Denver: Days 3-4

Our team is sitting in the Denver airport about to fly home, so I thought I’d take these few minutes to finish telling you about our vision trip to Denver, CO. Thank you so much for the prayers and encouragement via comments, Facebook, email, and text. They have been an invaluable part of the trip.

On day 3, we spent the morning with a precious family in the northern Front Range, who is a friend of one of our team members. They were so gracious. They prepared breakfast for us, mapped out a tour of the Fort Collins area, and took most of their morning to show us around. Thank you Matt and Becky!

In the Fort Collins area we found a culture that felt familiar to us North Raleighites, along with more affordable housing. We also drove by the newly constructed Mormon temple.

There seems to be a stronger church presence in Fort Collins than Denver, but there is still great need.

For example: the Alliance for Suicide Prevention of Lamier County states: “On average, one person in Larimer County [the county in which Fort Collins is located] dies from suicide every 4 to 5 days.” Our team talked about how hard this is for us to understand. Fort Collins is highly educated and affluent, offers almost unmatched opportunity for recreation, and has the Rocky Mountains for its backyard. Why then is there such depression and hopelessness?

I would never want to oversimplify a problem as big as this, but as believers we understand that beautiful landscapes were never meant to offer lasting peace. Their beauty is intended to cause humans to recognize the Creator and worship Him. No amount of knowledge, money, or fun will quench our spiritual thirst for love and joy. This is why a continued and ever-growing gospel witness through church-planting is so important.

We finished our morning tour with an even clearer vision of the need for church planting along the Front Range and with excitement about where God might call us. And since we weren’t able to secure any more meetings for Saturday afternoon/evening, we decided to head into Rocky Mountain National Park for some fun and to talk through all that we’d experienced over the previous 48 hours.

Once inside the park, it’s not hard to see why the mountains are such a draw. They are magnificent! God was just showing off when He formed those jagged peaks and crystal clear streams.

After our time in the park, we headed back down to the city of Denver. What a contrast! We transitioned from taking pictures of Elk (who couldn’t care less if we were around) to attempting to navigate the city’s public transportation system.

I’m really glad that we ended our exploration of the Front Range by spending Saturday night walking around the city. To me cities accentuate most vividly the brokenness caused by sin. How can a person who has limitless parties, partners, entertainment, food, and drink never find contentment? How can someone who has lived in the city for almost a decade soberly and sincerely state, “I have no friends” (True story told to us by one church planter, and apparently not an uncommon one)?

They need Jesus – the Friend of sinners – to heal their brokenness and satisfying their longing. And they need the church – His body – to be the tangible representation of that healing and satisfaction.

On our last day, we visited a brand new church plant (in only their second week of public worship services), which is working hard to be the hands and feet of Christ; and after worship, we had a final team meeting to discuss where we need to go from here.

There is still a lot of work to be done before it can be decided if Denver is where we will plant. Many follow-up emails need to be written and phone calls made. Further study needs to be done on specific neighborhoods. But more than this, as all of the knowledge we’ve gained and experiences we’ve had begin to settle in our minds, we need God to direct us.

Pray that He would continue to direct us.
Pray that if Denver Metro or somewhere else on the Front Range is where He wants us to plant a church, He would make that clear.
And pray that when steps of faith need to be made in the coming days, we will not shy away from them but move forward in obedience to our King.

For His sake and for the joy of the nations,

Denver: Day 2

Our team’s second day was spent in the city. We met Dave, the city missionary, downtown at 8:30 AM and spent the whole morning driving around two sections of the city. First, we drove west from the heart of downtown to the edge of Denver Metro. Houses went from packed-in and fairly small to huge and more spaced out. I thought to myself, “Urban, suburban, or somewhere in between? Are you calling us to this city, God? And if you are, where specifically do you want us to plant our lives?”

To be honest, Friday was a difficult day. The whole group was filled with mixed emotions, and it seemed like the more real estate we surveyed, the more muddled things became in our minds. Dave did an amazing job giving us snapshots of the city. (I can’t imagine doing this without his help.) But it’s daunting to consider where you should plant a church when over 100 are needed in Denver Metro, and there are 30 more cities in our nation in the same kind of spiritual shape (or worse).

In addition to this challenge, Denver has become a very expensive place to live over the past few years. The metro area has become one of the fastest growing cities in America, and housing construction has not been able to keep up. For this reason, homes cost around 40 percent more than the national average. Obviously, this is a big factor to consider in church planting. As I said before, there are reasons why the most underserved cities in our country are as they are.

So Friday was tough, as all of these realities began to sink in.

But that afternoon, as I was sitting in the hotel lobby trying to get some perspective from the Word, a lady walked up to me; and, seeing one of my books sitting on the table in front of me, she struck up a conversation. She was Catholic, but also held to some tenants of other religions. We had a great conversation, and I was able to speak truth into her life a little; but I believe that this encounter was mostly what God knew I needed in order to get my head back in the game.

You see, talking about facts and figures is important, but it is also, by nature, impersonal. It’s the conversations like the one I had with this lady that remind me why we’re doing what we’re doing. She needs the gospel. She is working so very hard to “stay in grace” with God. But this is a position/state which Jesus has already purchased for her! And it’s our job to tell her this. I certainly tried, but discipleship takes time, which takes presence, which takes believers planting their lives in a community.

So for the sake of the souls of people like this lady, I ask the same thing that Paul asked the Colossians: “Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…” (Col. 4:3). Pray that He will make it clear to us where we are to plant our lives that we might plant His gospel and His church.

Saved to Be Spent

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” -Luke 9:23

So far in 2016 I’ve been thinking a good bit about the question, “What is our salvation for?” I mean, I know that I am to be sharing the gospel with others, discipling them, and producing fruit in my character (love, joy, peace, etc.), but what does this look like in every day life?

A new horizon opened up when I encountered a little video series entitled “For the Life of the World” by the Acton Institute. The message of the series is that we, just like Israel in exile, are called to “seek the welfare of the city where [God has sent us]…and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare [we] will find welfare” (Jer. 29:7).

We are called to add value and beauty and LIFE to whatever spaces and relationships God placed us in. We do this most powerfully as we share the gospel and see broken and sinful human begins transferred from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of Jesus (Col. 1:13-14). But sharing the gospel is not where it begins or ends. In fact, we are called to leverage all of our gifts – as human begins made in the image of God and begin re-made into the image of Christ – for the flourishing of our neighborhoods, cities, workplaces, churches, families, and friendships. 

There is a temptation in the American evangelical church culture to be very thankful for all that God has given us (1 Tim. 6:17) without realizing that it has been given for a purpose. We have been blessed with a house, a job, a family, a church, etc. in order to be a blessing in the context of the relationships that those things create.

Though we are called to enjoy what God has given us, Christians are not saved and blessed that we might use these things up on ourselves. We are blessed that we might bless (Gen. 12:2). We are saved to be spent. 

And this is why Jesus says in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” In Luke 9, Jesus has just revealed to His disciples who He is (vv. 18-20) and what He has come to do (vv. 21-22); and what He has come to do is pour out His life for the eternal life of the world (John 3:16-17).

In like manner, we have been given the great privilege of signing over all that we own, all that we love, all that we hope for, and even our very lives, to the One who saved us.

“Here is my life. Spend it as you will,” should be our posture.
“Spend it in ordinary or remarkable ways.”
“Spend it through times of suffering and times of comfort.”
“Spend it in times of need or in abundance.”
“Spend it right where I am, or spend it in a foreign land.”
“Spend my resources as you please, Lord.”
“Spend my family’s time as you will.”
“Spend my life for Your glory and for the eternal life of the world.”

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake,” Jesus says, “will save it” (Luke 9:24). 

Spend time with sinners. Show them mercy.

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” -1 Cor. 6:11 ESV

On more than one occasion in my life, I’ve held to assumptions about certain “types” of people; and then, after actually spending time with them, my assumptions were radically altered, and my view toward their “type” was necessarily changed. As an inerrantist, conservative, evangelical Christian, I believe that the Bible never changes, but after studying church history a bit, it is obvious that some Christians’ “application” of the Bible has been found wanting. Just before the verse I quoted above, the Apostle Paul has given one of his lists of those whose sinful ways will condemn them at the final Judgment, and then he takes the time to remind the Corinthians that some of them too were once in this state. But Christ and His gospel washed them!

Perhaps it is, at the moment, too much for me to ask some of my fellow believers to spend time with those of this world who are enslaved to self-destructive patterns – to take the light into the dark places and be the agent by which such men an women are washed, justified, and sanctified. I understand and honestly struggle with this at times as well. Yet I would humbly and strongly urge you to at least spend time with those whom you call “brother” or “sister,” those whom you would claim are washed, but who still struggle with the painful and addictive effects of sin.

For me, it has only taken sitting with a Christian still struggling with alcoholism once. For me, it has only taken one time of talking to a drug addict just after they’ve fallen again. For me, it has only taken listening to a 40+ year old man talk about the fact that he’s only ever been attracted to those of his same sex – listening to his choice to be lonely but chaste because he has been washed, while understanding that God may not free him from this struggle until he is free from his flesh and this world.

Some say we should redefine the Bible’s definition of sin. Others say we should condemn all those who struggle in ways that are foreign to us. Neither are helpful or loving.

Why? Because sin is not just a choice, it is not only rebellion. It is also not just brokenness, not only a cause for pity. Those who would embrace only the former will become hypocrites, and those who cling to the latter will never really help anyone – their pity is powerless because it ignores God’s holy standard. But if we understand that sin as both rebellion against God and an innate brokenness, we will be presented with an opportunity to be used by God to bring comfort and heart-change.

In all of this, I’m simply asking believers to not only mimic the message of Jesus and the apostles, but also emulate their methods. Sit down with the woman at the well, and since you don’t have inexhaustible knowledge about her (as Jesus did)… just listen. Go into the house of Zacchaeus and Mary Magdalene, or, if you are not willing or able at the moment, at least reserve judgment until you do. This is not only prudent but essential, for James give us another warning that Christians dare not ignore: “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (Js. 2:12-13 NASB). We show mercy because we have been shown mercy in the gospel, and we show mercy because we are continually being shown mercy as we are both broken and rebellious each day.

Yes, God forbid that we redefine His holy standard, and God forbid that we be found on Judgment Day lacking in mercy after the Son of God left Heaven to suffer crucifixion that we may be washed, justified, sanctified, and (Praise His Name!) shown mercy.

In Christ,