Category Archives: Church

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.

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!

On becoming a pastor

A confession: being a Christian is still unnatural to me. Ten years of walking with Jesus has not yet eroded the bewilderment I feel over my own conversion. There is still an enduring and awkward astonishment I feel about my journey to faith. From the vantage point of this world, I am an unlikely believer. I remember, as a new campus missionary meeting with potential donors from my hometown, I needed to spend as much time legitimizing my own conversion as sharing about the ministry to which I sensed God calling me. The people weren’t rude. They were just surprised (like me). I wasn’t from the right family. I didn’t have the right church background. I didn’t have the proper training or education. What I had instead was a story.

I had a story of God meeting me in pages of Scripture as I read the New Testament over and over as a lost and restless high schooler. A story of God showing me the emptiness of my pursuits as a college freshman. A story of God giving me the words to say as I prayed a prayer of surrender beside my bed- a prayer that I knew would change the trajectory of my life. A story of God leading me to exchange my dreams of status and significance for a calling to obscurity and servanthood (in ministry). All I had was a story.

On Sunday night, during our worship service, as I watched a video of my wife and closest friends affirming my calling to be a pastor, and I heard godly men speak of my qualification for the role, the shock and bewilderment rose up within me again. I thought: “Really? Me? A pastor? I don’t have the right past, the right training, the right pedigree.” A part of me wanted to resist the affirmation, deny it, explain it away. And so as I sat there I struggled to embrace the encouragement as coming not primarily from these people but from God himself.

Then I remembered the story. I thought back to the undeniable work God has done in my life. I recalled the transformation of my soul that has unfolded over the last ten years. And I remembered that I lay claim to none of that work. That change was not precipitated by me and it is not sustained by me. From eternity past God wrote the story of my life. He shares none of my bewilderment and shock and awkwardness. The decision to follow Christ. The decision to join h2o church as a college senior. The decision to join staff. The decision to join a church plant to Kent State. It all was orchestrated by God before any of it came to pass. So why do I feel what I do? Here is my best answer: Because the call to follow Christ is a call to become like Christ, the tension will always remain. What I am becoming is not what I am (or was). It’s something (actually, someone) outside of myself, utterly different. God’s aim is not to clean me up and make me look a little more presentable to Him; it’s to make Jesus come alive through me. This is why Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

Jesus said that to find life, you must lose it (Matthew 10:39). Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:10, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed through our body.” As long as the Father is making me like the Son by the power of the Spirit, the awkwardness and tension will remain. I am daily dying to myself so that Jesus may shine through. This will always be unnatural, for though I am new in Christ, the remnants of the old persist. The in-breaking of the new (Jesus) will always be a shock (and an offense) to the old. The extent of the transformation God wants to work is so great that it will always be unnatural to us. We, who are mortal and broken and sinful, are called to become like the One who is immortal, perfect, and glorious.

God gets glory when He looks at us and sees his Son- even if in incomplete and broken fashion. I felt appropriately humbled at my ordination service as I remembered that it is Christ himself who has written the story of my life. And he hasn’t just written it. He is it. In the end it’s not a story about me; it’s a story of a God who humbly shares himself with us. For now, we are like him in only a fractured, not-yet-finished way, but someday in a complete and glorious way… the day we see him face-to-face. (1 John 3:2).

Foolishness to the Greeks

Lesslie Newbigin is my hero. If I could travel back in time and study under any one person within the history of Christianity, I would choose Newbigin. Weird, right? Why not someone famous like Calvin or Luther? Or one of those Great Awakening heroes like Jonathan Edwards or George Whitefield? Or someone old-school like Augustine or Origen? I love (I really do) reading all these men. Their respective influences upon Christianity are immeasurable and unceasing. But I would choose a guy who is practically unknown by most Christians. A guy who was alive just 13 years ago. Lesslie Newbigin was the jack of all trades. Missionary. Theologian. Author. Ecumenist. Pastor. What I most admire about this man was his ability to both describe our modern culture with a piercing and penetrating discernment and prescribe an intelligent way forward for the church on mission. His life bore witness to his unyielding belief in the power of the gospel to transform a culture. And long before it was trendy to use the word “missional” Newbigin was calling the Western church to repent of its spiritual apostasy and indifference toward mission. He saw mission as not merely an activity of the church, but rather as primarily the activity of God, flowing out from the very nature and character of the trinitarian God.

A few years ago, my friend Mark gave me a book authored by Newbigin. It’s titled Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel & Western Culture. Newbigin’s intention is this: to “consider what would be involved in a genuinely missionary encounter between the gospel and modern Western culture.” He explains with brilliance the effect of post-Enlightenment modernity upon the work of mission, then casts vision for Scripture speaking directly to this culture. Near the end of the book, he deals with the role of the church in this modern/postmodern world. Before prescribing 7 answers, he sets up the situation with these words:

A private religion of personal salvation that did not challenge the public ideology was perfectly safe under Roman law, as it is safe under ours. On these terms the church of the first three centuries could have flourished under the rule of Caesar precisely as this kind of evangelicalism flourishes under protection of our kind of society. But the authentic gospel cannot accept this kind of relegation… To make disciples is to call and equip men and women to be signs and agents of God’s justice in all human affairs. An evangelism that invites people to accept the name of Christ but fails to call them to this real encounter must be rejected as false.

But how is this to happen? How, in practice, is the church to challenge our culture in its public as well as its private aspects in the name of Christ? What kind of churchmanship will enable us so to preach the gospel that men and women are called to be disciples in the fullest sense- men and women and children whose personal and corporate life is a sign, instrument, and foretaste of God’s kingly rule over all creation and all nations? How, in particular, are we to do this, we who are sent not to one of the ancient world religions but to a society nourished in its deepest roots by a Christian tradition but governed in its explicit assumptions by a pagan ideology? And how can we be missionaries to this modern world, we who are ourselves part of this modern world?

These are the essential questions we must wrestle with as we have now come to realize that Christendom has disintegrated. Rather than lament the fact that America has become pagan and secular, we ought to embrace the missionary situation as an opportunity to boldly proclaim and embody the gospel afresh. Newbigin answers his questions above with what he calls “seven essentials.” I will cover these in a series of posts I plan to write over the next few weeks. So be looking for new posts soon!