Sunday, November 25, 2018

Developing Godly Habits: How to Order your Life

Sermon Audio:

I try to exercise regularly. I have to exercise a great deal and be very, very careful about how I eat, because my body is very good at gaining weight and not very quick to lose it. Can anyone relate?

I always have eggs for breakfast, and coffee. I try not to eat again all morning until lunch time. At lunch I eat a large meal, my largest of the day, and then I try not to eat again until 5:00 PM dinner. I play basketball for an hour and a half, full court, on Mondays and Thursdays. Three times a week I do a 20 min workout routine.

It's amazing how much time and effort we put toward our physical bodies. We fight very hard to keep fit and stave off old age. At least for as long as we can. But we know that each of us will one day die, and our bodies will pass into the ground, and our souls will return to the God who made them.

The Apostle Paul, when he wrote his letter to Timothy, told his young apprentice that physical training does have some value. But Paul indicates that training in Godliness has value for all things.

How much time and effort do we spend toward say, our jobs? Forty hours a week? And how much time do we put toward our families? Many hours of time. These things are important. Our jobs help us pay the bills, and provide for our families. Our families are very important. But do we have the right order of priorities? Is God first in our lives, and do we spend real time with Him? Are we training ourselves in Godliness?

Today we’re looking at the topic of developing great habits. So we’re going to look at a theological concept, exam some scripture, and then consider our applications.

The Apostle Paul in his letters, like Romans, Galatians, and Philippians, often returns to a simple formula for the Christian life. I like to call it the Pauline equation. This equation… this balance that we’re going to talk about has been wrestled with by all the greats throughout history, from Martin Luther during the protestant reformation, to John Wesley and George Whitfield, all the way to the 1970s revivals of Billy Graham, and the Jesus movements of the 1980s and 90s. Balance, between faith and obedience. The Pauline equation…

One, recognize that you’ve been saved by the grace of God found in Christ. Jesus Christ, through his life, death on the cross, and resurrection from the grave has paid our debt of sins. Your sins are washed away if you are in Christ. You’ve been born again. You’ve walked out of the tomb of sin and darkness, just as Jesus left the tomb and showed himself to many witnesses. If you’re in Christ, your sins are gone. Jesus has satisfied the wrath of God against sin by dying in your place. Your sins, that whole record of wrongs is wiped clean because your sins were put on Christ, at that moment on the cross when Jesus cried out: “Father, father, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus took our sin, and gave us his righteousness. Theologians call this the great exchange.

Two, Paul next always tells us that we must live the most pure and holy lives in response to this free gift. We’re exhorted to set aside sins of the flesh, and to embrace the fruits of the spirit. It takes dedication to walk in obedience in the Christ-life. If we skip either of these elements we can begin to drift away from Christ, and we begin to be in danger of losing our salvation.

As the 9th doctrine of the Salvation Army states: “We believe that continuance in a state of salvation depends upon continued obedient faith in Christ.”

There are two key words in that statement I’d direct your attention to: “Obedient faith.” Faith in Christ’s atonement. Obedience to Christ’s commands. And what's the verb? “Continued.” We have to walk the walk, day by day, month by month, and year by year.

Obedience and faith. If we don’t obey Christ, then we are in danger of antinomianism. That’s a big theological word, but it means that we believe in Christ, but never change how we live. We keep on sinning, and then say “God will forgive me.” That’s not how a real Christian lives. So we need obedience.

The other danger is that we can become too focused on obedience and trusting in ourselves for our salvation. We start to slowly put our faith in self, and our own attempts at righteousness. We become a Pharisee. Either path leads to spiritual disaster. So we must walk faithfully and obediently, with Christ. And to do that, we have to consider how we can develop Godly habits.

We’re going to approach this topic of developing great habits from two perspectives. The first perspective is positive practices, the second is negative practices. In other words, we’re looking at biblical commands that tell us “to do” certain things, and scripture that tells us “don’t do” certain things. Then we’ll address applications.

Turn in your Bibles to 1st Timothy chapter 6, and we’re looking at verses 11-12: “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

Verse 11, when your being tempted it is usually acceptable to simply flee the situation. I’ve been there. Don’t stay in the den if you have a choice, get out. That’s biblical. And it says, while fleeing from temptation, pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. So on one hand we flee, on the other we actively pursue.

When you pursue someone, or something… let’s say your dog runs away from home. And you’re out there looking for him, you follow his trail, and your after him for hours if necessary. In the same way, when we pursue righteousness, and godliness, it is an active pursuit. It’s a positive, intentional pursuit, something that we incorporate into our daily lifestyle. Too often we as Christians can become too locked in, too normalized. To follow Jesus is a living, breathing, exciting process. If it’s become too normal, then it’s time to stir it up, and go deeper with God.

Pursue faith, faith is an unshakable trust in God. We don’t simply believe that Christ is alive and well in heaven right now, we know it. We know it through and through. When we see chaos around us, division, poverty, and suffering, we are not shaken, not broken by it, instead we center our focus on Christ, and recognize with calm and peace, that His plan is continuing effortlessly forward.

Pursue love. Love is not a feeling, not in a biblical sense. Jesus said this is love: To give up one’s life for one’s friends. Love is action, love is doing something. Love is stopping by at your grandma’s house for no reason, because you love her. Love is calling your dad and just talking for an hour. Love is volunteering for Christmas kettles. Love is praying for your friend who doesn’t know Jesus. Love is action.

Pursue endurance. Does that seem like a strange thing to pursue? Most of us have been through crazy times in our lives when we’re shocked by what is happening. A family member dies. We lose a job. Our child is addicted to drugs. A dark depression sets in. We are in more need of endurance than we might realize. Be ready to fight through when dark times come. Winston Churchill said if you’re going through hell, Keep going!

Pursue gentleness. Men, gentleness is not our greatest ability. We can often be harsh & cold. We need to pursue gentleness. Especially with your spouse, and your children. Be gentle. Women, let’s talk. Have you ever said something rude to your husband in earshot of others? That’s not gentle. Have you ever, while disciplining your children, later found yourself using that same tone with your husband? Believe it or not, your husband needs gentleness from you too.

Those are positive commands. We’re being told “do do this.”

Now let’s look at some negative commands. Turn in your Bibles to Galatians 5:19-21: “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

We looked at some things “to do” and now we see things to “abstain from.” To abstain means to never touch those things. If I’m abstaining from alcohol, I never buy it, I don’t think about it, and I don’t hang out in bars. I stay away from it.

In the same way Paul exhorts believers to stay away from various sins that threaten to shipwreck our Christian journey.

A few things jump out to me. Sexual immorality is always at the top of the list. It’s a sin that we’re especially susceptible to. If we aren’t proactively resisting those sexual temptations, they can and will take over and enslave us.

Idolatry jumps out to me. Idolatry is when we put something in our lives before God, like money, or our marriage, or even ourselves.

Hostility jumps out. How often does hostility occur in our relationships? Or when we’re driving?

Divisions and dissensions. We’ve all seen people at our work places, or in our circle of friend, who like to spread gossip, and stir up drama and controversy. The Bible very clearly tells us, don’t be one of those people.

So I’d encourage you to look over this list in greater detail on your own time. But do recognize the seriousness here. At the end of this list it says “Those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” So if we persist in these sort of sins, and refuse the Spirit’s leading, we won’t be going to paradise. We’ll be going to the other place. Take it seriously.

So, how can we put these various commands and practices into action in our lives? To truly live as a “real Christian” takes an ordered life. It takes intentional weekly practices.

I’d like to recommend a book to each of you, it’s called Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. This book is a best seller, and it’s really the gold standard of spiritual disciplines. It’s been instrumental in my life, to develop deeper relationship with God.

The two great practices of all Christians are personal prayer and Bible reading. Let’s talk prayer.

I set a goal of praying for 30 minutes a day, three times a day. When Daniel was in exile in Babylon he prayed 3 times a day. Now, I’m a night owl, so the best time for my long prayer is at night. Usually I begin at 9:00 PM. If you’re a morning person like Major Bob, you could always wake up at 4 AM and pray then.

I’d like to teach you a prayer that I think is great. Everyone look at your hand, doesn’t matter which one. First, your thumb. Your thumb is the one closest to your body. Pray for those close to you, your parents, friends, and family. Pointer finger. It stands over your thumb. Pointer finger means pray for your spiritual leaders. Here you can pray for Major Bob and Lisa, and for other leaders in the corps here. Believe me, they need your prayers, especially during this time of year. Your middle finger, it’s the tallest finger, standing above all the others, so for this finger you pray for those in authority. Pray for the president, and his cabinet. Pray for congress and the courts. And pray for local political leaders as well. The ring finger is our weakest finger. It really can’t do too much. So here we pray for the weak and the hurting. We pray for alcoholics, drug addicts, the abused, the lonely, orphans, widows, and so on. Finally, the pinkie is the smallest finger, so here we pray for ourselves and our needs and desires. Five finger prayer.

Next, Bible reading. I usually read my Bible at the end of the day, after I pray, when I get in bed. I keep my Bible there, and I read one or two chapters from the New Testament and one or two chapters from the Old Testament. Keep it simple. But do it. Be in the word each and every day. It usually takes me a while to fall asleep at night, so what I do is I use my Bible app or my laptop to play an audio Bible to myself while I try to sleep. It’s great. Check out

All these practices start by developing great habits. What do the psychology nerds say about developing a great habit? It takes about two months of “forcing yourself” to do it. It’s a little awkward at first, it’s a little bit of a chore, but after those first few months, it becomes a habit. This is how we develop great habits. It’s by doing it every day, even when maybe we don’t really want to, that it’s going to develop into a habitual practice.

In conclusion, we can do this! God will make it possible. These are practices that will become great habits, that will transform your walk with Jesus, from something that may seem distant or stale, to something living, breathing, close, and active. Let’s pray.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Overcoming Strife and Division: How can the church build unity among believers?

1 Corinthians 1:10 ESV "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment."

It's no secret that we live in a time of great divisions and differences.  Western society seems to be in state of shifting identity.  And as humanity in the west attempts to understand who they are and what values they represent, we see the same cultural conflicts begin to show themselves in the body of Christ.

It's also no secret that the church of Christ on Earth is called to a unity that transcends the divisions and conflicts of this world.  Sometimes the church has failed to properly show that unity. But instead of ragging on the church and it's failures, how instead can we help build toward unity?  How can the body of Christ transcend cultural conflicts and ideological differences?  Let's look at a few ways to approach this strife and division.

1. Recognize that deep differences in values do exist.  There are major value differences between different sectors of our society.  A student at MIT or Princeton working on a law degree or a doctoral thesis is going to have in most cases radically different viewpoints than a rural steelworker who lives in a town of 12,000 people.  So be it.  Differences do exist.  As Christians, how can we focus on what unifies us, instead of divisions?

2 Corinthians 13:11 ESV "Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you."

2. Don't use the pulpit or the body of Christ to propagate your ideology.  If you happen to be a social justice minded progressive activist or a stalwart constitutional conservative libertarian, in either case, as we worship together as Christians, and we both take up positions in leadership in our churches, whether volunteering for a can drive or serving as a youth pastor, learn to separate the ideology from the Christianity.  

The ideology says that political and cultural values come first, and Christianity comes second.  Learn to reverse that.  Christianity comes first, and the values of the word of God, and secondary all the values of the ideology, whether conservative or progressive, or whatever else it may be, socialist, or libertarian and so on.  This is harder than it seems. Because we will want to use our platform to support our agenda.  But should we?  That is the real question.  Is the pulpit for scripture, or for ideology? We are a deeply divided society, but, we can unite around the common values of the Bible and Christianity. 

Philippians 1:27 ESV "Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel"

3. Facilitate Communication and Relationships. It's pretty easy to argue with someone over social media or email. It's a lot harder to do the same thing eye to eye, in the same room.  When we converse face to face, we are forced to realize that our opponents are just people.  We realize these people are humans, not monsters.  And that makes it hard to keep yelling and battling it out over ideas.  Then again, even face to face there are some things that simply won't be able to be worked out.  Different people have different viewpoints and opinions.  That's how the world is.  But we all also have many things in common.  How can we build on those unifying beliefs to build unity in the body?  

This is not to say that if we all come together and talk then we're all going to sing kumbaya or anything.  That sort of pie in the sky just isn't realistic.  But with more communication, perhaps unity can be improved in the body of Christ.  We have differing views, but we have common beliefs as well. 

Romans 13:8-10 "Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law."

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  5. An Investigation of the Biblical Concept of Hell
  6. Why Do I Exist? A Quick Look at the Human Life
  7. What is the equation that shows us how to inherit Eternal Life
  8. How to Repent of all Sins in your Christian Life
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  10. To Those Who Overcome: How to Be Free from all Sin

Sunday, November 18, 2018

What is God doing in your Life right now?

We're often privy to share our testimony, of how we got saved, or how we became a Christian, or how we were raised in the faith. But there is another form of testimony.  And it begins with this simple question: What is God doing in your life right now?

I'd like to share with you what God is doing in my life right now.  And I'd encourage you to consider for yourself what He is doing in your life.  How is God at work?  How are you walking with him?  What do you notice as you interact with God?  Here is my testimony:

Right now in my life, God is shaping me and molding me into who I’m supposed to be. He is forging me through the fires of affliction. He is melting me down, and working the impurities out of my soul. I’m like the mold of clay, and he is cutting the extra pieces off, and molding the remaining pieces into a work of art. I imagine 4 years ago when I first began moving toward ministry I looked like little more than a lump of clay. But today I imagine the contours, the shapes, the lines in the skin are beginning to appear. The mold may be just beginning to resemble a mature follower of Christ.

God has put me through a time of testing recently. He has put before me temptations, and allurements, to see if it is really the desire of my heart to serve Him, or if I still desire to live only for my own selfish desires.

He has tested me and purified me through tense situations, and prolonged stressful ordeals, to ensure I can remain cool under pressure. He has called me beyond the limits of my own strength, to see if beyond my own strength, I will dare to rely on His strength.

He is calling me into holiness. He is calling me into sanctification. He is calling me into deeper prayer and study of the word. He is calling me to learn to socialize, communication, leadership, and self-discipline.

God loves me enough to put me through these trials and tests, because He has willingly entrusted the proclamation of His word to someone even such as me. Which is simply amazing. I don’t deserve all the grace, kindness, compassionate love, and truth He has poured out to me. Walking with Him is the great joy of my life. I love God, and He loves me.

When I’m tempted to believe that I can’t be holy, and that I’ll always be stuck in sin, God calls me to stop making excuses, and to dig in deeper to the Christian life.

Jesus Christ of Nazareth is my savior. He is a real, living savior. Who is alive right now, and with us here in this room. So I am not ashamed of Him. If there’s anything I can advise you to do today, it’s this: Go deeper with Him. Dare to believe that He is really there. When I needed a God figure to save me from the darkest times of addiction, Jesus Christ made it abundantly clear how real and powerful He is. So trust Him and obey Him.

Related Posts:
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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Explaining the Empty Tomb: Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?

Perhaps the most important question of the entire Bible is the question of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. To put it plainly: Did Jesus rise from the dead?  If Jesus was crucified, in reference of history, and he died, and was placed in a tomb, and he simply stayed dead, then Christianity is nothing.  But if Jesus was crucified, buried, but after three days he physically resurrected from the dead, then Jesus was really God on Earth.  And everything he said and did matters infinitely.  

Verified historical sources tell us that Jesus was a real person who was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Galilee. Historians also tell us that Jesus spoke, and lived, and was crucified under the Romans, probably around the age of 30-33. History also records that Jesus died, and was placed in a particular tomb, the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. History also tells us that the tomb was found to be empty.  We will examine, briefly, several prominent views of the historical fact of the empty tomb, and how to explain it historically.  We will then examine which view is most accurate given history. Then we’ll consider the positive evidence.
 Jesus is mentioned as a historical person in multiple sources, such as Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Josephus, the Babylonian Talmud, and Lucian among others (Gleghorn, 2001). 

But the New Testament scriptures are themselves more historically attested to than any of these sources, with 5,868 ancient Greek manuscript copies (Slick, 2008). The accuracy of these manuscripts when compared to one another are 99.5% accurate (Slick, 2008). The only differences between these manuscripts are minor spelling and grammar errors that don’t impact the meaning substantially (Slick, 2008). Therefore, I would make the contention, as is the general consensus in history, that the New Testament documents are historically reliable and outside historical sources prove beyond reasonable doubt that Jesus of Nazareth did exist, was crucified, and his tomb was found to be empty.

Now the real question is, did Jesus rise from the dead? The tomb was empty, that much is historically known.  So how do historians explain the empty tomb?  The most direct explanation would be that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. Christianity spread quickly after the crucifixion.  In fact, each of Jesus’ disciples aside from John were martyred for their faith (Gertz, 2008).  History records that each of them died proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead (Gertz, 2008).  Why would they die for something that wasn’t true? In fact, there are historically recorded events in which Jesus appears to people after his death, including at one point when he appeared to over 500 people (1 Corinthians 15:6). The best answer is that Jesus really did rise from the dead. 

But there are other arguments that are put forward as possible alternatives to this hypothesis.  Some would contend that the disciples of Jesus went to the tomb and stole the body, and then proclaimed that Jesus had resurrected.  That’s one theory.  Another theory is that Jesus’ disciples were so devoted to him and wished so greatly for their master to still be alive that they hallucinated seeing Jesus.  Still another theory is that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross. He was only injured, or drugged, and later he recovered from his injuries and appeared as if he had resurrected.  They call this the “Swoon theory.”  Additionally, there are several other less prominent theories, such as the women went to the wrong tomb or the Roman authorities themselves removed the body of Jesus, but these theories are quite unlikely, so we will not explore them further here.  Instead we will look at the three main counter theories, the stolen body theory, the mass hallucination theory, and the swoon theory.

The first theory is that the disciples stole the body (Storms, 2017). The stolen body theory is not likely because it is recorded that the disciples were so terrified that they fled when Jesus was arrested and brought before Pontius Pilate (John 20:19).  In addition, Roman guards were present during the crucifixion monitoring the situation.  And it’s recorded in the scriptures that guards were placed outside the tomb of Jesus to guard against any possible tampering (Matthew 27:62-28:15).  Roman guards would face execution for failing to fulfill their orders, especially in a situation like this, where stakes were high.  When combining the reality that the disciples were fearful and in hiding, and the tomb was guarded by Roman soldiers, it is highly unlikely that the disciples stole the body.  Additionally, how does one championing this theory explain the post-crucifixion appearances of Jesus? 

The mass hallucination theory indicates that the disciples were hallucinating when they thought they saw Jesus (Storms, 2017).  They wanted Jesus to be alive so badly that they hallucinated.  However, there are several problems with this theory.  First of all, how does one explain that all the disciples saw Jesus, together?  How do they explain that a crowd of over five hundred people all saw Jesus at the same time?  Were all of them hallucinating?  And how could all the same people have the same hallucination?  None of this makes any sense.  Hallucinations are not shared among the same people.  Therefore, the mass hallucination theory fails on these grounds.

The “swoon theory” is that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross (Storms, 2017).  First of all, Jesus was scourged by the Romans, and forced to carry his own cross (Matthew 27:26, John 19:17).  He had a crown of thorns forced around his head.  He would’ve been bleeding profusely.  He was then nailed to the cross, on the wrists and through the feet, areas that would cause high amounts of bleeding.  Jesus was hoisted upon the cross for at least three hours, probably much longer (Matthew 27:46).  He would’ve struggled with massive loss of blood, difficulty breathing, exhaustion, and dehydration.  

And we read in the gospels that Jesus was pierced with a Roman spear to make sure he was dead (John 19:34). It was recorded that blood and water flowed from the location where he was pierced.  The water and the blood would’ve been clear evidence that Jesus was dead.  According to J. Warner Wallace (2014) “Anyone beaten as badly as Jesus in the hours prior to his crucifixion would surely have suffered circulatory shock and heart failure. When this happens, pericardial or pleural effusion typically results. Water begins to form around the heart or in the lungs. If this happened to Jesus, water would pour from his body if the soldier’s spear entered into either of these two regions.”  Medical science tells us that the water and the blood shows that Jesus was in fact quite dead.  For this reason, the swoon theory is certainly false.

So why should we believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Well there are several good reasons to believe this.  Once again we can mention how Christianity rapidly spread from Jerusalem and into the ancient Roman empire, being preached by the same disciples who fled into hiding after Jesus was crucified.  These same terrified disciples became as bold as lions to travel as missionaries across the ancient world when they encountered the resurrected Jesus.  The example of the Apostle Paul is also telling.  He encountered the resurrected Jesus on the Damascus road and he went from being a persecutor of the early church to one of its most ardent heroes (Galatians 1:23).  Jesus appeared to over five hundred witnesses, and it was recorded by the apostle Paul that while he was writing his letter many of these people were still alive (1 Corinthians 15:6).  He in effect invited readers to go and ask these eyewitnesses about when they saw Jesus. Jesus of course also showed himself to his disciples on the Emmaus road, along the sea of Galilee, and to James, after his crucifixion.  Given the spread of Christianity from a few thousand persecuted Jewish Christians to being the most prominent religion in the world today, the empirical and historical evidence is strong that Jesus did in fact resurrect from the dead (Hackett & McClendon, 2017).  Additionally, even today millions of people testify to the fact that Jesus has changed their lives.  This all forms a cumulative case that we can indeed believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

In conclusion there is much evidence to believe historically that the tomb was empty, and that Jesus did rise from the dead.  Though non-believers put forward several alternative theories to the resurrection, those arguments do not hold water when compared with recorded history and the facts involved in the situation. Given the cumulative evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, we can believe that Jesus is bodily resurrected, and is our true Lord, King, and Savior.

Edersheim, A. (2010, April 23). Did the Disciples Steal Jesus's Body? Retrieved October 31, 2018, from
Geisler, N. L. (2012). The big book of Christian apologetics: An A to Z guide. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Gertz, S. (2008, July 1). How do we know 10 of the disciples were martyred? Retrieved October 31, 2018, from
Gleghorn, M. (2010, February 09). Ancient Evidence for Jesus from Non-Christian Sources. Retrieved October 31, 2018, from
Hackett, C., & McClendon, D. (2017, April 05). World's largest religion by population is still Christianity. Retrieved from
Slick, M. (2008, December 10). Manuscript evidence for superior New Testament reliability. Retrieved October 31, 2018, from
Slick, M. (2017, June 09). Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry. Retrieved October 31, 2018, from
Storms, S. (2017, April 24). 10 Things You Should Know about the Empty Tomb of Jesus. Retrieved October 31, 2018, from
Wallace, J. (2014, April 23). Two Hidden Science Facts in the Passion Week. Retrieved October 31, 2018, from

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Ten Christian YouTube Channels to Subscribe To!

I really enjoy the internet, social media, and YouTube in particular!  In fact, I haven't watched television in years.  I don't think I've watched television regularly since I was in my teens.  Instead when I'm looking for some relaxation time, I check out YouTube, or Facebook, or Twitter, or something like that.  So, I'd like to share with you some Christian YouTube channels that I really enjoy.  I have to be intentional about watching quality, clean content.  It matters what I allow in through the gates of my eyes and ears, because from there it goes into my mind and heart.  (These are in no particular order)

1. The Bible Project 
The Bible project comes from two pastors who are passionate about helping people understand the word of God. They make these short animated videos that help us understand larger overarching themes throughout the scriptures, and the greater intents of entire books of the Bible. Just recognize that these videos are from a meta-overarching viewpoint. The idea is that we should be reading the scriptures ourselves, not just watching videos. And if we have very specific questions on key issues, this is not the place to look, because the videos they produce are very general overviews.

2. Desiring God 
The YouTube channel of John Piper's ministry. They do podcasts, sermons, question and answer, and even though there are theological differences between Arminianism and Calvinism, it's good to learn from Calvinists when we can. 

3. The Good Christian Music Blog
GCMB highlights various lesser-known Christian musicians ranging from indie rock to hip hop, and even techno. Definitely a really cool channel to listen to!

4. The Veritas Forum
This is one of my favorite organizations, and they post all their lectures on their YouTube channel. If you're looking for intellectually deep theology, philosophy, and apologetics, check them out and subscribe.

5. CBN News 
I don't really trust television news sources like CNN, NBC, ABC or FOX. Now, I'm not saying CBN is perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I do like how they focus in on news that interests Christians, from the persecuted church, to court cases in the USA, these are the things I do want to know about. 

6. Ascension Presents 
I just recently found this YouTube channel, featuring Catholic priest Mike Schmitz and I was very pleased with his down to earth approach to questions and answers of the Christian life. 

7. Living Waters
Living Waters is the ministry of Ray Comfort, he does a lot of evangelism which I love. Plenty of good documentaries, and lots of street evangelism videos, which is really cool! Fun channel to check out.

8. Answers in Genesis
AIG is a great science and apologetics ministry, definitely check out their videos, great content for kids as well!

9. John Crist 
This channel belongs to John Crist a hilarious Christian comedian who offers excellent, entertaining content, often critiquing the funny quirks of the evangelical community

10. Divine Revelations 
This channel is a very charismatic/Pentecostal channel, but I do enjoy learning from other Christian faith traditions.  This channel contains many testimonies of spiritual experiences, but please do use discretion, and be sure to test every spirit against the word of God and in prayer. But I do share this because I think we who are more orthodox/theologically minded, can learn from those who desire deeper experience with God.

Additional Channels to Check Out:
  1. Ask Dr. Brown
  2. Frank Turek
  3. RZIM
  4. The Gospel Coalition
  5. Dr. Craig Videos
  6. Liberty University
  7. Sermon Index
  8. I am Second
  9. Biola University
  10. Ligonier Ministries
  11. Prophecy Watchers
  12. The Two Preachers

Thursday, November 1, 2018

A Practical Theology of Urban Ministry: How do we minister to big cities today?

Let us consider what a truly biblical theology of urban ministry looks like.  In our day and age major and minor cities are under-evangelized, under-discipled, and their inner city churches are often caught up in partisan politics and so called “social justice” while souls are being lost each day by the thousands to the kingdoms of darkness.  So to discover a truly biblical theology of urban ministry, we must first recognize the key, primary concern of the church on Earth: Making disciples of all nations and baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:16-20).  We’ll be looking at various areas of growth and concern for the proclamation of the gospel in urban areas, and we’ll address ways in which this can be done wisely, biblically, and with boldness and love.  The primary sources of raw data for this consideration include first of all the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, and also includes Tim Keller’s “Center Church” (2012), as well as Street Signs by David P. Leong, Robert Gench’s Theology from the Trenches, and Christ and Culture by H. Richard Niebuhr (2001).  

Scriptural Foundations for the Context of Urban Ministry
Jeremiah 29:3-7 (ESV) "The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It said: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But 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."

First of all, we look at this scripture from Jeremiah 29:3-7 in considering a sola scriptura view of the city context.  God had allowed Israel to be taken to Babylon in captivity.  But the Lord tells the people through his prophet to build houses, and to plant gardens and eat.  He also says to take wives and have sons and daughters.  And he commands his people to seek the welfare of the city and to pray on behalf of the city.  The principle here is clear: We should seek to pray for and bless the people of the city.  The city is not a place to run away from if we are called there, but a place to embrace, to a certain extent, and to minister to.
Revelation 21:2 (ESV) "And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband."
Revelation 21:2 refers to the coming city of God the new Jerusalem.  This is a beautiful city, a perfect city where God will commune with his people.  All people will live together in this place, with homes, and fellowship and continuous worship to God.  Therefore, we can discern from this that cities are not fundamentally evil places. They are obviously imperfect in this world.  But a city is not in itself an evil thing, but has the potential to be a good thing.
Hebrews 13:14 ESV "For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come."
The context of Hebrews 13:14 is a depiction of Jesus being crucified outside the city.  The letter to the Hebrews seemed to be communicating to the Jews that the hope of Jerusalem in the Mosaic covenant context was no longer binding.  Jerusalem was not an eternal city, there is no lasting city on the fallen Earth.  So the writer of Hebrews calls the Jews to come to Jesus, who was crucified outside the city.  In light of sola scriptura, we can understand that this verse is not condemning city life, but calling the Jews away from the old covenant and toward the new.  But implicit in the verse is the understanding that no city on Earth can ever be the city of God that we're called to inhabit one day.  The only way for all things to be made right, and for the city of God to be established, is for Christ to return, and to establish his eternal kingdom.

Christ and Culture Models
The following models are given by Tim Keller, taken from H. Richard Niebuhr's book Christ and Culture. I'll be listing these approaches to cultural engagement and giving thoughts on the effectiveness of each.
Christ against culture. This model suggests fleeing culture and developing separate Christian community. Obviously I would reject this model, as it is not particularly useful in regard to culture engagement.  This model would have us flee and separate ourselves from culture. This is not a useful way to carry the gospel.
Christ of culture. This approach in my view is even worse than fleeing culture. This approach embraces culture and attempts to affirm culture, and make Christ part of culture.  There are some things that can be affirmed in culture, but much of it is alien to Christian truth.
Christ above culture. Once again, this approach is similar to Christ of culture.  Building on the good in culture in my view is dangerous, and could easily lead to compromising biblical truth, or simply becoming a chaplain to the desires and pursuits of secular culture.
Christ and culture in paradox. This view does have some merits to it. Christians do indeed exist in two different worlds, one spiritual, one physical. This view specifically divides it up as sacred and secular. This view could attempt to affirm what is good and transform what is evil.  But I agree with Keller, that it does come up short.
Christ transforming culture. This view seeks to transform every part of culture with Christ.  I too believe this is the best model. To be a Christian is to be transformed by the living gospel.  Cultures can and will be transformed by that same gospel.  A culture can't really stay the same when it encounters God almighty, it changes, and transforms, and becomes something better. 
The chief foundation scripture for a theology of the city in regard to cultural engagement is Romans 12:2 (ESV) “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." I would also name Galatians 3:28 and 1st Corinthians 9:19-23 as additional guidelines for cultural engagement in a theological understanding of such engagement.
Out of Niebuhr's categories the best concept of Christ and culture I believe is that Christ transforms culture. And this is shown in Romans 12:2. Paul writes to believers to encourage them to be transformed, and to not conform to the patterns of this world.  This applied on an individual or church-wide level shows a Christian approach to culture, not removed from, or building upon culture, but being transformed by Christ into unique culture. 
The boundary lines I would draw for this are guided by Galatians 3:28 and 1st Corinthians 9:19-23.  On one end, we see that there really is no more gentile or Jew, or slave or free, but all are one in Christ.  This teaching compels us away from "multiculturalism" and "remaining in culture" and calls us toward the unique unity of kingdom culture.  Then again on the other end of the spectrum, we see 1st Corinthians 9:19-23, which says we as evangelists to the multicultural world will become anything, and adjust ourselves in many ways to relate ourselves to cultures, and bring people to Jesus.  These are the guidelines and boundaries I find to be biblical, reasonable, and logical in engaging culture. Practically speaking, this means engaging with culture, embracing certain aspects of culture, and also calling people to radical transformation in Christ. 

The Church as Witness to the City
Next, we consider the church and its witness to the city. Tim Keller is indeed correct when he says that the church is the final apologetic of the gospel (Keller, 2012).  But the gospel is also the final apologetic of the church. The gospel makes us holy, and the church depicts the beauty of the gospel, or at least it ought to.
Of course the approach we take in the city is a vital concern. One must consider the culture and adapt the phrasing of the gospel to match the mindset of the people of the city.  We must outline the gospel in clear terms, and depict it in a way that people of the city can understand.  Sin must be specified in ways that the city can understand.  What sins are common in the city?  What sins are universal? They should be depicted clearly and specifically.  Salvation should be understood in terms of freedom from sins, and the gift of a new life.
How can the gospel be explained to people in the city? Might it need to be phrased in a way that shows the ultimate emptiness of the pursuit of worldly pleasures and the meaning found in the gospel of salvation?  The new birth could be depicted as a new life based on the true meaning of life. Sanctification could be depicted as a growth process through which the city and the people in it our brought into continuous renewal. The people of God, the church, could become a vital aspect of the large city context, and a renewing agent to the city culture wrought with poverty and brokenness.
The people of the church have sometimes failed to live out the gospel through a lifestyle truly free from sin. There have been some successes and some failures in my denominational context.  And in the context of the big city ministry, the Salvation Army has sometimes followed impotent government institutions which try to create programs to solve poverty or hunger, and only make it worse with unintended consequences. The Salvation Army has sometimes followed that poor example. However, the Salvation Army has also shown itself plainly, in the test of time, to be one of the most enduring movements of society in the last two hundred years.
In my context, the Salvation Army has succeeded most when preaching the gospel, and discipling new converts. This approach was particularly successfully done by John Wesley in Methodism through class meetings and open air preaching.  William Booth did a great deal of street preaching, but not as much in the form of groups and class meetings.  The Salvation Army has been successful in the context of adult rehabilitation centers where drug addicts and alcoholics are taught work skills, and guided through recovery in Christ.  Corps have done well through red kettle campaigns during Christmas.  Other ministries have been less successful, such as the farm colony idea, the match factory, and more recently Kroc centers have struggled in some ways to connect with communities and develop self-sustaining fundraising. But there has been improvement in this regard to Kroc centers in more recent times.

Models of Balance in Urban Ministry
Next let’s consider some of the models discussed in the Keller text "Center Church."  Keller indicated (p. 23) that a balance must be found in the gospel, between legalism and relativism. I would suggest that perhaps a better way of stating it would be a difference between legalism and antinomianism. But the concept is sound. Legalism is the danger of simply obeying the various commandments of the Old and New testament, and losing touch with Jesus Christ; turning instead to self-righteousness. Just as much, if not more so in our day and age is the threat of antinomianism, that one simply believes in Christ, with no need for repentance or setting aside sins of the flesh.  The balance between these two is where the gospel is found, in Jesus Christ, and is the best hope for urban ministry.
Additionally, Keller indicates that for the city context there must be a balance between overadapting and underadapting.  The question must be wrestled time and again: When do we challenge the culture on a particular issue and when do we appreciate a culture?  We can appreciate the city for its architecture, for its fine works of art, and its wealth and intellectual prowess.  We can certainly also challenge the city culture in regard to poverty, drug use, human trafficking, abortion, and other concerns.
Keller continues with a model in the context of "movement." He indicates there must be a balance between structured organization and fluidity. The Salvation Army has certainly wrestled with this sort of balance, between holding to traditions and the authority of the scriptures, and the need for adaptability and versatility in how programs are done. I think the best balance to strike is to hold unwaveringly to the truths of the scriptures and the traditional doctrines of the faith, while being at the cutting edge of new and unique ways of applying these timeless truths to reach people and serve those who are suffering. To move the city into the deep implications of the gospel will mean retelling the gospel message through the lenses of the city, and engaging in meaningful ministry outreach through street evangelism and community cares ministry.  This will help the people of the city understand the gospel in modern terms and see the positive effects of the gospel on the city landscape.
Keller indicates that the means of grace don't have to be complicated or highly specialized to be effective in the context of the city. This sort of view implies that the gospel message is quite sufficient to save and transform humanity without elaborate applications.  Wisdom and discernment are certainly warranted when proclaiming the gospel message, but there is no need to develop complicated programs and ministry approaches.  The gospel message is itself empowered and delivered by the Holy Spirit.  The delivery approach is not as important as the gospel itself, through which Jesus Christ himself, who is alive, makes his message known. 
Then again, Tim Keller has certainly used innovative methods to develop and reach people in ministry in the city.  I think of Tim Keller's book The Reason for God (Keller, 2016) and a small group video curriculum that I viewed that integrated group discussions based on this book. Keller made use of apologetics and reasonable arguments for the existence of God to help contemporary audiences to understand the relevance of the gospel message.
So does the complexity of the city mean that the gospel message has to be complicated?  I don't believe so. Perhaps there are more unique methods that can be made use of in evangelism outreach. But once the people have entered the church and come to faith, the means of grace is fairly straight forward: preaching, small groups, discipleship groups, lay leader curriculum teaching, prayer groups, and so on.  These are time tested methods and they are useful for all peoples, even people in big cities.
The gospel certainly does have the power to transform in mighty and provocative ways. But it is also important to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" in carrying the gospel to the lost. If the gospel transformed areas regardless of approach, then churches would have the same successes in major cities as in smaller towns.  But that isn't the case. The church struggles to reach people in larger cities, for certain reasons.  It's the same with missionary efforts. In certain parts of the world the gospel spreads quickly, while in areas within the 10-40 window, the gospel doesn't move as freely.
Keller is right that there is great and mighty power in the gospel. And that by believing in the gospel, people are transformed and saved by Jesus. But I do believe that the context is important. When dealing with an urban context, one must consider various concerns such as the beliefs of the people who live in the community, their backgrounds, and the worldview of the people living there.
I've seen the gospel move in transformative ways, in true belief, in several ways in my time in ministry. The gospel moved powerfully through "New Day Christian Church" where I first got saved, because the preacher Pastor Aaron Winowiski explained the gospel in modern terms, in ways that people could understand. The scriptures came to life for me and many others, because Pastor Aaron related it practically to our modern everyday lives. He also made use of ample apologetics and scientific illustrations. I've also seen that happen in the Salvation Army, specifically at the ARC ministry, where young men were at their breaking point from drugs and alcohol and wanting something different. But ultimately, the context matters, but Jesus Christ is the one who saves lost people. 
Let’s look at three ways the gospel can be applied wisely to the context of urban ministry.
Depicting the Gospel in Modern Terms. In Acts chapter 15 the early church made the wise decision to not require the gentile converts to Jesus to practice the law of Moses. Sometimes in our modern day and age churches can get stuck on certain cornerstones of how the gospel and church has normally looked. Cultural practices can be a stumbling block to a modern audience. Can the music style change? Yes, it can. Can the entire worship service be re-oriented? Yes, it can. Does there have to be a doxology, or a long sermon message? Not at all. How can we strip off the cultural practices attached to the gospel and shape our services to fit what the culture finds compelling?
Apologetic reasoning toward the existence of God. When the Apostle Paul spoke to the Greeks at Mars Hill he didn't quote from the Old Testament scriptures.  He knew that gentiles didn't recognize the validity of the OT. So Paul made an apologetic, he gave a description of who God is, he found ways to encourage the local culture, while also pointing to the need for repentance from sin and new birth in Jesus Christ. We live in an age of skepticism. How can we use science, history, and manuscript evidence to show that belief in God is reasonable? Tim Keller himself has done this through his book "The Reason for God."
Holiness in love. Each Christian is called to holiness, which John Wesley referred to as "perfect love." If we want to see great revivals and thousands coming to Christ, we must learn to live out our faith in holiness. They will know us by our love.
I'm part of the Salvation Army in the Chicago area, at the training college, which has a Salvation Army sort of culture, though it is different and influenced by the culture and politics of Chicago. At the training we don't really do a lot of outreach to the community, the cadets here are being trained to be leaders of corps (churches) of the Salvation Army.  So we're going to look at internal cultural and contextualization.  Does the gospel influence the culture on campus?  It certainly does. But I think we are somewhat under-adapted in some ways.  Often times on campus we don't really address how the gospel intersects with culture.  More so we are simply teaching doctrine and theology, and it's hard to see how these things connect to real life in culture.  Now, doctrine and theology is very, very important especially in our modern time of biblical confusion and illiteracy.  However, we have to teach and understand the Bible in ways where it intersects with culture.  We do certainly affirm what is good in culture.  There are many Cubs fans and a few White Sox fans, and Bears fan, and people and influence on campus that points to the good things about Chicago, such as the arts and higher learning. However, I think we often fail to confront what is defeating in culture, especially if it's politically incorrect to do so. For example, we can talk about human trafficking, or racism, or poverty, because they are politically correct, but talking about abortion, or gay marriage, or progressive theology, we're silent about those because of fear and because they are politically incorrect, and we might be punished by the culture for speaking up about them.  But I understand the need to preserve the larger institution's integrity, at the same time. In regard to preaching about God's love and sin, I think we bring up God's love all day every day in the Salvation Army, but we aren't as willing to talk about sin or judgment.  But overall, I think the Salvation Army does a good job engaging culture in its context.

Technology, Culture, and Globalization
"The technological revolution has led to an unprecedented mobility of people, ideas, and capital" (Keller, 2012).  People in the world are more connected than they've ever been in history.  The culture of the big city has spread to the world through the use of the internet and other means.  As Al Mohler wrote, "If the Christian church does not learn new modes of urban ministry, we will find ourselves on the outside looking in" (Keller, 2012).  So technology has had a great influence, along with urbanization and globalization. This has developed a situation where the city has become an increasingly important mission field.
Keller looks at the makeup of the city and reflects on it from a biblical perspective.  He considers the dark side of the city, reflecting on Sodom and Gomorrah, and their destruction at the hands of God.  He also considers the positive outlook of the city when considering how God founded Israel, and the "city of God" Jerusalem. Keller also considers the first city established by Cain in the book of Genesis, which turned out to be a city with a culture of death (Keller, 2012, p. 128). 
I've always tended to think of big cities as evil places.  I've spent a lot of time studying the book of Revelation, and one sees the city of Babylon, this evil city, and its impending destruction.  I also consider the tower of Babel, a city-like structure reaching up into the heavens to declare their superiority to God.  Growing up in smaller towns, I would often hear about the ugly things that went on in bigger cities.  So I'd almost always considered bigger cities to be places of sin and darkness.
But it's useful to consider the fact that God designed Jerusalem to be the city of God, a holy place.  And in the book of Revelation at the end, we see God setting up a new "city of God" in the new heavens and new Earth.  So obviously cities are not all bad.  But I do believe that any human city, no matter how hard it tries, always tends to turn into a mini-Babylon. 
How can church movements adapt to the changes in society, in regard to globalization?  It's a good question to consider. Traditionally my movement, the Salvation Army has targeted the poor and the needy for programs, support, and missions.  How can we as a movement adapt to the changing conditions of globalization, and the growth of large city communities?
Keller points out several opportunities he sees in the city, like the younger generation that are increasingly drawn to larger cities (Keller, 2012, p. 160).  He also indicates that the "cultural elites" reside in the major cities, so the single greatest way for Christians to influence culture is by evangelizing these people.  Keller comments on how MTV has had such a huge global influence on youths, even more so than communism in areas of Romania (Keller, 2012, p. 161).  Imagine if Christians could influence these powerful cultural institutions!  Keller also lists unreached people groups as a target for urban ministry, because the city context has made these people groups much more accessible.  Keller also points out that the poor make up a large part of much of the city context and need to be reached with the gospel (Keller, 2012, p. 162). 
I think the Salvation Army can adapt to reach these people with the gospel in several key ways.  First, the Salvation Army should continue to seek to reach and serve the poor.  The poor are more numerous than ever in the big cities.  Second, the Salvation Army could attempt to connect with and influence cultural elites to help transform the culture and values of society toward Christian ideals.  What would this look like exactly?  I'm not certain.  God will provide.
Additionally, the Salvation Army could seek to develop smaller mission centers all across the big cities.  Develop a cheap, effective, quick method of spreading mission centers, like coffee shops, or something appealing to big city people, and develop a self-sustaining economic model, and then find ways to get that mission/coffee center to spread.  We need outside the box thinking to reach city people.  I think it could be done. 

Refining our Approach to Gospel Proclamation
As the common idiom goes "You can't cure the sickness unless you know the disease."  I think Keller is quite right that we have to consider and help people comprehend the malady that they face as fallen people in a sinful world.  At the end of the day, we all come to Christ for forgiveness of sins.  That is the gospel.  If people don't understand the sin problem, they can't understand the Christ solution.  This puts us in the somewhat awkward situation of having to preach the disease before we can preach the cure.  Not a fun thing to do, obviously. But Christ didn't come to give us a better life, though for me that's been a result.  Christ came to offer himself up as a penal substitutionary atonement for the sins of the world. 
Additionally, as Keller stated, doctrine is very, very important. In my generation there are a lot of concerns that I have about people no longer really caring much about doctrine.  Often in the Salvation Army, we can get so wrapped up in practical application, service, and "doing something" that we leave behind the deep theological meditations that we should undertake to understand why we do what we do.  Some have even proposed changing certain doctrines and ideas to better fit the beliefs of our time, which is a dangerous path to begin down.  They suggest doing this for the sake of "love." But it isn't loving to change the truth to suit our own preferences, in fact it's quite contrary to love.  So we should understand and teach good, solid biblical doctrine. Doctrine is beautiful, and helps us understand our faith and it's implications in new ways.
I believe Tim Keller is ultimately correct about his appraisal of the problems related to the proclamation of the gospel message in our day and age. The three problems he indicates are the evangelistic approach of the church is not comprehensive enough. The second problem he indicates is that the church is too tied to certain forms of church community.  The third and most important problem that Keller indicates is that there has been a loss of a clear understanding of the gospel.
Keller indicates that today in modern churches the gospel is not understood properly any longer. He indicates the importance of the "great exchange."  The great exchange is the idea that Christ's righteousness was imputed to us when we believed in Christ, and at that same moment our sin was imputed to Christ.  This is how people are saved by Jesus, by the removal of sin.  But unfortunately this understanding is not as prominent any longer. Keller indicates how modern pastors have pushed toward an understanding of the gospel application as being corporate, instead of individual.  And this changes how the gospel is proclaimed to the lost. He also shows how when concepts like atonement and sin are set aside for a more relational message based on a "new way of life" and simply trading an old bad way, with a new good way, that the power of the gospel is lost.
I believe Tim Keller is quite right about this lack in an understanding of the gospel.  In fact, many times I've been in Salvation Army churches and this basic understanding of the gospel is missed.  Often people just talk about love, and nice things Jesus did, and living differently, but the cross, and the atonement and sin is completely neglected.  We today seem to have a "half-gospel" where sin, heaven, hell, and God's wrath are carefully ignored in favor of love, new life, God's love, and the idea that you can never lose your salvation.  This is not good, and strips the gospel of its power.  We must return to the full gospel to see great change in the lives of our people, especially in the city.

Social Justice and Urban Ministry
Tim Keller is correct in his perspectives on the dangers of the gospel of social justice supplanting the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  There are certain aspects of social change that are useful and wise for the church to partake in.  These would include things like feeding the poor, providing clothing, helping with job competency, digging wells, and fighting for inalienable rights.  But these social actions should always be understood to be secondary to the proclamation of the gospel.  The ideas of the social gospel and social holiness, especially prevalent in the Salvation Army, should not be primary concerns, but secondary concerns.
Unfortunately, that is not the case, and it should be addressed, not only in the Salvation Army, but in many church movements, especially mainline Protestantism and evangelicalism.  I've noticed especially in larger cities, that inner city churches sometimes become political in nature, pushing for social justice, social change, and progressive political ideology.  The true gospel is set aside in favor of secular social concerns, and political ideology.  I've seen the same in the other direction in smaller and medium sized suburban areas.
I think the best way to resolve the tension between gospel proclamation and social action is to consider two key scriptures, Matthew 28:16-20, the great commission, and Matthew 25:31-46 the sheep and the goats.  The proclamation of the gospel is primary.  Of secondary concern are the areas of social action prescribed in Matthew 25:31-46. Unfortunately, there seem to be many, especially in Chicago, who tend to take the "social action" or "social justice" a lot further, into identity politics, partisanship, and "power-structure" socio-political manipulation. 
This slide toward partisan politics has been a chief concern of mine since first coming to Chicago a year ago.  I've seen the partisanship of many churches in the area, and it fills me with concern, when the gospel is supplanted for political social action. Often times it goes far beyond the bounds of feeding the poor, clothing the naked, visiting prisoners, and caring for the sick, and can quickly become calling out "white privilege", implying people are racist, pushing Marxist ideas of wealth redistribution and victim groups, and getting involved in partisan political battles on an institutional level. I think the same thing can happen with more rural evangelical churches where the gospel becomes secondary to conservative politics, free market economics, political action, and culture war ideology.
These things should scare us all. But as Keller said, as doctrine faded in importance, evangelicals began pushing toward right wing conservative politics, and mainline protestants began pushing toward leftist political ideology.  It's a sad state of affairs, and we as the church need to get back to our mission of proclaiming the gospel and meeting needs.

Missional Ministry
The scriptures of the Old and New testaments make it clear to me that missional ministry is all about fulfilling the great commission to make disciples of all nations. The church was founded as the body of Christ on Earth. Jesus issued his final command, and ascended to heaven, commanding the church to proclaim the gospel.
The church has a mission, and its mission is given by Christ.  But God's mission is ultimately fulfilled by Christ himself, as he ministers through his church.  Yet we also have a part to play in all that happens, we are required to be obedient, and to go out and do his will.  Similarly, I would say that as a believer I do engage in God's mission in the world.  I'm not the mission itself, I'm a result of the mission, which is a man set free from sin, and given new life.  I've been added to the ranks of those who are carrying out the mission that God has given his body in the world.
Galatians 3:26-29 (NIV) says "So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise."
As those at work for God's mission, we've been added to the body of Christ, and even further, we have become part of the promised result given by God to Abraham.  In Genesis 12:1-3 God promised Abram that if he walked with God he would become a blessing to all the nations.  And true to His word, God made that happen through Jesus Christ, and then through the body of Christ, as the gospel began to spread across the Earth. Missional ministry means fulfilling God's promise to Abraham by proclaiming the gospel through evangelism.
So what is a missional church?  What does it look like? Tim Keller is quite right that Christian community is much more than a supportive fellowship.  That's how the world sees Christian community.  They see it as a crutch for weak people, an opiate for the masses, and so on. A Christian community which reflects a true biblical Christian worldview is an alternate society.  It's a society within a fallen society.  A Christian community, which is represented by a church building, worship services, and weekly activities, represents a radically different culture than the world around it.  In this way it does impact the existing culture, sometimes in major transformational ways, but in our day and age it seems to mostly impact cultures in less tangible ways. 
So an individual member of this Christian community, is part of the indigenous culture. But they are also part of a Christian culture.  They come to know Jesus, and are reborn.  They have the Holy Spirit within them.  They come to services on Sundays and they worship God in song, engage in prayer, and receive a sermon message.  During the week this person engages with a weekly Bible study group, or a small group, or a discipleship group, or other activities.  But they are also expected to be in personal prayer each day, and are expected to be reading their Bibles during the week.  In this way they engage with God.  They engage with others through worship on Sunday and the weekly activities at the building.  Hopefully they are also engaging in friendships and mentor relationships with other members of the congregation.
This person then engages with culture by proclaiming the gospel to their friends and neighbors, by living out their Christian faith at work, and while about town, and they also invite others to become part of the Christian fellowship.  In this way they engage with culture. 
The goal then is that groups of these individuals would gather together on Sunday, and join in fellowship during the week, while also engaging in personal lifestyle evangelism, to expand the body and bring more people to Christ. 
There is a concern in culture, which I think is magnified and increased in larger cities, and especially among the young, and young adults, that Christianity is simply not applicable to modern times.  They see Christianity as mythical, or as something that has been left behind in favor of science and technology.  There is a lot of cultural baggage that people bring to their understanding of religion, and specifically Christianity.
This is where I realize that I need to see myself as a missionary engaging in a very foreign field.  People in the larger cities are used to scam artists, I suppose all Americans are.  We're used to being told by commercials, billboards, and advertisements about amazing deals that aren't actually amazing at all.  We've also been educated in school systems that for most have been inspired by and guided by enlightenment values, and in more recent times, post-modernist and relativist philosophy. 
This is one of the reasons that I think Christian apologetics are exceedingly useful for ministry in the city.  Tim Keller made use of apologetics with his book "The Reason for God."  He used classic arguments like the cosmological argument, the moral argument, and the argument from design to help win people to Christ.  People want to see evidence in our day and age.  The "verification principle" took hold in much of academia, the idea that anything that is true must be proven by science and/or empiricism.  So for me, to engage with the culture, I need to re-explain core concepts of Christianity, like sin, salvation, eternal life, the cross, and basically our entire worldview from scratch.  People are not Christianized as much in the country, and especially in the big cities.  So we really have to start from scratch and explain the gospel in modern times, while giving many apologetics for why we believe what we believe.

Scriptural Foundations for Missional Urban Ministry
To state it very simply, Jesus Christ gave his followers the "great commission" in Matthew 28:16-20 before he ascended to heaven.  And that commission was to make disciples of all nations.  For that reason, the church must exist in cities, because that is where the people are that Christ is calling us to make disciples of.  The church must be there to reach those people, and to win them to Christ, by whatever means necessary. All nations need the gospel, and all languages, and all sorts of people groups out there, they all need Jesus. 
A second scripture is Ephesians 2:19-22 (ESV) which says "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit."
We are citizens of the kingdom of God.  We are citizens of a new nation, which is the household of God.  We are members of this kingdom because of Jesus Christ who has purchased us.  Thus the city format is much like God's design, like a kingdom unto itself.  And so we must convert the city to Christ.
A third scripture is Romans 12:5 (ESV) which states, "So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." The city is like a body, with various parts, a heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, arms and legs, and so on.  In the same way the body of Christ are various parts of Christ's body. 
Now let’s consider three practical applications for a missional approach to ministry:
Incarnational Ministry. Incarnational ministry is the idea that we not only proclaim Christ to others but we actually carry His love and share his love with people who need it.  To live incarnationally is similar to being an apostle in that Christ's love flows through us, and we take part in Christ's ministry of love and service.  Incarnational ministry is useful to help break people of the big cities from their apathy.
Discipleship/Evangelism. Discipleship is vital. Wesley's approach was expansive, to go out and beyond the church walls.  He did this in a large part through preaching in fields. He was highly successful and he blessed these people missionally by building them up through discipleship groups, that he called band and class meetings. This helped the people he served to grow in their faith and become active parts of the body of Christ. This is vital for those in the big city who often have little structure in their lives.
Biblical Servanthood. Servanthood is the idea that we serve.  We live in a lowly way, serving others, and meeting their needs.  We feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, and help heal the sick. In this way we are servants of all. This is vital for ministry in the city, as there is much poverty and a great need for lowly service.

A Great Awakening in the Urban Context
We'll now be considering the possibility of "great awakening" in an urban context.  What would it take for a true revival in the city context?  How could a great awakening break out in our age?
John Wesley in his ministry found himself greatly motivated by the realization of impending judgment on sinners in the world.  In fact, that is a key truth of our faith, that if people do not come to Christ, then they face eternity in a place referred to in the scriptures as "hell." 
In our modern day and age mention of hell has largely left the pulpits, much of the time along with mention of heaven, or the new Jerusalem.  This is not a good thing.  We should be talking about these two realities, because they are just that, clear realities.  If we want our people to take eternal perspectives on life and ministry, then we should be talking about heaven and hell.
Much of the emphasis in the "holy clubs" developed by John Wesley was the idea of trying to truly live out a Christian life, to avoid the fires of hell. And John Wesley said that he felt the need to "awaken" people's consciences to the reality of their fallen state and their need for a savior. I see this as the key to revival in our times.  People need to realize their sinful state and then be challenged to flee to Christ for salvation. So how can this be applied to urban ministry?  
We should be helping people understand their sinful fallen state, so they can come to Jesus for the cure.  I've seen a very simple method of this done by an evangelist named Ray Comfort, in which he goes through the ten commandments and helps the individual understand their guilt, and then he helps lead them to Jesus, to be their savior.  I think that sort of simple approach could be useful in evangelism in a large city context.
I also love the concept of "missional holiness."  I've always loved the concept of being missional, and living a lifestyle of daily evangelism.  But I realized after a few years of this that something serious was missing from that equation.  Holiness is really the power behind all we do as the church.  Holiness is what sets us apart.  We can be as missional as we want, but without holiness, there is no power behind the mission.  Ultimately in the hope of reaching people of the city, and of helping to rally lost humanity to great awakening, we must live missionally, and we must live out biblical holiness.  People are going to respond when we live out the faith in holiness.  And people will have the opportunity to respond when we live missionally, with an emphasis on evangelism. 

Let’s look at some concluding scriptural references to back up these ideas. Romans 10:13-15 (ESV) says: "For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”"
This scripture makes it clear that we must live missionally. And we must emphasize evangelism in the large city context. 
Additionally, 1 Peter 2:9 (ESV) 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."
We are a priesthood of believers who are a holy, set apart nation, a people who belong to God, to live in personal holiness. And this holiness helps people to see the kingdom of God, and to find their way out of darkness and into the light of God.  That is the goal in the big city ministry, to be beacons of light as the priesthood of believers, to the darkness of the city, to help people know Jesus as Lord.

Collins, K. J. (1999). A Real Christian: The Life of John Wesley. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Gench, R. J. (2014). Theology from the Trenches: Reflections on Urban Ministry. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
Keller, T. (2012). Center church: Doing balanced, Gospel-centered ministry in your city. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Keller, T. (2016). The reason for God: Belief in an age of skepticism. New York: Penguin.
Leong, D. P. (2012). Street Signs: Toward a missional theology of urban cultural engagement. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications.
Niebuhr, H. R. (2001). Christ and culture. New York: Harper Collins.
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