The Transfiguration of Christ

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Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.  And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.  Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.  Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.”

Luke 9:28-36

Today is the last week of the Epiphany season, with Lent beginning this Wednesday. It is appropriate for us to end the season of Epiphany by reflecting  on the Transfiguration of Christ.

The Transfiguration can seem like an odd story, and its import is not always clear. After Peter has recognized Christ as the Messiah, and after Jesus has foretold his death and resurrection to his disciples, Jesus withdraws with Peter, James, and John to a mountain to pray. There, Elijah and Moses come to speak to Jesus about his departure to Jerusalem (the Greek word used in Luke, intriguingly, is his exodos), and his impending death. Just when Moses and Elijah are about to leave, Peter speaks up, suggesting they create tabernacles, or dwelling places, for all three of them. At that moment a Glory-Cloud envelops Jesus, and a voice from the Cloud says, almost in rebuke to Peter, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to Him!” Then the Cloud disappears, and Jesus is alone.

The next day, they go down from the mountain and Jesus casts out a demon from a boy, and the story seemingly picks up again from there.

At first glance, the Transfiguration seems like a strange interlude, an interruption in the main plot of Jesus’ story. However, when properly understood, the Transfiguration provides an interpretive key to understanding Jesus’ identity, the Apostles Peter and John’s ministries, and the whole canon of Scripture.

Where Jesus’ baptism marks his entry into the first stage of his ministry, the revelation of Jesus’ glory in His Transfiguration marks his turn to the second stage of his ministry, where he journeys to His Crucifixion. The narrative elements surrounding both events have clear parallels–1) John the Baptist testifies to the Coming One before Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:11-13), Peter testifies that Jesus is “the Messiah of God” a few days before the Transfiguration (Luke 9:20); 2) Following the Baptism, Jesus wrestles with and overcomes the Devil in the wilderness (Matthew 4:12-13), following the Transfiguration, Jesus drives out a demon from a boy (Matthew 17:22-24).

The events of the Baptism and the Transfiguration themselves are also similar. At the Baptism, the Spirit descends on Jesus as a Dove and the Father declares that Jesus is his beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased. At the Transfiguration, the Spirit descends as a cloud of glory, and the Father declares that Jesus is the Elect Son, and the disciples should listen to him.

Both events are “epiphanies” or appearances of God, but importantly they are Trinitarian epiphanies–God is seen in the united action of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Peter, James, and John all witnessed the Transfiguration. As evidenced by their writings, it seems that this disclosure of God’s Trinitarian nature was key in shaping the apostles’ understanding of who Jesus is, and who God is.

In his Gospel, John writes that “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” Close readers of the Bible might be confused by this statement. In the Old Testament, there are numerous places where God comes down, manifests, or is somehow or other “seen” in Creation–there is the Lord’s visit to Abraham (Genesis 18), the Angel of the Lord in the burning bush calling to Moses (Exodus 3:2-4), and the Lord guiding Israel in the wilderness as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21), to cite a few examples.

But John’s statement should call to mind the story of Exodus 33, where Moses asked to see God in His Glory. God was pleased with Moses and had been speaking to Him through the Angel, but He would not reveal His Glory-Face to Moses. This is why He hid Moses in the cleft of a rock and allowed Moses to only see His back. Then the Lord comes before Moses in the cloud and declares a covenant with Israel in Exodus 34. Though Moses has not beheld the Lord’s face, because he was in the Lord’s shrouded presence in the cloud, his own face shines with such glory and brilliance that he has to cover it with a veil when he returns to the Israelites.

At the Transfiguration, Peter confusedly attempts to equate the greatness of Jesus with that of Moses and Elijah (Luke 9:33). But what the Father declares, and what the Apostle John comes to understand, is that Jesus is not just shining as a reflection of God’s Glory, as Moses shone in Exodus; Jesus is God’s Glory-Face. Jesus is not only Israel’s Messiah–he is the full revelation and self-disclosure of God.

This is why, for John, Jesus’ presence in the world is comparable to God’s presence to Israel in the Tabernacle. John 1:14 states that the “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” But the Greek word for “lived” could also be translated as “dwelt” or “tabernacled” among us. Further, John’s statement that Jesus is full of grace and truth is itself a call-back to Exodus 34:6, where God describes Himself as “abounding in goodness and truth.”

The revelation of Jesus as the Glory-Face of God is a theme that runs throughout John’s Gospel, even though he does not include the event of the Transfiguration itself. And this theme is further developed in John’s letters. For example, John expresses confidence in 1 John 3:2, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” John’s experience of the Transfigured Christ allows him to see that the very act of seeing Christ in beauty and power will transform us into reflections of that beauty and power. Jesus is God’s Glory-Face, the true Image of God. Just as Moses’ face shone in reflection of God’s Glory before the Israelites, our faces will shine in reflection of Jesus’ Glory before the world.

The Transfiguration also had a profound effect on Peter’s theology, as clearly shown in his second letter. 2 Peter 1:16-19:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

In 2 Peter 1, Peter draws a connection between the Transfiguration on “the holy mountain” and the Second Coming of Christ. Because the apostles saw for a moment the full glory and majesty of Christ at the Transfiguration, they are able to believe with full confidence and credibility that he will come again in power to judge and reign eternally over all things. At the Transfiguration, we see God’s eternal plan had always been to, as testified in the unity of Scripture, “gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.

Alastair Roberts has written at length on the importance of the Transfiguration, and his thoughts can be found in free e-book form here. I have drawn very heavily from his writings for this post, and I encourage you to read them in full. As he closes his reflections on the Transfiguration, he writes:

The glory revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration discloses the identity of Christ and thereby the character of his mission. This is the glorious Saviour that came to earth in the incarnation. This is the glorious Son that was declared in the vision associated with his baptism. This is the glorious suffering Servant that went to the death of the cross. This is the glorious Lord that rose from the grave and ascended into the cloud that received him from his disciples’ sight. This is the glorious King that will come again to judge the living and the dead. It is in this glory that we will be caught up to dwell with him forever.

Amen.

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Epiphany and the Baptism of Christ: Part 3

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“And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:16-17

The season of Epiphany celebrates the revelation of God incarnate in Jesus Christ. We began the season reflecting on the adoration of the Magi, when Gentile wise men came to recognize the Jewish Messiah child as the true Lord of the world. Now, as we near the end of Epiphany, we conclude our last week investigating how Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan unveils his identity and purpose.

Two weeks ago, we saw how Jesus’ baptism foreshadows his role as both Israel’s substitute and Israel’s representative, whose vocation is to bring God’s plan for mankind’s redemption and glorification to fulfillment as a new Joshua who again crosses the Jordan to cleanse the land of pollution and corruption. Last week, we saw how Jesus’ baptism prompts the sending of the Holy Spirit, whose descent like a dove presages Jesus’ role as the true Ark that saves mankind from destruction, and his status as the first-fruits of a New Creation.

This week, we will see how Jesus’ baptism establishes his identity as the Divine Son who rids the world of evil.

In verse 17, as the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus, the Father says of him, “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

This event is literally an Epiphany–a manifestation or showing forth–of the Trinity, as it involves the voice of the Father, the baptism of the Incarnate Son, and the descent of the Spirit. As Christians, we do not believe that in this moment Jesus became the Son of God. Rather, this moment was an unveiling of who Jesus already is. It had always been the Father’s purpose to sum up Creation under the Lordship of the totus Christus–Christ, Head and Body. See Colossians 1:15-20 below:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”

The Divine Son is the perfect image of the Father, who pre-existed all things and for whom and through whom all things were created. This Son is the Head of the Church, which then adopts his own identity for its identity, and his status for its status. By the peace the Son made on the Cross, all who are members of the Church can enjoy His rights and privileges as the Son.

Hebrews 1:1-4 puts it this way:

“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”

The Eternal Son shares the Father’s very being with the Holy Spirit. This is good news for many reasons, not least because it reveals the very heart and character of our God, and because it reveals the heights to which God elevates us!

If the Son is the “exact imprint of God’s very being,” then ugly caricatures where we portray the Father as a stern tyrant and Jesus as the compassionate son who volunteers for cosmic child abuse will not do. Rather, we see that from the world’s creation to its redemption to its ultimate glorification, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are united in one purpose in generously pouring themselves out for the sake of one another and for the world.

The Father is always giving us gifts, including the gift of existence and the gift of every next breath. He also gives us the Son, and the Son in turn gives His entire life as a ransom for many. The Son then gives us His Spirit, who teaches us to love the Son so that we can be reconciled to the Father, who is ready to give us the gift of eternal life. The Spirit also gives us gifts so that we can be united as one Church, so we can build one another up in faith, and so we can love our neighbors, even when they declare themselves to be our enemies.

Martin Luther recognized all of this in his 1528 Confession

“These are the three Persons and the one God, Who has given Himself to us wholly with all that He is and all that He has. The Father gives Himself to us, with heaven and earth and all created things, that they may be profitable and of service to us. But this gift was obscured and made fruitless by Adam’s fall, and the Son also gave Himself to us, bestowed on us all His works, sufferings, wisdom and righteousness, and reconciled us to the Father, so that, once more alive and righteous, we perceive and possess the Father and His gifts. But such grace would profit no one if it were to remain a hidden secret and could not be imparted to us. So the Holy Ghost also comes and gives Himself completely to us, teaches us the bounty of Christ, makes us perceive and understand it, helps us to receive and keep it, to use it profitably, to administer it and to increase and further its spread among men, and this He does both inwardly and outwardly. Inwardly through faith and other spiritual gifts but outwardly through the Gospel, through Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar, through which, as through means or instruments He comes to us, applies the sufferings of Christ to us and makes them profitable to salvation.”

The Son-ship of Jesus Christ matters because through the Holy Spirit and in Christ, we enjoy fellowship with the Father. These gifts are manifest to us through the preaching of the Gospel, through the Lord’s Supper, through the ministry of believers to one another, and through baptism. Our baptism takes its meaning–and therefore must constantly look back to–Jesus’ baptism.

Jesus’ baptism takes us into a three-fold mystery, so that by participating in his Death and Resurrection we receive the gifts of the Triune God. Despite our sin and idolatry, when we are washed by water and the word, the Spirit descends upon us so that we receive Jesus’ status as Son.

It is because Jesus is the Divine Son, and because the Spirit joins us to His life, that we can hear the voice of the Father regarding us, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Christians no longer need to fear anything in this life, because in Christ we receive the eternal love and approval of the Father. Truly, this is good news!

Epiphany and the Baptism of Christ: Part 2

Epiphany and the Baptism of Christ: Part 2

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

-Matthew 3:13-17

For three weeks, we are reflecting on how Jesus’ baptism helps us understand his identity. Last week, we saw how John’s baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River brought forward God’s eternal plan, launched with Abraham and through the nation of Israel and now focused on Jesus, to reconcile the entire world back to Himself. In particular, we saw how Jesus’ baptism connects him tightly with the history of Israel, including the purification codes, the crossing of the Jordan, and the crossing of the Red Sea.

This week, we will see how Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan is also the moment of his anointing as the Christ, or Messiah. The descent of the Spirit as a dove helps us better understand the nature of his Messiah-ship by connecting the baptism with the Biblical Flood and the beginning of Creation.

First, we must recognize that Jesus’ baptism involves the full Trinity. Through the descent of the Spirit from the Father to the Son at the moment of his baptism, “God anoints God with God.” This is the ecstatic answer to many prophetic pleas:

Oh that you would rend the heavens the heavens! That you would come down! Isaiah 64:1.

For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:24-27, 30.

And it shall to come to pass afterward that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh. Joel 2:8.

What is completed in Pentecost , where the Spirit truly is poured out upon all flesh, began with the baptism of Jesus. He is anointed as the King who will accomplish God’s promises. The nature of this accomplishment is revealed by further investigating the Spirit that alights over him.

The descent of the Spirit “as a dove” immediately brings to mind certain Old Testament associations–namely, the dove Noah sent out from the Ark during the Flood, and the Spirit of God “hovering” over the waters of Creation.

In fact, 1 Peter 3:18-21 invites comparisons between the waters of the Flood and the waters of baptism:

“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

After the Flood, Noah sent a dove to see if the waters had receded, but the dove returned to the ark after finding no place to rest its feet (Gen. 8:7-9). Eventually, the dove returned with an olive leaf (v. 11). This is where we get the idea of the “olive branch” as a symbol of peace–God’s Judgment had receded, and those in the Ark were saved to enter into God’s peace. The olive leaf is also significant because the olive would become a sacred fruit for the Israelite priestly ministry, especially because it produced olive oil. Olive oil was used in the Temple Menorah and in the ceremonial anointing of kings, priests, and prophets. (See e.g., Exodus 30:25).

The Spirit that hovers over Jesus is similar to the dove that hovered over the Ark. Just as the dove announced peace with man through the olive leaf given to Noah, the Spirit announces God’s Peace to all who are in the anointed Jesus. Jesus is the true Ark who saves humanity from God’s Judgment over Evil.

The imagery of the dove shows us that Jesus is not only the true Ark, but also the new Adam, Captain of the New Creation. In Genesis 1:2, we  read:

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

The Spirit of God that hovered over the waters of nothingness before God’s creative act now hovers over Jesus on the Jordan. God birthed the first creation out of the waters of chaos, and now will birth a New Creation out of the waters of the Jordan.

Jesus launches God’s New Creation–this is the sum total of His life and work. This new creative act will be accomplished through His Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension. But the Spirit of God now hovers over the baptism of the incarnate God to signal the beginning of this new era, the final phase of the Father’s redemptive project.

Taken together with last week’s post, I hope I have made a case that Jesus’ baptism was his anointing as the promised priest-king who can finally fulfill Israel’s mission to re-found the world by establishing an everlasting peace with God. Next week, we will see how the Father’s words reveal that the Christ is also the eternal Divine Son.

Loaves & Fishes: A Reflection

Loaves & Fishes: A Reflection

Guest post by Benjamin Mathew

35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Mathew 25:35-36

With everything going on in our country and in the world, these verses had been deeply convicting for the missional community whom I meet with every week. We asked God how in this time we could step up; how through all of this, His love could shine brighter. When I found out that 1Foundation would be partnering with Loaves&Fishes for a service event, I praised God for His answer. Loaves&Fishes is the name of a local non-profit organization run by Margie Randall, lovingly known by members within the organization as “Margie Mom.”

The purpose of Loaves&Fishes is to help refugees fleeing from the political strife of their own nations establish a new life in the U.S. This past Saturday we met some of these refugees where they now stay; at an apartment complex in Southwest Houston. That afternoon we arrived with 6 cars full of donations and 26 volunteers. Because the refugees are mostly young families, the donations included diapers, toys, shoes, and clothes for every age and gender. Tables were set-up for residents to freely take what they needed and we watched as mothers picked out items for their children while children picked up items for their brothers and sisters.

After feeding the families pizza and halal, we rounded up all of the children to teach them the story of David and Goliath along with a few classic Sunday school songs. First up was “Praise be the Lord, Hallelujah” followed by “I’m in the Lord’s Army.” When I asked a little 4 year old guy what his favorite time of the event was, he responded that it was the singing session- and I had to agree. It was incredible to watch these kids enthusiastically shout out the songs they had just learned and perform all the actions.

Watching these kids praise God in the midst of their struggle was a humbling reminder that none of this was meant for our glory but rather for His glory. I was once again convicted of our very active role in the Gospel. As Jesus’ hands and feet we should use every opportunity to give to those who need and be an example of the grace that is only possible through Christ. As we closed in prayer that Saturday, I thought of every mother, father, and child living there and the home they left behind. I prayed that God would mold them and use them for His glory and that He would continue to allow them to experience His giving nature.

What is 1F?

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From atom-ecology.russgeorge.net

LEAVE YOUR SUSPICION AND SKEPTICISM AT THE DOOR…IF ONLY FOR A MOMENT

We live in an age of suspicion and skepticism. Suspicion because trust is in short supply in a culture that trains us to question authority, with all the good and bad that entails. Skepticism because everything has been tried before, everything has been done–there is nothing new under the sun–and why should I sacrifice my time and energy for something that will fade away just like everything else?

Would-be leaders are pressed to answer: What is the goal of this? What is the intention of that? These questions by themselves are appropriate. I will confess, we at 1Foundation have not always done as good a job as we might have in clearly laying out our vision, hopes, and goals. But too often, these questions betray the driving spirits of suspicion and skepticism, and when done in that spirit, questions can tear down more easily than build up.

Trust is the currency of Christian leadership, and good questions are needed to keep any organization on track. But to properly lay out 1F’s vision and goals, I’m going to do something dangerous–I’m going to ask you to leave your suspicion and skepticism at the door.

Just for a moment! You can pick them back up on your way out. But for now, come inside and let me show you what we think we can achieve together, if we can work through the obstacles wisely and pursue God and His Kingdom above all else.

Just for a moment, come inside and dream with me.

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From Fanpop.com

THE PROBLEM, REVISITED

But first, let’s discuss the situation we are in today.

In a long post way back when, in a blog series I started and, erm, didn’t complete, I talked about how the very nature of society itself was changing as the developed world journeys deeper into a post-Christian culture.

I still hope to revisit that post in the future, but for now I want to address a potential criticism: Where in that post is talk about the Gospel, salvation, and the forgiveness of sins?

The Gospel of Christ is definitely our personal salvation from destruction and our redemption from sin through the blood of the Lamb. But what I was trying to highlight is that the “Christ-event”–the life, death, resurrection and ascension of King Jesus–is nothing less than the launching of New Creation (1 Corinthians 15:20-252 Corinthians 5:17). Jesus Christ  is birthing a new world (see Matthew 24:8, Romans 8:22), founded on an ethic of self-giving love, rather than selfish power.

This Gospel, then, is not about giving a privatized spiritual feeling of assurance, as important as that is. This Gospel is also not about escaping from this world to enjoy God in Heaven–though both damnation and Heaven are real, and it is good and right to say we are created to enjoy God forever.

This Gospel is about a Holy God reconciling a lost, broken world back to Himself through the elevation of His Son, Jesus Christ, who tramples the dark principalities and powers under his feet and restores broken human beings back to the glorious likeness of His Image. This Gospel prompts utter gratitude and utter loyalty. This Gospel demands that your self-understanding, your identity and purpose, your family, your career, your money, and every aspect of your life submit to the supremacy of Christ.

Such a Gospel, and such a God, drives us into the hurting places of the world in imitation and worship of our Savior. Such a Gospel, and such a God, does not exactly promise us success–it promises us His Presence.

Such a Gospel makes us aware that in Christ and by the Spirit, the Father has given us the greatest Gift He possibly could have–Himself, in his inexhaustible infinitude, so that we are assured that the joy of His Life will always swallow up suffering, pain, sacrifice, and death.

Such a Gospel makes us more than conquerors (Romans 8:37).

In the new post-Christian age, re-commitment to the centrality of this Gospel is needed now more than ever. We live in a culture that forms us to be consumers and spectators. We live in a culture that pushes us to look out for ourselves and our tribe. We live in a world where the ultimate god is the god of self-actualization: Me, meeting my needs and achieving my dreams, whatever they may be.

God is not rescuing some special people away from this broken world to Heaven, while leaving others to perish in corruption. God is bringing Heaven to Earth, to heal and bless the world with His presence, and He is inviting us to participate in this renewal by the power of the Cross.

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From RPCNA Covenanter

A GOSPEL MOVEMENT

Throughout America and around the world, movements are rising up in response to the new post-Christian moment.

In New York City, Redeemer Presbyterian Church has initiated the Rise Campaign, part of a 10-year vision to raise the number of center-city New Yorkers attending Gospel-centered churches from 5% to 15%, which they believe is a tipping point of Gospel-influence that could transform the city. To meet that vision, they are partnering with other churches and ministries to plant and renew churches in every neighborhood of New York.

In Austin, the Austin Stone Community Church has recognized that Christian discipleship faces unique challenges in the American context, and has created a model of multiplying missional communities to demonstrate and declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In Dallas, the Initiative Network has united churches from different ethnic and denominational backgrounds together to demonstrate unity, pursue mission together, and form young adults facing the temptations of this age into good Christian character through worship and prayer. This young ministry has shown particular effectiveness in encouraging millenials to pursue ministry and in pushing diverse churches to think of themselves as missionaries in their God-given local contexts.

In London, the organization Gather confronts a new religious landscape, where immigrants from Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean are bringing their own Christian flavors and traditions into conversation with historic Protestant and Catholic Christianity in the UK. Gather seeks to unite members from these different streams of Christianity for the sake of mission, worship, and the cultural renewal of Britain.

In his new book, A Disrupting Gospel, Mac Pier documents the rise of Gospel movements in major cities around the world in the last 30 years. He holds out the promise and hope that the centrality of the Gospel can still transform lives and renew entire cultures.

These movements show us that love for the Gospel can unite the people of God from different backgrounds and respond to the new cultural moment we find ourselves in.

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Sunrise over Buffalo Bayou, Houston, Texas–from the City of Houston website

IMAGINE.

Which brings us back to the inviting, dreaming, planning part of this whole post. 1Foundation is not a new church. We are an organization that seeks to equip Christian communities for the mission and worship of Jesus Christ.

In other words, we want to help spark and launch a Gospel-centered movement in the Greater Houston Area.

We want to partner with churches, youth groups, bible studies, campus ministries, and anyone else who loves Jesus to work for Gospel-centrality and Gospel-renewal. We want to unite folks from different racial, ethnic, and denominational backgrounds for the sake of mission and worship. We want to connect ministers, priests, and lay leaders from different contexts to faithfully work through differences, disagreeing where necessary and moving toward harmony where possible, to demonstrate to the world through our Christian unity that God the Father has sent the Son for the purpose of reconciliation (see John 17:21).

I think I have to say it again, because it’s worth repeating–1Foundation is not a new church, and we are not trying to replace the necessity or functions of the church. There are important questions of doctrine, discipline, worship, and spiritual authority that we do not, cannot, and should not address. We believe it is important that every believer is a member of a Gospel-centered church that exercises authority, worships in spirit and truth, and fosters disciples. In fact, we hope that our work will drive believers deeper into the specific mission of their home churches, and that we can connect new believers with churches where they can serve and mature.

That said, we believe 1Foundation has a valid role to play in connecting, uniting, coaching, equipping, and catalyzing Christians and churches from diverse contexts to pursue mission and worship together, to advance the Kingdom of God, and to seek cultural renewal in Houston. We hope to quiet the suspicions and skepticism that too often keep us from stepping out in faith together, evangelizing and serving together, and sharing our gifts together to build one another up in faith.

We hope by constantly speaking about and urging one another to live out the full truth of the Gospel, we can renew love for the Gospel in churches all around the Greater Houston Area.

We hope we can inspire a new generation of ministers, priests, and lay leaders to rise up for the glory of God’s Name. We hope we can connect this new generation with training, resources, and career opportunities, so that they can fulfill their high calling faithfully.

We hope we can be a forum where churches, pastors, and theologians from different church traditions can address ancient differences with scholarship, study, and prayer.

We hope we can persuade churches to pay fresh attention to the need for and problems with discipleship in the American context, and to creatively brainstorm ways to encourage believers to pursue personal growth in Christ in 21st century Houston.

We hope we can provide churches and parents resources for the instruction of the new generations that will be born here. To face the problems of a post-Christian culture, which is already forming our character and our children’s character in new, unexpected, and harmful ways, we must unite under the banner of Christ.

We hope that the power of the Gospel will cut people to the heart, so that faith will spring to life in dead hearts, will awaken in sleepy hearts, and will light aflame in searching hearts.

This is going to be a long, slow work. We will share our vision with church leaders and young adults first in the Indian community, and then in the wider Houston community. But we believe this is a good work blessed by the Lord. Remember–we are not promised success. We are asked to be faithful, and we are promised His presence.

The Greater Houston Area offers many challenges and opportunities for this work. By some estimates, Houston is the most ethnically diverse city in the nation. This presents challenges in uniting Christians and churches for common mission, but also incredible opportunities in showing how the Gospel can unite the nations under one Lord.

Houston is also the sex-trafficking capital of the United States, is a popular refugee resettlement destination, faces significant disparities in health according to race and income, and is America’s most economically segregated city. The state of Texas more generally is facing an education and foster care crisis.

In every area, churches should take the lead to demonstrate and declare the Gospel of Christ. 1Foundation will come in to aid, motivate, unite, and spur action by Christian communities to live out the Gospel.

So far, we have taken modest steps in this direction. We have monthly large groups where we invite Christians from different communities to come together to pray and worship together. We have launched missional communities across Houston, to encourage believers to realize that Christian community is incomplete without mission. We are developing videos, blog posts, and other web content. And we have begun monthly Service Projects to get people into a habit and practice of sacrificing their time and serving others out of love for God.

These are all modest, humble efforts undertaken in an attempt to be faithful amidst the challenges of this cultural moment. But we believe that these modest, faltering steps can lead to bigger things.

Imagine, vocational fellowship groups that meet occasionally throughout the Houston area to discuss the reigning idols in different professions, and how to live out the Gospel faithfully in different careers. What does it mean to be a Gospel-centered doctor? What does it mean to be a Gospel-centered lawyer? What does it mean to be a Gospel-centered teacher?

Imagine, book clubs and arts collectives and musical concerts, where Christian believers can invite their non-believing friends for fellowship and share the joys of Christian community with them.

Imagine, mental health and counseling services for believers in the Greater Houston Area.

Imagine, an annual event where invited churches come to discuss and plan how to partner for mission in the next year in the Greater Houston Area.

Imagine, structured, civil debates between leaders of different churches on the meaning of justification, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and eschatology, to prompt fresh thought and the edification of believers.

Imagine, praise and worship training for new praise bands, to refresh spent worship leaders, train and encourage new worship leaders, and share best practices and methods while continually reminding everyone that the purpose of praise music is to worship God in spirit and truth.

Imagine, evangelism workshops for discussing Christ with Hindu, Muslim, and secular friends and neighbors, which dive deeply into their worldviews and beliefs so that Christians can share the Gospel confidently and sensitively.

Imagine, a church planting network that supports the building of new churches, and equips and prays for church planters in the Houston area.

Imagine, a pipeline of new ministers in the Greater Houston Area, connecting campus ministries around the nation back to churches in Houston.

These would not be “1F subsidiaries” or expansions of the “1F franchise.” There is not some master plan to build up the 1F media empire, if that were even possible. Instead, these would the organic fruits of connecting Christians with different gifts and interests together. These new efforts, institutions, and missions would be the overflowing of Christian love, undertaken for love of God and neighbor.

Why not?

mission_stmt

WE NEED YOU.

Here’s where you can pick your suspicion and skepticism back up again. And here’s also where we make our big ask:

We need help.

We don’t have all the answers, and we don’t even know if we are asking the right questions. But we believe that God has placed on our hearts a burden for mission and worship in the Indian community and, more ambitiously, the Greater Houston Area. We believe that by faithfully pursuing God, the Giver of all gifts, we will be renewed, strengthened, and equipped to serve the people of God in this time and place.

Our goal is not to get a big “Large Group attendance” or to get people to “come out for a 1F event.” Our goal is to activate servants and soldiers for Christ. In this post-Christian era, we want you to get off the sidelines and into the arena.

We want love for Christ to so overflow in your heart that you can’t help but sacrifice your time, talents, and treasure for service.

Even if you still have suspicions, and even if you still have skepticism, if any of the above was compelling or beautiful or true to you, then reach out to us. We need your ideas, we need your talents, and we need your help.

You can contact us in a variety of ways:

Facebook: The1Foundation

Twitter: @1Foundationhtx

Instagram: @1Foundationhtx

Email: communications@the1Foundation.com

We look forward to hearing from you.

 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.

-1 Corinthians 3:11 (NRSV)

Epiphany and the Baptism of Christ: Part 1

Epiphany and the Baptism of Christ: Part 1

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

–Matthew 3:1-17

The season of Epiphany forces us to confront the question: Who is Jesus?

Who is this person who prompts worship from foreigners, who incites murder from usurping kings, who substitutes for and represents Israel, and who confuses the boundaries of Jewish monotheism?

This question is a thread that weaves throughout Jesus’ public ministry. Who is this person who drives out demons, heals the sick, walks on water, forgives sins, feeds the hungry, eats with tax collectors and sinners, raises people from the dead, and whom even the winds and the waves obey?

The baptism of Jesus grants us an opportunity to answer this question in the light of Epiphany. For the next three weeks, we will zoom in on the baptism of Jesus to explore how this event explains to us Jesus’ identity and purpose.

A proper understanding of Jesus’ baptism has to begin with John the Baptist. What was John doing out in the desert, and why was he doing it?

The Greek word “baptizo” as used in Mark 1:4 means to immerse or plunge into water for washing. One famous use of the word is in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Christian Old Testament), in 2 Kings 5:14, where the leprous Syrian general Naaman “went down and dipped (baptized) himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”

Although the term “baptizo” is not used to describe Israelite rituals, it likely has roots in the purification codes of the Tvilah, which in turn draw from Torah (ie, Leviticus 15:11, Leviticus 15:13-14).

Eventually, after the Babylonian Exile as Gentiles began to convert to Judaism, ritual washing became part of the conversion process. Accordingly, a male Gentile convert would not only be circumcised to join the covenant family of Abraham, but also baptized to repent for and be purified from his prior life of idol-worship.

After the Exile, the Jewish nation continued to be dominated by foreign powers. The religious group called the Pharisees began to advocate for national obedience to the Jewish Law. In particular, they believed that obedience to the purification codes for Temple service must expand to outside the Temple, which would result in the return of YHWH to the land–the nation of Israel would then drive out the pagan Romans, the Herodians, and their Jewish collaborators, and inaugurate God’s Kingdom on earth. This expanded set of rules included an elaborate system of ritual washings for purification. It is for this reason that the Pharisees criticize Jesus for his failure to wash his hands before he ate with them (Luke 11:37-41).

Similarly, the Qumran community–best known for the Dead Sea Scrolls–was an ascetic sect that practiced baptism after the Exile for ritual purity. The Qumran community was obsessed with the end of the world, or Apocalypse, which they taught would begin with the arrival of Israel’s Messiah. In their Manual of Discipline, they taught that those who wish to enter the community must put into practice Isaiah 43:10, and “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

Some scholars have connected John the Baptist to the Qumran community. But whatever the case, it is clear that his call to Israel to repent would have been understood in the light of these background understandings and associations: National repentance for their failure to worship Israel’s God, purification from sins, and the cleansing of the land to clear the way for God’s return, all so that He would raise up a Messiah who would drive out the oppressors and bring the Judgment of Apocalypse.

In this context, John’s act of baptizing in the Jordan River gains added significance. The Book of Joshua begins with the crossing of the Jordan River into the land promised to Israel. Once in the land, the tribes cleanse the land of pollution and idolatry through war with the Canaanite nations. Once the land has been purified by this war, Israel can then worship YHWH freely. (See Joshua 3). Israel’s crossing of the Jordan itself mirrors the original act of the Lord’s deliverance of Israel, when God baptizes the new nation by bringing the people through the waters of the Red Sea, out of slavery and into freedom. (See Exodus 14).

With this in mind, we can better appreciate and understand John’s baptism of Jesus. Jesus is the true Israelite able to fully repent for Israel’s failures with his blood, so that God can dwell fully with His people. Jesus’ blood purifies the people from their sins, so that they can truly become the kingdom of priests the Pharisees sought to be through ritual obedience. After “crossing the Jordan,” Jesus will cleanse the land of pollution and idolatry–but this time, not through a war against pagans, but through a war with the forces of evil that hold all of humankind in bondage. Jesus’ ministry of healing and reconciliation drives out pagans by drawing them in and converting them. Jesus ends humankind’s slavery to sin, and liberates us to enjoy God’s freedom forever.

The baptism of Jesus is about the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan, to reconcile all of humanity to Himself through the family of Abraham (Genesis 22:18). Jesus fully identifies with Israel’s purpose to bless the world, and God’s promise to cleanse the world of evil. In coming weeks, we will talk about how the baptism of Jesus is also the moment of his anointing as Messiah and establishes his identity as the Divine Son.