For the City

For the City: Proclaiming and Living Out the Gospel by Darin Patrick and Matt Carter

For the City: Proclaiming and Living Out the Gospel by Darin Patrick and Matt Carter

This book is written well. The styles of both authors blend together smoothly. In the Foreword, the aim of their writing is plain. They know that the church is about God and sometimes leadership worries more about what the congregation thinks. They challenge anyone seeking to live, share, or promote the gospel to keep in mind that “no one is keeping score” (12). It is “not about getting it perfectly right.” This resonates with my own understanding and experience in my research as a student and minister. Perfection has never been the aim, but rather faith seeking understanding. The authors reiterate this later in the book as well.

In the Preface, the authors share what they believe church is all about. What ultimately makes a great church? One in which “Jesus Christ is found in word and deed” (13).

The first part of this book is a drawing and engaging read. I couldn’t put it down. Patrick and Carter share their experiences starting out life and early ministry. Though the stories are concise, they do not leave out the experiences we all have with those less-than-great choices we’ve made. Both authors share in a way that is heartfelt and humorous.

Carter shares the differences between models of doing Church that are IN the city, AGAINST the city, OF the city, or FOR the city. In the latter perspective, the church’s focus is seeking shalom for the city in which they live; utilizing all resources, gifts, time, and money. Patrick shares how bringing church to those who felt more spiritual than religious garnered criticism from all sides but yet brought the gospel in an effective way to those who desired the truth.

The next section has the meat of both their experience and model for ministry. An important discussion is centered on contextualization. This is maintaining a balance of sharing a culturally relevant gospel, but staying clear of a gospel of relativism or sectarianism. It is one that communicates the gospel in a way the local culture can understand without watering it down to appease or seclude the church by extremely conservative views. I loved the comment that the internal problem with all of us is “the heart’s worship of anything other than God” (79).

Something else very helpful was their discussion of community. “The perfect model that meets our longing for relationship…is found by looking vertically” (86). They share that God created us for relationship. Foremost, a relationship with him, and secondly, and also important, a relationship with others. The example they use is that after Adam was created, God gave him a helper equal with him. It was not good for Adam to be alone. He was incomplete. They advised not to “go it alone” or separate from the culture (99): two important take aways from this very good chapter.

No missional or church-planting book would be complete without a chapter dedicated to equipping leaders to go out and minister, and outlining the different ways they have experienced meeting the needs of the community. This was good information and practical advise. But the section that followed was empowering. The idea is of suffering.

How would we have responded to some of the horrific ways in which early Christians suffered? Some were strewn up on poles and burned as torches for Emperor Nero’s pleasure. They were made examples of for those who would dare to go against the emperor. But yet another part of suffering is the hurtful experiences and twists in the lives of those coming in the church doors. Jesus is our model for suffering well and if we will follow him it means denying self (143). The authors included examples of godly suffering and how the church lovingly and sacrificially responded.

True to form, both authors again allow the reader to peer into their hearts when they share failures and expose sin they were struggling with. Great leaders have discovered this: being real and open leads to followers who are real and open. As difficult as this is to do, sharing such stories motivates others to overcome areas in their own lives and trust that their leaders are actually human. They mess up like the rest of us! Who would have thought? There is credibility that comes out of sharing one’s struggles because those who listen can resonate and feel more comfortable exposing their own.

The book concludes with some remarks about Jonah. He too was called into a difficult place and a ministry he otherwise would have thought was never going to succeed. But he ultimately went where God called him, however imperfectly, and was more successful than he thought possible because there was a move of God. It wasn’t about Jonah.

I recommend this book. It is not only for church planters or leaders. It is written well, thoughtful, and helpful on many levels. I will leave you with one quote from the end:

“A church for its city is willing to dream big and take scary risks because the God who began a good work in and through the church is the God who will use the church to bless cities, nations, and the entire world” (177).

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For the Love of Family

Trena Bolden Fields

For Love: Memoirs by Trena Bolden Fields

This is an encouraging piece of writing that reveals intimate stories that express love and life lessons learned. All the stories are enjoyable and resonate with some aspect from our own up-bringing. One particular story moved me, called “For Love.” In it Trena Bolden Fields tells of when she hurt her ankle while receiving what we used to call a “buck” ride on our bicycles. At the doctor, she had to receive treatment by alcohol being poured on her wound. Her mom told her to grab her hand and squeeze when it hurts. At the end of the story, Trena said that she “squeezed her hand so hard that [she] could see [her mom] wincing in pain” (14).

It made me think about real friendship; those who share the pain of life with us and make such lasting impressions. As a Christian, this reminds me of when God sent his son who suffered in the same way as we do. He took on the life of a servant in order that he might be a friend to many. He took the nails at the cross in order that mankind may be redeemed. Our suffering is cut short because he took the pain. Many of the author’s stories demonstrate this kind of love and intimacy such as going through life together.

When we go through life truly loving others it will cost us a little pain in order to take away some of theirs. Trena’s story of her mother taking some of the pain with her daughter is exemplary. We need more stories like her’s to encourage us that love never fails when it endures. I thank Mrs. Bolden Fields for taking the time to share her stories. It’s a short piece that is well worthy of a read.

Trena has a website with her work and her life coaching here.

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Why Do We Sin After Baptism? The Response of Methodius

Methodius is praised by many ancient Christian writers. He was bishop of Olympus and Patara. He removed to Phoenicia during the latest great persecutions of the Church and was martyred in Greece.

I happened upon his view of why we sin after baptism and thought it was worthy of sharing. It is found in the Latin original, “De Resurrectio” in Migne Patrologia Graeca or in the English translation, “The Resurrection,” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers

So why do we sin after baptism if at baptism and the receiving of the Holy Spirit we are regenerated? Isn’t it at that time that we repent and become washed anew in Christ? Why do we still struggle with sin?

“For while the body still lives, before it has passed through death, sin must also live with it, as it has its roots concealed within us, even though it be externally checked by the wounds inflicted by corrections and warnings; since, otherwise, it would not happen that we do wrong after baptism, as we should be entirely and absolutely free from sin.” I.V.

Methodius argued that sin is rooted in our bodies. Until death, sin remains in our flesh. We struggle against it each day. As times goes on, sin becomes more and more lulled to sleep by our faith. That is if we restrain its sprouts and evil imaginations to choke out those roots of bitterness.

An example he gives is that of the potter in Jeremiah 18:2-4. The original pot was broken and refashioned into a new pot without blemish. This, Jeremiah wrote, is what God is doing with Israel. The pot that has blemishes must be broken in order that it may be restored to perfection.

Paul tells believers to consider themselves dead (Rom 6). It is by this means that we put to sleep the works of the flesh. By considering it dead, we put to death its deeds. Though sin will rear its ugly head, we march on in victory against it until the day of the final consummation of all believers: the day we are renewed and resurrected over it forever.

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When I Rise

When I rise, take me over
I have nothing else to do
My planners open
A few loose leafs too

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It’s Yours

To be in Your kingdom evermore
Please accept my life it’s Yours
Dedicated to be
A faithful, praising type of breed

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He Knows The Way

Don’t you worry, He knows the way
Don’t be afraid, He’s been here before
If we don’t rush, we’ll see the way
Don’t be afraid, He knows the way

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Fullness of Joy from Anselm

I was reading Helmut Thielicke’s, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians. Theilicke mentioned the medition and prayer of Anselm at the end of his, Proslogion: 

I pray, 0 God, to know you, to love you, that I may rejoice in you. And if I cannot attain to full joy in this life may I at least advance from day to day, until that joy shall come to the full. Let the knowledge of you advance in me here, and there be made full. Let the love of you increase, and there let it be full, that here my joy may be great in hope, and there full in truth. Lord, through your Son you do command, nay, you do counsel us to ask; and you do promise that we shall receive, that our joy may be full. I ask, O Lord, as you do counsel through our wonderful Counsellor. I will receive what you do promise by virtue of your truth, that my joy may be full. Faithful God, I ask. I will receive, that my joy may be full. Meanwhile, let my mind meditate upon it; let my tongue speak of it. Let my heart love it; let my mouth talk of it. Let my soul hunger for it; let my flesh thirst for it; let my whole being desire it, until I enter into your joy, O Lord, who are the Three and the One God, blessed for ever and ever. Amen.

*Translation taken from Fordham University, XXVI


Anselm’s prayer reminds me of the emphasis Pastor John Piper makes regarding our complete satisfaction as we are satisfied in Christ or Pastor Greg Boyd’s emphasis on satisfaction progressing in this life but truly reaching its fulfillment in the next.

The Lord not only invited us to come to Him, but also empowered us to do so; that our joy may be complete. We do not hunger to simply be hungry. We hunger that we may eat! To remain hungry is not a God-given design. If we then hunger and thirst for righteousness, we will eat and drink it in! He who has the full supply of righteousness is not reluctant to give it to us.

What then do we eat at a feast of righteousness?

He will grow our compassion for the poor and needy, to vindicate the afflicted, to deliver them from oppressors (Psalm 72). To give without expecting a return, to walk blamelessly, speak truthfully, stay committed to our oaths, and do no evil toward our neighbor (Psalm 15). We will become a father to those who have none and look into the case of strangers (Job 29:11-17). These are the attributes of the righteous because they have the righteousness of God. What loving acts of kindness are these! When we realize we are loved by Him, we become free to direct that same type of love outwardly. Like a child, one doesn’t know how to love without an example. One can’t love if one doesn’t know what love is. How can you love without being loved? So then we draw near to the God of love and His righteousness that we may become proper image-bearers of our creator.

I think if we take the type of perspective shown in Anselm’s writing and incorporate into our own walk of faith, we will realize those things we desire. That to know Him is the beginning and completion of all satisfaction.

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From Tattoos to Fruit

I’m fond of tattoos. I don’t have any, but I think that well-done ink is artistic. It can be a reflection of who we are, what we’re about, or our experiences. I was recently reminded of them because of an article about the discovery of women’s tattoos in ancient Egypt posted by Dr. Claude Mariottini. I thought of Leviticus 19:28:

“You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord” (ESV).

The prohibition against tattoos in this verse comes directly after the reference to making marks on the body “for the dead.” In the study of Scripture, an important thing to keep in mind is placement. Order does not always matter for direct interpretation, but it does for emphasis.

We know that in ancient Egypt, most of their rituals were not to communicate moral teaching but were intended to bring magical or spiritual protection. The Israelite prohibition was likely directed toward this type of practice of making marks on the body to ward off the dead. This was essentially then, an idolatrous practice.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he tells us that we are no better  or worse off if we eat or do not eat (1Cor 8:8). Food itself has no power to commend us to God. However, he warns not to let our freedom in Christ cause another to stumble. Just because we have that knowledge, it does not mean that others do. We need to manage perceptions.

So then, each must manage the dictates of his or her own heart. The Israelites were commanded to refrain because those who were doing this practice around them were doing it to worship idols.

That context makes a difference. Jesus said that the Law and the prophets all hang on this: to love the Lord God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength (Mat 22:37; Mar 12:30; Luk 10:27). The rules or commands were given to keep Israel holy: giving their undivided attention to YHWH. If anything gets in the way of this, we are to refrain from it.

So whatever you do, do it as unto the Lord. And if you refrain, refrain as unto the Lord. Be respectful of the conclusions that others make in their honoring of the Lord.

What about fruit?

This refresher has led me to an inspiring observation on fruit. As I was looking at commentaries about this verse, I came across Dr. Ephraim Radner’s Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Leviticus. Prior to the verse on body markings, the 19th chapter of Leviticus builds a case for holiness as divine fruitfulness. The prohibition against eating the fruit of a tree during the first 3 years is the same Hebrew word for “uncircumcision.” The command was not to eat of the uncircumcised or forbidden fruit until it had become circumcised. Odd, but interesting. Radner makes the following connection:

“Holiness is the work of creation, the giving of life. By the same token, the works of creation-which are bound to the ordering of fluids and family, of mutual care and trust-are, in their derivation from God’s self-offering, sanctifying…Many of the more obvious laws enumerated here-obvious in the sense of their assumed moral substance-fall within this same current of divine sharing of life, which once embraced becomes a profound change in the character of the obedient follower of God” (pp. 210; 212)”

The partaking of the fruit before it had reached its 5th year was like serving the wine before its time, so-to-speak. If anyone has tried to start an apple tree, you know that the first fews years’ fruit should not be eaten. The fruit is too bitter. It’s not ready for consumption. So in terms of God’s community, the uncircumcised represent a potential threat to dividing our attention away from God. The point is not physical circumcision but spiritual: a circumcision of the heart. The act of waiting or circumcision was one of faith: separation. The very acts are sanctifying. When we take time out to wait upon the Lord, we are doing an act of sanctification.

The proper ordering of life can even begin with such mundane tasks. How the community of believers structures life has an impact on their very character. Starting with what we call “white lies” eventually leads to slander (Lev 19:15); a little unrestrained anger leads to disdain of neighbors (Lev 19:16) and so on.

Not every reason behind a prohibition in the Old Testament is easy to understand. Some simply require to be taken by faith. That faith leads to “profound change in the character of the obedient.” We may not always understand what comes our way in life, but through acting on faith we reap the perfect work that intends to shape our character and sanctify us.

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Hope Deferred

Hope fuels us. It is with hope that we look toward some future blessing or achievement. Ultimately, it is our hope in Christ that counts us among the faithful. Without hope, we lose momentum, motivation, desire, and our joy while we are distracted and pulled away. 

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,

but a desire fulfilled is ia tree of life.”

Proverbs 13:12, ESV

But as we hold onto hope, it does not disappoint. It is with patience that endurance meets its fulfillment. Consider what Wardlaw says in his classic commentary on Proverbs:

“We have the case of Abraham in regard to God’s promise. O ! the timewas long! The delay looked strange. And, although his faith did not fail, yet at times his spirit seems to have felt the encroaching weariness of protracted waiting without any appearance of fulfillment…Whither, in all cases, under the pressure of “hope deferred,” shall we look? Whither but to our gracious God! He is the source, and He alone, of resignation and comfort, of patience and strength” (Ralph Wardlaw, The Book of Poverbs, 1861). 

When hope is defered, cling to He who has shown to be faithful. Be couragious. Do not be afraid. He who watches over you never slumbers. He is with us always, even to the end of the age.

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How Does Perfect Love Cast Out Fear?

*It would be helpful to read 1John 4 prior to this discussion. Quotes are from the ESV.

God is love. We are told in 1John 4:8. He showed His love in the sending of and through the life of Christ. We are also told in 1John 4:18, that perfect love casts out fear because fear has to do with punishment. We fear at times because we expect chastisement: a looming reckoning, so to speak. How do we then apply love in a way that casts out fear? This doesn’t seem to paint the same picture about our relationship to God as Jonothan Edward’s sermon, Sinners in the hands of an angry God.  

Fear is presented as a threat to love. As a tactic, it cannot produce love. No one can be scared into heaven. Genuine love is not accompanied by fear. When Jesus appeared to John on the island of Patmos, he fell at his feet as though “dead” (Rev 1:17). John was humiliated by his human condition. John thought more about punishment than he did of love. We know this because John didn’t fall at his feet due to reverence. We are told otherwise (Jesus responded, “Fear not”).

Love is perfected through belief in Christ. Through our belief in Christ we believe in the love that God has for us (1John 4:16)! We are even confident concerning the day of judgment! This isn’t presumption. It is because fear dissolves in the face of perfect love. Fear comes due to the idea of a looming punishment. The idea resembles Romans 1:18 a lot:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

There is no condemnation to those who believe. This is the truth. That is why Jesus came! He died for our sins. A love that casts out fear is one that is placed wholly in Christ. We cannot say we believe and then not apply that belief. Disobedience produces fear and suppresses the truth. Once we disobey, we begin to walk out from that love. When that happens, we enter into the world of guilt and fear. God’s love is longsuffering. He is patient. He desires none to perish. When we return to that pefect love by repentance, fear is cast out. How do we then apply love in a way that casts out fear?

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. When love is perfected our momentary lapses in righteous decision-making lose power and bring fear to a screaching halt.

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