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The Witness of Imagination

The Witness of Imagination

I love fiction. While many people enjoy watching “reality” shows like The Amazing Race or The Great British Baking Show, I prefer stories set in galaxies far, far away. As comedian Jerry Seinfeld quips, “When men are growing up and they’re reading about Batman, Spiderman, Superman … those are not fantasies … they’re options“. I appreciate a good imagination and storytelling that is full of possibilities. Whether we like reality shows or high fantasy novels, we all have an imagination, and God created us with the capacity to imagine things other than they appear.

C. S. Fritz writes, “Imagination is simply the ability to visualize that which is not visual, to see the unseeable”. A vital part of belief is the ability to imagine. For example, the Apostle Paul encourages us to set our minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:2). This requires the ability to imagine—to see a world under the perfect reign of King Jesus in our mind’s eye.

Take another example: When a father brought his son to Jesus to be healed and said, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus, ever merciful and patient, replied to the scared father, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:20-24). This anxious dad needed to see, to imagine that Jesus could do it, that he would do it, that he is who he says he is.

Can we envision—can we imagine—God saving someone else by using us to share the gospel?

In his book, The Arts and the Christian Imagination, professor and apologist Clyde S. Kilby shares about the Christian imagination:

“Can the Christian ever be a true witness to his neighbor until he comprehends the sin which captivates his neighbor, until with some vividness he imagines his neighbor different from what he is now? And is it not this very process of creative imagination which enables brotherly love to move forth dynamically in relation to another human being? In fact, apart from such imaginative participation, will not one’s neighbor become mere object-to-be-saved, to whom a formula of regeneration is indiscriminately spoken robot-fashion and apart from genuine sympathy and love?”

Kilby encourages us to use the gift of our imagination to visualize our lost neighbor as someone different, someone redeemed, someone brought into the grace of the Lord Jesus. Our imagination allows us to see that person, in all their uniqueness, transformed by the gospel.

Can we not imagine our neighbor as other than what he is? I’m not saying that we use our imagination to will something to occur. Instead, as Kilby argues, imagination fuels movement and action. When we do not conceive of the glorified, eternal soul redeemed by the Savior, we do not feel the importance of sharing our great hope with them. Imagination becomes a power for our evangelism because we “see” what is possible and know that our God can do it.

We too often share the gospel for our own sake—to ward off the shame or fear of not speaking when we know we ought. “Well, I tried,” we say after a robotic presentation disconnected from the uniqueness of the person standing in front of us. But to share for their sake—this specific person’s sake—requires seeing them as they are and imagining them as God desires them to be.

Do we believe that he can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power at work within us (Ephesians 3:20)? Imagine the demons shuddering; imagine the sick healed; imagine the dead raised to life. And imagine this person before you, not as a project but as a possible recipient of God’s transforming gospel.

Imagining the Kingdom is more than conceiving the streets of gold upon which we will one day walk. Imagining the Kingdom is also about imagining our lost neighbor as a citizen of that Kingdom, a partaker of its ministry, and a unique and beloved creation of God.

What shall we do? As Christians, it’s important to cultivate what many refer to as a sanctified imagination—an imagination shaped by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. Theologian Kevin Vanhoozer shared in an interview two simple ways to begin cultivating a sanctified imagination:

  1. Reading. Vanhoozer writes, “Reading, then, is a kind of strength-training that flexes the muscles of our imagination. Those who read widely are often those who are able to employ metaphors that connect ordinary life to the wonderful real world of the Bible.”
  2. Viewing myself as part of the ongoing action that the Bible recounts. We seek to view the world and our participation in it through the lens of the gospel. We also view our relationships through this lens—we are part of God’s redeeming work in the world, fleshed out in numerous ways in every interaction we have.

Jesus is the hero of the Great Story and, by his grace, we get to participate with him in his saving work. May we cultivate our imaginations so that we can see the possible in the lives of those we seek to reach with the gospel.

Trevor is originally from Oklahoma and serves on staff at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Mid-America Christian University as well as a master’s degree and a doctorate from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a fan of good coffee, bookstores, and superheroes. Trevor and his wife, Ashley, raise their daughters in Wake Forest.

Blog AdminThe Witness of Imagination
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Salt in the Wound or Balm for the Soul? How to Respond Biblically to Your Grief

 

In a broken world, grief is inevitable. While the experience of grief is common, responding well to grief is not. Perhaps you have seen a grieving person spiral downward into a pit of self-despair, or display self-destructive habits, or completely isolate themselves from friends and family. Perhaps that person is you. The experience of grief is bad enough; responding poorly to grief can be like adding salt to an open wound. Thankfully, God provides wisdom from his word to help us respond well when we are grieving. While we see many responses to grief in the Scriptures, let me highlight three for your consideration.

Grieve with honesty

Healing and comfort will be a stranger to you if grief is suppressed, denied, or left unexpressed. Most importantly, you must work toward expressing the truth of how you feel to God. You cannot allow yourself to believe that God does not want to hear “how you really feel” or that he cannot handle your pain, frustration, doubt, confusion, or anguish. 

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest” (Ps. 22:1-2).

The Psalmist doesn’t shy away from expressing how he feels about the situation, specifically his feeling that God does not feel close. David takes this feeling straight to God. As we see in Psalm 22, David is not only committed to being honest before God about how he feels, but he is also committed to being honest before God about who he knows God to be.

“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame” (Ps. 22:3-5).

David felt that God was far away so he expressed that grief to God. David’s honesty allowed him to process his pain in light of the truth that God reigns on high as a trustworthy God who delivers and rescues his people. Honesty in grief is not just about declaring how we feel, it is also about declaring what we know to be true about God.

God will hear you when you cry out, and that is why you must cry out. God will draw near when you express your grief. He is not afraid of your honesty, and he is unmoved in the midst of distress. Grieving with honesty concerning your pain and God’s character is an important step toward allowing the comfort of God to penetrate the pain of your heart and bring healing in the midst of brokenness. 

Grieve with expectancy

Grieving is a natural response to pain, suffering, and hardship. In the midst of grief, it is common to feel or even start to believe that things will never get better, easier, or more manageable. When you feel like the pain will never come to an end, let me encourage you to find hope in the God who comforts, heals, and restores.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:11).

Psalm 42 reminds us that grief doesn’t have the final say. This doesn’t minimize the grief you may currently be experiencing; it simply places it in proper perspective. As a believer in Christ, you should expect to experience the healing work of the Lord in your life as you press into him. Like the Psalmist, we live out our faith in God by believing that we will again praise him, because he is our salvation and our God. We fight back against the pull toward depression and despondency because we know that God will not abandon us or let us see corruption (Ps. 16:10). Because comfort and healing are coming, we grieve with hopeful expectancy.

Grieve with community

Grief can tempt us to turn inward and become isolated from others. This can happen in very obvious ways. We stop showing up for corporate worship, we stop showing up for small group meetings, and we stop meeting with others in social settings. But this can also happen in less obvious ways. There is a way to be physically present but emotionally absent. When you are grieving the hard things of life, resist the temptation to simply “go through the motions.” Don’t shut people out of your life. One of the many benefits of the body of Christ is that it is one of the primary ways God brings healing in the midst of grief.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

God has graciously given us brothers and sisters in Christ to be an extension of his comforting hand. While it can be hard to share grief with others, it is vitally important that we pursue the grace of God in the context of community.

We won’t be free of grief this side of eternity, but with the presence of grief comes the power of God to heal and restore. As you suffer, remember to grieve with honesty, crying out to God. Remember to grieve with the expectancy, believing God will bring comfort and healing. And remember to grieve with community, engaging brothers and sisters who can extend the Lord’s hand of comfort in the midst of your pain.

 

Kent is a native of southern Illinois and a graduate of the University of Illinois. He holds an MA in Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He met his wife Hope at a Christian sports camp in Pennsylvania in 2007. They got married in 2010 and have three kids: Silas, Anna, and Grace. He is an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan and loves talking about the intricacies of the golf swing. As a pastor, he loves having a front-row seat to watch how Jesus transforms people’s lives.

Blog AdminSalt in the Wound or Balm for the Soul? How to Respond Biblically to Your Grief
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Celebrating Earth Dei

 

Celebrating Earth Dei

In February 1990, while passing through the outer limits of our solar system, the Voyager 1 spacecraft looked back from where it had come and took a famous snapshot that became known as the “Pale Blue Dot”. Earth appeared in the darkness of space as a single pixel situated in a beam of sunlight reflecting off the camera’s lens. This photo, in which our planet appears so small and distant, could alter our perception, causing us to mistakenly doubt the significance of something so miniscule. 

Commenting on the Pale Blue Dot, the atheistic astronomer Carl Sagan hopelessly said, “Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.” Sagan’s quote illustrates the reality of Romans 1:25 that people have exchanged the truth of God’s Word for a lie. Earthly wisdom disregards God and entices us to believe that our only chance of salvation is through our own efforts. The lie takes root and leads us down a path of disbelief as we defiantly rebel against our Creator. We worship creation instead of the God who created us. We try, in vain, to save the world believing that we alone can help ourselves. 

In comparison, we can imagine the psalmist viewing this photo and asking, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4). We find the answer in the following verses of Psalm 8, as the psalmist praises God that He is indeed mindful of humankind and has given us dominion over His creation. Furthermore, Scripture tells us we were made in the imago Dei and are able to know our Creator and be known by Him. Instead of despairing over our position in the universe, we can be encouraged that God deeply cares for His creation and interacts with us personally. 

From the perspective of Voyager 1, Earth appeared as a small, seemingly inconsequential speck in the universe, but it is far from insignificant. God took care to create an abundance of lifeforms on this planet. The spectacular array of plant, fish, and animal species is mesmerizing. Scripture tells us that on the final day of creation, God made mankind and gave a special command that humans would be the dominant inhabitants. People were to multiply and spread out over the whole earth. 

It is a blessing that humans are able to interact with God’s amazing creation. We wondrously gaze at the rising and setting sun, we diligently work the soil to plant and harvest crops, and we instinctively take cover from the violent thunderstorm. The common grace that we experience through living on this planet everyday is evidence of our heavenly Father’s generosity.  

While there is much beauty on the earth there is also much sin. The effects of sin and unavoidable death mean that humans need more than just common grace. We need God’s saving grace. Without God’s help, our time on earth would be hopeless and life after death would be a life of torment, separated from Him. 

Mercifully, God intervened in our predicament. He became incarnate on Earth and dwelled with His creation. It is on this planet that He walked the dusty roads, and felt the water of the Jordan River. It is here that the soil beneath the cross was stained with His blood. And it is in this place that the heavy stone was rolled away and victory over death was confirmed. Through Jesus, God offers forgiveness and reconciliation to rebellious people. We praise our God because He now receives glory, not because of our destruction as objects of wrath, but because we are beloved sons and daughters in His family.

Interestingly, April 22nd is approaching and that is the day the world celebrates Earth Day. To mark this day in the past, you may have planted a tree or recycled a few more aluminum cans, but I believe we have much more to celebrate. We have a heavenly Father who has created a beautiful world. He created humans in His image and desires a relationship with us. In fact, he took the step of dwelling with us on our planet. He was rejected, He suffered, and was killed to provide a way for salvation and reconciliation. 

This year when we observe Earth Day, let’s not celebrate created things but rather the Creator. Believers can follow the lead of Psalm 118:24, rejoicing gladly and thanking God for another day that we’re alive on planet Earth. We can openly acknowledge God’s handiwork in creation, pushing back against the world’s faulty narrative that the earth was somehow formed without Him. Going further, we eagerly live as ambassadors of our king, representing His agenda on earth. We take to heart the instructions in Micah 6:8, fighting for justice for the oppressed and vulnerable, generously extending mercy to our enemies, and conducting our lives with humility by understanding the drastic steps our heavenly father took to secure our freedom from sin. 

In all these ways and more we can celebrate “Earth Dei” and proclaim the excellence of our Creator. By His grace, He has not left us on our own to figure out how to save our world or ourselves. We can wholeheartedly sing in agreement with Psalm 121:1-2, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”

Stephen and his wife, Christy, along with their four boys, moved to North Carolina in 2014 and became members of Imago Dei. Team Britton is originally from Louisiana which means they love to cook Cajun food and cheer for the LSU Tigers. Stephen serves IDC as a deacon and growth group leader.

https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/resources/536/voyager-1s-pale-blue-dot/

 

Blog AdminCelebrating Earth Dei
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The Messy Beauty of Gospel Community

The Messy Beauty of Gospel Community

Over the past decade, the term “gospel community” has grown popular. But what does “gospel community” actually mean? It’s become one of those phrases that we may hear a lot or even say a lot, but do we know what it means? As we live life alongside one another in the local church, we need to grasp what the Bible tells us about how we live well with one another.

Gospel Community Defined

 

First, when we talk about being a gospel community, we mean that we are a community that is formed and sustained by the gospel. In Titus 2, Paul writes that Jesus Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14 ESV). The Apostle Paul points to the gospel—the good news that Jesus gave himself to redeem and purify a people for himself. Those who respond in faith to that good news are made part of God’s people. We are literally brought into the family of Jesus Christ.

By “gospel community,” we also mean that we are a community that is centered on the gospel. The good news of Jesus Christ is our focus. We look to Christ, follow Christ, and are excited about Christ. Everything we do comes back to Jesus and points to his life-changing message.

 

Why Gospel Community Matters

 

Once we understand what it is, we can understand why it matters. Why does it matter that God has brought you, Christian, into his people? Why is the church so important?

We see the answer clearly in 1 Timothy 3.

“…if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)

Paul describes the church as the “pillar and foundation of the truth.” God uses his church to uphold and proclaim the gospel to the world. He sets them on a mission in the world. The manifold wisdom of God is made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. God’s people declare to the world the glory of the Lord Jesus. Through this gospel community, God’s love is made manifest, God’s mission is accomplished, and God’s people are transformed more and more into the likeness of Jesus.

 

 

So it matters that we are saved into this thing we call “gospel community”—the church of God—because God reveals his glory to his people and through his people.

 

How We Live as Gospel Community

 

How does God reveal his glory in and through his people? Through the ways we live with and relate to one another in this community of faith.

Perhaps one of the best pictures of this is the early church found in Acts 2.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-27)

This devotion to one another is counter-cultural. It’s a devotion to one another fueled by the gospel and a love for Jesus. Therefore, the first way we should live as a gospel community with one another is to cultivate our own love for God. Adoration leads to transformation; the way we live with one another is transformed by growing awe for the Lord.

The second way we should live as a gospel community is to love one another in both word and deed. We should actively live out the “one another’s” of Scripture. The New Testament contains around 60 “one another” commands given to Christians. For example:

  • In John 13, Jesus tells his disciples to love one another, explaining that their love will testify to the world that they are his disciples.
  • Romans 12:10 urges us to be devoted to one another in love.
  • In Galatians 5:13, Paul instructs the Galatians to serve one another in love.
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:18 and 5:11 repeatedly call us to encourage or build up one another.

These “one another” commands are more than just nice ways to relate to each other. Going back to Jesus’ words in John 13, these “one another’s” are about neighbor love. They are about displaying a Kingdom ethic to one another and the world. As Christians, we have a different way of life and a different way of relating to one another in how we unite around the gospel. When we forgive one another, it points us to God’s ultimate forgiveness through Christ. When we serve one another, we are reminded of Christ who came to serve. 

The “one another’s” are also a means of neighbor-love to those who are not followers of Jesus. In John 13, Jesus explains that the way we love one another is a testimony to the world about our Savior and Lord. It is a radically different love displayed through radically ordinary means. This love on display invites the watching world to come inside, follow Jesus, and become part of his family.

For an extended list of the “one another” passages, see this page.

 

The Glory of Gospel Community

 

This is why gospel community matters. God has saved us into a family, so let us be family. May we seek to be “one another Christians” who display the love of Christ in the way that we love and serve one another as a gospel community. Not every family is perfect, and the church on this side of eternity is no different. But we have a perfect Savior who is actively working in us to transform us—together—from one degree of glory to another.

 

Trevor is originally from Oklahoma and serves on staff at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Mid-America Christian University as well as a master’s degree and a doctorate from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a fan of good coffee, bookstores, and superheroes. Trevor and his wife, Ashley, raise their daughters in Wake Forest.

Blog AdminThe Messy Beauty of Gospel Community
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Working for the Weekend?

Working for the Weekend? How to Find Purpose in Your Work

 

Raise your hand if you like your job. Raise your hand if you like your boss. Raise your hand if you like your salary. Chances are, you didn’t raise your hand three times. Work isn’t always what we want it to be. We see in Genesis 3 that one of the effects of the Fall is that work is hard. Whether we are talking about our vocation or the other daily tasks that demand our time and effort, frustrations and difficulties are likely the norm and not the exception. Sometimes we want to complain. Sometimes we want to check out. Sometimes we want to give up.

 

In Colossians 3:22-24, Paul lays out some important principles to influence and guide the way we work. As you read, consider whether your pattern and approach to work mirror what we see in the Scriptures.

 

Principle #1- Fear the Lord 

“Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.”

Paul warns us against a dangerous way to approach our work: Caring more about the opinion of man than God. While the context of our work isn’t the same as the context Paul is writing in, we also experience the temptation for our work to be “eye-service.” You know what this looks like. If your boss isn’t around, you don’t work as hard as you would if he or she were sitting right next to you. When they come near, you kick your efforts into high gear. Only working hard when someone is watching you isn’t really hard work. It’s eye-service. Your greatest concern is the opinion of your boss. In that moment, you are operating as a people-pleaser instead of a God-pleaser. Paul says that we should work with a heart that is motivated by a fear of the Lord. If you only work hard when the eyes of your boss are upon you, your heart (effort) will lack the appropriate fear of the Lord that should be evident for those in Christ.

 

Principle #2- Believe the Lord

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.”

For servants or slaves, you can understand where the temptation to work in a way that pleases people comes from . What benefit would they have for working hard all the time? They weren’t getting paid. They didn’t have the same freedoms that our jobs afford. No 401-k on the line. No promotion or salary bump to motivate them. So why bother? Paul tells them: your reward is in heaven. There is a better reward than simply making it through the end of the day with some fuel left in your tank. Work with all your heart, not for men, but for God. This is how all of life is meant to be lived–unto the Lord. Jesus told us that the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our heart and with all of our soul and with all of our mind and with all of our strength (Mark 12:30). Surely work is not an exception. Notice that our circumstances don’t negate this command. We don’t love God with all that we have and work for him with all our heart as long as we like what we are doing, or as long as our boss is nice, or as long as the parameters of our job are fair. No, we love God with all that we have and work with all of our heart because of Him! God is worthy of our love. God is worthy of our work. Additionally, God holds out a greater reward than pleasing a master or boss. “You will receive the inheritance as your reward.” God’s job is to make promises and deliver on them. Your job is to believe and obey. If you experience a lack of motivation or desire to work hard, consider your level of belief in God’s promises.

 

 

Principle #3- Serve the Lord

“You are serving the Lord Christ.”

This is a good reminder. One of the most practical things the gospel does for us is reorients our way of thinking away from ourselves and toward God. We have a tendency in our sinfulness to make everything about us. But the gospel reminds us that nothing is about us. Your job isn’t about you. Paul reminds us that we are serving the Lord Christ. Earlier in this chapter, we see that everything we do is meant to be done in the name of Jesus (vs 17). In his name means for his name. Who receives glory and honor and praise for the things you say and do? Does the manner in which you work aim for the glorification of self or the glorification of Christ? Do you seek to promote your name and your fame in how you do your job or do you seek to promote the name and fame of the Lord Jesus Christ? Whether we like our job or not, we should remember we are working to serve Jesus. Whether we have a fair and just boss or not, we should remember that we are working to serve Jesus. Whether we make the amount of money we want to or not, we should remember that we are working to serve Jesus.

 

As you think about the work you will do today (vocational or otherwise), my hope is that you will seek to be a God-pleaser and not a people-pleaser. Remember that you are serving Jesus. Remember that your reward is in heaven.

 

Kent is a native of southern Illinois and a graduate of the University of Illinois. He holds an MA in Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He met his wife Hope at a Christian sports camp in Pennsylvania in 2007. They got married in 2010 and have three kids: Silas, Anna, and Grace. He is an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan and loves talking about the intricacies of the golf swing. As a pastor, he loves having a front-row seat to watch how Jesus transforms people’s lives.

Blog AdminWorking for the Weekend?