Pursuing Purity

Here are week one notes I have created from the book, “Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn Free” by Tim Chester. This is for an upcoming Adult Bible Fellowship Class (men). More notes to follow…

Pursuing Purity

Suburbianity-Christian Faith is Buried Under America

I have blogged for years about what it means to be missional in a suburban context. So, when a book comes along with the title “Suburbianity” I naturally take a moment to check it out and see what’s up. I have ordered the book, but as of yet have not read it. Challies has done a review of the book and he seems to like it. Once I receive my copy I will share my thoughts, but for now here is a video that describes the direction the book is taking…

Interview With Mark Sellers About The Gospel, Community, And Living on Mission

Question: Tell us a little about yourself, your family and your role at Summit Crossing Community Church.

I am a native southern boy. I was born and raised in Mississippi and have now been in North Alabama for 13 years. I am a preacher’s kid and have been raised in the church world. Unlike many of my fellow PKs I grew up loving the church! My father is an amazing pastor and lover of the Father’s bride and his own bride and family. I have been married for 13 years to my amazing bride, Staci (also a native southern girl) and have two precious children: Andrew (6) and Ava (16 months). I was a part of the core team (4 families) that planted Summit Crossing Community Church 10 years ago. My official title at SC3 is “Community Life Pastor”. It’s my job to give both vision/ direction and execution to our missional communities. So I am responsible for discipling and equipping MC leaders, getting folks in the general church body connected, and overseeing the multiplication of the MC movement in our city. I also oversee our membership process and reaching out to new folks in our community. So basically, I get to hang out and eat with a lot of folks! Best job ever.

Question: What is your definition of a Missional Community?

In a sentence, a missional community is the family of God’s missionaries on the mission of making disciples who make disciples. We do this quite simply as we go, doing life together, seeing every moment in life through a gospel lens.

Question: What does it mean to be fluent in the gospel and why is this so critical for the spiritual health of every believer?

To be fluent literally means to be able to write or speak something with ease. Practically, to be fluent means that something is a natural part of you. It flows out subconsciously, without thought. To be fluent in gospel means that the gospel is a natural part of us, both literally and practically. So not only are we able to speak it without much thought, but we are also able to apply it without much conscious thought. So we speak it, we think it, we apply it when we make decisions, when we interact with situations and people, its natural! Why is this critical? Look, we are in a battle, both personally and corporately. And its the same battle that our original ancestors fought in the garden: our ways versus God’s ways. He has given us Himself and in that He has given us everything. But apart from both the purpose and power of the gospel, we are completely unable to choose anything other than ourselves. We must know the truth of the gospel and must apply its truth to our lives and to our communities to be healthy people and healthy communities. The world will not encourage or empower this. Our only hope is found in the gospel and the gospel is the answer for life period.

Question: Loving our neighbors in practical ways can be quite a challenge for people who do not all live in the same neighborhood. What does it look like for the MCs at Summit Crossing to be on mission?

When we transitioned to MCs, we really pushed folks to all unify around an adopted mission. It looked good and sounded good on paper, but it really frustrated many of our groups. That kind of mission is really easy (or I should say easier) for groups that are contained within 1-2 neighborhoods. But it was very difficult and frustrating for groups that were regionally connected but not defined by 1-2 neighborhoods. What we realized was that we were in danger of establishing a “missional legalism” that would take us away from Jesus’ simple words in His commission to us. It was subtle, but it was present. So we took a step back and encouraged our communities to consider asking these questions: “How are we making disciples both personally and corporately, and how does this community encourage and equip us for both?”

So we really want our MCs not to “rate” themselves on whether they are unified around A mission but to ask whether they are unified around THE mission. One of our MCs is localized in a suburban community but is spread out across many subdivisions. They were one of our “frustrated” groups that couldn’t unify around a particular mission. They began to break into smaller discipleship groups based on geography and relationship and found that each of these groups were much more effective in not only discipling each other but in making disciples within their other spheres of influence. So two times a month they all gather to share and celebrate the grace of God in their personal lives and in their missions. So at that gathering there is not only encouragement but the opportunity to partner with others in mission. The rest of the month these smaller groups meet and do life together to make disciples.

Our MC originally started as a neighborhood MC and it was really easy to be on mission in our neighborhood. We experienced a lot of traction early on but grew outside the boundaries of our neighborhoods. Our group was also very diverse and so it was even hard being on mission in our neighborhood with so many different walks of life. So we began to discuss where God was giving us favor or traction with people on mission. This led to some of us really giving time and energy to a rec team that involved a few of our group children. This led to the whole group being able to be a blessing to two families that we met through this rec league. One of the families has now since joined us and is getting to see what a gospel family looks like. Other parts of our group have been able to penetrate the artistic community and many of us have been able to join in with them on mission. Not all of us but a few of us! One of our girls got engaged and our group was able to help plan and execute her wedding which was a blessing to their extended family. So all of us didn’t do everything, but we all have had the opportunity to engage where God has given us personal traction with the help of our MC. And my family has been able to help others in our community do the same thing. So there’s no pressure to do it all, but there’s the freedom to follow the Spirit to engage with others as they live the mission. It’s actually fun and its a delight, not a duty!

Question: What do people study in your MCs?

Most of our groups study the same texts that we are preaching through in our corporate gatherings. Right now, that’s Romans (pray for us!). We have these groups answer 5 basic questions about the text each week that center around observation, interpretation, and gospel application. It is our hope that our people learn to be self-feeders! Many groups are actually studying ahead of what we are preaching so that they hit it before it’s preached. This allows them to hit the text fresh and be led by the Spirit and not just the preacher. A few of our groups do other book studies or other things like The Story of God or Gospel Parenting, etc. Anything outside of the sermon discussion must be approved by the church elders.

Question: How do you train your MC leaders?

Our training is really a two tier approach. On a large scale corporate approach, we offer quarterly workshops for all leaders and apprentices across all three campuses. This is a really big deal for us. We feed them all breakfast, take care of their kids, and give each family a free resource (not free to us usually!) along with the training that we do. In short not only do we try to equip and encourage them, but we try to bless their socks off too. The training generally has four sessions that revolve around these four components:

1. Evidence of God’s Grace (sharing MC stories)

2. Vision Training (one of our 5 community essentials or 4 rhythms)

3. Practical Training (gospel fluency through counsel training or the like)

4. Collective Prayer Time (both for the leaders and for their MCs; divided up geographically)

Our leaders love this and we almost always have every community represented at these events. They are led both by elders and MC leaders, but always by practitioners! On a small scale, our 3 campuses are divided into 9 geographic regions that we call collectives. Each collective has elders and deacons present that oversee individual coaching, accountability, encouragement,and equipping amongst the collective leaders. So the workshops are our air war and the collectives are our ground war for training.

Mark is also on the Executive Team for GCM Collective.

If the church was a factory what would it be producing?

I know the chuch is described as a “body” in Scripture, but allow me to use the metaphor of the church as a factory for a moment.

factory 1If the church was a factory what would it be producing? We can agree that the biblical goal is to make disciples of Jesus Christ who make disciples of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:16-20). What if our factory was not properly set up to make disciples? What if the assembly line was rigged to make a different product?

Is it possible for a church to be organized in such a way that they are producing people who know how to attend services, pray, tithe, fellowship, sing, yet they are not investing in relationships to make disciples? The answer is yes.

I believe we should gather corporately for worship, preaching and communion; but somewhere along the way the relational aspect of life on life disciple making has been left behind.

I think we have to do the hard work of teaching, modeling and encouraging the church to return to the ways of Jesus. Investing in the few so that we can make an impact on the many.

Politics and Misplaced Hope

There were a few Jews in the 1st century who were waiting for a Messiah to deliver them from their sins (Matthew 1:21); but the vast majority were longing for a Messiah to come in political power and to end Roman domination.

That is why when Jesus was incarnated as a homeless baby so many Jews failed to grasp that the kingdom of God had arrived. Come on, how could this guy lead an organized rebellion against the forces of Rome?

politics.jpgI’m thinking we are not much different today from the majority of Jews in the 1st century. I listen to so many of my brothers and sisters who are outraged by what is going on in our world and shake their fist at D.C. It would seem, just like in the days of Jesus, Christians today are expecting the kingdom of God to advance through political means. As I reflect on all this anger it leaves me with this simple thought, many Christians today have misplaced their hope.

I firmly believe that Christians should be engaged in every arena of life, including politics. But the hope of the nations is the same today as it was in the 1st century, Jesus Christ. Lest we forget, we the church are the body of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27).

So maybe all this angry rhetoric and hand-wringing we do about politics is a big, colossal waste of time. Perhaps it reveals something even more insidious, we don’t truly understand the gospel.

“If you are devastated or irate over the outcome of a presidential election, relax. Things will be okay. We only need, and already have, one Messiah. And he did not lose this election. If you are ecstatic about an election outcome, relax. Take inventory. We only need, and already have, one Messiah. And he did not win this election.” -Scott Sauls

In the gospel we see Jesus humble himself through the incarnation, live as a blue-collar worker, become a friend of sinners, extend grace and mercy, enter into the brokenness of society to bring healing. How do we look at the life of Jesus then come to the conclusion that we should spend our time fighting a culture war? If we truly understood the gospel we would spend less time blaming Washington and more time walking in the ways of Jesus.

Above pic taken from DNews

Valentine’s Day and the Gospel

I’m thinking that many of us, myself included, are putting too much pressure on our marriages by seeking ultimate satisfaction and happiness in our spouse. Instead of finding contentment in Jesus Christ we have this culturally romantic notion that we will be made complete when we find our true soul mate (or if we work really hard to shape our spouse into our one true soul mate). Of course we are setting ourselves, and our spouse, up for massive disappointment because the hole we feel in our soul can not be filled up by our husband or wife. 

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that romance is unimportant. Truth be told, I think it is something that we all deeply crave. On top of that, Song of Solomon clearly reveals that romance and affection for our spouse is a precious gift from God. The problem is when we can not be joyful or content without it. Seeking our deepest fulfillment in another person is a guaranteed way to destroy our relationships and our spiritual life. The apostle Paul never mentions being married and yet he experienced deep joy and contentment as a single man (Philippians 4:10-13). As I have learned from 20 years of marriage there will be ups and downs. There will be seasons where we do not feel all the emotions that we want to feel. So, what do we do in those moments? Look for romance in someone else? Or, do we realize that there is a good chance that we have made romance a god in our life?

This video from Alanis does a good job of revealing how we can be looking for something in our human relationships that is simply unattainable.

You’ll rescue me right?
In the exact same way they never did,
I’ll be happy right?
When your healing powers kick in

You’ll complete me right?
Then my life can finally begin
I’ll be worthy right?
Only when you realize the gem I am?

But this won’t work now the way it once did
And I won’t keep it up even though I would love to
Once I know who I’m not then I’ll know who I am
But I know I won’t keep on playing the victim

These precious illusions in my head did not let me down
When I was defenseless
And parting with them is like parting with invisible best friends

This ring will help me yet as will you knight in shining armor
This pill will help me yet as will these boys gone through like water

But this won’t work as well as the way it once did
’cause I want to decide between survival and bliss
And though I know who I’m not I still don’t know who I am
But I know I won’t keep on playing the victim

These precious illusions in my head did not let me down when I was a kid
And parting with them is like parting with a childhood best friend

I’ve spent so long firmly looking outside me
I’ve spent so much time living in survival mode

“In sharp contrast with our culture, the Bible teaches that the essence of marriage is a sacrificial commitment to the good of the other. That means that love is more fundamentally action than emotion. But in talking this way, there is a danger of falling into the opposite error that characterized many ancient and traditional societies. It is possible to see marriage as merely a social transaction, a way of doing your duty to family, tribe and society. Traditional societies made the family the ultimate value in life, and so marriage was a mere transaction that helped your family’s interest. By contrast, contemporary Western societies make the individual’s happiness the ultimate value, and so marriage becomes primarily an experience of romantic fulfillment. But the Bible sees GOD as the supreme good – not the individual or the family – and that gives us a view of marriage that intimately unites feelings AND duty, passion AND promise. That is because at the heart of the Biblical idea of marriage is the covenant.” -Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

The Church and the Kingdom of God

In the gospel of Matthew the word ‘kingdom’ is mentioned 52x. The word ‘church’ is mentioned 2x. At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry he said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17). Later on Jesus told his followers that they should “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33).

Maybe it’s just me, but this makes me wonder why we are so foggy on what the kingdom of God is all about. Is it a distrust of authority? Could it be that we are accustomed to living under a democracy not a monarchy? Whatever the reasons might be I’m thinking that our failure to understand the kingdom of God has seriously limited our understanding of the church and her redemptive purpose in this world.

We need a concise, biblical definition of the kingdom of God; “The kingdom of God, already present but not fully realized, is the exercise of God’s sovereignty in the world toward the eventual redemption of all creation.” -The Gospel Coalition

Here are a three ways I believe a robust understanding of the kingdom of God would impact the church:

  • Churches would grieve over the fact that God’s people skip from one church to another because they know that while a church grows this way the kingdom of God does not. Less competition and more cooperation among churches.
  • Churches would work harder at equipping their people to live out their faith in the context of everyday life. Jesus is Lord over area of life and therefore all of life is an opportunity for ministry just waiting to happen. We would celebrate those who serve God in the workplace. Just as we pray for Sunday School teachers and Small Group leaders we would pray for those who are faithfully living as ambassadors for king Jesus Monday to Friday in the corporate world.
  • Churches would measure their effectiveness, in part, by signs of the kingdom of God flourishing in their city or suburbs.

What are some of the ways you can think of that a proper view of the kingdom of God impacts the way we view the church?

We Need A New Measure for Spiritual Maturity

I was at a recent GCM Collective in Philly and I was inspired by something one of the pastors said. He referred to the fact that we need a new measure for what it means t0 be spiritually mature. Borrowing from some of Rob’s thoughts I came up with the following…

The old standard for spiritual maturity:

  • Knows the Bible: Have you ever met someone who knew the facts and stories of the Bible really well but they did not demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit? Reminds me of James 2:19;  it is truly bizarre. Early on in my seminary days I realized that there were scholars who spent their entire life studying the Bible and they did not believe in Jesus. Never got the logic behind that. Needless to say, spiritual maturity requires more than knowing the Bible.
  • Is a church member: I encourage people to become members of our church. The problem is not with being a member, the problem is when we live as if all membership entails is attending church events and programs.
  • Is busy doing church work: Ponder this frightening thought; it is possible to spend years in the church and never actually do the mission of the church. If you doubt this is true, keep reading.

The Biblical standard for spiritual maturity:

  • Is fluent in the gospel: A mature Christian understands that being a disciple is more than knowing truths about the Word of God, it is understanding that the gospel is the very power of God and that it must be applied to every area of life. Think of an area of life that you are currently struggling. Really, stop and think about it.  Now, ask yourself, “how does the gospel apply to this area of need or temptation?” When we can answer questions like that we know that our hearts and minds are being transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ. The gospel is not merely what saved us it is what sustains us every moment of every day.
  • Is committed to messy community: The New Testament describes the church as the family of God. Families are not primarily meetings! Families do life together. This is easy to say, really challenging to do.
  • Is involved in the true mission of the church: What is the mission of the church? Good question. I don’t think I will get many arguments if I say it is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Right? Who are you discipling with the purpose that they will go and do likewise?

Which standard for spiritual maturity best describes you?