The Story

I have always felt life first as a story, and if there is a story there is a storyteller” –G.K. Chesterton

This summer as church we are going through “The Story” by in our Life Groups. The goal is that each member of our church would be able to know, live, and share God’s story with our city.  One of the things we are fond of saying at Redemption City is that every member is a missionary. Rather than having a few professionals share the gospel as their “job”, we want every member of our church to know the beauty of God and his story, to enjoy living in it, and want to share this story with everyone they know. 

I don’t know about you, but I deeply resonate with G.K. Chesterton’s comment that he always felt life first of all as a story. Stories have the capacity to express the beauty and brokenness in the world in ways that we identify with, make us feel like we are part of a greater cause, or open up a whole new world. Stories stir up longings in our hearts to be a part of something greater. Stories invite us to find our place in the story. This is especially true of the Bible which is God’s true story of the world. The Bible contains one overarching story of creation, rebellion, redemption, restoration. God creates a beautiful and harmonious world. Adam & Eve rebel against God alientating themselves from God each other, and the world. But God responds by initiating his story of redemption which will culminate in the restoration of the world. God’s story accounts for the beauty & brokenness in world, and also offers hope for the ultimate triumph of good over evil through Jesus.  

“The gospel story of Jesus is not one more story pointing to the underlying reality, rather Jesus is the underlying reality to which all the other stories point.” J.R.R. Tolkien

Too many times we taken the Bible and turned it into a list of rules, self-help principles, or dogmas & doctrines that don't grab anyone's heart. Before we attempt to prove that Christianity is true or try and provide coherent answers to people’s objections and doubts we need to tell the story in such a way that people want it to be true. We need to help people to see the beauty of God and his story. Especially in a religious city like Grand Rapids where everyone assumes they have already heard the story (and rejected it), we need to retell the old story in new and compelling ways. To do this we will have to listen well to people’s stories. We will have to learn what moves, motivates, and inspires them. We will have to tell God’s story in such a way that it connects with their deepest longings. The only way we can do this with authenticity and integrity is if we have found our deepest longings fulfilled in God and his story.  So this summer we will focus on knowing God’s story, living it out, and listening well to others peoples’ stories so that we can compelling share God’s story of redemption with our city. 


8 Lessons on Church Planting from the Church in Antioch

While the church in Jerusalem had the honor of being the first church, it was the church in Antioch that became the launch pad for a global church planting movement (Acts 11:19-30; 13:1-3). Antioch was a strategic city for the spread of the gospel. Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire (only Rome & Alexandria were larger).  It was a diverse and cosmopolitan city made up of Greeks, Syrians, Phoenicians, Jews, Arabs, Persians, Egyptians, and Indians known as the “Queen of the East”. It was also a pagan & immoral city boasting temples to the gods Artemis, Apollos, and Astarte (which included cultic prostitution). It was in this global city that the first global church planting movement emerged. What can we learn about church planting from the church in Antioch?


1.    A Church Planting Church Must Take Risks to Speak About Jesus

The church in Antioch was the first take the gospel outside of the safe confines of Judaism to the Greeks in Antioch (Acts 11:19-20).  Their boldness in spreading the gospel to those that had never heard was met with divine favor. “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21).  The message is clear: risk is right!  A church planting church must take risks to advance the gospel.


2.    A Church Planting Church Must Identify Evidences of God’s Grace

The church in Antioch set a pattern from the very beginning of identifying evidences of God’s grace. “When [Barnabas] came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord (Acts 11:23-24). True to his nickname “Son of Encouragement”, Barnabas made sure that the church didn’t lose sight of the grace of God in the messiness of church planting in a pagan city. A church planting church must maintain this tenacious focus on God’s grace  in the middle of the challenges and pressures of church planting.


3.    A Church Planting Church Must Be Serious About Discipleship

The church in Antioch was deeply committed to discipleship. “For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26).  To take the Gentiles in Antioch from pagans to Christians required intensive discipleship.  Saul & Barnabas met with this fledgling church for a year grounding them in Christ-Centered teaching to such an extent that the disciples were first called “Christians” in Antioch.  A church planting church must be known for speaking, teaching, and preaching Jesus.   


4.    A Church Planting Church Must Give Generously

The church in Antioch was devoted to generosity. “So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea” (Acts 11:29).  The gospel was working in such a way that it impacted the way this church thought about its resources.  A church planting church must be committed to give “everyone according to his ability”. 


5.    A Church Planting Church Must Have Gifted Leaders

The church in Antioch had many gifted prophets and teachers. “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul” (Acts 13:1). This diverse church had a diverse and gifted teaching team to preach the gospel. A church planting church must have a gifted teaching team so that they can send out effective gospel preachers, teachers, and evangelists.


6.    A Church Planting Church Must Have Godly Leaders

The church in Antioch not only had gifted men, but godly men. Acts 13:2 tells us that the prophets & teachers were “worshiping the Lord and fasting”. These were not merely eloquent communicators, they were men who had truly experienced God and worshipped him. These were men who were fasting for God’s direction and will for their lives and church. A church planting church must have godly men who worship Jesus and are willing to fast for his leading.


7.    A Church Planting Church Must Have Called Leaders

The church in Antioch not only had gifted and godly men, the church in Antioch had called men.  “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’” (Acts 13:2).  Church planting (as the rest of the book Acts makes clear) is difficult & dangerous work. There are spiritual, emotional, relational, and financial challenges unique to the calling.  A church planting church must have men called by God to thrive under the pressures of church planting.


8.    A Church Planting Church Must Commission Leaders to Plant Churches

Finally, the church in Antioch commissioned Saul & Barnabas as church planters. “Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3).  The church in Antioch confirmed the calling on Saul & Barnabas life through prayer & fasting and then sent them out with their blessing. A church planting church will be careful to prayerfully evaluate the call of church planters, and send out men who are qualified for the work.   

Sola 13: Raising the Gospel Temperature in Michigan

On December 6 & 7 Redemption City brought 30 people to the Sola Conference in Lansing.  Sola 2013 was a rallying point for churches across Michigan to celebrate the foundational truths of the gospel and mobilize a movement for church planting in Michigan.  Sola was organized by Noel Heikkinen from Riverview Church & Kevin DeYoung from University Reformed Church in Lansing.  Both men are leading growing gospel-centered churches seeing significant impact in the Lansing area.  They both share a passion for Michigan, and spread of the gospel in this state. Sola 13 was their collaborative effort to turn up the gospel temperature in Michigan.  They invited Matt Chandler lead pastor at The Village Church in Dallas and the president of The Acts 29 Church Planting Network, Leonce Crump Pastor of Renovation Church in downtown Atlanta and executive board member of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network, Stephen Um Senior Minister at City Life Church Boston and professor at Gordon Conwell Seminary, Al Mohler president of the Southern Baptist Seminary, and finally John Piper president of Desiring God Ministries.  Redemption City was planted at out of John Piper’s church Bethlehem Baptist, was supported by Noel Heikkinen’s church Riverview, and is part of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network so this was definitely a family reunion of sorts for our church. 

The theme of the conference was Sola.  Sola is a Latin word meaning “only” or “alone”.  Five solae sum up the reforms proposed by the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century: Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), Solus Christus (Christ Alone), Sola Gratia (Grace Alone), Sola Fide (Faith Alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone).  While as evangelicals, we often take these reforms for granted, these five solae have been instrumental in the recovery and spread of the gospel.  The reformers recognized the need for a final authority for God’s people in God’s word. Sola Scriptura does not mean that reason, nature, tradition, and culture cannot play a role in our understanding of God, but that Scripture is our final authority.  Al Mohler said it well “Scripture rules!”  The reformers also were adamant that salvation is in Christ alone.  Stephen Um said that “salvation is about effort, but not about earning” because Jesus has done it all.  The Reformers also taught that salvation is by grace alone.  Leonce Crump showed that salvation is a “free gift” from Romans 5-6.  The Reformers taught that salvation is by faith alone. Matt Chandler contrasted our efforts to earn our way to God, and what it means to trust in Christ for our salvation.   Finally the reformers taught that God’s way of salvation magnifies his glory.  John Piper explained how our dependence on God for his word (Sola Scriptura), his son (Solus Christus), his grace (Sola Gratia), expressed through our faith (Sola Fide) all bring the most glory to God.  If you didn’t get to hear these messages live they will be available Thursday (December 12) on 

My desire for our church is that this conference would more firmly anchor us in God’s word, that we would be radically Christ-centered & Christ-exalting “for salvation is found in no other name” (Acts 4:12), that we would be a church where people not only hear about God’s grace but experience it, that we would be a church known for radical, risk-taking faith, and that we would recognize that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.   My prayer is that God would raise up leaders who take the Bible seriously, that love Jesus, that are conduits of his grace and trust in him, not for their own glory but for the glory of God.  My prayer is that we would be a redemption movement in the heart of Grand Rapids that transforms lives, forms community, renews the city, and impacts the world through church planting. 

40 Days of Prayer & Fasting for Redemption

God has recently been putting a burden for prayer on my heart. Our vision to be a redemption movement in the heart of the city that transforms lives, forms community, renews the city, and impacts the world through church planting is so big that God simply has to show up for it to happen.  I feel God calling me to pray & fast for 40 days leading up to our public launch Sunday, September 15 for redemption to happen in lives of the people we are trying to reach in this city. Colossians 1:13-14 has central to the vision for this church from the beginning: "He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." We want to see transfer growth NOT from other churches, but from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of his beloved son.  Would you join me in praying & fasting for redemption to happen in the lives of students, professionals, and young families who live work and play in the heart of the city? I would love to see forty of you join me by picking one day to pray and fast in the 40 days leading up to our Public Launch (August 7-Sept 15). This doesn't have to be a whole day fast, but at least one meal where you sacrifice food NOT to show how spiritually dedicated we are, but to express how dependent we are on God to transform people's lives. Fasting reminds us that our need for Jesus (“the bread of life” John 6:35-28) is even more fundamental than our daily bread. 

Biblical Manhood & Womanhood

The Bible teaches that men and women were created equally in God’s image to care for God’s world.  The Bible also teaches that men and women were designed with complimentary roles to complete that calling.  Here is why I think a distinctive vision for biblical manhood & womanhood still matters.[1]

1. Gender roles reflect the even more deeply profound roles in the Trinity.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:3 “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.[2] Paul is teaching that in the perfect equality of the Trinity there are roles.  God the Father is “the head”, and has authority over the entire universe to showcase his glory (Romans 11:36, I Corinthains 15:27-29).  Jesus gladly submits himself to his Father’s will (John 5:19, 8:28, 10:18, 12:49-5) most notably in the garden of Gethsemane where he says, “not my will be yours be done” (Luke 22:42) so that God will be glorified (John 17:1, I Corinthians 15:24-28).  The Holy Spirit is sent to bring glory to Jesus (John 14:26, 15:24-27, 16:13-15; Acts 1:8; Romans 8:9; I Corinthains 12:3; II Corinthinans 3:17-18, 11:4; Galatians 4:6; 2 Timothy 1:14; I John 4:1-6, 5:6-8).  In the very equality and oneness of the god-head there are diverse roles which the members of the trinity joyfully embrace to display the glory of God for our everlasting joy.  Our gender roles are not arbitrary, but modeled after the trinity. 

2. Gender roles display the gospel to the watching world.

Quoting Genesis 2:24, Paul says in Ephesians 5:31-32: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying it refers to Christ and the church”. Paul wants his readers to see that the roles they are living out in marriage are pictures of the gospel.  Wives are to submit to their husbands as to the lord.  Just like Jesus submits himself to his Father (I Corinthians 15:24-28), wives are called to display the gospel in their submission to their husbands. Conversely, Husbands are to display the gospel by “loving their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The husband’s authority is not to be used for self-gratification or self-promotion, but in humble, self-giving, servant leadership like Jesus (Philippians 2:5-8).  Paul is both promoting the gospel and redeeming gender roles from their reversal in the fall.  Paul challenges both the husband’s oppressive & neglectful “leadership”, and the wife’s manipulative & controlling “submission”.

3. Gender roles help us connect with who God has created us to be

Gender roles help us connect with who God created us to be: equal in dignity and value, but complimentary in roles. Genesis 1:27 affirms our equality & dignity before God: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them”. Together they image God, and together they carry out the cultural mandate to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth subdue it and have dominion over [it].” But from the very start we can see that God created men and women with complimentary roles. To be fruitful and multiply will already require a unique contribution from the male and female.  But this complementarity is deeper than anatomy.  God says in Genesis 2:20 “But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him”. The Hebrew word “helper” far from being demeaning, is actually a term that is primarily used for God himself and military reinforcements (I Kings 20:16; II Kings 14:26; Psalm 30:11, 54:6; Isaiah 63:5).  Adam needed help, and Eve was created to perfectly compliment his strengths and weaknesses.  Adam was created first as the leader, and is given the responsibility to name Eve.  These realities form the basis for the New Testament declaration that the husband is the head (Ephesians 5:23; I Corinthians 11:3, 8-9; I Timothy 2:13). Eve is the recipient of Adam’s love and admiration and his partner in the cultural mandate under his loving leadership.

4. Gender roles create a climate where marriages can flourish by promoting love and respect.

Gender roles create a climate where marriages can flourish.  Paul, “let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).  Both genders as a general rule (subject to exception) have certain temptations common to them.  Paul observes that men tend to love themselves more than their wives, and women do not tend to think very highly of their selfish husbands.  When the gospel is functioning in a marriage, however, husbands forsake their sinful love for themselves and sacrificially love their wives, and wives forsake their sinful low view of their husbands and actively respect them.  Gender roles understood through the lens of the gospel provide an unparalleled opportunity for growth. 

5. Gender roles help the church flourish by promoting orderly worship.

As in the home, gender roles help the church flourish by promoting orderly worship.  Paul says, “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15).  Just as Paul had instructions for gender roles within the family (Ephesians 5), he also has instructions for men and women in the family of God.  Paul wants men to “pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling”, and he wants women to “should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness--with good works. 11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (1 Timothy 2:9-15).   Paul sees two obstacles to an orderly church: Men who are angry and quarrelling, and women who are immodest and disruptive.  Paul tells the men to pray, and he tells the women to dress modestly, adorn themselves with good works, and respect the teachers of the church.  It appears that while the Corinthian women were seeking to establish themselves as authorities over the prophets and their prophesies (I Corinthians 14:33-35), here in I Timothy 2 the Ephesian women were seeking to establish themselves as authorities over the teachers. 

Paul sees a healthy church functioning under male eldership.  So immediately following Paul’s instruction in chapter 2, Paul he lays out the qualifications for elders in chapter 3 of I Timothy.  An elder must be the husband of one wife and must manage his household well.  First, Paul clearly has a husband in mind (not the wife of one husband).  Second, Paul clearly has a father in mind (c.f. Eph 5:22-33).  Paul’s principle is clear, “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?” (1 Timothy 3:5).  Again, while there are other qualifications, Paul clearly sees leadership in the home, as a clear testing ground for leadership in the church.  Only if this man’s home is flourishing, should he be entrusted with the flourishing of the church.  As goes the home, so goes the church.

The New Testament brought with it incredible freedom for women.  Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).  Women were involved in prayer & prophesying (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 1:14, 2:1-4, 2:16-18, 21:9, I Corinthians 11:5), “explaining the way of God more adequately” to the gifted young preacher Apollos (Acts 18:26), were “fellow workers” with Paul (Romans 16:3), “labored side-by-side” with Paul in the gospel (Phil 4:3), and shared in the spiritual gifts (Romans 12:3-8; I Corinthians 12:1-31; Ephesians 4:7-13; I Peter 4:10-11).  It appears that in I Corinthians 11:3-16, I Corinthians14:33-36, and I Tim 2:9-15, Paul wants to gently remind the women in Corinth and Ephesus that the elders have the final authority for guarding the doctrine, teaching ministry, and prophesy in the church.  Kathy Keller sums up well, “Women are encouraged to be active, verbal participants in the life of the church— teaching, exhorting, encouraging, and contributing in every way except in the office of elder…where teaching and doctrine are judged according to the canonical deposit of truth, the Scriptures.”

[1]For a more in depth treatment see Kathy Keller’s Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles,  John Piper & Wayne Grudem’s Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Andreas J. Köstenberger’s God, Marriage, and Family, and Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ Biblical Womanhood in the Home.

[2] While the Greek word “head” has several possible meanings the overwhelming evidence suggests “authority over”. See Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: Appendix 1: The Meaning of Kephale.


Membership Matters

My generation has issues with authority and commitment. So I realize that membership is not a particularly hot topic on the blogsphere.  But before you check out, I want to give you five reasons why membership should matter to you in hopes that you would consider becoming a covenant member of a local church.

1.    Membership matters because members are the church!  The church is not a building, tradition, or event, but a people build on Jesus Christ.  If you are a Christian you are a “member of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19)—a “member of the body of Christ” (I Corinthians 12:27).  This is massively significant because the church displays “the manifold wisdom of God” (Ephesians 3:10), authenticates the claims of the gospel (John 17:20-23), and kicks down the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18).  The natural expression of membership in The Church is membership in a local church (Acts 2:37-41, 4:4, 13:1, 14:23, 20:17-35). Membership in the local church is designed to identify counterfeits who would sabotage the calling of the church and misrepresent the name of Jesus (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5-16).

2.    Membership matters because it fosters biblical family.  After reminding the Ephesians church that they are members of the household of God, Paul urges them “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…”  Throughout the New Testament epistles the church is called to share life with “one another” as family.  This New Testament language of “one anothering” fleshes out the relational dynamics of a local church. You simply cannot be a family in one hour Sunday morning.  Membership demands a higher standard for biblical community.

3.    Membership matters because it mobilizes spiritual gifts for the growth of the church. Paul says in Ephesians 4:11-12  “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,  12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ”.  According to Paul, every member is a minster. Paul does not give the leaders in the church to do the work of ministry, but to equip the saints for ministry.  When the members are equipped for ministry the church is positioned for exponential growth.

4.    Membership matters because it mobilizes money for the mission of the church. Paul’s appeal for generosity comes from the gospel. He says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).  Members who understand their riches in Christ, can part with their material riches to see others experience the riches of knowing Christ.  Membership channels money to the mission of the local church, and the local church is still the best investment for making disciples of Christ, and the only institution guarantee to prevail against the power of hell (Matthew 16:18).

5.    Membership matters because it mobilizes members for the mission of the church. Peter says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). According to Peter every member is a missionary.  Membership creates a community and a culture where mission can thrive. 

Listen to a sermon on each of these points in May of 2013.