Saturday, December 29, 2012

Mark Driscoll Defines the Kingdom of God

At its simplest, the kingdom of God is the result of God's mission to rescue and renew his sin-marred creation. The kingdom of God is about Jesus our king establishing his rule and reign over all creation, defeating the human and angelic evil powers, bringing order to all, enacting justice, and being worshiped as Lord. Tragically, there are many erroneous views of the kingdom that misrepresent the glories of God's eternal kingdom. The kingdom is not like the cartoonish inanity that shows heaven as a white cloud upon which we will sit wearing diapers and playing harps with wings far too small to carry us anywhere fun. The kingdom is not the naive dream of liberalism, that with more education and time sin and its effects will be so eradicated from the earth that utopia will dawn. The kingdom is not the deceptive dream of Christless spirituality where all learn to nurture the spark of divinity within themselves and live out their true good self in harmony. The kingdom is not the political dream that if we simply get the right leaders in office and defeat all the bad guys good will rule the earth. The kingdom is both a journey and a destination, both a rescue operation in this broken world and a perfect outcome in the new earth to come, both already started and not yet finished.
From Doctrine, Chapter 13. Kingdom: God Reigns 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Get into Heaven Before You Die!

Dallas Willard's book, The Divine Conspiracy, has been an extremely helpful and formative book for me.  Willard paints a beautiful picture of Kingdom of God and what Kingdom-life, in the here and now, looks like. 
"When Jesus directs us to pray, “Thy kingdom come,” he does not mean we should pray for it to come into existence. Rather, we pray for it to take over at all points in the personal, social, and political order where it is now excluded: “on earth as it is in heaven.” With this prayer, we are invoking it, as in faith we are acting it, into the real world of our daily existence...Within his overarching dominion, God has created us and has given each of us, like him, a range of will – beginning from our minds and bodies and extending outward.... His intent is for us to learn to mesh our kingdom with the kingdoms of others. Love of neighbor, rightly understood, will make this happen. But if we can only love adequately by taking as our primary aim the integration of our rules with God’s. That is why love of neighbor is the second, not the first, commandment and why we are told to seek first the kingdom, or rule, of God." ~ Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

Here's a clip from John Ortberg interview with  Dallas Willard at last year's Catalyst West about what the church is getting wrong today. In a nutshell, Willard says we're getting the Gospel wrong.  Many people view the message of Christianity is getting into heaven when you die; Willard argues that Christianity is about getting into heaven before we die...

“Any new testament scholar would tell you, I believe, “What did Jesus preach?” They would say the Kingdom of God.  That’s not quite right, because what He preached was, the availability of the Kingdom of God; to everyone, where ever they were, and whoever they were. And so he announces this, and by His own presence makes it available.  And once you get that idea, you read the Gospel and say, ‘Hey that’s what’s happening....The important thing to understand is the Kingdom of God, is God in action.  That happens to turn out to be the same thing as Grace. So Grace now becomes a part of our lives. And we experience it with us, by faith.  We have to learn how to do this, because we’re usually in charge of what’s happening, and we have to learn how to turn loose of that, and how to live with God being in charge.”  ~ Dallas Willard

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Are we getting Jesus right?

"Perhaps even 'his own people' - this time not the Jewish people of the first century, but the would-be Christian people of the Western world - have not been ready to recognize Jesus himself. We want a 'religious' leader, not a king! We want someone to save our souls, not rule our world! Or, if we want a king, someone to take charge of our world, what we want is someone to implement the policies we already embrace, just as Jesus contemporaries did. But if Christians don't get Jesus right, what chance is there that other people will bother much with him?" 
~ NT Wright, Simply Jesus

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Two Gospels

"This is the man, this is him, whom you so often hear promised you, Augustus Caesar, son of the Deified, who will make a Golden Age again in the fields where Saturn once reigned, and extend the empire beyond the Libyans and the Indians" - Aeneid book VI , Virgil
This month is always a busy and hectic one: Gift giving, family visiting, party throwing, overtime working (especially for the hospitality industry), the holiday season is for many the craziest time of the year. This is a big reason we wish to remind the community that though we are bombarded by everything our culture has made this time into, it is also a great time to reflect on what this time really is, the season of Advent. And the Advent means the gospel has come in the kingdom movement of Jesus.

Pastor Heath has done a masterful job with the current sermon series, "Thy Kingdom Come" and after relistening to and reflecting on the many things and challenges made the past few Sundays I wanted to drop a brief encouragement to all, the Gospel of Jesus is truly really authentically genuinely good news.

The above quote would have the Roman readers of the time believing that the Emperor was the son of god and that his reign was one that would usher in a golden age. The reality however is that one fifth of the worlds population was under the rule of Rome and most of those held in an oppressive grip of domination, there was no golden age for them, no good news to be found in the rule of the supposed "son of the Deified".

Many today would have the world believe that the Gospel (good news) is to be found in the right education or political solution, in having enough money or in societal standing. Like the fallen Roman empire of old those who hear this version of gospel find no true hope in this message either, no real good news.

 The gospel of Jesus is that he has come and he is victorious. Jesus is Lord which means that Caesar  as any of the persons, leaders or "solutions" of our day, is not.

This season take time to remember what really matters and why we are really here, to build a kingdom that cannot fail, a kingdom of Shalom, the Kingdom of God. In Jesus true justice finds a standing in our world, beauty again flourishes, evil is bade to slither away once and for all. The hope, peace, joy and victory of the Kingdom of God inaugurated in the movement of Jesus is good news.

Let us rejoice and be glad!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christianity as Community, not Individual Piety

“Christian ethics is not primarily an individualistic, one-on-one-with-God brand of personal holiness; rather it has to do with living the life of the Spirit in Christian community and in the world.”

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Give the Gift of Church Planting!

Christmas at Grace Church of Dunedin

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
~ Jesus, Acts 20:35

Merry Christmas to all the friends, supporters, and encouragers of Grace Church of Dunedin

Christmas is always a fun (and busy!) time of the year - family, friends, Christmas songs, claymation, Rudolph, stockings, eggnog, shopping, Adam Sandler's Hanukkah songs, mistletoe, Christmas lights, sparkling grape juice, etc.  In addition to all those jolly activities, the times of corporate worship during Advent Season are always some of my most favorite.

A lot of Christians talk about keeping Christ in Christmas and come up with great ways to remember the advent of our Lord; but have you ever considered how Christmas and church planting go together?  Yes, as Christians, Christmas/Advent is a special/sacred time to remember the gift of Christ; but it should also be a time of remembering why he came! 

What is “the reason for the season?”
In our current teaching series, Thy Kingdom Come, we've been learning about the Kingdom of God, why Christ came and is coming again, and what it means to live in his kingdom in the here and now.  According to Isaiah 9:6-7, Christ came in order to bring the Kingdom of God to earth; and with that Kingdom comes peace, redemption, and life as it should be (i.e., shalom). Verse 7 concludes with stamp of God's zealous promise to do it.  In the New Testament we learn that God's plan to "do it" is the through the expansion of the church, i.e., church planting (Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:7-8; 15:41; 16:5; Matthew 16:18)!

Give the gift of church planting - give to the cause of the kingdom!
So, this Christmas season, may I encourage you to consider giving the gift of church planting.  There is still much Kingdom work to do; and the Gospel transforms lives and communities primarily through local churches.  As one leading missiologist, C. Peter Wagner writes, “Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven."

Of course, you can give to Grace Church, because we are still a new church plant!  We still have a lot of goals that can only get done through additional and continual income.  But, as you know, we eagerly desire to come along side and help other young and new church plants, laboring intently to see lives redeemed and communities renewed.  We have given money and resources away to several new plants and organization during the past 10 months; the last recipient (of $1200.00) was Unveiled Church in New Port Richey.  (We are excited about what God is doing there!  Please pray for them!)

So, prayerfully consider if there's anything extra you can do this holiday season.  There's much Kingdom work to do!  As you are probably well aware, there are 3 Ways to Give to Grace Church.  Remember, every dollar helps, no gift is too small to make a difference in building the Kingdom!

On behalf of the other Grace Church elders, James Gleichowski and Steve Lee, we wish you and your family a most blessed Christmas! We also hope and pray that your partnership in building the Kingdom through church planting will mirror the redemptive love of our Savior who went to where the people were, cared for them with compassion, and spoke to them the good news of the kingdom.

Thank you for praying for and laboring with Grace Church!

grace + peace,

P.S. In order to receive your 2012 tax-deduction, your end of the year gift needs to be in by January 31, 2012.

For more on giving to Grace Church and questions about our budgets, please email

The Whole Sweep of Scripture - How to Read the Bible

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Misconceptions: Are We Getting the Story Right?

Christmas. It’s all about the good times right? Friends, family, candlelight church services, stockings, eggnog, shopping, mistletoe, Christmas lights…and widespread misinformation.

Yeah, Christmas definitely takes the lead in “the holiday with the most folktales and urban legends” category. In fact much of our Christmas nativity story is filled with outright unbiblical ideas!

The typical story we hear repeated is:
“On the evening of December 25th, about 2000 years ago, Mary, who is urgently needing to deliver her baby, rides into Bethlehem on a donkey. Although it’s an emergency, all the innkeepers turn them away. So she delivers baby Jesus in an outside stable. Then angels sing to the shepherds. Afterwards, the shepherds join up with three kings on camels, find the baby Jesus and worship the quiet newborn.”
What’s the problem? Well, this story might be almost entirely wrong. The events surrounding the birth have been retold so many times and in songs, in plays, books, and movies that most people have a distorted view of the true Nativity events. The only accurate record is found in the Bible, so we’ll be comparing the rampant Christmas misconceptions with the Scriptures.

Christmas Misconception #1 Jesus was Born in a Stable
Was Jesus born in a stable or in a barn? The Bible does not mention either of these places in connection with Christ’s birth, only a manger. Scripture simply reports that they laid Jesus in a manger because there was no room for him in the guest room (Luke 2:7). The Greek word used in Scripture is kataluma, and can mean guest chamber, lodging place or inn. The only other time this word was used in the New Testament, it means a furnished, large, upper story room within a private house. It’s translated guest chamber, not inn (Mark 14:14-15). There was a word for an inn (i.e. hotel) used in that day – pandocheion. Luke uses that word in Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:34, so he definitely didn’t mean that there was no room in the local Holiday Inn!

According to Bible archaeology experts, Jesus was probably born in the house of relatives on the bottom floor, underneath the normal living and guest quarters. This is because all of Joseph's family, perhaps with their wives and children, would have been in the same house due the census Caesar had issued (Luke 2:1-3). Your typical home during the time of Jesus’ birth was two-stories. The first level was kind of like a garage, and yes, it would be normal to have a few of your prized animals kept in there. The second floor would have been the living quarters - “the inn.” In order to give Joseph and his very pregnant wife some privacy, everyone probably decided to let Joseph and Mary stay in the first level. It was definitely a bit rough - not your ideal place give birth; but not a stable.

Does this mean we have to throw out our cheesy little Nativity scenes? Maybe; maybe not. But I do make an effort to explain to my children how it really went down. 

Other Christmas Misconceptions:
#1 Jesus was born in a Stable#2 The Innkeeper Turned Mary + Joseph Away#3 No Crying He Makes
#4 Mary, Urgently Needing to Deliver a Baby, Rides into Bethlehem on a Donkey#5 Three Kings, Riding on Donkeys, Come to See the Baby Jesus#6 Jesus was Born on December 25th

Oh come on now, don’t get your undies in a bundle! Just because we may have taken some of our Christmas traditions from pagans and get our facts wrong about the nativity doesn't mean Christmas is ruined. Just know your Christmas facts!

Merry Christmas!

Ray Vander Laan on “The True Christmas Story”

I’ve always been blessed by the ministry of teacher and historian Ray Vander Laan.  Here’s an old clip (not so good quality, but great content!) about the land of Israel and politics at the time of Jesus’ birth.

Ray Vander Laan weaves the archaeological evidence with biblical teachings and the historical record to contrast two kings: Herod and Jesus.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Cookie Drop Outreach!

Christmas Cookie Drop - Grace Church of Dunedin

Merry Christmas Grace Church! Last year we participated in our first “Christmas Cookie Drop” outreach and it’s that time of the year again!

Here's the Deal:
We would like for you and your family to bake some cookies, brownies, cup cakes, etc., package them up, attach the Christmas greeting card (click HERE), and deliver the bake goods to someone working on Christmas Eve. It could be the clerk at a convenient store, the firemen at a fire station, paramedics, hospital or emergency care facility employees, nursing home personnel, gas station attendants, police officers, etc…

Families can drop off the gifts anytime on Christmas Eve. You can drop them off on your way to our 6pm Christmas Eve Service, or do it on the way home, or do it any other time Christmas Eve night – whatever works best for you and your family.

Sign Up!
There will be a Christmas Cookie Drop sign up table in the back of church starting this Sunday (Dec. 9th). There you can sign up and determine/submit your cookie drop location. We will be keeping track of the drop locations and making sure that all the main locations get hit and that there’s no overlap or double-hits.

Advent is about Giving + Serving:
This is the time of the year we remember how our Savior “came to serve, not to be served” (Matthew 20:28). Our annual “Christmas Cookie Drop" is a simple, yet great, opportunity for you and your family to love + serve others by representing our gift-giving God! "...keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, for He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).

May the grace + peace of God be within you, upon you,
and flow through you this Christmas season.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Marriage + Gospel

There’s no joy like marital joy; and there’s no pain like marital pain.  Healthy marriages don’t just happen, they need to be cultivated.  Recently, Timothy Keller came out with a fantastic book on the subject – The Meaning of Marriage.  I highly recommend it.

Timothy Keller writes:
The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the Gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The Gospel is—we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared to believe, and at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.
The hard times of marriage drive us to experience more of this transforming love of God. But a good marriage will also be a place where we experience more of this kind of transforming love at a human level.
Take the the time to listen to Tim and Kathy talk about marriage, covenant, compatibility, and love at the recent Gospel Coalition’s Women’s Conference.  It will be well worth your time…

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Advent and the Liturgical Calendar

Advent is a special time of the liturgical church calendar.  The purpose of having church seasons, such as Advent and Lent, is to create meditative rhythms in our life together.  These corporate and communal rhythms are all based upon that one true and sure foundation - Jesus the Christ!

The word "Advent" comes from the Latin, adventus and it's the translation of the Greek word parousia, which means "appearing" or "coming".

This season we remember that our King has come!  And he is indeed coming again (Revelation 22:20)!
May this Advent season be a special time of reflection + envisioning as you consider what it means to live life with Jesus as your king.

Rob Bell shares on the purpose of the church calendar and prepares us, particularly for Advent.  “Advent,” Bell says, “confronts this corrosion of the heart with the insistence that God has not abandoned the world, hope is real and something is coming.”  Here’s the full article…

Christmas is coming. It may seem like it’s way too soon to be talking about trees and lights and presents and eggnog and all that. But Christmas is the culmination of Advent, and Advent is about the church calendar and the church calendar is something we never stop talking about.

So that’s what I’m writing on here: Advent. But to talk about Advent, we need to talk about sound, and then time and then Spirit.

First, then, a bit about sound.

If you are quiet enough in your kitchen, you will hear a noise. It is a continuous sound, a long, droning noise with no particular beginning or ending. It has very little, if any, dynamic range. It may go up and down in volume, but those changes are rarely perceptible. It is the same flat noise, and it goes on and on and on, hour after hour, day after day. If it’s loud enough, it can grate on the nerves, but otherwise it’s simply there.
Making that sound, mostly unnoticed, there in the corner of your kitchen.

It is the buzzing of your refrigerator.

Now for another noise. I’m currently listening to the new J√≥nsi album, which I’ve had on repeat for a number of weeks now. From the first bleeps, squawks and chirps of the first song, the album is full of noises. Drums, voices, piano—the noises stop and start, come and go, they’re loud and quiet. Some notes sustain for a measure or two, others come and go within the second. The kick drum rumbles, the cymbals clang, the strings flutter. All those sounds work together to make something compelling, inspiring, beautiful, evocative, confrontative, urgent, hopeful, honest or peaceful—something that sounds stunning.

And so it is noise, it is the sound—but it is a particular, intentional arrangement of those noises and sounds that make it what we commonly refer to as music.

Two kinds of noise, two variations on sound—one we call music and the other we call refrigerator buzz.
Next, then, a bit about time, because time is a lot like sound. A song works because the noises and sounds and voices and drums are arranged with a precise awareness of time. Music divides time up into beats, giving time a shape, a flow, a pattern, a rhythm.

We’ve all experienced the low-grade despair that comes when our days blend into each other—wake up, eat breakfast, brush teeth, go to school or work or the office, change another diaper, do another load of laundry, write a check, fill a tank, cook a meal and then repeat it all over again the next day.
One day looks like the next, everything starts to feel the same, life starts to feel like the existential equivalent of refrigerator buzz.

And that, of course, takes us back to the Exodus. (Didn’t see that coming, did you?) The story of those Hebrew slaves being rescued from Pharaoh isn’t just a story about the God who rescues people from having to make bricks every day—it’s about the God who rescues people from other kinds of slavery as well. Namely, the one involving time.

Life in Egypt was comprised of making bricks for the Pharaoh every day, all day.

Bricks, bricks, bricks, eat, sleep, more bricks, bricks, bricks. Tomorrow will be just like today: bricks, bricks, bricks.

When the Israelites are rescued, however, God gives them commands, one of the most urgent being to take a Sabbath day a week, a day unlike the others. A day without bricks.
Six days you shall work, but on the seventh, don’t. Why is this so monumental? God gives them rhythm. But not the rhythm of sound, the rhythm of time. Life before was an interminable succession of sevens. Seven, seven, seven.

But now, their time is broken up, measured, arranged with a beat: six and one, six and one, six and one.

God is the God of the groove.

We need rhythm in our time—it’s what makes one moment different from another. It gives shape and color and form to all of life.

The first Christians understood this—that time, like sound, is best when broken up, divided and arranged into patterns and rhythms. And so they created the church calendar. A way to organize the year, a way to bring variance to our days, a way to find a song in the passing of time.

For example, Lent. For the seven weeks leading up to Resurrection Sunday, we practice sober awareness of our frailty, sins and smallness. It starts on Ash Wednesday when those ashes are traced on our foreheads in the shape of the cross, a tactile reminder of our origins in the dust. From there we come, and to there we will go.

You want to really live, the kind of living that drains the marrow from every day? Then start by facing your death, your weakness, your smallness. We spend seven weeks facing our death and despair and doubt, entering into it with the fullness of our being—heart, mind, emotions—we leave nothing behind.

We do this for a number of reasons, chief among them the simple truth that Sunday comes after Friday. Only when you’ve gotten through, not around “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” are you ready to throw the only kind of Resurrection party worthy of the occasion—that Sunday when we run huffing and puffing from the open tomb, beating our pots and pans in that clanging raucous outburst that begins with those three resounding words: “He is risen.”

That day when all the amps are turned up to “11.”

But that’s not the end—don’t let your pastor start a preaching series on tithing or marriage that next week—because Resurrection is just the beginning. On we go to the season of Pentecost—the celebration of the Spirit, the One who moves in mysterious ways. Jesus is not with us in body, He’s with us in Spirit. He’s risen, but He’s also here, in ways that transcend language, and so reflect on this for a season, tuning your radar to the divine presence in every moment of every day.

And so we’re headed somewhere, we’re coming from somewhere else, and we’re doing it together, as a community of disciples, as a church.

Finally, then, a bit about Spirit. Because Spirit, it turns out, is a lot like sound and time.

The first thing Spirit does in creation is move. That tells us the deepest matters of the Spirit are constantly moving, shifting and morphing. The life of the spirit is a dynamic reality, taking us through a myriad of emotions, experiences and states of being.

Sometimes we’re exhausted, other times we’re overwhelmed with doubt. Sometimes we’re on top of the world and everything is going smoothly, other times we find ourselves standing in the midst of the wreckage, surrounded by smoldering flames, wondering how it all went so wrong.

What the church calendar does is create space for Jesus to meet us in the full range of human experience, for God to speak to us across the spectrum, in the good and the bad, in the joy and in the tears.

This is the crime of only singing happy victory songs in church (we often ask sad people to sing happy songs)—half of the Psalms are laments.

The math should move us on that. The Bible is not a collection of war chants from victors—it’s an incredibly varied collection of writings reflecting an intensely diverse amount of postures, moods and perspectives.
A lot like how life is, actually. Sometimes you’re furious with God, other times you’re madly in love.

The issue then, as it is now, isn’t just getting us out of Egypt—it’s getting the Egypt out of us.

Rescuing us from sameness, dullness, flatlined routine, reminding us that however we’re feeling, whatever we’re experiencing, wherever we are in our heart—the Spirit waits to meet us there.

And that takes us to Advent. Advent, then, is a season. Lots of people know about holidays—one day a year set apart. The church calendar is about seasons, whole periods of time we enter into with a specific cry, a particular intention, for a reason.

Advent is about anticipating the birth of Christ. It’s about longing, desire, that which is yet to come. That which isn’t here yet. And so we wait, expectantly. Together. With an ache. Because all is not right.

Something is missing.

Why does Advent mean so much to me?

Because cynicism is the new religion of our world. Whatever it is, this religion teaches that it isn’t as good as it seems. It will let you down. It will betray you.

That institution? That church? That politician? That authority figure? They’ll all let you down.

Whatever you do, don’t get your hopes up. Whatever you think it is, whatever it appears to be, it will burn you, just give it time.

Advent confronts this corrosion of the heart with the insistence that God has not abandoned the world, hope is real and something is coming.

Advent charges into the temple of cynicism with a whip of hope, overturning the tables of despair, driving out the priests of that jaded cult, announcing there’s a new day and it’s not like the one that came before it.

“The not yet will be worth it,” Advent whispers in the dark.

Old man Simeon stands in the temple, holding the Christ child, rejoicing that now he can die because what he’d been waiting for actually arrived.

And so each December, we enter into a season of waiting, expecting, longing. Spirit meets us in the ache.
We ask God to enter into the deepest places of cynicism, bitterness and hardness where we have stopped believing that tomorrow can be better than today.

We open up. We soften up. We turn our hearts in the direction of that day. That day when the baby cries His first cry and we, surrounded by shepherds and angels and everybody in between, celebrate that sound in time that brings our Spirits what we’ve been longing for.

From a Relevant Magazine article – November 29, 2010