Why the New City Catechism

This Fall at Mercy's Door our school-age children will begin a new curriculum during our Sunday morning worship gatherings.  After a year of walking through the scriptures (with the help of the Jesus Story Book Bible connecting the creation, fall, redemption, and restoration of the world to God's great grace and the amazing life, death, and resurrection of Jesus), we are transitioning to a new curriculum based on a fairly ancient method of teaching children (and adults) about the Christian faith.  The New City Catechism is an effort by the Gospel Coalition and several partner churches to reintroduce the concept of catechesis as a way to introduce the core doctrines of the Christian faith in a fresh and conversational way. 

What in the World is Catechesis?

Depending on your church background the word catechism may immediately bring up vivid memories (whether positive or negative) or it may be utterly unfamiliar and sound like a word lifted out of a Harry Potter novel.   A catechism at it's most basic level is a collection of statements about the tenants of the Christian faith including the nature and character of God, the position of man, and our hope in this life and the next, set in the form of a question and answer.  For example:

Question - How and why did God create us?

Answer - God created us male and female in his own image to know him, love him, live with him, and glorify him. And it is right that we who were created by God should live to his glory.

While a catechism may seem simple, the complex nature of God and the varying view of Christian denominations and other religions makes it important for us as followers of Jesus to be able to clearly define who God is, what He has done, and what that means for us.  The answers to catechisms (including the New City Catechism) have been labored over by pastors and theologians, built upon the historical doctrines of the church, and pulled straight from scripture.

Dr. Timothy Keller (an author of the New City Catechism), expands on the historical use of catechisms:

Historically catechisms were written with at least three purposes. The first was to set forth a comprehensive exposition of the gospel—-not only in order to explain clearly what the gospel is, but also to lay out the building blocks on which the gospel is based, such as the biblical doctrine of God, of human nature, of sin, and so forth. The second purpose was to do this exposition in such a way that the heresies, errors, and false beliefs of the time and culture were addressed and counteracted. The third and more pastoral purpose was to form a distinct people, a counter-culture that reflected the likeness of Christ not only in individual character but also in the church's communal life.

Why are we using a catechism for our kids’ curriculum? 

Our children, just like us, are daily confronted with differing views about the purpose of life, the nature of the world around us, the value of human life, and where to find hope in the midst of difficulty.  While a thorough understanding of the story of scripture is critical to their foundation as ones (by the grace of God) that will spend their entire lives worshipping and following Christ, so is the ability to clearly communicate the “why” and the “therefore” behind the story.  For instance, while it is critical our children know that the Lord created the world, it is also imperative that they understand why he created the world (from what scripture tells us) and how the Lord would have us to respond in light of his glory and grace.  A catechism helps us to introduce these concepts in a way that is both easy to understand as well as (through memorization) easier to communicate.  Dr. Keller gives a great personal example and sums up the use of a catechism to train up our children well:

When my son Jonathan was a young child, my wife, Kathy, and I started teaching him a children’s catechism. In the beginning, we worked on just the first three questions:

Question 1. Who made you?
Answer. God

Question 2. What else did God make?
Answer. God made all things.

Question 3. Why did God make you and all things?
Answer. For his own glory.

One day Kathy dropped Jonathan off at a babysitter’s. At one point the babysitter discovered Jonathan looking out the window. “What are you thinking about?” she asked him. “God,” he said. Surprised, she responded, “What are you thinking about God?” He looked at her and replied, “How he made all things for his own glory.” She thought she had a spiritual giant on her hands! A little boy looking out the window, contemplating the glory of God in creation!

What had actually happened, obviously, was that her question had triggered the question/answer response in him. He answered with the catechism. He certainly did not have the slightest idea what the “glory of God” meant. But the concept was in his mind and heart, waiting to be connected with new insights, teaching, and experiences.

Such instruction, Princeton theologian Archibald Alexander said, is like firewood in a fireplace. Without the fire—the Spirit of God—firewood will not in itself produce a warming flame. But without fuel, there can be no fire either, and that is what catechetical instruction is.”

So what will this mean for me as a parent?

Each Sunday your children will be introduced to a new question and answer from the New City Catechism.  During their class, this question and answer will be unpacked, tied to scripture, and practically applied through stories, games, and crafts.  After Sunday morning through the use of either the print edition of the New City Catechism or the free online app, you can engage with your children throughout the week with the truths they have learned and help them to further memorize and better understand the beauty and good news of what they’ve been taught.  Our hope as a church is that this curriculum will not only teach your children needed truths but also lay a foundation for you as their parents to further disciple them inside the walls of your house and out in the world they experience on a daily basis. 

Pray with us that the Lord will use this new curriculum to inflame the hearts of our kiddos as well as engage us as parents and church members in raising up the next generation of Jesus followers.





Our Need to Ascribe Him Glory

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness. (Psalm 29:1-2)

In Psalm 29, David exhorts his soul and his people to ascribe to the Lord the glory that is clearly due His name.  He reminds himself and others of the beauty, the grandeur, the power, the wisdom, and the holiness of God Almighty.  His words of adoration are a fitting offering of praise to the Lord and yet, as we see throughout the Psalms of David, and indeed all of scripture, a rightful view and worship of God is as critical for our joy as it is purely for God’s praise.

Jesus himself taught this lesson to His disciples.  In chapters 1-8 of the Gospel of Mark we watch as Jesus begins his public ministry by declaring through word and deed the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of God.  His power in speech and through miracles proclaims that He is indeed an ascending King. This march toward his rightful place as Lord over all seemingly culminates in Peter’s declaration of Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the long awaited savior in chapter 8 verse 29.  The disciples have walked mile after mile with Jesus, witnessing first hand the power of His teaching, the miracles performed by His hands, and the growing crowd following Him.  And yet, after Peter’s rightful public declaration of Jesus as the long awaited savior, Jesus declares not an affirmation of his ascension toward a castle but rather a rebuke detailing his descent toward a cross.  Not only does Jesus describe His journey toward sacrifice and death, but He also prescribes the daily bearing of the disciples’ (and our) own crosses.  What had once seemed like a hope filled coronation, for Peter and the rest of the disciples, the future must have suddenly looked much more bleak, much more confusing, and much more uncertain.  It appeared that the disciples had finally figured out who it was they were following and where multi year journey was leading them.  And then in a short and yet plainly laid out explanation, Jesus tells them that they’ve gotten it all wrong.  I can only imagine the way that the hearts of the disciples must have sank.  It must have only been a few seconds from the Peter’s proclamation of Jesus as the Christ and all of the celebration that came with it, to the silence that must have lingered after Jesus described that the way to His kingdom and true life was by denying and losing our current lives.

Several years ago, my wife Rachael and I marched confidently forward with God into the unknown world for us of international adoption.  We had two little kids at the time (3 and 1) and cautiously but confidently we followed God in pursuing the adoption of an older child in an orphanage half way around the world.  We nervously followed God and reminded each other step by step of His goodness and faithfulness all the while waiting to see how things would end up.  A year and a half into the process, our savings completely drained, and thousands of tears later, Rachael and I sat on our couch at home with our two kids and admitted that the adoption had completely fallen apart and the girl we had called our daughter would not be coming home. We were devastated. My reaction at that moment felt a lot like what I imagine the disciples felt: confusion, as if the path they thought they were walking was suddenly revealed to be something else, fear of where that path would lead next, and a counting up of what the journey had already cost and what it would cost in the future.

In that moment what I longed for most was an explanation of why it needed to be this way and a reassurance that things would work out (as I determined working out for my good meant.)  But God, in His wisdom and grace, did something with me and something with the disciples in the Gospel of Mark that mere words of explanation or even words of assurance could never do. God showed me and Rachael and he showed the disciples His glory.

Six days after Jesus corrected Peter’s view of what salvation would entail, He lead him and James and John up a mountain where he was transfigured/altered/changed/transformed before their very eyes.  Jesus, His face, His whole body, and even the very clothes He wore shone brighter than anything the disciples had ever seen.  It was as if in that moment His very essence as fully God, Lord of all, the Word by which all things were made, came bursting forth from behind the veil of flesh that had covered it since he came to earth in the form of a baby.  The disciples, shocked and scared, stood in awe of the reality of whom it was they had been following.  Moses and Elijah were there as well, testifying to the culmination of their work in the person and work of Jesus.  The Father spoke as well, reminding the disciples that this Jesus was no mere man, but His very son, His beloved one.  Peter, James, and John may not have any better understood why Jesus had to die or why they were called to follow as well, but what they did understand was the one they followed, the one they trusted, the one they needed was greater, grander, and better than they.  The answer to the confusion and concern of the disciples about following Jesus to their death (spiritually and for them physically) was not a greater clarity and understanding of their present and coming circumstances but instead a great clarity and understanding of their eternal savior.

We don’t get to see the revealed glory of Jesus with our own two eyes while we follow Christ by faith, but we are given truth after truth of exactly who He is, we sing songs to remind us that His glory will be revealed to us again soon when he returns to earth, and we see His creation that testifies to His true glory.  The mercies that are new each and every morning are not simply reminders of the forgiveness of our sins, but also the truth that our savior, our advocate, the one who is currently interceding on our behalf at the right hand of God the Father, was not just a wonderful teacher, wise Rabi, or loving servant, but glorious God the Son.

Perhaps today in the midst of struggle, confusion, disappointment, or storms you need to ascribe to the Lord the glory that is truly due His wondrous name.  Not just because the praise is rightly due His glorious grace, but also because we desperately need to be reminded of His Glory.

Failing Into Hope

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. - Jude 1:24-25

If you are anything like me, or if you are anything like the 200 million adults that have made resolutions for this New Year, you are looking into the future of 2017 and hoping for success. You are hoping for growth, for renewal, for achievement, and quite honestly you are hoping to feel better about yourself at the end of 2017 than you did at the beginning.  It is good and right that we as image bearers are constantly leaning forward, longing for a better version of ourselves.  We long for it, because our hearts sense that our broken selves are not how we were supposed to be, and for those covered by the blood of Christ it’s not what we are destined for.  But our God given desire for growth and improvement is often twisted and ends up leading us not into a greater expectation of what is coming but instead shame, guilt, and despair for what is not yet. 

Failure is a dirty word around Christians.  We find it difficult to reconcile the new life we have been given through the unspeakable sacrifice of Christ and our continued moral and relational stumbles.  We want to be better, we want to keep promises, we want to stop sinning against God and those around us and yet for all our efforts we just can’t quite get it right.  So we hide our failures, we deny our failures, or we accept them but foolishly convince ourselves that they will never happen again.  But what happens when they do, or we can no longer deny that they exist?

The answer is that failure seen honestly, with the bright light of the gospel shined upon it, should lead us directly to Christ (and not sprinting away from him). 

This past week I spent time with a partner church of ours walking through the last passage in the Gospel of John.  It’s an epilogue of sorts after Jesus’s resurrection, after he shows himself to the disciples, and after he commissions them.  But John includes one more look into the life of Christ on earth and wraps his Gospel up, not with a prayer of Christ, a new teaching, or a new charge, but a picture of Jesus confronting a disciples failure.  Specifically it is the story of Jesus confronting Peter after his denial on the night of Christ’s arrest and trial.  

The story is drenched in theological importance but there were a few specific things God laid heavy on my heart about how Jesus deals with failure in his disciples (which includes us!)

First, it's important to state that Jesus knows we are going to fail.  Jesus may have been hurt by Peter’s denial (I can’t imagine how it felt when Peter locked eyes with Christ after he denied him the third time), but he was not surprised.  Jesus, earlier that night, told Peter that Satan was coming for him and that he would fail miserably.  This should have been such freeing news to Peter.  Imagine for just an instance if at the beginning of your marriage your spouse looked at you and said, “I already know all the ways you will fail me and I still choose you.”  Or what if your boss on your first day said he was well aware that at times you would be a completely inadequate employee but that he was glad to hire you anyway?  What rest and freedom that would grant us! That is, unless we are unwilling to admit that we are not only capable of failing but certain to do so. Peter was unwilling to accept Jesus’s look into his near future.  Peter had such confidence in his own ability that he lost confidence in his Saviors knowledge.  You and I need to ask God to give us a right view of ourselves, which means losing confidence and ourselves and placing it on Christ. 

But Jesus doesn’t just know we are going to fail, he has already done something about it.  When Jesus greets the disciples after his resurrection he says to them “Peace be with You.”  The greeting might seem like just another ancient middle east “hello,” but after Jesus rose from the grave he was literally telling them “there is now peace for you!”  It wasn’t just a prayer (like a “God bless you” after a sneeze) it was a declaration of what He had done for them.  He appeared to the men who had abandoned Him on the day of His death and told them not to be afraid and not be ashamed because in Him there was perfect Peace.  Our failure can never have the last word, because in Christ we have peace, we have forgiveness, and we have victory.

That leads us to Jesus’s final lesson for Peter on failure. Jesus shows Peter (and us) that even in the midst of our failure our confidence should not diminish but rather increase.  After Jesus reveals himself to Peter, he leads him on a walk and lets him know that He is not done with him.  Peter didn’t want to fail Jesus because he wanted to be there for Christ, he wanted to serve him faithfully, he wanted to be the “Rock” on which the church was built.  As they walked together one last time, Jesus gave Peter one more look into his future.  It was a future that would end in death (as a martyr) but one that would end after a life of discipleship and faithful service to Christ.  This might seem like more of a punishment than a gift, but remember Peter told Jesus that he longed to follow him even to death. He longed to stand for Christ even as others fell away. The savior informed Peter that He would lead Peter into a life of faithful discipleship and even more than that He would one day usher him home to Glory.  Peter’s life wasn’t perfect from then on, (scripture records more of his failures), but by the power of the Holy Spirit and the promise of our sovereign Lord, Peter would follow Jesus the rest of his life. 

I don’t want to fail like Peter. I don’t want you to fail like Peter.  But if failure in my life (or yours) frees us of a sense of self-reliance and instead leaves us clinging to Christ then it will have served a beautiful purpose.  Jesus knows we are going to fail.  It's why he came and died for us, and it's why He promises to complete in us the work that He started.  The cross has already outed us as failures, so now you and I can drop the charade of perfection and instead lean into Christ.  

Here’s to a year, whether marked by success or failure, that is characterized by an unwavering hope not in ourselves but in our perfect and victorious Savior!

Let Us Introduce Ourselves

Sing to the Lord, all the earth!
    Tell of his salvation from day to day. (1 Chronicles 16:23)

This fall we have the great privilege of planting Mercy's Door Community Church and as we begin, we would love to let you know a little bit about us.

Mercy’s Door is a church plant, grounded firmly in the work that’s already been done by Jesus.  Our desire is that this community would be transformed; as broken, lost, confused, hurting, needy, and difficult people (I just described me) come face to face with the call of Jesus to come and rest in His saving grace. We long to see people, relationships, families, and entire communities redeemed and reconciled to their creator. 

At Mercy’s Door our emphasis is never on doing.  So much of our society, focuses in on what we must do in order to find peace, or acceptance, or love.  But Christianity takes a radically different track.  Christianity is built upon news of what has already been done.  Christianity says that indeed we are accepted, we have been granted peace, that we are loved beyond our wildest imaginations because of the work of another.  And so, if the church is built upon the foundation of Jesus, and his gracious sacrifice, then why would we spend our time focused in on what we must do now, rather than soaking in the amazing grace given to us and allowing it to transform us from the inside out?   

Jesus is our great and gracious King and in him we find unending joy.  This belief in the life changing truth of the gospel shapes everything about us as a church:

Gospel Centered Worship

We gather together as the body of Christ to worship God, hear from His Holy Scriptures, and remind each other of the sacrifice and salvation of Christ through Communion.  When Mercy's Door gathers together to worship God, we come together with expectation that God will meet us there; songs are sung to point us back to the truth of who God is and what He has done, preaching comes from His word and seeks to reveal the depths of His glory and grace, and communion is taken together as a family covered by the righteousness of Christ.

Gospel Centered Community

We live life together in authentic community to encourage each other, pray for each other, and remind each other of the finished work of Christ. Because Christ saved us while we were yet sinners and promises to complete in us the work he has begun, we seek to live life openly and honestly; sharing our doubts, fears, sins, addictions, and struggles, and trusting that we will point each other back to the gospel.  Living life in this type of gospel centered community deepens our relationships with Christ and each other, and encourages us to pursue joy in our lives by following Christ's example. 

Gospel Centered Mission

We live life for and love our communities because God first loved us and gave Himself up for us.  Therefor, we live life on mission so that we might be a blessing to those around us and see redemption in the lives of others through the gospel message.  Our lives are busy and often consumed with activities and pursuits we hope will bring us value, identity, approval, comfort, and joy.  But in Christ we find all these abundantly and much more, which allows us to live life intentionally and sacrificially, that those around us might feel Christ's love through us and hear the good news of His sacrifice by us.

We are incredibly excited to begin the hard work of church planting, and we would love to invite you to join us.  Would you pray about joining us as we seek to worship our king and love this community well?  Would you pray about possibly taking a step out of comfort and into a place where we depend upon Jesus each and every day to provide and lead?  We would love to talk to you more about what Jesus has already begun to do in and through Mercy’s Door.

In Christ Alone,

Pastor Michael