Jonathan Edwards on the Garden of Gethsemane

I have the privilege of teaching our church community this coming Sunday. We are working through a series called The Glory of the Cross and we’re studying Jesus’ last days on earth. My teaching will be centered on Jesus’ prayers to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. Matthew has the most detailed account in 26:36-42. Ever wondered what’s happening there? How can the Incarnate God be in such agony? Why does Jesus appear to want to bail on his mission, the very thing he knew he came to do? I am eager to answer that question for my church on Sunday night. I am convinced that what we see happening at Gethsemane gives us one of the most astounding portraits of our Savior. To grasp his agony is to behold his glory. And to grasp his agony is to be led to worship Him.

In my preparation, I have been blessed to read Jonathan Edwards’ sermon on the topic, titled Christ’s Agony (you can find it online through a Google search… beware it’s a little dense). Here are some quotes that have really helped me to understand what’s going on in Gethsemane.

The agony was caused by a vivid, bright, full, immediate view of the wrath of God. The Father, as it were, set the cup down before him… he now had a near view of that furnace into which he was about to be cast. He stood and viewed its raging flames and the glowing of its heat, that he might know where he was going and what he was about to suffer.

Christ was going to be cast into a dreadful furnace of wrath, and it was not proper that he should plunge himself into it blindfold, as not knowing how dreadful the furnace was. Therefore, that he might not do so, God first brought him and set him at the mouth of the furnace, that he might look in, and stand and view its fierce and raging flames, and might see where he was going, and might voluntarily enter into it and bear it for sinners, as knowing what it was. This view Christ had in his agony… Then he acted as knowing what he did; then his taking that cup, and bearing such dreadful sufferings, was properly his own act by an explicit choice; and so his love to sinners was the more wonderful, as also his obedience to God in it.

If just the taste and glimpse of these sufferings were enough to throw the eternal Son of God into shock, and to nearly kill him in the anticipation of them, what was the actual, full experience of those sufferings on the cross really like?

Powerful and humbling stuff. If you’re a Kent person, I hope to see you on Sunday night at 5:00 in Bowman Hall 133.

When vertical becomes horizontal

photoFor over two years, every week, with only a few exceptions, I have spent a couple hours talking life with Anthony Giambroni. Our relationship started with a vertical church leader/church member dynamic, but has over time has become a horizontal friend/friend relationship. For me, this is the goal for all mentoring relationships (though it is often elusive to attain). Anthony has become such a close friend that I forget he is nine years younger than me! He is a man of integrity and character. He seeks after the Lord. He desires the things of God. And I am thrilled he is joining full-time staff with h2o this summer! It’s been a privilege- one of my greatest since entering ministry- to be a part of his journey to maturity in Christ. I look forward to seeing how he continues to develop as a leader and servant in the years to come. I am blessed to share life with Anthony and other godly men who challenge me to greater faithfulness and service as a husband, dad, pastor, and friend.

On returning to seminary

Two years ago, I made the difficult decision to walk away from a full-tuition scholarship at Ashland Theological Seminary, having completed half of a Master of Divinity degree at that time (about 15 classes). The combination of two major life circumstances precipitated the decision. I was about to become a dad for the first time, and a dear friend who was dying of cancer had just moved to a town near Kent. The prospect of continuing graduate school, being a new dad, and being available to sick friend, all while still working at least 40 hours per week with the church, left me fearing I would not do any of  these things well. I took the feeling in my gut as motivation to seek God and His counsel for my life. I still wanted (very much) to continue in school. With great creativity and painstaking precision, I produced a schedule of how I could pull off all of these pursuits. Yet in prayer, time and time again, I sensed God asking me to let go of seminary. The other commitments were more important. To pursue all of them would cause all of them to suffer. And I would be left spiritually and emotionally bankrupt. And though, on the surface, giving up what would amount to about $24,000 of free education makes no sense, I knew in my heart it was exactly what God was asking me to do. So I did.

Last week I returned to seminary, this time taking only one class (God again provided a scholarship to cover the cost of this class). On the hour-long drive to Ashland, I couldn’t help but think back to the decision I made two years ago. I remembered the peace in my heart as I sat in the office of the seminary Dean to inform her of my decision. But I also remembered the sadness I felt at the forfeit of a tremendous blessing and a personal passion… the disappointment that comes when God rearranges the timetables we create for our lives. Yet I am absolutely convinced God’s will was done.

Now two weeks into seminary, I am realizing how much has changed since the last time I started seminary. Tiffany and I had no kids, we had just moved to Kent to plant a church, and I was serving as a regular staff member of the church. Now we have two kids, our church has been planted and has influence on campus, and I am a pastor with a great deal more responsibility in the church. I have realized this: The blessings of these realities so far outweigh the financial blessing of a scholarship.

Seminary, for me, has always been an exercise in humility. To learn about God is to experience God, and to experience God is to be humbled. Theology is not primarily an intellectual pursuit, it’s a deeply spiritual one. When that focus is lost, seminary becomes something terribly dangerous. Andrews Walls has said “Theology is an act of adoration fraught with the risk of blasphemy.” Theology demands humility. Not only is there a risk of blasphemy but worse there is a risk of spiritual pride, the myth of intellectual ascent to a place of superiority over the authors of Scripture, or even God himself. For me, having to surrender my passion for a season and focus my attention on more important matters has produced in me a humility that I pray guides and shapes my second round of seminary.


Introducing Eric Asp

About a month ago our church welcomed its newest members, the Asp family- Eric, Marci, Elliot, Olivia and Cor. The Asps spent the last 9+ years serving as missionaries (and Eric as a pastor) with a church in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. As Dutch leaders were trained and prepared to provide leadership of the church, Eric and Marci began praying about their next step in ministry. It was a tremendous honor to all of us in Kent when we got word that they would be moving here to join the staff team at h2o KSU. Eric maintains an impressive blog and had been faithfully writing there for years now. We thought it would be fun (and an easy way for me to get my blog up and running again) to interview each other for our blogs. The idea is simple: I ask him 3 questions and post his replies on my site; he asks me 3 questions and posts my replies on his site.

Here are my three questions and Eric’s answers:

What will you miss most about the city of Amsterdam? the people of Amsterdam? Up to this point, I’ve really noticed that I miss the bicycling culture of Amsterdam. The whole city – and even between cities – is set up for people on bicycle: their own traffic lanes, traffic lights, parking solutions, repair shops, etc. The flatness of the landscape in the Netherlands also makes that mode of transportation easy, efficient, and widespread. But more than the bicycles, the cafés, and the museums, what I really miss about Amsterdam is the friends that we made there: friends from our church, friends from our kids’ school, friends from our neighborhood. I could list dozens of names of the dearly-beloved people that we’ve left behind – but if I were to try and summarize their qualities in a more general way, I’d say that I’m going to miss their global perspective and their intellectual curiosity.

How did your time in Amsterdam affect your understanding of the Church (universal)? of mission? of the nature of God? Funny the way that you frame this question because I’d say that one of the biggest changes in my understanding of God, mission, and the Church was learning that these are all an integrated whole – and not three separate elements of the Christian experience. While working in the middle of one of the most liberally-minded, post-Christian, secularized cities in the world, I came to realize that God is (and has always been) on mission – actively reaching out to redeem the world He created in many different forms. He doesn’t wait for us to come to Him; He takes the initiative with us – and the ultimate fulfillment of this “redemption initiative” is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I knew this in an intellectual way before moving to Amsterdam, but somehow I feel that I experienced God’s redemption in a more complete way during my years there in the city. Consequently, I also started to think about the church a lot more as a group of people on mission. I started to realize that we in the church can’t always wait for seekers to come to us; rather we must go on their turf and meet them where they’re at, and I’d say this has been a pretty fundamental shift in the way I’ve come to understand Christian ministry.

Who is your favorite author (in any literary realm) and why? I want to say John Steinbeck (and I really do enjoy his writing) – but honestly, this is more of an answer that I would give if I was trying to increase my literary credibility. Truthfully, I think my favorite author is Douglas Coupland. I enjoy the way he thinks, the way he uses language, and the way he tells stories. They’re compelling and entertaining, but also meaningful and provocative. His collection of short stories, “Life After God” is one of my top-five books of all time.

The _____ of the gospel

For the past few years, my reading and thinking has focused on the nature of the gospel. Almost five years ago, I led a seminar for our soon-to-be church plant team on the topic “What is the Gospel?” My thought then was this: if we are moving to a new city to start a new church, we had better know the gospel. If we were to going to invest time and energy in any area, I said, it ought to be a robust understanding of a robust gospel. Too often church plants rely upon marketing strategies or cutting-edge ministry technique. Maybe because we knew we simply were not that cool or talented, we decided instead to get good at knowing and applying the gospel to the needs of our neighbors and our world.

For that seminar, I regurgitated D.A. Carson’s lecture also titled “What is the Gospel?” he delivered at the 2007 Gospel Coalition Conference. I typed 12 pages (single-spaced!) of notes as I listened to Carson exegete 1 Corinthians 15, drawing out 8 characteristics of the gospel and 5 accompanying truths of the gospel. My mind was blown by the depth and profundity of the “basic” message of Christianity. Many, but not all, of my lingering questions had been answered. I had struggled with how a neatly-packaged “here’s how you get to heaven” message held broader application to bigger issues in the world. What did “my gospel,” the message that gave me eternal life, have to do with child-soldiering in Uganda or human trafficking in Cambodia? What did “my gospel” have to do with the people of the Old Testament or the grand narrative of Scripture? Carson’s lecture launched me into a study into the nature of the gospel that is still going today.

In case you haven’t noticed, a spate of new literature has emerged on the topic. Big-name Christians are pumping out books with their rendition of the good news. Matt Chandler wrote The Explicit Gospel. JD Greear wrote The Gospel. Greg Gilbert wrote What is the Gospel? Scot McKnight wrote (my favorite) The King Jesus Gospel. And most recently Tim Keller and a group of leaders from the Gospel Coalition wrote The Gospel as Center. Christianity Today magazine just launched a five-year venture called The Global Gospel Project. Lifeway just rolled out their own The Gospel Project. That’s a lot of gospel, isn’t it?

Not shockingly, not everyone agrees on everything. The discussion is one I believe we must enter into. But it’s not what I am going to do here. What all of these authors agree upon is the fact that the gospel is bigger than our attempts to abbreviate it and more far-reaching than our attempts to package it. What I plan to do in the next few blog posts is highlight a few characteristics of the gospel. Truth be told, I recently had the privilege of teaching at a collegiate summer leadership program and my posts here will summarize my messages there. These teachings will become a sermon series our church will use in the fall titled “The _____ of the Gospel.” So, if nothing else, these blogs will help me to further develop the material. Stay tuned for the first in this series!