the good things to which He calls us. I used to think these things were what I needed to do for God to pay attention to me, but I realize now those things are what God invites us to be, with him and through him. Love is not a thing we do, a place we visit occasionally, or our day job; rather, it is the house we’re called to live in.

Ultimately, life is not about anything we can do for God. It’s about what He’s already done for us. The way He lived out love allows us to simply be redeemed, be rested, be fulfilled, and be His. Ultimately, the point of our lives is to be loved, and that can start right now, before we can do anything about it.

 

Rachel Smith, New City Stories Contributor

Called to Perfection?

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Growing up, my father taught me the extreme importance of knowing words’ true definitions. He would often say, “Melody, definition is SO important. Never say ‘jealous’ when you really mean ‘envious.’ They are two completely different ideas”. There were times when I rolled my eyes and thought that he was simply playing a game of semantics. I didn’t quite understand why these seemingly small and insignificant nuances were of such great relevance until I heard an interview many years later with talk show host Oprah Winfrey.

In this interview, Oprah described an experience she had in a church where the pastor was preaching on God being a jealous God. She spoke about her thoughts that day, saying, “I was caught up in the rapture of that moment until he said ‘jealous,’ and something struck me. I was like 27 or 28 and I’m thinking, ‘God is all. God is omnipresent. And God is also jealous? God is jealous of me?’ And something about that didn’t feel right in my spirit… and that is where the search for something more than doctrine started to stir within me.” That was a solidifying moment for me. I remember hearing that and finally realizing fully what my Dad had meant all those times.

To put it simply, Oprah’s misunderstanding of the definition of “jealousy” ultimately caused her to walk away from Scripture and, consequently, from the Gospel.

Now, why am I telling you this? I believe this principle applies when we read this extremely bold statement that Jesus makes in the Sermon on the Mount: “You therefore must be perfect, as Your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). At first glance, it seems like Jesus is calling us to lead perfect lives – sinless lives – just like our Heavenly Father. But why would He say this? Hasn’t Jesus called us, and specifically New City Church, to the idea of rest? How are we supposed to lead sinless lives with a fallen nature? Doesn’t this idea seem to contradict the Scriptures?

In many instances Scripture addresses this idea. Romans 3:23 states, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Once again, in Isaiah 64, it states, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”

So the question begs to be asked: What did Jesus mean by “perfect,” and how can we reconcile all these things?

If we look at the definition of the word “perfect” in the Greek (“τέλειος” or “telos”) it is defined as follows: “Brought to its end, finished; wanting nothing necessary to completeness; of mind and character; one who has reached the proper height of virtue and integrity.” This seems to suggest that this idea of “perfection” has less to do with a lack of sin and more to do with a level of maturity that Christ is calling us to. When we look at how this Greek word is used in other places in the New Testament, it seems that this latter definition proves more fitting. Here are some examples:

  • 1 Corinthians 14:20: Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.
  • Colossians 1:28: Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
  • Hebrews 5:14: But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
  • 1 John 4:18: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

Furthermore, in order for us to understand what Jesus meant by “perfect,” we must look at the context in which this phrase is placed.  Matthew 5:43-48 says

Jesus teaching the crowds in his Sermon on the Mount:

Jesus teaching the crowds in his Sermon on the Mount

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus is not merely calling us to a general maturity in this instance, but is requiring of us that we learn how to love in a way that goes beyond selfishness. In the same way that the Father gives rain and sunshine both to the righteous AND the wicked, we are asked to pray for, serve, love, and acknowledge not only those who we enjoy being around, but in fact our enemies! I believe this is a call to love not only those who directly oppose us, but also the guy at work who drives us crazy, the coach who said hurtful things in the past, and the neighbor who has a different political opinion. If we are only capable of loving those who are convenient to love, we must ask ourselves if our love has been matured and completed, or if we are lacking. This perfected love that Jesus speaks of is a love that is unselfish, uncompromised, and unbiased.  It does not love out of reaction, and it is not contingent upon how others treat us.

When we remember that while we were still enemies of Jesus, He was bruised, beaten, and crucified for us (Rom 5:10), we will be persuaded by the Holy Spirit to seek out our own enemies and to show them the mercy which we have been shown. My prayer for us is that by the grace of God we therefore will learn how to be perfected and matured in our love just as our Heavenly Father is perfected and matured in love.

 

Questions for us to wrestle with:

1) How can I go out of my way to love someone whom I normally would not this week?

2) When, in my own life, have I been shown love when I didn’t deserve it?

3) How is the Lord calling me to seek out and serve my enemies?

 

Melody Hickey, New City Stories Contributor 

Love of a Lion, Love of a Lamb

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!’ ”  Revelation 5:11-12 (NRSV)

How does the Church love in a world with so many opposing views of what love should look like?  We see some who say that love can be boiled down to telling the truth and demanding that everyone lives up to its standard.  There are others who say genuine love is letting people live their lives however they see fit, no matter the consequences.  The problem with these options is that truth without grace becomes cold and indifferent to the experiences of others, while grace divorced from truth dissolves into a kind of whimsical feeling shifting from one day to the next. We need to be a Church that enters into this world upholding both grace and truth.

But how?  Well, we can start by clinging to the One that is full of both.

John 1:14 says that “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory…full of grace and truth” (NASB).  Word became flesh.  Grace and truth.  It is no accident that John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, chooses these words to describe Jesus.  They are apparent contradictions, seemingly irreconcilable with each other.  How can this person be completely full of both “grace” and “truth”?  It is precisely in this tension that we begin to uncover the beautiful mystery of divine love.

But what, exactly, does this “divine love” look like?

Fortunately for us, Jesus provides us with tangible examples of this divine love throughout his life as recorded in the gospels. Here are just a few of these examples:

  • Jesus drives out merchants from the temple with all the force of a fanatic (Mt. 21:12-13) and then turns around to show compassion and heal the lame and the blind (Jn. 5:7-9).
  • Jesus, with a mighty word, calms the screaming winds and the towering waves (Mk. 4:35-41), but finds himself speechless when weeping with his closest friends (Jn. 11:35).
  • Jesus scolds the religious leaders of his day with all of the conviction of a prophet (Mt. 23:33), but is also willing to converse with a Pharisee under the cloak of night (Jn. 3:1-21).  
  • Jesus, the same one who on the mountainside became transfigured in radiant glory (Lk. 9:28-36) was somehow able to forgive those who tortured and mocked him (Lk 23:34).
  • Jesus, the King of the Cosmos (Rev. 19:16), the second person in the divine community (Jn. 10:30), and the promised Messiah (Is. 9:6-7) finds himself forsaken and alone on the cross struggling for every breath (Matthew 27).

As we study the constellation of events, teachings, and actions throughout Jesus’ life, a pattern of divine love begins to emerge.

In Jesus we see the fullness of grace and the fullness of truth exist without tension. This kind of paradoxical love transcends all of our earthly categories, it breaks into our feeble constructs and completely transforms everything it touches.  In Jesus we have our answer to the problem  of having to choose between one good thing at the expense of the other.  Jesus, fully God and fully man, showed us that in him all beauty and goodness can exist together in perfect harmony. Grace and truth, justice and compassion, rest and action, all of these things find their fullest expression in the life and love of Jesus.  

Artwork by Hubert Van Eyck

To help us understand this more clearly, John in Revelation 5 provides a beautiful picture of this divine love.  He describes his vision of the angels searching for the one who is able to break the seal of the scrolls that hold within them all of mysteries of God and His Truth.  Then one of the elders tells John to not worry because “the Lion of the tribe of Judah… has conquered” and will be able to accomplish what no one else can do.  But when John looks around for this “Lion,” he instead sees “a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered” taking the scrolls with authority and power.  What a breathtaking picture.  The logic of divine love, which is the wisdom of God, tells us that the fierce power of the Lion finds its ultimate expression through the humble state of a sacrificed Lamb. 

And here is where we enter the picture, Church: It is precisely because we are in relationship with Jesus, who mysteriously holds all these things together, that we are compelled to do the same.  We too have this very same love because we are in Christ and Christ is in us (2 Cor. 13:5). By virtue of Christ’s presence in our lives, we carry this divine love wherever we go. We need Christ Himself to indwell us with His Spirit so that we may carry the fullness of truth and grace into the world.  This means we do not have to choose between our convictions and our compassion but instead we allow them, through Christ, to inform who we are and what we do in this world.  Is this not the Gospel message that we are both saved from our sins by God’s grace and are now called to live in His truth?  Does Jesus not, after saving the adulterous woman from death by stoning then tell her to “go and sin no more”? 

So, as the Church, we must reject the ultimatums of our world outright.  We cannot subscribe only to grace or truth, to only compassion or justice, to only us or them.  We have a better answer, the only answer: The Love of the Lion and of the Lamb.

So this day, this week, and for the rest of your lives abide in Jesus Christ and let his perfect love transform all of who you are.  The world desperately needs it.  

 

Mike Terry, New City Stories Contributor 

 

(Featured Image artwork: The Sacrificial Lamb by Josefa de Ayala)

New City’s Heartbeat: Our Core Values and Questions

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Matthew 11:28 NRSV

When my wife Kristin and I heard God’s call to plant New City Church here in Lexington, we specifically heard God call us to begin a community marked by rest.  As we developed this vision and listened for God’s intent in and for our ministry, we landed on four core values of Love, Rest, Risk, and Send that we utilize to lead all of our decision making. I believe that not only knowing who we are (landing our core values) is essential but that these specific DNA markers have been God ordained for ministering to our context. I have seen unconditional “love” draw hurting and burnt people into our community, “rest” attract exhausted and performing Bible-belt Christians, “risk” free us up to think outside the box, and “send” get tested early in our lifetime as we are generous to other churches and as we look to plant new expressions.

New City Church

As I personally continue to wrestle with these 4 markers of New City Church, I asked myself some questions about the foundation of this community of God. I share these with you so you can marinate in what your community is built on; you can utilize these questions in a huddle, during your quiet time journaling or praying, or even in a conversation with another New City family member. Here they are:

            Love                               

  • What is the root of my love for others?
  • How is my love expanding the hospitality in my life?
  • How is my love speaking dignity into everyone around us?
  • How am I complicating loving others? How have I simplified and missed out on loving someone in a unique way?
  • Who is someone in my life I’m not excited to love on right now?

            Rest

  • How do I rest well?
  • Where in my life am I competing, comparing, or striving?
  • What do I see God creating in my life? How can I partner in what He is creating instead of stirring something up myself?
  • How am I living in the reality of abiding as portrayed in John 15?
  • How am I experiencing the truth of rest taught in Matthew 11:28-30?

            Risk

  • Where in my life am I quick to “play it safe” or choose comfortability?
  • Who might God be asking me to risk on?
  • What is something I am holding as a “sacred cow” that I might need to risk and give up?
  • What question do I not want to be asked OR need to answer that I might need to engage in?
  • How am I engaging in dark, risky areas in our community?
  • What do I see the Spirit leading me into that freaks me out?

            Send

  • How does my life express the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:16-20?
  • How am I celebrating sending in this season?
  • Do I live a “commissioned” lifestyle?
  • How can I be radically generous this season?
  • How could I be a part of New City’s sending in this season?

My prayer is that you would grow in ownership, understanding, and comfortability with these concepts as you dive into them. My desire is that our entire community, every brother and sister, would make these their own as we partner in ministry together in 2018.

Zach Meerkreebs, New City Church Head Planter 

The Shepherds: Advent Week Three

When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;  and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.” – Luke 2:17-18  (NRSV)

If you remember, we began this Advent blog series exploring this question of why, exactly, God would invite us feeble, fickle, and fallen creatures into the climax of His grand narrative; namely, the Incarnation.  We first looked at how God invited Mary, a teenage virgin leading a quiet and humble life, to carry in her womb the promised Messiah. The next week we studied John the Baptist and how God placed a special calling on His life to “prepare the way” for the cosmos-altering ministry of Jesus.  Both of these examples prepare our hearts not only through foreshadowing the Messiah to come, but by providing us a glimpse into our own roles in God’s story of redemption.

However, there is another group in the story surrounding Jesus’ birth that gives us an even clearer grasp of God’s radical invitation and His infinite heart for us: The Shepherds.

Luke’s gospel records for us in 2:8-20 that a host of angels appear to a group of shepherds in the fields at night in order to unveil the good news that would echo on for eternity: “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (NRSV).  These words are familiar.  I remember listening to them repeated every year as a child at the Christmas Eve service, followed by the exciting candlelight ceremony where we would inevitably sing “O, Holy Night” and I would wonder if the sprinkler system would go off.

Let’s not let our familiarity with these words strip away the immensely crucial message behind them: God loves to include the excluded.

You see, shepherds at this time were very much outcasts.  They were considered a “despised” class of people.  For one, they were considered ceremonially unclean.  Due to their constant exposure to dirty sheep, animal carcasses, and all that comes with living on the far edge of society, shepherds could not meet the standards of ritual purity needed for access into the Temple.[1]  This is no small matter.  In Jewish culture, since being ceremonially unclean cut you off from worship in the Temple, it consequently cut shepherds off from access to God since He “resided” in the Temple.  Secondly, shepherds were considered untrustworthy because of their low position on the social ladder, making the testimony of a shepherd unreliable and thus prohibiting them from being able to testify in the local courts. This essentially meant that a shepherd had no access to legal rights.[2]  Lastly, because the work of a shepherd entailed leading a flock to distant pastures in order to graze, shepherds were constantly on the move away from society and community.  Shepherds were an isolated lot without much access to the benefits that come from having a network of family and friends.

Shepherds had no access to God in the Temple, no access to the law in the courts, and little access to community in homes or neighborhoods.  I can imagine shepherds sitting on top of the hills surrounding Jerusalem looking down on the city, longing for participation, connection, and relationship. They are the epitome of those “on the outside looking in.”

Yet, yet.  In an act that completely upends the elitist and exclusive standards of Israel’s culture, God decides to send His angelic heralds of the greatest message human ears have ever received to these excluded ones first.  And not only does God allow the lowly Shepherds to be the first to hear the good news, but He entrusts His mission to them to spread this news.  Do you see how radical this is?  Can’t you just feel the heart of God at work?  God bypasses the trivial and misguided barriers that we humans construct in order to include the lonely ones and invite them into major roles in the greatest Story that could ever be told.

It is absolutely fitting that God would invite the shepherds, the ones that typified being on the outside looking in, to be the catalyst for the news of Jesus’ birth.  Jesus, God’s love incarnate, is the one to establish a new kingdom where the last are now first (Mt. 20:16), where the poor and lame are invited to the King’s banquet (Lk. 14:13), and where the meek now inherit the earth (Mt. 5:5).  The inclusion of the shepherds in Luke’s gospel previews this new Kingdom where God’s love subverts all of our feeble standards and establishes a new economy of grace for all.

We cannot let the familiarity of this story keep us from recognizing and reflecting on the reality that God has a deep, mountain-moving, cross-bearing, veil-tearing kind of love for those on the outside looking in  because this is the very same love that would prompt God to become man.

During this last week of Advent as we prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming and reflect on how God is inviting us into His great drama, let us not forget God’s heart for the “shepherds.” Let us at New City, as citizens of this new Kingdom where God’s gracious love reigns through Jesus, reflect and act on what it means to be first in inviting the outcast and first to entrust God’s message to the one on the outside looking in. Most importantly, if you yourself feel like you are on the outside looking in, remember that God is longing after you, eager and excited to include you in His great Story; so much so that He sent His Son to rescue you, embrace you, and to become your friend.  If we accept this invitation, we will join the shepherds in “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.”

 

Mike Terry, New City Stories Contributor

 

[1] Morris, Leon. Luke an Introduction and Commentary. Inter-Varsity Press, 1983, 84-85.

[2] Morris, Leon, 84-85.