Success and Jesus


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Success is an powerfully attractive siren call in our lives—if only we could get a little further ahead in our careers or studies, our lives would be much better, or so we tell ourselves.  But at what cost?

Ray Ortlund, pastor at Immanuel Church in Nashville, has some great words on the allure of sucess and how it gets in the way of our more fulfilling pursuit of Jesus:

In a world of secrets, outward success is everyone’s goal.  If we can just succeed, we won’t have to face ourselves.  No wonder that doesn’t work.  It can’t work.  The reality of what we are will always topple this house-of-cards persona we so earnestly wish were true.

The gospel is not God’s way of giving us an even better self-improvement goal.  The gospel is God’s judgment on our better selves and his replacement of it all with Jesus.
Every one of us thinks, “If only I could do __________ or be __________, then I would arrive.”  So, what does “arrival” look like to you?  If it isn’t Jesus, the risen Lord himself, every arrival you achieve is only another set-back.

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The selfish love of money and the selfless blessing of money


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John Piper gives fives ways:

  1. I study to see and savor the supreme value of Jesus above all earthly things.
  2. I pray that this would free me from the love of money.
  3. I trust in God’s promises for every need to be met (for my family and the church)
  4. I set aside electronically our regular gift to the church, and then add spontaneous gifts in the worship services.
  5. Finally, I put protections in place against bigger barns and I turn the prosperity of my fields into blessings for others.

Read the rest to see his helpful explanations.

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Tags: money, john piper

On being a science-friendly church


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University of Wisconsin-Madison

Madison is home to the flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin, with more than 42,000 students and many thousands of researchers.  In 2008, more research dollars were spent at UW-Madison than any college in the country except Johns Hopkins University, and recently the annual research expenditures have topped $1 billion, with top-ranked stem cell research viewed as the jewel in the crown of the university.

Science is certainly an important sphere within Madison, and there are many thousands of scientists and students aspiring to be scientists who live here.  How can we as a church engage with people in science?

Phil Reinders, a pastor at Knox Presbyterian Church in Toronto, has some encouraging words on being friendly towards those in science fields:

The perceived conflict between faith and science is so commonplace that it’s a given in popular culture. Caught up in this false choice, churches are sometimes inhospitable places for people trained in the sciences.

So how can congregations create a welcoming space where people celebrate God’s scientific truth, and where all those involved in the sciences (including engineers, teachers, lab technicians, researchers, health care professionals and others) can grow as disciples and embrace their work as a holy vocation?

Although some might think of a hospitable attitude toward science and faith as an option package, it is an essential facet of the church’s witness. It is vital to the spiritual formation of those who are engaged in the sciences. It is critical for a compelling Christian witness in a culture where the dogma of the scientific worldview mostly goes unchallenged. And it is integral to developing a robust faith centered on the God who reveals His glory within the created world.

Becoming a science-friendly church is not so far out of reach - it doesn’t require a conference or a shiny new program. Most congregations and pastors can draw on Christ-centered practices and postures cultivated over centuries, mindfully extending them toward the sciences. Following are a few of those practices and postures that might be helpful.

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Tags: science, madison, university of wisconsin

Discipleship is more than meeting for coffee


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Some of Jesus' last words to his followers are to "go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28). Regarding discipleship, the apostle Paul tells the young pastor Timothy that "what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2).

We know that discipleship is something that's important, something we probably should be doing, but how do we go about doing it?

Trevin Wax at the Gospel Coalition blog has some great insights into discipleship.  He sees that churches typically fall into two camps on opposite sides of the pendulum swing that imperfectly pursue discipleship. Camp 1 forgoes thoughtful discussion about the Bible and simply tells people in detail how to live. Camp 2 faithfully communicates doctrine, but is not very helpful when the rubber of application hits the road of life.

Jesus' example of discipleship included years of living and traveling with his followers and friends.  There was definite doctrinal instruction, but also a clear example of doing life together.  While a weekly meeting at the coffee house is a good starting point for discipleship, we are being called to something deeper.

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Tags: discipleship, jesus, paul, timothy

A deeper, more profound interface with society


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Francis Schaeffer

Pastor, theologian, and philosopher Francis Schaeffer left a deep impression on Christianity in the 20th century.  In particular, he is a meaningful example of how to engage and interact with people of different belief systems.

In his writing about the role the Christian plays in today's world, Schaeffer offered four things that society wants and needs from Christians:

Two contents

  1. Sound doctrine
  2. Honest answers to honest questions

Two realities

  1. True spirituality
  2. The beauty of human relationship

Read more about these contents and realities at the Gospel Coalition blog.

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Tags: francis schaeffer

Share a meal & share the gospel


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Share a meal

Tim Chester, pastor at The Crowded House Church in Sheffield, England, has some great thoughts on how our core values as a church (gospel, community, mission) intersect with everyday life, as we gather around the dining table:

Jesus didn’t run projects, establish ministries, create programs, or put on events. He ate meals. If you routinely share meals and you have a passion for Jesus, then you’ll be doing mission.

On the idea of gospel-centered mission in ordinary life:

Meals bring mission into the ordinary. But that’s where most people are—living in the ordinary. That’s where we need to go to reach them. We too readily think of mission as extraordinary. Perhaps that’s because we find it awkward to talk about Jesus out-side a church gathering. Perhaps it’s because we think God moves through the spectacular rather than the witness of people like us. Perhaps it’s because we want to outsource mission to the professionals, so we invite people to guest services where an “expert” can do mission for us. But most people live in the ordinary, and most people will be reached by ordinary people. Even those who attend a special event will, for the most part, have first been befriended by a Christian. “For those looking to connect with people in the local community it isn’t that hard if you really want to. Just invite people round, let them know they can go home if they need to and then enjoy a meal together. You’re going to eat anyway, so why not do it with others!”

On combining community with other believers and mission to those outside the church:

People often complain that they lack time for mission. But we all have to eat. Three meals a day, seven days a week. That’s twenty-one opportunities for mission and community without adding anything to your schedule. You could meet up with another Christian for breakfast on the way to work—read the Bible together, offer accountability, pray for one another. You could meet up with colleagues at lunchtime. Put down this book and chat to the person across the table from you in the cafeteria. You could invite your neighbors over for a meal. Better still, invite them over with another family from church. That way you get to do mission and community at the same time; plus your unbelieving neighbors will get to see the way the gospel impacts our relationships as Christians (John 13:34–35; 17:20–21). You could invite someone who lives alone to share your family meal and follow it with board games, giving your children an opportunity to serve others through their welcome.

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Pulling Out of the Burnout Spiral


Posted by Scott Sterner on

Madison is a place fulled with busy students, busy professionals, and busy families. We often stuggle to cope with the intensity... feel guilty for things left undone... struggle to balance faith, family, ministry, and work. Here is a great quote from an article written to pastors and missionaries on the problem of burnout. There is truth in this for all of us.

When I find myself heading for burnout, more often than not I've lost the rhythms of rest and repentance and start to chase my idols. I take my sights off of Christ and become self-focused---simply put, I try to take God's place on the throne.

Rest and repentance are both hallmarks of a Gospel-centered life. A good reminder for all of us.

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Tags: burnout, rest, sabbath, repentance

Gospel-centered ways to love your city


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One of the Vine's core values is an outward-focused mission for the people around us. As we have been selflessly loved by God, we selflessly desire to love, serve, and sacrifice for the people of our neighborhoods and city.

Along that same line of thinking, Tim Gaydos, pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, shares 11 gospel-centered ways to love your city:

1. Reach out to “the least of these” in your city.

Who are the downtrodden, forgotten, or underserved people in your city? Start a mercy ministry to reach out to these groups. Create a transition plan for homeless people from shelters into community. Jesus tells us that whatever we do for the least of these, we do for him.

2. Get involved civically.

Set up a meeting with your mayor or city council members and find out specifically what your city needs. Then rally your church or Community Group to help meet those needs. Start attending your neighborhood association meetings and volunteering your time to make your city better.

3. Throw parties and invite your neighbors.

This could be anything from a get-together in your apartment to a full-scale neighborhood block party. The transient nature of many cities can lead to neighbors barely knowing one another. Sometimes all it takes is to initiate by invitation!

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Tags: gospel, love, service, city, mission

How to respond in a harsh political climate?


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As Wisconsin continues to experience political unrest heading into recall elections, and another national political campaign season gets under way (does it ever really end here in America?), we should think carefully about our responses to the political divisions in our community.

Our pastor Zach Nielsen, on his blog Take Your Vitamin Z, shares a meaningful quote from Tim Keller, pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, on how the gospel transcends political alignments and the power struggle but how Christians are nontheless compelled by the gospel to be radical players in how society addresses its problems:

Secular people have a strong belief that religion is really just about social power. There is a need to place every church somewhere on the ideological spectrum, from liberal left-wing to conservative right wing. But the gospel makes the true church impossible to categorize. Justification by faith brings deep, powerful psychological changes: 'Though I am sinful, I am accepted based on the good of Another.' This truth converts people.

On the other hand, the gospel of the Cross and Kingdom brings deep, powerful social changes. It defies the values of the world: power, status, recognition and wealth. The gospel is triumph through weakness, wealth through poverty, power through service. This changes our attitude toward the poor and toward our own status, wealth and careers. A gospel-centered church should combine zeals that are ordinarily never seen together in the same church. This is one of the main ways we make people look twice and take our message seriously.

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Tags: politics, tim keller, power struggle, gospel

The Discipline of Gospel Witness


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Our mission statement reads:

The Vine Church exists to glorify God by living out his mission as a community transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In thinking about the concept of mission, Jesus and Paul are among our greatest examples in the intentional lifestyles they led.  R. Kent and Carey Hughes have some insightful meditations on mission and the implications for how we live our lives

Jesus didn’t just let his relational circles happen. Not only did he give careful thought to the selection of those in his inner circle (the disciples), but he also strategically pursued relationships with unbelievers by entering into their social situations and hanging out with them. He sought out the “spiritually sick” (sinners and tax collectors) so as to bring them the good news. Jesus was constantly on the move to escape the crowds that only wanted their bellies filled or bodies fixed, so that he could proclaim the gospel to those with ears to hear. The apostle Paul did the same. His travels from city to city and frequent visits to synagogues and town halls were not about tourism; rather they were for the very purpose of creating relational opportunities to proclaim the gospel to more unbelievers!

Of course, most of us are not called to be traveling evangelists. But we all should be evangelistically intentional about the social and relational circles we run in. For some of you this needs to start by just seeking to get to know some unbelievers. I often hear from young guys in my church, especially those who attend Christian schools, that they actually don’t know any non-Christians, and they say this without any embarrassment. This is totally unacceptable! It’s our job to know and pursue non-Christians. The fact that they don’t naturally run in your social circles is no excuse. We must pursue non-Christians and be intentional about the relationships we already have with them.

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Tags: mission, evangelism