Category Archives: Ministry

The Gospel for the City in Genesis 4

Genesis 4 gives evidence of humankind’s downfall. The brokenness of human relationships brought about by sin is seen in fratricide. The seeds of false religion begin to sprout in Cain’s tokenism through which he seeks God’s favor in the deficient works of his own hands.  The jealous hatred of the true way is seen in the murder of Abel.  Yet, the mercy of God is evident as He allows Cain to live and the common grace of God is seen in that fallen, rebellious humans advance culture and civilization in God’s world. The image of God is effaced but not erased; however, their creative endeavors serve rather as an idolatrous refuge instead of acts of faithful worship to their Creator God. In rebellion they seek to build a city in which they find refuge, while the godly, like Seth, begin to look for a ‘heavenly city, whose builder and maker is God.” Through Seth, God’s promise to give a ‘seed’ that will destroy the Serpent begins to take shape.

Those in rebellion against God at times seek to develop culture and civilization as an idolatrous refuge from the ravages of sin. The highest expressions of human culture are found in urban centers with their magnificent art museums, orchestras, theaters, and institutions of learning. Cities are the temples where economics and commerce are worshipped. Yet, these man-made temples become empty substitutes as one seeks vainly to find meaning and significance in life. Instead of advancing culture and commerce as an expression of worship and service to God, we seek in cultural advancement the fulfillment in life that only a relationship with God can bring.

On the other hand, cities often give evidence of the kind of jealous and violent rejection of true worship that Cain had for Abel  Christianity has not often done well in the cities, overwhelmed by the appealing lure of high culture and overly challenged by the problems of crime, poverty, poor education, and racism. Consequently, Christianity is marginalized, considered irrelevant, deemed powerless to compete with the appeal of high culture, and fearful to coexist with the challenges of a broken society. The Christian answer has been to flee the city and to seek refuge in a monocultural, more pristine, suburban world, instead of seeking refuge in the living God. “White flight,” as it has been called, is the sad public confession of an anemic Christianity that has lost faith in the power of the gospel to transform lives and societies.

Nevertheless, there are some who believe that the seed, promised through the line of Seth, who would ultimately destroy the works of the devil, has come. They are neither enamored by the appeal of high culture nor dismayed by the brokenness of urban communities. They see the beauty of the gospel and the deep –soul-satisfaction of the gospel as the answer for the empty worship of cultural advancement. They see the power and forgiveness of the gospel as the answer for the broken relationships with God, with family, with the world, and within themselves that are the root of most of the social ills of the city.

Those who know the true and living God through the promised Redeemer King seek through the gospel the transformation of people, culture and civilization as sub-regents under His rule and as priests who seek to worship Him in all they do. Nevertheless, as they do so in their temporal cities, they continue to look for the eternal city that God builds.  “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”


Obsession with Urban Church Planting

Obsession with Urban Church Planting

Last night I received a tweet and a re-tweet from a conference in Alabama on church planting.  The tweet was from one of the sessions there on church planting and unfortunately tweets have no context in which to interpret them. So, I will discuss the tweet as it is. The tweet was about the speaker’s bewilderment over what he called ‘the urban obsession with church planting when half of the world’s population lives in rural areas.’

In response I tweeted: ‘Urban obsession counteracts a history of rural obsession that neglected half of the world’s peoples.’

My point and the point of any urban church planter is not that we should disregard rural and suburban church planting but that in recent history urban church planting has been a neglected focus of the church and a renewed emphasis on cities is needed. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on September 15, 2011 in Evangelism, Gospel, Ministry

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Loving the City?

Loving the City?

Urban Ministry and Urban Living often attract those who are infatuated or flirtatious with the mystique of the city and even some who profess to love the city. Some of us simply love the gospel and the density (crowded neighborhoods) and diversity (economic, ethic, educational, cultural, and age differences) of people who are found in the city – offering an opportunity for a strategic advance of the gospel.

We should be cautious about the phrase ‘Loving the city’ because it can be no more than a cliché of those who either do not know the city or those who have come to believe that it is mark of spiritual achievement when you can say, “I love the city.” Read the rest of this entry »


Why we use the Apostles’ Creed at Grace Church of Philly

Why we use the Apostles’ Creed at Grace Church of Philly

                From time to time I hear concerns from well-meaning people questioning our use of the Apostles’ Creed. Most often it has to do not so much with the content, but with their personal history of having recited it in the Roman Catholic Church or a liberal denominational church.  Part of their conversion story is that in understanding the gospel of salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ, they left a religious system that had corrupted and confused the gospel. We rejoice with them in their conversion and their choice to leave a faulty religious system.

However, in our use of the Apostles’ Creed and other ancient creeds we are reclaiming from corrupt religious systems what belongs to historic Christianity. Read the rest of this entry »


Things I’ve learned on personality, power, friendship, and integrity.


Things I’ve learned on personality, power, friendship, and integrity.

Pastoring for over 30 years has taught me a lot about myself and a lot about other Christian leaders.  I had a friend early on with whom I spent a lot of time discussing ministry. He was like a mentor to me.  By human standards he was a successful pastor with enormous influence. I liked being around his engaging personality and enjoying his favor. As time went on, I suspected that he often played loosely with the truth. Some would even say that he was a pathological liar. Yet, he was my friend and I excused his ‘imperfection’ and overlooked it.  As time moved on and my journey took me down a different theological and philosophical path, our friendship ended and I became the object of his innuendoes.  Looking back, our friendship was not deep for if it had been, I would have confronted him along the way about his lack of integrity and he would have loved me even though I took a different path.  Admittedly, as a young pastor I loved the presence of power and influence too much. Later in life, we pursued friendship again. I had experienced enough disappointment to no longer be enamored with personality and success, and he had suffered enough pain to be humbled. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on July 29, 2011 in Gospel, Ministry