The most common way God’s people are referred to in the Bible other than “Israel" is those who belong to God’s kingdom. As Christians we believe in and worship Jesus as our God, King and Savior. This has personal as well as interpersonal implications. Both in our personal lives and in the way we see and relate to others has a lot to do with whether or not we are more interested in building and running our own kingdoms or the Kingdom of God.
I had this last Sunday off from preaching and our Associate Pastor who was preaching in my place encouraged me to go to another church in town to worship and learn from. As I sat down the night before to look up churches online to figure out where I would go, I was reminded of the heart God has given me for our city, the city of San Diego.
The year before we started The Resolved Church I took time to compile a list of all the churches in town and began to pray for them, desiring to unite with others for the sake of Jesus’ fame, glory and Kingdom advance in our city. Sadly, shortly after we began holding worship services I began to notice an evil, competitive aspiration in my heart thinking we were the best church in town who was finally doing it right while all the others had been failing miserably.
After a few years of “doing it right” and not yet reaching financial self-sustainability, I realized I was not some hero and that it would take more than just one church to reach San Diego. Since then I’ve worked hard to develop relationships with other pastors and churches in our city. It’s been a blessing to meet with and learn from so many incredible leaders who are doing great things in our city for Jesus. My prayer is that together we’d see the 3-4% of people who are Christians in our city double in the next twenty years.
Ecumenicism is the effort of Christians and churches to unite together for a greater purpose or cause. There are varying degrees of ecumenical energy. Some have sought unity even to the extent of compromising core Christian confessions. Others have banded together in city-wide events such as a crusade or service project. Where I’ve been able to connect with other pastors and churches has primarily been with church planters and influencers in San Diego who have a heart to see more people come to know Jesus.
Last Sunday I ended up at a fast growing church plant led by a friend of mine. I took down a whole page of notes in how they did everything and my experience there. It’s rare that I get to visit and enjoy another church I’m not speaking at, so it was fun to just show up and nobody know who I was except the pastor. While there were a few things we’ve committed to doing differently at our church, their love of God was evident as well as their very intentional effort to reach people. I learned a lot and have a whole list of ideas for potential things we could incorporate in our processes. I walked away grateful for their presence in our city.
When I comes down to it I think competition between churches and pastors is wrong and downright evil. Everything is about Jesus the King and pointing as many people as possible to Him. The hope and goal of my life is to always be about Jesus’ fame and Kingdom and not my own. And I’m so grateful for the pastors and churches in our city doing everything they can to win people to Him.
Reflections on “The Pastor”
by Eugene Peterson
Ch. 6 - The Treeless Christmas of 1939
When Eugene was seven years old his Bible loving mama came across a passage in the book of Jeremiah she thought was saying they were not supposed to have a Christmas tree. A couple things struck me about the way he told the story which is helping me learn how to look at my life with a Gospel shaped lens.
Peterson was an Old Testament and Hebrew expert, a professional scholar who was not only a college professor but also published at a high academic level. Yet in his whole recounting of the story, while acknowledging the comical aspects of his mother’s exegesis he honored her as a woman of the Word, doing her best to read the Bible and apply it to her life even when making difficult and unpopular decisions.
One of my biggest frustrations is people reading the Bible with an existential hermeneutic, where they interpret everything in light of their own personal experience. I find it frustrating because without any objective understanding or meaning it makes it nearly impossible to read the same book. Yet, there is something simple, sweet and powerful about the heart of a person who takes the Bible seriously and does what they think it says, even if their interpretation may be off. Sadly, those who often have a more sound understanding of the Scriptures are often cold toward God and unwilling to make significant changes in their lives in light of what it does instruct.
So which is worse? To run wild with your imagination and applications of what the book says or to be so careful and astute with its words that you are passionless and actionless? I’m not sure which is better, but I am sure it’s important to have grace for both types of people. Both the cold intellectual and the naive zealot need the same thing, the Savior who died on the best Christmas tree of all.
The first Christmas tree didn’t look like a tree. It had been cut down and chopped into two pieces of wood to hold up criminals nailed to its beams while they suffocated and bled out. But when the innocent Son of God was pinned to its beams, Christ turned it into a Christmas tree, so that sinners of all shapes and sizes might be given the gift of grace.
Eugene had grace not only for others but learned to see the story of God’s grace interwoven in the emotions he experienced while feeling like a wierdo in his town for not having a tree. He writes,
“The feelings that I had that Christmas when I was eight years old may have been the most authentically Christmas feelings I have ever had, or will have: the experience of humiliation, of being misunderstood, of being an outsider. Mary was pregnant out of wedlock. Joseph was an apparent cuckold. Jesus was born in poverty. God had commanded a strange word; the people in the story were aware, deeply and awesomely aware, that the event they were living was counter to the culture and issued from the Spirit's power.”
One of the most difficult things I’ve had to reconcile in my life is the very untypical childhood I had. My dad was a traveling preacher, so I would be in school for a few weeks at a time and then often gone for months at a time while my mom homeschooled me on the road. The most difficult part of the whole thing wasn’t the long boring trips stuck in the back of a blue two door 1976 Buick Regal but when I got home and had to go back to school. Everyone had their friends and I was always on the outside. I was the weirdo who was in and out, never there long enough to play sports and whose parents couldn’t afford the Air Jordans everyone else was wearing.
Perhaps more than I’ve realized, what I lived was a gift of God allowing me to peer a bit into the kind of life the Savior lived in being a poor outsider, who was yet blessed and called by God for a special and important task. There is something powerful about looking at our own lives and stories through the lens of the Gospel. It not only redeems some of the hard and difficult things of our past but helps us to see the magnitude of who King Jesus is and what He went through for us. And…over the years I’ve learned it’s often in the most challenging things God’s Spirit is doing deep and miraculous kingdom work. May He continue to do His work in me and in you.