New

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him.’
The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.
— Lamentations 3:21-25

There’s a reason Lamentations 3:21-25 sounds familiar. This passage speaks of the Lord’s mercies in an unforgettable way: “His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.” If we haven’t heard these verses, we’ve probably sung them. The hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” rises from this text. These five verses may be familiar, but the rest of the book is likely not. The dictionary helps us understand why. When we look up lament, we read: “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow.” We’re drawn to joyful worship, passionate preaching, authentic fellowship, and sacrificial service. But lament? Who wants to attend the evening of lament at church? Lamentations is the passionate expression of grief as God’s people wrestle with the destruction of their homeland. In an age of options, who could blame us for wanting to change the channel? But the language of lament is not unusual in the Bible; it just feels unusual in our time and place. We can’t read the Psalms for long without running into a lament, but what do we do when we stumble upon one? Do we enter into the darkness, or do we run ahead looking for light? The hope of Lamentations 3:21-25 is deeply connected to a moment of lament. We should ask ourselves: Would passages like these reach so high if their roots weren’t planted so deeply in the soil of sadness? And if not, what does that mean for us if we choose superficial joy over the deeper joy that comes on the other side of lament?

 

When he lost his son in a hiking accident, philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff penned a lament. In the midst of his devastation, he wrote, “Every lament is a love song.” God’s people lamented because they loved Jerusalem and they loved the Lord, and they feared they had lost both. If we allow ourselves to go there, what would be our lament? Where could we sing the song of love lost? In relationships with friends or family, could we lament what we’ve said or left unsaid? Could we lament the distance we feel because we’ve failed to spend time or seek reconciliation? In our work, could we lament the choices that we’ve made when we were blown by the winds of wrong motives to places that we desired…until we got there? Could we lament the wasted hours, days, and opportunities? In our relationship with God, could we lament the sin that clings so closely, the moments when we do what we hate and hate what we do? Could we lament the sluggishness of hearts that are prone to wander, even after we’ve experienced more of the mercies of God?

 

I ask because I sense that many of us do not know how to lament. We hear Jesus saying, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” and we think, “That’s great for the sad mourning people out there somewhere.” Many of us are second-hand mourners. Lament is biography, not autobiography. I ask because I fear, as long as that is the case, the comfort of the Gospel will be biography, not autobiography. We become people handing out flyers to places we’ve never been, inviting others to experience the life-changing love of Christ when we are too afraid to go there ourselves. I ask because I know that we’re tempted to waste our lives chasing the next new thing, when only Jesus is big enough to satisfy our longing. I ask because only Christ can make all things new, but we’re tempted to choose the old that we know over the new that we don’t.

 

The only way to new life in Christ is to confront the lamentable devastation of what is old. With brutal honesty, the author of Lamentations brings his lament before the Lord. And it’s there, in the smoldering ashes of devastation, that something new happens. The poet gives us a vital practice: calling things to mind. When difficulty comes, we cannot avoid remembering or preaching some kind of message to ourselves. So will we listen to the voice of hopelessness, or will we call to mind the voice of God? Will we yield to the darkness, or will we remind ourselves of the Light who shines in the darkness? When all the signs suggest otherwise, we preach to ourselves that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. When we think that we’ve exhausted His forgiveness, we call to mind that His mercies never come to an end. When we fear that we’ll be forsaken, we declare, “Great is His faithfulness.” When nothing else satisfies, we proclaim, “The Lord is my portion.” By His grace, we learn to wait on the Lord…and to lament. We follow Jesus, who is the pattern and power of our altogether new life. In the middle of our efforts to avoid difficulty, can we see Jesus waiting, lamenting, and suffering? He seems to know that the way to new is not around but through. So what does He see that we don’t? On the other side of lament, there is joy. On the other side of death, there is resurrection. On the other side of old, there is new. There is much to lament, but this we call to mind, and therefore we have hope.

New Churches

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”  
— Revelation 7:9-12

“Age is just a number; I’m young at heart.” Those are two phrases you probably won’t hear from a child. Children aren’t self-conscious about their age. Birthdays are for parties, not pity! At their best, children are too young to be cynical, too hopeful not to lose themselves in the moment. Most children don’t care about a clock; most adults don’t survive without a calendar. As we get older, we may gain wisdom, resources, and influence. But we also face the dangers of being more established in the world. We can trade living with passion for maintaining the status quo. We can trade serving others for protecting ourselves. We can trade childlike hope for growing cynicism. Aging with grace is not easy.

Do aging churches face the same challenges as aging people? Let’s compare younger church plants with older established churches. In one corner we have church plants, with their vibrant vision, evangelistic zeal, cultural sensitivity, team spirit, and world-changing ambition. I’m not saying that church planting is easy or that every church plant is a picture of health. But the reality of the task demands a vision that appeals to outsiders, a love that welcomes the stranger, and a commitment that engages every member. In the other corner we have established churches, with their improved facilities, predictable finances, varied ministries, and multigenerational flavor. Aging churches are not wrong to have buildings, budgets, or a breadth of options. But being an established church can bring a growing sense of obligation to keep doing what we’re doing, to maintain what we have, and to care for our own. Before long, an older church can lose the heartbeat that made it what it is. The passion to reach new people can give way to the priority of doing church for “us”. In an established church, people can easily become spectators who consume ministry instead of ambassadors who engage in it.

As our church grows older, what would it mean for us to think like a church plant? It starts with reminding ourselves over and over why we’re here. We don’t exist for ourselves. We exist to extend ourselves so that more and more people will experience the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. We should never grow tired of seeing new people come to know the Lord. Do we believe that the next person who walks through the door is as significant as the person who has been here from the beginning? In the heavenly vision of Revelation 7, we see “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). That’s beautiful, but how do we get there? How does God intend to gather this international, cross-cultural multitude? The plan hasn’t changed. The Lord uses gospel-preaching churches to plant gospel-preaching churches that will plant gospel-preaching churches. Thinking like a church plant means that we never forget how we got here, and we treasure the privilege to be involved in planting churches until the Lord returns. Whatever we invest in our own church should be seen as a strategic investment in new churches that will proclaim the good news: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10). 

Are we bored with the mission of God? In Revelation 7, there’s nothing boring about the worship of heaven. People cry out with loud voices. Angels and elders and the four living creatures fall on their faces and worship God. In heaven, familiarity does not breed contempt. Proximity ignites passion! Earlier in Revelation, the Lord charges one church with forgetting her first love (Revelation 2:4). Have we? We’ve heard before, “What goes deepest to the heart goes widest to the world.” Thinking like a church plant means remembering and treasuring Jesus so that His love goes deepest to our hearts and widest to the world. Some churches have been open for centuries; some for only a fraction of that time. A new church can be “old”, and an old church can be “new”. What matters is the heart of the people and the presence of the Spirit. Each week we gather to worship the same God, hear the same gospel, and remind ourselves of the same mission. When the years start to add up, how will we relate to the monotony? As our church gets older, can we still say, “Age is just a number; we’re young at heart”? G.K. Chesterton writes:

God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

Perhaps God never tires of planting daisies, but He surely never tires of planting churches. For centuries He has said, “Do it again,” as His word and Spirit gather His people around the world. Jesus loves His church so much that He endured the cross for her joy. As His beloved people, will we stop and listen? Will we hear the voice of practicality calling us to play it safe…or the voice of Jesus calling us to extend ourselves? Will we follow our urge to build our own kingdom…or will we follow our Lord in His great church-planting mission? Brothers and sisters, the Lord is calling us to live in light of that great Day when He will gather His church together in that city with foundations, whose designer and builder is God. There, the season of church planting will close with a harvest song: “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and forever” (Revelation 7:12). There, age will just be a number, for we will spend eternity growing young in God’s presence.

New Doors

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the Door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the Door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.
— John 10:7-11

If you know anything about sheep, you know that they’re not the most impressive members of the animal kingdom. They’re not particularly beautiful, smart, or fast; but at least they can’t defend themselves! We can process the sheep scouting report with little emotional attachment until we remember that we’re often compared to sheep in the Scriptures. Suddenly, it feels personal. We’re not particularly beautiful, smart, or fast. We are helpless on our own. Let’s just say the sheep metaphor is not meant to puff us up. So why does the Lord love this imagery? When we grasp the reality of our vulnerability as sheep, we begin to see the glory of having a Good Shepherd. We scratch and claw to prove our worth as sheep, and all the while our Good Shepherd offers us everything we need. Jesus becomes the beauty, wisdom, and security of His sheep.

So what is the connection between a shepherd and a door? Remember, sheep are vulnerable on every side. So a good shepherd is eager to find a location where his sheep are enclosed. Imagine a natural setting where a mountain forms a back wall, and trees and fences seal off the sides. But there still must be a door for the sheep to go in and out of that pasture. When Jesus claims that He is the Door of the sheep, we should imagine Him placing Himself in this most crucial passageway. The lost sheep must go through Him to find good pasture. The found sheep must go through Him to leave. And all the threats and dangers outside the fold must go through Him to touch His flock. Jesus is the Door, and we all must ask, “Am I inside or outside the Door?” Outside of Christ, we are lost sheep who do not recognize His voice, who look at death and call it life, who look at Life and call Him death. But in Christ, as we walk through the Door, we hear His voice, respond, and find abundant life. The Good Shepherd laid down His own life to rescue us from death and give us life. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus has stood in the gap and overcome every threat to our life in Him. Truly, the Lord is our Shepherd, and we want for nothing. He gives us rest in verdant pastures. He leads us to pure, clean waters. He restores our weary souls. And wherever we walk—even through the valley of the shadow—He is with us. Jesus is the Door to abundant life with God. Have you entered by Him?

There is only one Christ, but as C.S. Lewis says, we are “little Christs.” There is only one Good Shepherd, but we are sheep who have become mini-shepherds. Jesus is the Door, but God often uses us as a door through which other people walk to connect with Jesus Christ. Whom has the Lord used to help you to see Jesus? Who has been a “door” for you? There have been so many doors in my life. I think of Ann, Frank, Leith, Kim, Todd, Jason, John, Mac, Mark, Russ, and Brent (and the list could go on and on). The Lord brings people into our lives to share His love, to speak His Word, and to live His life before us so that we can see what it means to follow the Good Shepherd.

As we think about extending ourselves for the cause of Christ, we’re praying that the Lord will open new doors for fruitful ministry in our church. Making it easier for people to park and make it through the door matters. Providing adequate facilities for children, youth, and adult communities matters. Having more space for ministries that have reached capacity matters. But the people will always be more significant than the project. The flock will always mean more than the facility. If we don’t catch the vision of every believer being a new door through which others can connect with the Door, parking lots and buildings won’t make a difference. Left to ourselves, we’re not that impressive. We’re just sheep. But the Good Shepherd became a Lamb who was slain in order to bring us back into the fold. By His grace, we are His sheep who are becoming shepherds that reflect His sacrificial love for the lost. We are doors that open to the Door.

As you pray this week, stop, listen, and follow. Stop and think about Jesus’ claim: “I am the Door.” Have you entered by Him? Do you believe that a day in His courts is better than a thousand elsewhere? Listen to His voice: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Do you know abundant life in Christ? Do you long for others to taste that life? Follow where He leads: “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10). Is your ambition to be a faithful member of the family of God? What if we are the most important new doors at our church?

By Robby Higginbottom, assistant pastor of college ministry, Park Cities Presbyterian Church. 

EXTEND

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
— 2 Corinthians 5:17-21

What would you do if you woke up in a whole new life? Like a movie character who opens her eyes to discover she has been transported to a new reality—only it’s your life. You’d quickly ask: “Where am I? Who am I? What am I supposed to do?” Imagine getting your bearings and discovering that you’re in a new place with a new assignment. You’ve been sent to a foreign country to represent the interests of the United States. It dawns on you: “I’m an ambassador.” As you walk the streets, you realize that you’re in a strange place with unfamiliar people all around you. These people don’t seem to share your interests or passions. Your mind begins to race: “What do I say? How do I represent home in this place?”

This scenario, which seems worlds away, is really the daily reality for those who are in Christ. When Christians open their eyes each day, they wake up in a whole new life. Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” We have new answers to old questions, because the old has gone and the new has come. So where are we? We are in Christ, and we are here, but our relationship to this place has changed. Who are we? We are a new creation thanks to the reconciling, renewing grace of Jesus Christ. And what are we supposed to do? We are no longer to live for ourselves, but for Him who died for us and was raised again. We have a new home, a new identity, and a new mission. In short, a whole new life. The Lord has sent us to a strange place, not to represent ourselves, but Him. Have we really grasped the significance of being Christ’s ambassadors?

As much as we long for something novel, most of the time we just need a reminder. In the next six weeks, we’ll be reminded of the kind of vision that should frame every day of our lives. It’s a vision that is easy to say but hard to live. We say that “we exist to extend the transforming presence of the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ in Dallas and to the world”, but what does it mean to live that? It means moving from words on a page to lives on a mission. It means embracing our calling as ambassadors. It means seeking to extend ourselves for the sake of the gospel. It means rejoicing that we are now involved in the most significant thing happening in the world: God’s ministry of reconciliation. 

The vision of EXTEND is more a return than a revolution. As we always do, we return to the good news that Jesus, through His incarnation, death, and resurrection, has extended Himself to us. Paul writes, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” The cross is the ultimate picture of what it means to extend. Jesus exerted Himself to the utmost. He took our sin upon Himself and held out His grace to us. And through His loving sacrifice and the power of His Spirit, He continues to cause His transforming presence to cover an ever-expanding area.

As we reflect on the Gospel, we’re reminded of what the Lord did for us and what He intends to do through us. The Lord could accomplish His purposes however He wants, but Paul says that God has committed to us the message of reconciliation. As we think about the world that needs Jesus Christ, it’s as though God is making His appeal through us. If we have received His message, we have become His messengers. Wherever we go, the Lord is calling us to be His ambassadors, to extend ourselves so that the world might catch a glimpse of the One who extended Himself. The vision of extending has always been with us as a church, but the Lord has given us this season to realign our hearts with His. And as we do, our prayer is that the Lord would transform us, our city, and the world.

In this season, we believe the Lord is calling us to pray bold prayers and to dream big dreams. So let’s ask the Lord, “How are You calling us to extend?” And let’s dream of how the Lord might use us to open new doors, to plant new churches, and to usher in a new city. Brothers and sisters, we serve a God who raises the dead, who turns enemies into ambassadors. When we realize that we have a whole new life in Christ, what will we do? Will we take the time to stop? Will we create the space to listen? Will we pray for the grace to follow wherever the Lord leads?

By Robby Higginbottom, assistant pastor of college ministry, Park Cities Presbyterian Church.