Archive for March, 2012

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Disciples in the Making: the Who, the How, and the Why…

March 30, 2012

In the last two posts we have examined the mission of the church, the going into the world, the making of disciples, and the living witness.  In this post we will go deep on Making Disciples, and examine the who, the how and the why behind Jesus command to make disciples of all the nations.

Even a cursory reading of the great commission in Matthew 28 shows that the center of the commission is not on going but rather making.  Jesus commands His disciples to make disciples.  To go into the nations, “baptizing them and teaching them all that I have commanded.”  To often though the church has missed this simple distinction and has settled for merely going and telling, while neglecting making.  The aforementioned pattern in Acts though reflects the fact that the disciples did not make this mistake.  They established a church where they were, proclaimed the gospel, saw growth outward, and established other churches throughout the known world.  This is why we will endeavor to do the same; become established, proclaim, grow, and establish other congregations.  To do this we will focus on the “who” of discipleship, the “how” of making disciples, and finally the reason “why” we should carry out this command.

Who do we Disciple

Discipleship is missions in micro.  It is the proclamation of the gospel and the instruction of believers in the ways of Christ; moreover the progress after the proclamation.  Just as the mission of the church starts close and radiates out, so too does our discipleship.  Those who call upon the name of Christ have merely begun the journey.  There is a vast difference between believing on His cross and taking up your own, and in that gap rests discipleship.  Discipleship begins in the home and for a believer should radiate out from there.  For our purposes we will focus on four categories Family, Friends, Neighbors and Nations. Discipleship is teaching and modeling; the life of Christ, the plan of God, and His character revealed in both.  This must begin at home.  Our church will focus on training men, women, husbands, wives, and parents to in turn train their households.  The nuclear family of the home and the corporate family of the church then should work together to disciple the remaining groups through missions and church planting.

The Flow of Discipleship:

(The Church)                                (Missions)

Church + Families –> Friends, Neighbors, and Nations

How we Disciple

For the church or Christian engaging in discipleship the substance of that teaching is key.  And while the whole of Scripture is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and encouragement, Jesus provides His church with a ready-made catechism in His Sermon on the Mount.  In the Sermon (found in Matthew 5 through 7), Jesus informs His followers how they are to become; who they are to be; how this should affect their lives; how it should direct their worship; and how it grounds their hope.  His teaching is both the Truth to be believed and the behavior to be followed.

The Sermon for discipleship:

Instruction                                                Focus                                  Verses

How to become…             Blessed (knowing and cherishing God)               5:1-12

Who we are…                    Salt and Light (impacting the world)                  5:13-16

Affects our lives…            Pure Heart, new boundaries                               5:17-48

Directs our worship         God is focus of Prayer, Fasting, Giving                6:1-34

Grounds our Hope            A life lived this way is built on a rock.                7:1-29

Following this pattern demonstrates that we seek to make disciples, not merely count converts.  The goal is to instruct the families of our congregation and then partner with these families to disciple the wider world through missions.    Having examine who we are to disciple and how we disciple them we now will focus on the reason behind our discipleship.

Why we Disciple

God’s people have always had a mandate.  Even in the Garden, those who bore His image were commanded to be fruitful and multiply that image and through that multiplication dominate the earth.[1]  As God’s new creation through Christ we have much the same command.  As we are being conformed into the likeness of His image through discipleship, He commands us to go and preach so that others will come to know and resemble Him.  This command may seem elemental, perhaps even passé, but its weight should be felt not ignored.  For our response to it, either in obedience or rejection, displays our attitude in the face of the risen Savior.   Like those who came to see Him after His resurrection there were only two responses: one either worshiped with hearts burning at His word, or one wavered doubting Him to His face.  We shall endeavor to mirror the former, rather than the latter, so that our worship lived out may serve as a witness to others.  In the next post we shall conclude by examining our witness for Christ which we are to have among the nations .


[1] Genesis 1:28

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The Going: The Where, When and the Why…

March 29, 2012

Part 2 of the missions proposal series.

Read Part 1 Here

There is a cycle throughout the New Testament in regards to the growth and proliferation of the gospel.  The cycle reflects a certain pattern of evangelism consisting of four repeating steps; establish, proclaim, grow, establish.  First a church is established through the gathering together to believers.[1]  We see this in the days after Christ’s ascension as the disciples and followers of Jesus gathered together, literally in a room.  The church in Jerusalem has all the marks of church of God.  Believers gathered together, the spirit moving in power, discussions and a focus on the life and works of Jesus, and finally proclamation to the community.  This leads us to the second pattern within the cycle, proclamation.  The word and the glorious good news of Jesus Christ is proclaimed to the community.[2]  As God is faithful to the proclamation of His word, growth inevitably follows in some form.  The third pattern is growth, souls added to the rolls of the kingdom through the faithful proclamation of the gospel.[3]  This growth is followed again by the further establishment of the church and the devotion to discipleship and proclamation of the gospel, followed by growth and so on.[4]  This pattern would be repeated through out the Mediterranean as the Apostles and disciples of Jesus spread out into the cities of the Roman world.  Jesus commanded that they go to Jerusalem, Judea and “remotest part of the earth,” and they went.  So to must we obey and go, first to our locale, then to our nation, then on to the world seeking to establish a presence, proclaim the gospel, grow the church and establish future planting churches.  We will now focus practically on the where of going, the when of going and the reasons behind why we go.

Where to Go

It shall be our goal to follow the example set in Acts 1:8, to start in the neighborhood and then move to the nations.  Ministry whether local, national, or international, is merely the reflection of the heart of those engaging in it.  Proximity is key.  It is no accident that Christ ties our words to our heart, as the two are so close.  So too our witness should begin with those in greatest proximity to us, as an outflow of the heart of our worship within the community.  The church should be engaged with its community on a weekly basis.  In addressing increasing engagement out into the wider world to reach the nations, I propose the following scale; tying activity and scope to church size on a yearly basis.

No. of Members            No. of Trips                    Destination

Less than 50                1                                     National

50-100                          2                                     National/Int’l

100+                              3                                   2National/1Int’l

250+                              5                                   3National/2Int’l

The scale might seem ambitious to some and perhaps underwhelming to others, and should be viewed as suggestive not compulsory.  It represents an honest effort to focus a church their mission to the nations regardless of their size.

When to Go

The frequency of missions activity within a church may vary based on past experience or prior goals.  Below is my proposal for the frequency of mission activity, with the understanding that local mission activity is ongoing.   It is also important to note that this scale is meant to start at year 1 of a church and progress to year 7; or start afresh a cycle in a church that has not been active in missions.  The goal would be to have local, national and international activity occurring by the end of year 7.

Years                    Destination

1-3                            Local (while developing national targets)[5]

3-5                            Local/National (while developing Int’l targets)

7-beyond                 Local/National/International[6]

 

Why Should We Go

The chief end of man is to glorify God, the chief end of the church is to facilitate that glory through the work of His Son and the obedient worship of His children.  God blesses his chosen people so that His glory might be known among the nations.[7]  His people make His glory known by obeying His commandments; to love Him with all their heart, soul and mind; and love their neighbor as themselves.[8]  If we call ourselves Christians, how can we not obey God in this, going where He commands we go, and loving whose He commands we love.  A church absent these features, has little claim to its title.  In addition to going we are commanded to go with a purpose, to make disciples.


[1] Acts 1:12-26

[2] Acts 2:14-36

[3] Acts 2:37-41

[4] Acts 2:42-47

[5] The purpose of this initial local focus is to train the church in discipleship, attempting to provide a sure footing to then launch out into extra-local missions.

[6] It is understood that this chart and the previous chart tied to church size would be read together, one interacting with the other.  Some churches may be in a position to expedite this schedule, while others may need more time.  The ultimate goal is a robust focus on getting the gospel to the nations.

[7] Psalm 67:1-5

 [8] Matthew 22:37-39

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Go, Make, Live: a Three Part Approach to missions

March 28, 2012

A Series: Part 1

Throughout history God receives glory through the propagation of His name.  In Genesis, man is created in God’s likeness and told to multiply and subdue the entire world, so that the world might be under the dominion of those bearing His image.  In the Psalms we see that His people experience blessing and mercy so that His “way may be known on earth, [His] salvation among all nations.”[1]  Likewise we see in the prophets that His chosen people experience judgment so that His name might be known.  In the Old Testament God uses the judgment of sin as a means to proclaim His holiness and glory.  God judged the entirety of sinful man in the flood, but saved Noah to proclaim His salvation.  God judged Israel’s sin of idolatry by overwhelming their cities with enemies and scattering their families across the land.  The prophet Habakkuk proclaimed that these judgments were used, like the flood, to fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, “as the waters cover the seas.”[2]  Despite sin, despite fallen man, God continually redeemed a people through blood sacrifice, and commanded that they go and make His name known among the nations.  The greatest expression of His mercy of redemption is seen through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross.  At the cross, God joined together His judgment and His blessing into one act of sacrifice.  This is the ultimate expression of God’s love for mankind that He gave His Son, as the propitiation for our sins.

Christ absorbed the flood of God’s wrath of judgment at the cross; and He became the vehicle of greatest blessing to the whole of God’s people.  Those who bore witness to this event were tasked with the mission to proclaim this judgment and blessing to ‘Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”[3]  The story of God’s blessing and judgment must now fill the earth through our lives lived in reflection of God’s glorious work through Christ on the cross.  To this end Jesus commanded His disciples and by extension all of us to, “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.”[4]

As a Church, we will reflect His mission with this statement of purpose:

That we will continue to proclaim His name; Going according to His will and for His glory to our neighbors and to the nations; Making disciples of those who call on His name baptizing them and teaching them to teach others the wonders of His works, Living so as to bare witness of the glories of His grace and the assurance of His hope.

In what follows, through a series of posts, we shall unpack this statement and seek to obtain principles that will guide our efforts and attempt gain a vision of the kingdom that will inspire our hearts to action.  We will begin by turning our focus to the “Going” and attempt to answer the questions of: Where to go?; When to go?; and finally Why we are going?  We will then focus on the “Making” and attempt to answer the questions of: Who are we making?; How are they being made?; and finally Why we are making disciples?  We will conclude this discussion by focusing on the “Living,” we will we will seek to apply the promise of Christ’s great commission on our lives and examine how His hope inspires our witness.


[1] Psalm 67:1-2

 [2] Hab. 2:14

[3] Acts 1:8

 [4] Matt. 28:19-20a

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Mastering Mammon… Part III

March 23, 2012

We wrap up our focus on this passage of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:22-24 by examining on of the most quoted verses of the Sermon.

24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. What are some  modern examples of trying to serve two masters?

Is it possible to serve two masters?

Yes, in a sense, you can serve two masters.  You can have to jobs, you can have two hobbies, and you can have multiple careers over the course of your lifetime.  Jesus is not saying that you cannot serve two masters in the sense that you can not do two things at once.  Jesus IS saying that you cannot serve both God AND mammon.  You cannot serve both God and material desires, greed, lusts or treasures.  God has called for us to be holy, because He is holy (Lev 19, 1 Peter 1:16).  He has bought us.  We are no longer our own, we are God’s, bought with the precious blood of His son.  Therefore we are not slaves to the flesh, or to unrighteousness we are slaves to Christ. (1 Corinthians 7:22)  If you are not saved, if you are not one of God’s children, then you can have and serve as many masters as your flesh will allow you to serve; and your evil eye will deny you the light of God’s truth and your body shall be full of darkness.  But if you are saved and believe on Christ, then you are His and you can only serve Him and prosper.  With that single clear focus, you seek first His kingdom, and everything else shall be added to you.

Some Modern examples of serving two masters:

Driving and texting:  this is a really simple analogy but appropriate.  When we drive we are being called upon to keep our eyes on the road.  This is both prudent and necessary to travel the journey set out before us.  But if we allow our eyes to drift, if we focus on a text message and texting instead of the road that tragedy can occur.

Marriage versus pornography:  Ultimately Jesus is addressing our own selfishness and greed in Matthew 6:22-24.  We are not to store up treasures but rather trust in God, if so we will not be anxious but rely on Him and seek His Kingdom, it is what we should be committed to do.  Likewise we are committed in a marriage.  We are to focus on that marriage and serve our spouse, submitting to one another “as Christ served the church.” (Eph 5:25)  We are to give to our spouses sacrificially and selflessly; but when one of the partners is engaged in pornography, it soon becomes his (or her) master.  It saps a marriage of intimacy and is a perfect example of greed and selfishness.  Porn slowly obscures the light of God’s glorious plan for sex and marriage and fills the addict with darkness.  Soon the only light in their lives is the glow of the computer screen before them.  They seek after pleasure and love, but they end up being denied both.

Sports versus the church:  This one might get a stronger reaction than pornography.  Parents have to make a decision; are we going to allow our children’s sports to separate us from the gathering together of believers in God’s church.  The fellowship of believers is something that is displayed in scripture and we are commanded not to forsake it.  And yet how many Sundays are missed a year because of sports games, practices, tournaments etc.  Your kids will value what you display to them as valuable.  This is not legalism, this is not old fashioned, this is the word of God.  Are you willing to sacrifice your children’s future on the altar of Sports (or fill in any entanglement that keeps them from church, or following Christ.)

 

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The gaze of the Godly… Part II

March 22, 2012

We continue looking at the Sermon on the Mount by examining the difference between the two types of eyes that Jesus mentions in the passage of 6:22-24.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

 

What does Jesus mean when he talks about clear eyes and bad eyes?

We often use terminology an idioms involving the eyes to denote how someone is feeling or acting.  They might be “dreamy-eyed” in love, or “bleary-eyed” if they are tired.  Someone may even be “cock-eyed” in how they look at situations.  Here we are coming up against two common Hebrew idioms.  The “clear” eye or “single” eye and the “evil eye.”  Key to understanding the meaning of both of these is to look at the context into which they are placed.  Jesus is in the middle of a discussion of material processions and their effects on the life of the believer.  So the “good” eye and the “evil” eye here is referring to matters pertaining to material possessions and one’s attitude toward them.

The clear eye “Words that are closely related to “haplous” mean “liberality” (Ro 12:8; 2, I Cor. 9:11) and “generously” (James 1:5). The implication in the present verse is that if our heart, represented by the eye, is generous (clear), our whole spiritual life will be flooded with spiritual understanding, or light. If our eye is bad, however, if it is diseased or damaged, no light can enter, and the whole body will be full of darkness. If our hearts are encumbered with material concerns they become “blind” and insensitive to spiritual concerns.”[1]  The single or clear eye is “one that does not allow the allurement of wealth and possessions to distract him from God.”[2] Those who seek to divide their loyalties and focus on both “things” as well as God are blinded by a type of double vision.  In trying to look at two items at the same time, the vision becomes blurry and hence useless.  The “Good” or “Clear” eye is one “whose vision is not blurred by focusing on two objects at the same time, God and possessions.”[3]  It represents “single-minded” devotion to God, with one’s heart set on God alone.[4]

The Bad eye  The Greek word here is “Poneros (bad) usually means evil, as it is translated here in the King James Version. In the Septuagint  (Greek Old Testament LXX) it is often used in translating the Hebrew expression “evil eye” a Jewish colloquialism that means grudging, or stingy (see Deut. 15:9, Pr. 23:6 “Do not eat the bread of a selfish man [literally an “evil eye”]). “A man with an evil eye” for example, is one who “hastens after wealth” (Pr. 28:22 “A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth, And does not know that want will come upon him.”).”  The eye that is bad is the heart that is selfishly indulgent. The person who is materialistic and greedy is spiritually blind. Because he has no way of recognizing true light, he thinks he has light when he does not. What is thought to be light is therefore really darkness, and because of the self-deception, how great is the darkness! The principle is simple and sobering: the way we look at and use our money is a sure barometer of our spiritual condition.”[5] “An “evil eye,” conversely, was a stingy, jealous or greedy eye; yet it also signifies here a bad eye (Mt 6:23), one that cannot see properly.”[6]

So let’s tie all this together.  Jesus is instructing His disciples on how to lived the blessed life of one who is called the child of God. What distinguishes the children of God is not that they pray, fast, give and serve; but that they do these things for God alone.  Essential to living this life is having a singular focus on God.  We are to pray only to God. (6:9)  We are to fast and give for God alone. (6:3-4;16-18) We are to Serve God alone . (6:24) And we are to seek only Him and His Kingdom first. (6:33)  So in this passage (6:22-23) Jesus is making the point that those who are full of light have “good” eyes, clear eyes that generously seek and direct their attention on God.  Those who have evil eyes, place their gaze on the things of the world; mammon and treasures on earth.  They shall be full of darkness; unable to serve themselves or God.


[1] MacArthur, John: Matthew 1-7 Macarthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press 1985.

[2] Quarles, Charles. The Sermon on the Mount 249

[3] Ibid.

[4] Keener, The Gospel According to Matthew, IVP. 232.

[5] MacArthur, John: Matthew 1-7 Macarthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press 1985.

[6] Keener, The Gospel According to Matthew. 232

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The eyes have it…Part 1.

March 21, 2012

 

As we continue on in our look at the Sermon on the Mount, we come to a section that has fostered much speculation and much disagreement. When Jesus states that the eyes are the lamp of the body, what does he mean? How can the body be full of darkness, even though there is some light from the lamp? Below we will begin to look at these questions in several parts. First we will look at the different schools of thought concerning the eyes, we will then look at how this applies to serving two masters in 6:24.

Matthew 6:22-23

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

What does he mean when he says, “the eye is the lamp of the body”?

Generally there are two schools of thought here:

One school says that the eyes are the lamp of the body because it shines out onto what the heart desires. “A lamp emits light”[1] The eyes radiate the light that resides within a person, “the light source is the heart– where a persons treasure is (6:21)”[2] Therefore a good eye would land on things that were pleasing to God and beneficial for the person; a bad eye would focus on displeasing, even idolatrous things, that were bad for the person. If one had lust in the heart, their bad eyes would find objects to lust after and eyes would bear witness to the darkness inside of them; whereas if one is pure of heart one would focus on God, and their eyes would bear witness to God’s light inside them.

The second school of thought says that rather than emitting light onto objects the eyes serve to let light into the body, revealing the condition of the heart, allowing light in and dispelling darkness. “The majority of commentators understand verse 22 to mean that the eye is the instrument by which external light passes into the body.”[3] So what the eye takes in, the body becomes. If one lusts after “things”, and the eyes seek after “things”, then “things, material possessions etc.” begin to fill the body. Whereas if one focuses on God, looks to God alone, then one is filled with His light.

Regardless of which school you subscribe to, it is clear that “Jesus is referring to the universally recognized truth that the eye is the organ that makes sight possible.”[4] “Since the eye is the source of light for the body, the condition of the eye is important.”[5] “God’s Word often uses the eye to represent the attitudes of the mind. If the eye is properly focused on the light, the body can function properly in its movements. But if the eye is out of focus and seeing double, it results in unsteady movements. It is most difficult to make progress while trying to look in two directions at the same time. If our aim in life is to get material gain, it will mean darkness within. But if our outlook is to serve and glorify God, there will be light within. If what should be light is really darkness, then we are being controlled by darkness; and outlook determines the outcome.”[6] The eyes stand between our hearts and the outside world; ready to be directed by the desire of our hearts and taking in everything we place them on. It’s like placing a lamp on a windowsill; the lamp shines out onto the world illuminating what’s outside, but it also shines inward letting light into the dark places of the house. So Jesus’ point here is to focus our attention, not so much on the function of the eyes, but rather the condition of the eyes. Is the light bright? Is it good and illuminating? Or is the light evil, bad and adding to the darkness?


[1] Dockery, Seeking the Kingdom, The Sermon on the mount for today. 90

[2] Dockery, 90

[3] Quarles, The Sermon on the Mount 244

[4] Quarles, 246

[5] Ibid.

[6] Wiersbe, Warren: Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Pub: 1989.

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Love and the City: The Greatest Text for Urban Witness…

March 12, 2012

Cities are truly miraculous places.  Tense with progress and teeming with energy and vibrancy.  Harvard economist Edward Glaeser in his great book, The Triumph of the City states that, “Cities are the absence of physical space between people and companies.  They are proximity and closeness.”  While this is true, we as Christians must look beyond the physical existence of cities and recognize the hand of God in forming them and drawing people into them.  As I have said in previous posts, God creates proximity so that those searching for Him might find Him.  Acts 17:26-27 reads: “he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and boundaries of their dwelling place, that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him, Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.” 

While the world is content to use the metrics of absence to describe the city, we must do more.  Cities are not mere accidents of economics, nor are they defined by the absence of space between people.  Cities and their character are defined by the presence of God and the proximity to His witnesses.  Witness is key.  God has drawn these people together so that His glory might be seen by the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time.  There is a reason that Pentecost and Peter’s sermon did not occur in the desert, or in some far-flung cave.

This brings us to the manner of our witness and how to engage with those in the city.  Cities breed adventurous apathy.  The opportunity to succeed in the city is great, but so too is the presence of failure.  People come to cities with a sense of adventure, but soon become apathetic to the prevalence of failure around them.  People cold and unconvinced by pleas for attention and messages of truth.  With this in mind,we must ask ourselves, how can we break through?

Though there are many texts in Scripture that speak to the means of and the need for evangelism.  One text reigns supreme in my mind for engaging the city.  I have seen it on display, used by church planters throughout NYC over the years of engaging that city.  I am not talking about Matthew 28 or Acts 1:8, or Acts 17.  The text that speaks to our task  is this:

 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.  Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away…  So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
  
(1 Corinthians 13 ESV)

It is not enough that we have the intellectual capacity to engage the minds of the city, or the media savvy to captivate the eyes of the city.  We must have love.  Pure, sacrificial love that wants nothing in return.  It does not matter if we desire to serve the needs of the city, or are willing to move into it and sacrifice blood and treasure to reach it.  We must love the people in the city, and display that love through service.

This passage informs both the task at hand and the promise of how to fulfill it.  It is not easy to love the those who question your motives, or those who are openly hostile to your efforts.  The only remedy for the apathy of the city is continual, persistent, abiding love witnessed in deeds of selfless followers of Christ.  A love that bears all and endures all.  We must create churches of faith, we must preach the hope that is in Christ alone, but above all we must be willing to love when we are not loved in return.  We must be willing to serve others, be patient with others, and be kind to others.  I am not speaking of a social gospel, that tends only to physical needs.  Rather a gospel that uses the meeting of physical needs through service to proclaim through deed and word the lavish love of God.

Surely this was modeled by God who stayed faithful to the faithless Israel.  Surely this was heard from Christ as He forgave those nailing Him to the cross.  What remains to be seen and remains to be heard, is whether or not our proximity to others will bear witness to God’s love in us.  May our growing presence in these cities be marked not by the mere absence of space; but by the abundance of God’s love lived out in service.