The Trellis and the Vine, written by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, has been used to help many pastors, leaders and churches to understand the difference between the heart of gospel ministry being expressed in disciplemaking and the structures that support the ministry of disciplemaking. Disciplemaking is necessary for a faithful gospel-centered ministry, whereas the structures are supportive to that end. Structures are critical to churches in order to ensure disciplemaking happens, but they are not essential to the message of the gospel.

As this work enabled many to realize the differences between the two, and the role structure plays in carrying out the mandate of disciplemaking, it also exhorted pastors and leaders not to make the structures essential such that they become an end in themselves, and that we begin to confuse the two and make the trellis, which is to support the vine, the vine-work of the church. Structures are to support the ministry of the gospel, not to supplant and replace the ministry of the gospel, such that the structure becomes an end in itself.

Colin Marshall and Tony Payne have now written a follow up to this work: The Vine Project. They write, “The Trellis and the Vine proposed a ‘ministry mind-shift that changes everything’. The Vine Project shows how that mind-shift can and must shape every aspect of what you are doing as a congregation of Christ’s people to make disciples of all nations. . . . The Vine Project seeks to answer the question: how can we shape the whole culture at our church toward disciple-­making?” They have included a brief video (2 minutes) explaining the heart of The Vine Project. 

Since we in the EFCA emphasize we are gospel-centered movement that focuses on disciplemaking, it is wise, I believe, to include some helpful resources we believe are gospel-centered in their foundation and orientation as pastors, leaders and local churches carry out this ministry of discipleship in the local church. We do not and will not mandate an exclusive resource emphasizing a particular approach or method for any local church. But it is helpful, might I even say incumbent, for me as a denominational leader to give some recommended resources for you, our pastors, leaders and churches, to consider. I believe this is one important way (among many) we as a denomination birthed by the local churches serves you in those local churches. This is one of those resources.

 

Each day I receive an email from Christian History that includes historical events of import throughout church history. This one was included today.

On this date in 1877 (April 26, 1877), Minnesota residents observed a “statewide day of prayer”: Grasshopper Plagues, 1873–1877

Residents of Minnesota observe a statewide day of prayer, set by Governor John Sargent Pillsbury, imploring deliverance from a plague of grasshoppers that has been ravaging their crops. Many families are on the verge of starvation. In the next two days warm weather will cause millions of larvae to wiggle to life and skeptics scoff; but a plunge in temperature on the fourth day will freeze and kill them. A chapel will be built at Cold Spring to commemorate the miracle.

As you read, this event occurred in Minnesota and here are some issues of importance:

  • it addresses a catastrophe for a state heavily dependent on agriculture, a grasshopper plague,
  • leaders and people acknowledge their dependency on God through observing a statewide day of prayer,
  • and the kind, good and merciful providence of God is evidenced in warm weather, which caused the grasshoppers to “wiggle to life,” followed by the cold weather, which caused them to die.

Although I live in Minnesota, there is much that has changed since 1877. Each of us could count the ways. However, it is also essential for us to remember that today, April 26, 2016, even though the specific catastrophe has changed, there is much that remains the same, including our dependent response to the Lord in prayer.

  • we live in the midst of a moral catastrophe,
  • we acknowledge our dependency on God through prayer,
  • and we trust in our Father, who is unchanging, and his unfolding good, wise, sovereign and providential plan in and through history.

As we remember this historic date in Minnesota’s history, join me today in expressing our faith, trust and dependency on the Lord through prayer as we live in and respond to the moral catastrophe of our day and as we trust the good, wise and sovereign will and unfolding providential plan of God.

We pray this through Jesus Christ, in/by the Holy Spirit, to the Father.

John Chrysostom: An Easter Sermon

Greg Strand – March 27, 2016 2 Comments

On this day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I share a sermon preached by John Chrysostom (ca. 347-407) in the fourth century. Prior to his sermon, I share some information about Chrysostom the man, one of the early church fathers, which will give you some background as you read through the sermon from Chrysostom the preacher (the golden mouthed preacher).

Chrysostom excelled in the disciplines of rhetoric and law. However, not finding satisfaction in these studies, he pursued Christian asceticism. While living an ascetic life, he pursued God and almost ruined his health. It was a means God used to refine and prepare him for another kind of ministry.

Leaving a more monastic life, he moved to the city and adopted a less physically rigorous lifestyle and engaged in a more public ministry. Being recognized for his God-given gifts, Chrysostom was ordained a deacon in 381 and an elder in 386. His primary role as an elder was preaching. God used his earlier training, especially in rhetoric, to expound the Word of God will clarity and with power. Eventually in 398, Chrysostom was appointed Patriarch of Constantinople, a role in which he served until his death in 407. He was committed to reform, both the moral leniency of pastors/clergy and the moral corruptness of the city. This commitment of ministry and message, led to trials and difficulties for the nine years he served in this role. Toward the end of his life, he was exiled because he defied an imperial order. While in exile he died.

God had gifted Chrysostom greatly as a preacher of the Word of God. God also gave him an inner resolve of courage and conviction. He spoke truth boldly. As is often true, when he exercised his God-given gift of preaching, he found strength, concluding, “Preaching improves me. When I begin to speak, weariness disappears; when I begin to teach, fatigue too disappears.” But as is also often the case, when one exercises those gifts of preaching truth, particularly when it is a call to reform, it may lead to trouble and tribulation. This is true for one of the early church’s most gifted preachers.

One notes, “In this role his rhetorical skills amplified by his scholarship and piety earned him a reputation as a biblical expositor second to none.” Based on his published sermons, treatises and letters (600 sermons and 200 letters survive), later generations concluded the same, with leaders in the sixth century church referring to Chrysostom as Chrysostomos, “golden mouthed,” i.e. Chrysostom is the “golden mouthed preacher.”

Chrysostom’s “theology was expressed primarily in his sermons and was neither systematic, precise, nor original. His sermons drew spiritual and moral applications from a literal and grammatical exegesis of the Scriptures.” Chrysostom was given the title “Doctor of the Church, as he is considered one of the great early church fathers of the East, along with a few other church fathers of the East, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Athanasius.

Read, ponder and mediate on the truth expounded by John Chysotom in this fourth century Easter sermon.

The Easter sermon of John Chrysostom” (circa 400 AD)

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

What we remember and celebrate of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is an incredible truth. In fact, it is a miraculous truth.

In the incarnation, Jesus, the second Person of the Godhead, becomes man and is “full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). He has made the God the Father known (Jn. 1:18). He is the God-man. Everything about Christ, his person and work, is “for us and for our salvation.” He is our representative and substitute. Jesus Christ is the lone mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).

There is much we know about the truth of the Person and work of the God-man, Jesus Christ. That he came to give his life as a ransom for many, and that he came to save human beings from their sin (1 Jn. 4:9-10), by bearing their curse (Rom. 8:3; Gal. 3:10-14) and granting his righteousness to those who in faith believe is true (2 Cor. 5:21). We know it because it because it has been revealed to us (cf. Matt. 16:17).

Even though we can say all of this with absolute confidence, there remains a mystery to the precise how of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus and its implications to God (Eph. 2:3), propitiation, and to sinful, rebellious human beings, who are turned from those under God’s wrath to having sins forgiven (Col. 1:13-14) and adopted sons and daughters (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:4-7), expiation.

We speak what God speaks in the Scriptures. We speak with the assurance the Holy Spirit gives as an internal witness that enables us to call God Father and assures us he and his Word is true. But the mystery remains. We go as far as God’s revelation, both written in the Bible and inscribed in our hearts, and yet we go no further. There is much to the what, why and how of the atonement, and much of it is revealed. But when we have reached the depth of what we know of God’s revelation, there is more. A mystery remains. When we reach this point, we remain silent and worship.

I share the words of the inimitable C. H. Spurgeon from his sermon, “The Three Hours of Darkness” (Sermon 1896) (I delineated the paragraph to reflect the different aspects of truth he was espousing):

This darkness tells us all that the Passion is a great mystery into which we cannot pry.

I try to explain it as substitution and I feel that where the language of Scripture is explicit, I may and must be explicit, too. But yet I feel that the idea of substitution does not cover the whole of the matter and that no human conception can completely grasp the whole of the dread mystery. It was worked in darkness because the full, far-reaching meaning and result cannot be beheld of finite mind.

Tell me the death of the Lord Jesus was a grand example of self-sacrifice–I can see that and much more.

Tell me it was a wondrous obedience to the will of God–I can see that and much more.

Tell me it was the bearing of what ought to have been borne by myriads of sinners of the human race, as the chastisement of their sin–I can see that and found my best hope upon it. But do not tell me that this is all that is in the Cross! No, great as this would be, there is much more in our Redeemer’s death.

God only knows the love of God–Christ only knows all that He accomplished when He bowed His head and gave up the ghost.

There are common mysteries of Nature into which it were irreverence to pry, but this is a Divine mystery before which we take our shoes off, for the place called Calvary is holy ground! God veiled the Cross in darkness-and in darkness much of its deeper meaning lies-not because God would not reveal it, but because we have not capacity enough to discern it all!

God was manifest in the flesh and in that human flesh He put away sin by His own Sacrifice-this we all know. But ‘without controversy great is the mystery of godliness’.

My dear brothers and sisters, words cannot express my pain, grief and sorrow over what you have experienced in the ISIS bombing, an atrociously evil act of terrorism committed against Belgians on Belgian soil, with the ripple affect being against humanity, those created in the imago Dei.

I stand with you in this hour of tragedy and pain.

I grieve with you in the loss of lives and the accompanying fear created by such evil acts against humanity.

I pray with you for the strength to persevere, for the courage to speak truth in the midst of this chaos, for the hope you can give, both in words and deeds, in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I proclaim with you “He is risen,” which gives meaning, purpose and hope, especially in these days of doubt, fear and despair.

During these days I focus on two key truths regarding the Lord Jesus Christ.

First, based on the work of Christ, we live in a redeemed-not-yet-glorified world. This means we will experience tribulation. But even in the midst of these trials and tribulations, we have Jesus’ promise that he has overcome the world and this gives us hope, strength and courage: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (Jn. 16:33).

Might this truth, grounded in and manifested through the resurrection, be an anchor for you.

Second, grounded in the person and work of Jesus, the Father “‘crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.’ Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him” (Heb. 2:7-9). Jesus is Lord. All things are subject to him, even though we do not yet see or experience this. However, we do see Jesus. He is the ground of our hope and assurance. The resurrection is the guarantee this is true. Even though we are not experiencing this subjection in the world at present, we see Jesus.

Might this truth bring rest and peace, and also hope and assurance, and might it enable you to engage in humble and bold worship these days as Christians celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

In brotherly love,

Through Christ our Lord,

Greg Strand