Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 December 2012 17:34
In the prophet Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Babylon, God instructs his people, “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7) The word translated “welfare” (in other translations, “peace”) is the Hebrew word shalom. Shalom is one of those words every culture has that is difficult to translate into English. It means peace, but more than peace as the absence of conflict, it means wholeness, wellbeing, prosperity, happiness. It’s a comprehensive word that describes the way the world used to be before sin marred it – when man lived in harmony with God, with each other and with nature. It’s the way the world should be and one day will be.
What’s fascinating is that God instructs his people to seek the shalom of a pagan city, Babylon. A city responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem, for unspeakable tragedy and brutality of conquest – this most godless of all cities, God instructs his people to strive with all their might to establish shalom. Here and now. This directive has wide-ranging implications for the church today. We as the church are to seek the shalom of the cities we live in. We are not just passing by, exploiting its resources, removed from the affairs of the community. We are for the city. We seek to be good neighbors and work towards the wholeness and blossoming of our communities. And in this, we anticipate the fullness of the New Creation to come, when the world will be made anew and everything broken made whole.
And so, this past Saturday, about 20 IGC members volunteered at Marshall Elementary School, gardening and generally sprucing up the school grounds, and working for the shalom of Castro Valley. (See picture above.) This will be a seasonal project for our
Mercy Ministry, among other endeavors.
Last Updated on Friday, 21 February 2014 12:46
On this election day, the question naturally arises about the relationship between Christianity and politics. It is without doubt a very complex issue, but it is helpful to think of the grand sweep of redemptive history and understand where we fit in that story.
Where do we as New Testament believers fit in? Much of the discussion about America being a “Christian nation” assumes that Old Testament Israel serves as an example for us today. However this fundamentally misunderstands the role of Israel in redemptive history. The story of Israel looks back to Eden and looks forward to New Creation. First, Israel looks back to the garden. Israel is a kind of corporate Adam, ushered back into the garden (a land flowing with milk and honey), tasked to obey God and expel Satan (the Canaanites as his proxies), re-dramatizing the story of Adam. The point of the story is so that Israel would re-experience the failure of Adam and so realize the necessity of a savior (“the law was a tutor to bring us to Christ,” Galatians 3:24). Second, Israel looks forward to the Kingdom of God at the end of history. All along, the kings of Israel were only a foreshadowing of the true Davidic king who will make “his enemies his footstool” (Psalm 110 is entirely future-oriented). And so to see Israel as a perpetual model for contemporary politics is to miss the point entirely. Israel as a geo-political state was always an object lesson in the gospel, not a permanent reality.
How then shall we live? The Apostle Peter addresses this very issue in 1 Peter 2:11-12, where he urges Christians to keep their conduct among Gentiles honorable, remembering they are “sojourners and exiles.” These two terms have profound significance in redemptive history. First, he is evoking the experience of the sojourner, Abraham, who lived among the Canaanites in peace and entered into covenants with them. And second, he is evoking the experience of Israel in exile in Babylon, where the prophet Jeremiah instructs the Jews to “seek the shalom of the city.” (Jeremiah 29:7) In both these cases, the people of God lived as dual citizens of two overlapping cities: the city of man (the realm of politics, economics, war) and the city of God (the church). The city of man does not acknowledge God, yet nevertheless, it has its own legitimacy and God instructs his people not to overthrow it, but to participate in it and seek its prosperity. But ultimately, the city of man is passing away, and the city of God will last forever. Therein lies our ultimate allegiance. One day, the city of God will be geo-political – and will indeed fill the whole earth. But not now. That is to mistake our place in redemptive history.
In the meantime, we are called to be good citizens of the city of man, to work and bless our neighbors, all the while knowing that our ultimate hope is not there. We must live in the tension of dual citizenship and not seek to merge the two cities (i.e., to make America a “Christian nation”). We are like Daniel, who at the same time was prime minister of the Babylonian Empire and yet was thrown into the lion’s den for his unwavering faith in the God of the Bible. It is not an easy call, but it is the commission of King Jesus, who defined our dual citizenship as, “rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but to God what is God’s.” (Mark 12:17)
If you would like to read more about this paradigm of dual citizenship, Michael Horton has written an excellent article on this. You can also hear a much fuller explanation in our Sunday school lesson, "Christ as King II."
Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 September 2012 20:22
I wanted to write and share with you guys how I am doing earlier, but I apologize for the delay. It has been surprisingly busy. I am pretty bummed that I was not able to join you guys for the retreat a month ago; Kim told me how much fun you guys had and how it seemed like the church was really growing, both spiritually and numerically. I’m so encouraged to hear the periodic reports about the church!
Well as for my studies, first of all I passed my Summer Greek class (or what others call suicide Greek). It was a pretty intense summer. Even with all the months of working ahead that I did, the class caught up pretty quickly and I was needing to study at least three to five hours a day. This is quite a change of pace from what I was used to in college. But even then, there were other students who were putting in up to six hours a day, on top of the regular class schedule, so I guess I was pretty good by comparison.
As for seminary, it is challenging. I thought I was pretty well-prepared coming into the school, but I quickly realized how far behind I was. There are so many students who have grown up steeped in the Reformed faith and are very well-read. Many of my classmates are so knowledgeable in their church history and can name many of the Puritans and church fathers and Reformers and heretics. Many of them also use big words like presuppositional apologetics versus evidential apologetics versus classical apologetics. Others talk about the Pactum Salutis, and the difference between echtypal versus archetypal theology. (Even as I’m writing this, I have to look up all these words because I am still so unfamiliar with them.) All this to say that I have been feeling overwhelmed, not only with the gap in knowledge between myself and others, but also at the amount of studying and reading that is required.
To give you just a glimpse, there was a test that I had to study for very intensely. This is the English Bible Exam. It tests our basic understanding of the Bible, and if you do not pass it, you are required to take a bible survey class. One of the professors said that about 75% of those who take it fail. I just took it on Monday, so I’ll hear back soon, but I am very nervous. (If you’re interested in seeing what kinds of questions it had, click here for the study guide.)
Regardless of all the hard work, I am grateful to be here. There is a temptation to become cynical and to think that these things are unnecessary. There is a temptation to think that all this studying is just the endless musings of academics separated from the world and culture and that what the church really needs is not scholars but pastors. But I’ve been growing increasingly aware of just how false that dichotomy is. After all, zeal without knowledge is what the Jews were guilty of and because of it, they were ignorant of the gospel of Jesus (Rom. 10:2-4). No, instead it is those who have been faithful to studying and laboring diligently in private, who will be able to better serve the church in public. And all this studying, I pray, will help me to faithfully equip the saints (not just spiritually but intellectually) so that they will grow in maturity, no longer being children tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine and human cunning (Eph. 4:11-14).
I’m also grateful that this knowledge that we are gaining is not to fuel our pride, but to serve the church. One of the requirements of the professors at Westminster is that they are pastors of local congregations. And because of that, we are constantly reminded that our work here is ultimately to serve the church, the bride of Christ. Whether it be in the prayers that the professors pray before every class, or during the lectures, or chapel messages, we hear the gospel, and the gospel compels us to go proclaim it, both to believers and nonbelievers, for therein are the words of life.
So please, church, pray for me. I feel so weak and inadequate, and I would greatly appreciate your prayers. Pray that God would give me wisdom so that I could study and learn well during this privileged season, so that I am able to boldly proclaim the mystery of the gospel.
Last Updated on Thursday, 30 August 2012 11:10
"Let us not neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" -- Hebrews 10:25.
It's been a busy summer here at Indelible Grace Church. Rather than laboriously recount everything, here's a photo review of the past 3 months!
Top left: church picnic
Top center: "Church at the Park," our annual outdoor worship service
Top right: Mercy Ministry event at Claremont Middle School in Oakland (in partnership with Project Peace)
Middle left: Our retreat speaker,
Center: New members being inducted
Middle right: men's fellowship hike
Bottom left: photo from our summer retreat (theme: 'Getting Real with God')
Bottom center: church babies!
Bottom right: women's fellowship picnic
Last Updated on Friday, 29 June 2012 20:19
I know I got a chance to share some parting words during service a little over a week ago, but Michael graciously gave me the chance to write some more thoughts.
During my first church service back at my home church in LA, I realized how much I valued IGC and how much I will miss it. And while there are lots of things I appreciated about IGC, I’ll just share three thoughts according to IGC’s core values.
(1) We are gospel-driven (UP)
Luther once said that the default mode of the human heart is religion – us trying to do things to reach God. And I see this to be true in my own heart and even in so many churches and ministries that I’ve been a part of. We are tempted to put the focus squarely on us, on what we do rather than on Christ and what he has done. Christianity is about God reaching down to us and sending Christ in his condescending love for us – not primarily about what we do for him.
I love the gospel and my time at IGC has helped me to love the gospel even more. It has taught me that the gospel must drive everything that we do. Any other motive will only create pride or despair. Only love for God produced by God’s love for us can sustain joy even through hardships and toil.
This is by far the most important thing I cherish about IGC. I love how the gospel remains central to everything that we do. My prayer is that we wouldn’t stop now, but that we would continue to keep it central – not in a trite and dull kind of way, where we talk about it in a boring and mundane tone – but in a way that produces fresh zeal, sustains our hopes and joy, moves us to new affections and risky endeavors, and creates a pleasing aroma to God and the people around us.
(2) We are a new community (IN)
The importance of the local body of believers continues to surprise me. I’m often tempted to do my own thing, and be accountable to no one. And while that may sound pleasing to some, Christianity calls us to something much greater: mutual interdependence.
And while our church has our fair share of problems when it comes to living out the privilege of being part of Christ’s body, I’m grateful that we are in constant conversation about the importance of community. I’m grateful that we aren’t content with where we are at, but want to strive towards loving the social outcasts rather than gossiping about them. That we want to learn how to be open to correction and encouragement, rather than keeping ourselves walled off from the body of Christ. That we want to learn how to mentor and help each other grow, rather than keeping our conversations only worldly and shallow.
I love that about IGC. The centrality of the gospel doesn’t just happen on a pastoral or staff level, but it happens in community. It happens throughout the week in our small groups, in our Facebook postings, and in our conversations on What’s App. My prayer is that we would find it a joy to “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Eph 4:29)
(3) We are for others (OUT)
This is another aspect of IGC that I love. I love that mercy ministry is at the forefront of what IGC is wanting to accomplish. That church is not merely about ourselves and our own comfort, but that we also exist to be a light and a voice of truth to a world that is blind and confused.
Even in how we talk about mercy ministry, the gospel must be kept at the center. So many churches and ministries talk about loving the poor and marginalized as something we do because God showed mercy on us and now we are obligated to show mercy to others. And while this is true on some level, I love that IGC doesn’t just leave it at that. Instead we say that mercy ministry is gospel reenactment. This means that we show mercy, not only because God showed us mercy, but in order to understand God’s mercy for us more deeply. As we serve and love others at some personal cost, we are shown just how much more God served and loved us and how much more it cost him in order to do so. Mercy ministry is for us as much as it is for others.
This perspective is so freeing because now we don’t have to wait. We don’t have to wait until we have some great emotional experience of God’s love (who knows when that will happen?) before we go and extend his love to others. It is in the act of extending God’s love that we experience his love. And that is my prayer for the church. That the gospel would not just be some theoretical truth that we conceptually agree with, but that we would go and live out its implications and thereby come to believe it more wholly and joyfully.
Thank you for being a church that has taught me so much in these past two years. As I go into seminary and eventually land at a church, these lessons will powerfully shape my own ministry. I only pray that you will continue running the good race for our Lord Jesus Christ!